November 4, 2022

A Promise To Guide Your Promises

Audio Transcript

Today, we are talking about promises, and people everywhere are thinking something along these lines, “I wish we could just dissolve this business partnership. The business is not going as projected and this person has become incredibly difficult to work with.”

The type of person thinking this is a person who considers themselves to be a person of their word, and they understand that making and keeping promises always costs something. They wonder how they got into this scenario. They remember the promise they made, and they wonder what to do next.

As leaders, we have an obligation to make and keep promises. What do we need to consider when making and keeping promises?

You Are Your Promises

One thing we see for sure is that making and keeping promises is how things get done. As much as we have been hurt by the unkept promises of others and the failure to keep our own promises, we must keep making promises because that is how things get done. We cannot avoid making promises, but we can learn how to get better at making and keeping them.

Second, promises define us. Author Lewis Smedes says, “The promises we make and keep define who we are.” This is so true that Tim and Kathy Keller use these ideas in their book The Meaning of Marriage. Tim and Kathy remind us that, as human beings, we are not just the sum of our mistakes — in Christ we are completely covered by His mercy and grace. However, on earth we are the perfect vision of ourselves. Rather, we are the promises we make and keep.

This is especially true in marriage because over time people change. In the course of a marriage you will likely be married to at least 5 different people, and the promise is what anchors you.

People in business partnerships often wonder if they should dissolve the partnership because things change. Only one person is not capable of change and in control of everything — God. So, our promises take place in an environment where God is sovereign and we are not. Since we cannot control every variable, how we make promises really matters.

5 Characteristics Of Promises

In a Harvard Business Review article, Promise-Based Management: The Essence of Execution, Donald Sull and Charles Spinosa outline 5 characteristics of good promises.

  1. Public — The biggest promises of our lives are public — such as our marriage and baptism vows. Also, some of the biggest promises made in our society are public, such as entering public office or even Elon Musk’s promise to buy Twitter. One of the only reasons Elon Musk ended up buying Twitter was because he publicly promised to do so, and some attorneys held him to it.
  2. Active — Life changes quickly. Whether you are building a house or a website, the variables are constantly changing and this requires us to be proactive. This is why some fast food companies have levers that allow them to give away food for free if they do not deliver on the timeliness or quality of their food. Being proactive and identifying levers is important.
  3. Voluntary — People are committed to promises that they freely choose to make. When a promise is coerced, the promise does not mean as much. When a boss coerces employees, the employee might still deliver, but there will be a lack of buy-in that will have long term impacts on the health of the organization.  
  4. Explicit — Good promises are detailed — often outlining the things that will drive the success or failure of the promise. Knowing what to do when the promise gets off track is critical.
  5. Mission Based — Promises are who you are. If someone feels like their business partnership is not working out, they need to ask themselves, “Is this my mission? Are my promises in order?” If you are just getting out of it for money, you likely need to stick with it. If the partnership is causing you to falter on your more important promises to God and your family, you might need to consider renegotiating the promise.

Jesus Gives The Perfect Promise

Jesus understood and lived out these characteristics of promises fully and perfectly.

In John 15, Jesus had already washed His disciples feet, and He was speaking to His closest followers on the night He was betrayed when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Now, let’s see how these 5 characteristics of promises are present in these verses.

First, Jesus’ promise is public. He makes the promise to the whole room — it is not a side deal.

Second, the promise is active. Remaining in Christ is being guided by Christ. Christ is totally active in this promise to His disciples. On the flip side, what remaining in Christ means for us is that in every promise we should ask ourselves, “Am I being guided by Christ in this promise? If so, how and where is He guiding me?” When our promises are not guided by Christ, we get off track.

Third, Jesus’ promise is voluntary. He said to the Pharisees in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Leaders are willing to freely lay it down, knowing it will cost them something.

Fourth, the promise is explicit — I am the vine and you are the branches. You are connected to Jesus and it is clear what will happen both if you remain connected and if you become disconnected. We must live our lives connected to Jesus for our life and work to have enduring meaning and significance. Being connected to the vine through prayer, scripture, and worship is how we get on track to make and keep promises as we should.

Fifth, the promise is missional, and the mission worked so well that we are still talking about it over 2,000 years later. We often get distracted from our true purpose and mission in life — to make disciples. The mission of Jesus’ 12 disciples is the same as our mission today, and we get messed up when we promise things that deviate from this mission. Making business promises for our own selfish gain that are not rooted in or do not contribute to the mission are not beneficial. It is ok to renegotiate, but you need to ask who and what you are renegotiating for.

You Are Covered

In James 4:13-15 Jesus says, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

We do not know what will happen tomorrow — we are a mist. The fact that we are a mist is actually comforting and encouraging, and despite being a mist we are still called to make and keep promises.

And, most importantly, when we make promises we shouldn’t, when we fail to keep our word, when we need to renegotiate or when renegotiations fail, Jesus is still holding us in the palm of His hand.

No matter how many promises we break, our God will never break His promise to us. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 1:20

Podcast Links

- Leaders Make and Keep Promises

- Controlling The Unpredictable — The Power of Promising

- Meaning-Marriage-Facing-Complexities-Commitment

- Promise-based-management-the-essence-of-execution

Scripture

- John 15:5-8

- James 4:13-15

- 2 Corinthians 1:20

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Howard Graham
Howard Graham
Executive Director

Audio Transcript

Today, we are talking about promises, and people everywhere are thinking something along these lines, “I wish we could just dissolve this business partnership. The business is not going as projected and this person has become incredibly difficult to work with.”

