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One of the great things about being a pastor is the ability to officiate at weddings. Several times every year, I get the opportunity to lead a young couple in vows of lifelong love. Of late, older married couples have begun to ask me to renew their vows as part of the celebration of their fiftieth anniversaries. Presiding over such ceremonies is both a joyous and solemn experience. The joy is self-evident; the solemnity requires some explanation.
Marriage—if the vows are any guide—is a very serious commitment. I ask the bride: “Will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?” Then I ask the groom the same questions. Later, I ask the husband to say after me: “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” Then I ask the bride to repeat those same words. They are promises of unconditional, lifelong love, which are not to be broken.
Sometimes, I wonder if we are as serious about our relationship with God as a bride and groom are about their vows on the day of their wedding. Do we vow to love God “from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death”? I think some people do, and I think they often follow through on that vow to God. More often, however, I think we take our relationship with God a bit unseriously.
We make bargains with God that we quickly break when he comes through with his part. “Dear Lord, if you help me get this job,” we pray, “I’ll start attending church regularly.” Or, “Heavenly Father, if you help me lose 25 pounds before my high school reunion, I will volunteer to teach Sunday school.” When we get the job and lose the weight, however, we quickly find good excuses for slacking off on our church attendance or filling our weekends with anything other than screaming Sunday schoolers.
Ecclesiastes 5.1–7 warns us about such laziness in keeping our promises to God. Basically, the Preacher’s message is, “If you really love God, shut up. He is not impressed by your endless empty promises.” Instead, what God desires most from us is our silent, rapt attention: “To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools” (5:1). He also desires our simple obedience: “God has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow” (5:4).
Making promises, taking vows, is a normal human thing, whether we make those promises to one another or to God. But in a day when words are cheap and plentiful, such as ours certainly is, the most spiritual thing to do is to keep silent or at most use words very carefully. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). In light of all this, I guess my advice to you (and to myself also) is twofold: Mean what you say, and then do it. That is what God requires.