When I was a kid, promises were like a double-edged sword.

I remember times when my dad would promise me and my brother that we would get to go fishing. I loved fishing. We lived near the coast and I had my “spot,” a bridge that we could get a half a mile or so into the bay and get ready for the thrill and boredom that comes with fishing. I loved when my dad promised us that we would get to go fishing—but I also hated it.

I knew my dad was good for the promise and that we would get to go, but I did not know when the promise would be fulfilled. As an eight-year-old, every passing day seemed like a year of waiting. I knew I was promised fishing, and I wanted to go right then.

It is pretty often that Christians have a view of God that works the same way.

We’re tempted to feel that when we have a promise from God, then that promise must come within a time frame that is acceptable to us. We might be willing to wait a week, a month or (hopefully not) a year. However, once that allotted time of waiting has passed, we can easily get frustrated with God or upset that what we have been promised has yet come to pass.

We often think of the promise as the prize, or what we are really after, when so often it is the process we go through in waiting that is the real prize. David—you know, the boy who killed a giant, soon to be king—knew the process of waiting better than most.

In an unexpected turn of events for the youngest son and shepherd extraordinaire, David was probably “anointed” (a.k.a promised by God in those days) as king when he was somewhere around 10 to 13 years old. The pre-teen shepherd then marched up to the king of Israel, Saul, and demanded the throne. Well, no not really. David just went back to taking care of some sheep, being the runt of the litter in his family.

To give the very short run-down of David’s life, a few years later he would kill a giant that scared all of the army of Israel, he would work in the court of Saul (the king he would eventually replace), and then had to run for his life (and keep running for a while). I can just imagine David thinking, “You know, God, it would be great to be king right about now. It would be amazing to not be on the run for my own life.”

Somewhere in the ballpark of 40 years after being anointed king, David would finally be solidified as King over all of a unified Israel.

David’s life should teach us what it means to wait. Waiting on the promises of God is not sitting idly by waiting for God to move, but to actively work towards those promises. David did not just become king and then started acting like a King, David prepared himself in learning to lead, learning what it was like being in a king’s court, learning military tactics, etc. … He actively waited on the promise of God.

There was a time in life where I felt God call me out of youth ministry and promise me a career that would better fit who I was as a person while getting to actively serve Him in ministry. I was at an impasse. I could just wait for that career to fall in my lap, or I could actively pursue it. Well, I left being a youth pastor, but really failed at pursuing what I felt God had promised me.

It took me two years of being upset with God, working a job I did not like at all, before I realized what happened.

I was so focused on God giving me what he promised, I failed to see what I had to do. It took me going back to seminary, many sleepless nights, working full-time while being a full-time student, missing out on relationships and actively pursuing what God had promised me before I started to see the fruit of that labor. It would be easy for me to recognize this as my own achievement, but looking back over everything that happened, I too often see God’s intervention, His opening up opportunities, closing me off from other opportunities and generally guiding me to even see the beginning of the fruit of the promise.

It was in the process (and the still ongoing process) of receiving the promise that I have been prepared, shaped and molded to receive that promise.

I have friends who have felt promised to have families, friends who felt promised by God that they would be married, pastor friends who have felt promised that the church would begin to change their community, and more. It is always the friends who worked toward the promise that actually see the promise fulfilled. Those friends who sit back and wait for the promise to fall in their lap end up frustrated, defeated, and typically upset with God.

It is in the active preparation for the promise that God molds us and often fulfills His promises to us. Can God just fulfill that promise to us without any of our involvement? Of course, but this is not the way that God typically does this. The Bible is filled with more than just the example of David. Go read Hebrew’s 11. This list, often dubbed “Heroes of the Faith”, is filled with people who were promised something by God and then sought out the promise.

Each person’s promise is unique, and each person’s preparation for that promise is going to be unique.

Do you feel promised to have a spouse and family? Well, how are you preparing your personal life, your actions, even your finances to see the promise of a spouse or family fulfilled? Feel promised that God will use you to reach more people for Him (hopefully this is all of us!), how are you preparing yourself? How are you actively working toward fulfilling the promise of God as opposed to passively waiting for God to do all of the work? Real faith is actively pursuing God, not passively believing He can do all things (even though He can!).