The type of person thinking this is a person who considers themselves to be a person of their word, and they understand that making and keeping promises always costs something. They wonder how they got into this scenario. They remember the promise they made, and they wonder what to do next.

As leaders, we have an obligation to make and keep promises. What do we need to consider when making and keeping promises?

You Are Your Promises

One thing we see for sure is that making and keeping promises is how things get done. As much as we have been hurt by the unkept promises of others and the failure to keep our own promises, we must keep making promises because that is how things get done. We cannot avoid making promises, but we can learn how to get better at making and keeping them.

Second, promises define us. Author Lewis Smedes says, “The promises we make and keep define who we are.” This is so true that Tim and Kathy Keller use these ideas in their book The Meaning of Marriage. Tim and Kathy remind us that, as human beings, we are not just the sum of our mistakes — in Christ we are completely covered by His mercy and grace. However, on earth we are the perfect vision of ourselves. Rather, we are the promises we make and keep.

This is especially true in marriage because over time people change. In the course of a marriage you will likely be married to at least 5 different people, and the promise is what anchors you.

People in business partnerships often wonder if they should dissolve the partnership because things change. Only one person is not capable of change and in control of everything — God. So, our promises take place in an environment where God is sovereign and we are not. Since we cannot control every variable, how we make promises really matters.

5 Characteristics Of Promises

In a Harvard Business Review article, Promise-Based Management: The Essence of Execution, Donald Sull and Charles Spinosa outline 5 characteristics of good promises.

  1. Public — The biggest promises of our lives are public — such as our marriage and baptism vows. Also, some of the biggest promises made in our society are public, such as entering public office or even Elon Musk’s promise to buy Twitter. One of the only reasons Elon Musk ended up buying Twitter was because he publicly promised to do so, and some attorneys held him to it.
  2. Active — Life changes quickly. Whether you are building a house or a website, the variables are constantly changing and this requires us to be proactive. This is why some fast food companies have levers that allow them to give away food for free if they do not deliver on the timeliness or quality of their food. Being proactive and identifying levers is important.
  3. Voluntary — People are committed to promises that they freely choose to make. When a promise is coerced, the promise does not mean as much. When a boss coerces employees, the employee might still deliver, but there will be a lack of buy-in that will have long term impacts on the health of the organization.  
  4. Explicit — Good promises are detailed — often outlining the things that will drive the success or failure of the promise. Knowing what to do when the promise gets off track is critical.
  5. Mission Based — Promises are who you are. If someone feels like their business partnership is not working out, they need to ask themselves, “Is this my mission? Are my promises in order?” If you are just getting out of it for money, you likely need to stick with it. If the partnership is causing you to falter on your more important promises to God and your family, you might need to consider renegotiating the promise.

Jesus Gives The Perfect Promise

Jesus understood and lived out these characteristics of promises fully and perfectly.

In John 15, Jesus had already washed His disciples feet, and He was speaking to His closest followers on the night He was betrayed when He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Now, let’s see how these 5 characteristics of promises are present in these verses.

First, Jesus’ promise is public. He makes the promise to the whole room — it is not a side deal.

Second, the promise is active. Remaining in Christ is being guided by Christ. Christ is totally active in this promise to His disciples. On the flip side, what remaining in Christ means for us is that in every promise we should ask ourselves, “Am I being guided by Christ in this promise? If so, how and where is He guiding me?” When our promises are not guided by Christ, we get off track.

Third, Jesus’ promise is voluntary. He said to the Pharisees in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Leaders are willing to freely lay it down, knowing it will cost them something.

Fourth, the promise is explicit — I am the vine and you are the branches. You are connected to Jesus and it is clear what will happen both if you remain connected and if you become disconnected. We must live our lives connected to Jesus for our life and work to have enduring meaning and significance. Being connected to the vine through prayer, scripture, and worship is how we get on track to make and keep promises as we should.

Fifth, the promise is missional, and the mission worked so well that we are still talking about it over 2,000 years later. We often get distracted from our true purpose and mission in life — to make disciples. The mission of Jesus’ 12 disciples is the same as our mission today, and we get messed up when we promise things that deviate from this mission. Making business promises for our own selfish gain that are not rooted in or do not contribute to the mission are not beneficial. It is ok to renegotiate, but you need to ask who and what you are renegotiating for.

You Are Covered

In James 4:13-15 Jesus says, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

We do not know what will happen tomorrow — we are a mist. The fact that we are a mist is actually comforting and encouraging, and despite being a mist we are still called to make and keep promises.

And, most importantly, when we make promises we shouldn’t, when we fail to keep our word, when we need to renegotiate or when renegotiations fail, Jesus is still holding us in the palm of His hand.

No matter how many promises we break, our God will never break His promise to us. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 1:20

Podcast Links

- Leaders Make and Keep Promises

- Controlling The Unpredictable — The Power of Promising

- Meaning-Marriage-Facing-Complexities-Commitment

- Promise-based-management-the-essence-of-execution

Scripture

- John 15:5-8

- James 4:13-15

- 2 Corinthians 1:20

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