I Could Never Promise You

I could never promise you on just my strength alone
That all my life I’d care for you, and love you as my own
I’ve never known the future, I only see today
Words that last a lifetime would be more than I could say

But the love inside my heart today is more than mine alone
It never changes, it never fails, never seeks its own
And by the God who gives it, and who lives in me and you
I know the words I speak today are words I’m going to do

And so I stand before you now for all to hear and see
I promise you in Jesus’ name the love He’s given me
And through the years on earth and as eternity goes by
The life and love He’s given us are never going to die
From the song, “I Could Never Promise You” by Don Francisco

I grew up listening to the folk tunes of Don Francisco. He was (and presumably still is, since ‘he’s [still] alive’) an incredibly gifted musical storyteller with a penchant for stirring anew the emotions of well-known bible stories. But perhaps his greatest song is the one above – a simple, humble promise to his wife consisting of one simple verse sung softly against the gentle plucking of guitar strings.

Recent events have made me think about this song more often than normal. Through my years of marriage, I’ve had it spring to mind every few months and have considered it a very real blessing. It reminds me of the importance of the marriage vows, as well as the power of God’s role in the marriage covenant. But lately, this song has been wafting through my brain on almost a daily basis as I look at some of the relationships with which I’m familiar breaking down … or, at the very least becoming much more precipitous.

One might believe that through careful observation born from pure intentions a person could find the secrets to a healthy and happy marriage. But the millennia of broken homes and promises have piled up so massive a mountain of relational casualties that even the deepest ocean trench could not consume their broken dreams, torturous heartache and scarred memories.

You see, the best lesson which I have learned about what makes a healthy and loving marriage is also the least known and certainly the least practiced. I’m not claiming to be some purveyor of mystery, nor am I claiming to have stumbled on some secret which has been missed by generations in the past. Instead, I’m talking about a recipe for joy which crosses relational and circumstantial boundaries. It’s a concoction of such heavenly design, that a heady draft (such as that found in Francisco’s song) leaves a well-meaning, humble person breathless for a second taste. But simultaneously, to the arrogant, self-righteous and self-centered person, it is a bubbling cauldron of the most odious and unwelcome consumable.
The thing of which I’m speaking is floating just below the surface of the beautiful words of Don Francisco: I could never promise you on just my strength alone.

The reason these words cross relations and circumstances is that it is the secret to all joy in this life. First, that the promises we make to each other are only as good as the relationship between the promising person and God. Promises are a mainstay of both personal and public relationships, and we might have noticed that they don’t mean a whole lot to the unscrupulous. A simple examination of your district’s congressman or your state’s senator will reveal as much. In fact, we’ve developed massive industries and bureaucracies to litigate and manage promises – lawyers, judges, accountants, salesmen, advertisers, watchdog groups and consumers are only a few of the groups of people that make a living off of promises. And the clear lesson, learned by experience in trusting both the right and wrong people is that promises mean different things to different people.

The only thing that can possibly break through the dissonance of unfulfilled promises comes down to something which is otherworldly. The promise of the snake in the garden was the first crack in the Pandora’s Box of deceit, leading determinedly to unfulfilled hearts, lives and expectations … and look at what was behind each poisonous word of the tempter, a twisting of the one good, true and noble thing which undergirded all of creation: the omnipotent and unshakable words of God.

If you want to know whether someone will tell you the truth, see how far their lives are from the life of Christ. Observe how their life conforms to the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Listen to how they talk to people and how they speak of the things which are good, honest and true.

Second, that the strength of our promises do not reside in the earnestness of our words. Too many people ‘swear’ that their words are the truth, even going so far as to reference “a stack of bibles” or “the name of [their mother]” or some other loved, trusted and cherished thing. Referencing my point above, how does it make a bit of difference to the truthfulness of a statement if a godless man places his hand on a bible while doing it? If a bad man, with bad intentions (oh, and by the way, I make no apologies for drawing lines between “good” and “bad” men. Any nonsense arguments all based on a spineless idea of us “all being sinners” derails the truth that we are still given free will.) makes a promise, whether spoken nakedly or with his hand on Holy Scripture, the words are conjured from the depths of the man’s heart, not from some magic goodness filter that seeps up through the pages inspired by God. Similarly, if a good man, with good intentions makes a promise or simply makes a statement, it can be taken to the bank by the promise receiver simply because it is earnestly endorsed by the man who said it. This is why we are told to “let [our] yes be yes and [our] no be no” (Mt 5:37).

