I was reading Leviticus 27 today. It was all about making vows - making voluntary vows, and then regretting making the vow and wanting to get whatever you had given back. There was a fixed penalty of an added 20% on top of the value of the goods if a person chose to renege on a vow - that they had to pay more than the good were worth. If they tried to do a swap with a lesser item - they lost both things. If they regretted giving their number one bull and wanted to do a swap for their number two bull, they lost both bulls! And then there were just some things they just couldn't get back at all!
We all make promises - to pray more regularly, to read so many chapters of the Bible each day, to witness more often. When we make the vows we are being sincere. We have no intention of going back on what we promise to do. But then "real life" kicks in. We have only so much time and so many things to do and the prayers and the Bible reading get edged out and we just can't seem to get up enough confidence to speak to someone about our faith. Then we end up feeling guilty - so we make another promise!
There are a couple of parables that come to mind about counting the cost - the man that builds a tower and runs out of money before he can finish, and the king that goes to war and then decided he doesn't really have a great army and thinks about surrendering.
The parable of the tower really sticks in my mind. I lived in Cyprus for a number of years, teaching in a church school in Limassol. Living there was like living on a huge building site There were always buildings going up. It was common to build another level on top of your home to accommodate your son or daughter when they were married - so nothing ever really looked finished.
In particular there was a half finished hotel called the King Richard Hotel. The man began building it. There were the bare bones of a couple of dozen or so floors. Then he ran out of money and the unfinished building became a city landmark - but not a hotel! The year I left, some corporation bought the building and completed it - the bottom floor was given over to Woolworth's - the biggest store in the city at the time!
God knows what we are like about promises. In Leviticus 27 He made provision for the promise breakers - but he doesn't make it easy provision. It comes at a cost. I know what I am like about promises too! I always have second and third and fourth doubts about jumping in with something because I know that perhaps in a few weeks I will loose the enthusiasm and it will become a chore or a duty. Maybe that is not very "faith" inspired - maybe I just need to stop listening to the voices!! But there is this sense of knowing your history! Reading Leviticus 27, does that mean I should never make the promises in the first place? There is sense where I am called to live in the present tense - not worrying now whether in the future I will go back on my promise, because my past history tells me I will. God gives me all the resources I need, so I shouldn't have to go back on my promises!
Interestingly enough, on a preaching CD, Patricia King spoke about "seasons" of things. At the time she was in a season of prayer and felt quite able to pray eight hours in the day! She recognised that it was a "season" and not a life long commitment. Maybe that is the way ahead - stress that it is for a season!
God is a promise keeper! We are to imitate God and be promise keepers too. If we are reflecting the character of God and do not keep our promises or vows, it is like saying to people around us that perhaps the God we follow doesn't keep his promises either!