“Dear God, thank you that you always keep your promises.”
This has been my daughter’s go-to in family prayers for the past six years, since she was about 3 years old. My son’s equivalent was “Thank you, God, for cars.” He’s now 11 and has diversified his praise prayers away from four-wheel-based gratitude (one of my current greatest joys of parenting is to hear him praising God for his attributes each night).
My daughter, on the other hand, hasn’t strayed much from that first go-to prayer.
And that’s great.
Because if each night for the rest of her life she praises God for being a promise keeper, and if each day she lives trusting in God’s “precious and very great promises” (2 Pet. 1:4), then that’s the ballgame. There’d be no better way to walk through the ups and downs of childhood, and out into adulthood, than that.
My Promises and His Promises
We start life assuming all people do what they say they’ll do, and then childhood involves the slow realization that they don’t. That’s because everyone makes promises he or she simply cannot keep.
Sometimes we never intend to keep those promises (I recently heard a mom on the bus say, “If you don’t stop moaning, I’ll take you to the police station and you’ll be arrested”).
Sometimes we have a vague intention to do so, but our heads hold loose to what our lips are saying (I can still remember saying a few years ago as I left for work, “I’ll be home for dinner at 5:30,” and my son saying, “See you at 5:45 like normal then”).
Sometimes we make every effort to, but circumstances intervene and a sickness or flat tire or canceled plane means we’re not at the football game or music performance we promised to come to.
But God can and does always keep his promises. He makes no mistakes. Nothing can thwart him.
Dear God, thank you that you always keep your promises.
Confidence in the Impossible
God can and does always keep his promises.
One way to read the whole story of Scripture that connects easily with the world of a child—biblical theology for preschoolers, if you like—is to focus on the promises God makes and keeps throughout his Word. Even as they slowly recalibrate the likelihood of everyone else keeping his or her word all the time, children who hear and read the Bible story in this way can grow in confidence that God does always keep his.
After all, in the Bible, they meet a God who promised an elderly, infertile couple a child and a family as numerous as the stars in the sky—impossible. Then he did it.
They meet a God who promised a people who’d been enslaved for four centuries by the most powerful king in the known world that they’d soon be free and safe—impossible. Then he did it.
They meet a God who promised to destroy the walls of an impregnable fortress city without anyone so much as touching its stones—impossible. Then he did it.
They meet a God who promised to rescue people from the consequences of their sins, to create a people who know him, to give them a good land to inhabit in peace and plenty, to give them the joy—the blessing—of knowing him and living his way in his world, to give them a king to rule them with wisdom and love. More impossible than the birth of Isaac, the exodus from Egypt, or the walls of Jericho falling.
And then, in the coming of Jesus, he did it. By faith, those promises are promises to our children about their hearts, lives, and futures.
Walk the Promise Paths
So how do you ground your kids in the promises of God? First, and most importantly, walk them through the Bible so they can see God making and keeping his promises. One way is by tracing “promise paths”—routes through Scripture that highlight a particular promise in its making, in its partial Old Testament fulfillment, and in its final fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
For instance, in the God’s Big Promises Bible Storybook, I map out five promise paths through Scripture:
- God’s promises to rescue
- God’s promises about his people
- God’s promises about a good land to live in
- God’s promises to bring joy
- God’s promises about a king
Second, when in the normal ebb and flow of family life you don’t keep your word—whether through sin or circumstances—don’t make excuses or explain it away. Own it, repent if you need to, and then use it as an opportunity to tell your kids there’s a Father who always keeps his promises. He’s never compromised by flaws or constrained by external circumstances.
Third, when your kids are struggling, point them to a specific promise of God and encourage them to live as though God’s promises are true. Because they are. He keeps them, not just across time but in our own lives. I need to learn that as much as my kids do.
A couple of weeks ago, my son was anxious before school. It turned out a big project was going wrong, and he didn’t know what to do. I thanked him for telling me, and we turned together to Philippians 4:5–7:
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
There’s a promise there, I told him. If we ask God to take a situation and help with it, he promises to give us a peace we can’t explain. The situation may not change, but our hearts will.
I went to work feeling anxious (the irony didn’t escape me). I’d told my son that God promises to give peace. What if God didn’t? What would my son think about God then?
I went to work. I came home. (On time, for the record.)
My son had a good day. He’d felt much more peaceful, even before God had helped him sort his project out.
The situation may not change, but our hearts will.
God had kept his promise. Of course he had. But my lack of faith had been exposed. I’d been worried that the God who kept his promises to give a son to barren parents, to free an enslaved people, to knock down impregnable walls, and to send his King to rescue his people to live in his kingdom with joy forever either couldn’t or wouldn’t give my son the peace he promises.
And so that evening, it was me who thanked God that he keeps his promises, even as I asked him to give me greater faith that he’ll do so.
God’s precious and very great promises are enough for our kids. And they’re enough for us too, because it’s as we know and trust them that we know and enjoy God personally. Here’s a prayer worth praying: that the go-to heart cry of all our children, throughout their lives, would simply be “Thank you, God, that you always keep your promises.”