Can Someone Be Released from Promises Made to God?

Question from a reader:

It seems like I can't go a day without making promises to God. I have been praying for forgiveness and strength to resist them popping into my mind, but I have probably made hundreds of them. I'm also scared that I may have said some out loud. Am I doomed, since I can’t possibly keep all these promises I’ve made?

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

Kudos for spending so much time in Scripture and wanting to do what is right in God’s eyes. Much of what you wrote mirrors what I used to worry about too, in my quest to ensure my place in Heaven and not to tick God off. Thankfully, when I fell in love with Jesus and now want to simply love Him and do each day what he sets before me, my need to do everything right and to obsess over what I did wrong disappeared.

My questions for you are, what did Jesus save you from? What difference does it make to you that Jesus died and rose again and now sits next to his Father, praying on your behalf (Romans 8:34)? How real to you is the fact that the Holy Spirit also intercedes for you, even when you don’t know how to pray because you’re too overwrought and burdened (Romans 8:26)?

Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” He also said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your soul.” Your message doesn’t sound like it comes from a soul enjoying abundant life or from a place of rest, trusting Jesus to keep His promises to take care of you.

You speak of being “doomed” if you don’t behave in a certain way (for example saying a vow out loud as opposed to internally). If Jesus died for your sin and rose from the grave to cover you in His righteousness, what can you do to negate what He’s already done? (Read Romans 8, particularly vv. 34-37.)

From what I can tell by what you wrote, your thoughts run in circles and your anxiety heightens with each new circle. Am I right?

Instead of focusing on your specific question about promises, I want to go a little deeper and suggest doing what you can to change your thought pattern and move it forward into something both Jesus and Paul recommend for those of us whose minds get stuck on the hamster wheel.

Jesus wants all of you. He came to set you free. He said so in John 8:36. What you’ve written sounds like anything but freedom. We’re told to take each thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We’re told that He delivers us from all our fears (Psalm 34:4…and by the way, this doesn’t mean we’re never afraid, but that He frees us of the mental trap of rehearsing the “what ifs”). And if the Son sets you free, you’re free. Period.

Having a thought pop into your mind is not sinful. What you choose to do with it can become sin if you choose to dwell on it and it goes against God’s stated will for you. The enemy wants to see you trapped. He loves it when you choose to obsess over what you can do to save yourself instead of focusing on Jesus who has already done everything necessary to save you. When you sin, confess it and move on.

I strongly encourage you to find an older woman who’s wise, knows Scripture, and ask her to help you re-direct your thoughts when you get stuck. You might find Esther Smith’s book A Still and Quiet Mind helpful. Also consider getting a check-up to make sure there aren’t some physical reasons (neurochemical or hormonal perhaps) why your thoughts about a particular subject take over and make it difficult for you to move past them and into freedom.

Paul wrote something I bring to mind every time my mind gets stuck in a rut, and the more I use it, the less frequent those stuck times have become. It’s in Philippians 4:5-9:

“The Lord is near.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things [other versions say “dwell” or “meditate”]. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

God doesn’t do your thinking for you. You choose what to “dwell” on. The more you worry over your thoughts the more deeply ingrained those thoughts will become. If they are negative, fearful thoughts, they aren’t from Jesus. Now, instead of focusing on how your thoughts may be from the enemy, start thinking ‘Jesus thoughts’. Instead of rolling around in your mind on a hamster wheel, start praising God, thanking Jesus, and worshipping through the Spirit. That will retrain your brain in the best possible way. I know it works!

God bless you as you choose to follow and trust Him.

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Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.