Hanging on by a Promise and a Prayer by Larry W. Peebles


“Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” When I was a child growing up, these words were used to guarantee the truthfulness of a statement made, or the dependability of a promise made. The child making this statement would use this saying to seal his word on a matter of grave importance, offering his life or eyesight as surety. Without a proven history of reliability, something was needed to convince the other party (usually also a child) that one’s word on a given matter was enough.

At a bronze sculptor’s shop in Sedona, Arizona, I saw a casting of an old rodeo cowboy. He looked to be worn by years of bronc riding. He was tall and crusty, leaning on a crutch with one leg in a cast. Looking up at him in awe was a very impressionable young boy. The old cowboy was offering a bit of wisdom, which was also the title of the piece of art. The cowboy said to the young boy “I’ve broken everything but my word.”

More than once in my business career, I have heard the phrase “hanging on by a promise and a prayer”. This was used to describe a company or an individual in a very dire and desperate situation. The outcome was not expected to be good. The pulse of the situation was gone. The legal or the economic entanglements were such that the business was not expected to survive. Hope hinged only on the word of whoever promised help, or who was praying.

We all know people who are very reliable on their word; unfortunately, we also know people who are not very reliable in following through on what they have said they will do. In Matthew 5:37, Jesus said “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’, ‘no’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” In other words, we should not need to swear by our life or our eyesight or anything else. We should live so that our reputation makes our word on a matter stand alone.

God has such a reputation for keeping His word. The Bible says God’s word is truth. He cannot lie. It goes on to say that the devil is the father of lies, and in him is no truth at all. The Lord spoke to me a powerful example of His truthfulness. (Remember that by words, he created the heavens and the earth, and everything in them, all out of nothing.) He said, while I’m staring at a white wall, “If I said that wall is green, would it be a lie? No, because as soon as I said that wall is green, it would be green.” He cannot lie. His reputation speaks for itself. We are created in His image, and our words need to carry that same impact.

When I think of God upholding His word and His promises, I think of two stories from the Bible. Although there are many more, these two give me a lot of encouragement:

  1. Joseph-the story of Joseph begins in Genesis, chapter 37, and continues to the end of the book. The promise God gave Joseph came at age 17 in the form of two dreams described in Genesis 37: 6-9. The dreams indicated that one day Joseph would be a ruler, even over his father (Jacob) and mother, and older brothers. Out of envy and jealousy, most of his brothers wanted to kill him, but they decided to throw him into a pit until they could sell him as a slave. Traders brought him to Egypt, where he was put in prison after false accusations were made by his master’s wife. While in prison, he was called on to interpret a dream by Pharaoh. The dream foretold of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought. Joseph was released from prison, given great power and position in Egypt, and put in charge of preparations for the coming drought. His command was absolute, subject only to Pharaoh. Under Joseph’s orders, huge amounts of grain were stored in the years of plenty. When the drought came and food became short in supply, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food. On the second such trip, when all the brothers came, Joseph revealed himself as the brother they had sold into slavery. They realized Joseph was not just alive, but held a very high position of authority. From the original dream (the promise), to the pit, to the prison, and to the palace of Pharaoh, Joseph honored God in all he did, and gave Him credit for every favor and success. When he was reunited with his brothers, he gave a moving tribute to God in Genesis 45: 4-7- “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Joseph not only forgave, he saved the lives of those who meant to take his life. Jacob then moved his entire family and livestock to Egypt to live under Joseph’s rule, provision, and protection. During the time Joseph was in the pit and the prison, held as a slave, he was holding on to a promise and a prayer. He would not give up on the promise because he knew the God who had given him the dream. God fulfilled the promise in a way that amazed everyone–Joseph, his brothers, his father, and even Pharaoh. Biblical scholars believe Joseph ruled as second in command to Pharaoh for over seventy years. He died at age 110, an age considered by the Egyptian culture to be an ideal lifespan. This would have been another indication of divine blessing on his life. Though the pit and the prison were a long way from the palace, Joseph never gave up on the promise that God had given him.

2. Abraham- the story of Abraham begins in Genesis, Chapter 12. In verses 1-3, God said to Abram (later changed to Abraham) “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed by you.” The remainder of the book of Genesis tells the story of Abraham, and his descendants Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The initial promise to Abram was confirmed to both Isaac and Jacob. The family of Jacob moved to Egypt during the great famine, as described in the story of Joseph. Pharaoh controlled the only food supply. Eventually the land, the cattle, and even the people of Egypt became the property of Pharaoh in return for food. When a subsequent Pharaoh became powerful enough, he also enslaved the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy tell the story of the plagues God sent to convince Pharaoh to set the people free from slavery, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the miracles and trials during the 40 years wandering in the desert. While Moses was leading the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt, through the desert, and toward the promised land (“the land I will show you”, from above), God was developing the character of a people He could call His own.

Finally, some 470 years after the promise to Abram, and after the death of Moses, Joshua was chosen to lead the Israelites into the land God spoke of with Abram. Battles were fought as recorded in the Book of Joshua, but God provided victory after victory. In Joshua 21:43-45, Joshua ultimately wrote this brief but beautiful summary of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham- “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob], and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as He had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” [Emphasis mine.]

God is a promise keeper. The first six books of the Bible point toward the fulfillment of that one promise to Abraham. There are many other stories and events contained in those books as well, and many other promises made and kept, but overall these books detail the great works of God to fulfill that promise. His written word, the Bible, contains hundreds of other promises for the current day believer. These pertain to salvation, the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life, but they also pertain to family, provision, wisdom, health, healing, peace of mind, and joy in the present life. This list is not intended to be comprehensive. There are many good books available on the promises of God, with scripture references on the Biblical basis for those promises.

The point is that we must study His word to understand His promises. Then we must believe that He does not fail to keep His word. We must hang on to the promise, and pray over it. The promise may be one contained in His written word, or it may be a word He has spoken personally. It may be a dream, or a dream He has placed in the heart that will not go away. Whatever the promise, we must not let go, even when it seems like we are going through the pit, the prison, the drought or the desert. God blesses those who believe Him. The palace and the promised land are the rewards for believing God keeps His word. Mary, though a virgin, was told she would deliver the Son of God into the world. Luke 1:45 says “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

Remember this scripture from Numbers 23:19- “God is not a man, that He should tell or act a lie, neither the son of man, that He should feel repentance or compunction [for what He has promised]. Has He said and shall He not do it? Or has he spoken and shall He not make it good?” (Amplified Version).

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