The third point is a product of the first two, our relationship with God and our character known by man is only half of the equation. Ultimately, the other half of our ability to keep a promise is whether or not we TRUST in God to be able to keep HIS promises. It may seem like splitting hairs, but the distinction is important: we are not only to have a relationship with God, but we are to place all of our trust in Him too. There are lots of relationships that we keep with acquaintances and friends which don’t involve a whole lot of trust. For example, I go to this one restaurant for lunch quite a bit and I see and greet by name two ladies who work there and who prepare and present my food. Now certainly if I were rude and demeaning I should be wary of spit or boogers making their way onto my plate. But if I’m nice or even just indifferent to them, you would expect them not to tamper with the cleanliness of my food in any way. That’s about the extent of the trust factor in our relationship, i.e. that there isn’t any more trust of them by me than any other random person. So my relationship has no bearing on the trust which we share (or don’t share).

If it is possible to have a relationship with another person which involves no trust (or at least minimal trust), why is it inconceivable that someone who claims a relationship with God is incapable of trusting Him? Admittedly, this part of the talk could bog down in a discussion of whether it is even possible for you to gauge the amount of trust another person has for God. After all, isn’t that bordering on the judgmental and arrogant to say, “That guy may go to church every Sunday and pray before every meal, but he doesn’t trust God.” And certainly there is some element of judgment there. But many of the actions and words we perpetrate give our level of trust away. For example, if I just can’t seem to find a way to pay for food for my family, I have the option of being patient and trusting God to provide (after all, the sparrows are fed by Him), or I can go down to the local Fresh and Easy and slide a ready-made meal up my shirt. Regardless of what I profess in my relationship with God, it would be obvious to everyone around me that my trust isn’t complete if I do the latter. And, as you grow to know someone better and better, you see small actions that they take which reveal their level of trust in God and, if you’re especially cognizant, you might be able to gauge it more accurately than that person could gauge themselves.

All of this brings us full-circle to the point of Don Francisco’s poetry: I could never promise you on just my strength alone. To make a promise of the magnitude of a marriage vow without a relationship and trust with the only One capable of keeping a promise of that magnitude is outright folly. To believe a promise made to you by someone who keeps no relationship and trust with the only One capable of keeping a promise is outright folly. And to expect the results of any vow entered into by people who keep no relationship and trust in the only One who is capable of keeping a promise is outright folly.

What I have just written is not law – on par with the law of gravity or entropy – it is possible for a promise made by a person who is utterly ignorant of the power and strength of God to be kept. But when it is a solemn vow (like that of marriage), the promise requires much more than man’s will is capable of providing. The greatest illustration of this is in the other marriage ceremony with which us Christians are familiar: the marriage of Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His bride. On the individual level, when we accept God’s call to give ourselves to Him, we realize inherently that to do so is to acknowledge His ability to keep His own promises and subsequently our complete inability to keep ours. In other words, the union with Christ allows God to make a promise with God … Jesus acting on behalf of His united bride to keep a promise we are unable to keep on our own.

Viewed in this way, the marriage vow between a man and a woman CANNOT exclude God if the promises made are to hold true! The marriage is holy for no other reason than that it includes God … it welcomes God … it relies on God for its very own existence.

If we want to know why so many marriages fail, why there are so many broken hearts and broken lives, it is due to this one unassailable truth: that if we want something permanent and trustworthy, we must include the only thing to which we have access which is permanent and trustworthy: God. He will then make the rest of our song, the rest of our love and the rest of our promise come true:

I could never promise you on just my strength alone
That all my life I’d care for you, and love you as my own
I’ve never known the future, I only see today
Words that last a lifetime would be more than I could say

But the love inside my heart today is more than mine alone
It never changes, it never fails, never seeks its own
And by the God who gives it, and who lives in me and you
I know the words I speak today are words I’m going to do

And so I stand before you now for all to hear and see
I promise you in Jesus’ name the love He’s given me
And through the years on earth and as eternity goes by
The life and love He’s given us are never going to die

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s