Proverbs 20:25 (ESV) – It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”and to reflect only after making vows.
Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) – Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.
The check-out line is a trap. It is full of small consumer pitfalls with trinkets, candy, lip balm, and small electronics that few people need. At clothing stores these snares may come in the form of small jewelry items, sunglasses, or again, lip balm… They are called “impulse buys” in the retail world, and nearly every store with a checkout line carries them for one purpose: snag one more sale and drive up profits.
Having worked in retail, I rarely fall for those traps, and I think most people have an any easy time resisting. We know what’s going on. We know what impulse buys are all about, and so they are easy to avoid.
Less easy to avoid are the traps we set for ourselves spiritually.
In the above Scripture, the writer is setting out a warning to those who would dedicate something to the Lord and then rethink it, taking back what was given. Leviticus 27 talks about some of those vows, though, from our modern perspective, it’s difficult to know for sure what is meant by such vows. What is clear is that something has been devoted to God’s use, for God’s purpose.
Today, people of faith do this all the time. We set aside a portion of our income, an amount of time, some talent or gift, and dedicate it to the Lord. Acknowledging that it all comes from God anyway, we say, “This is yours, Lord. Do with it what you will…” Sometimes these vows are made with all sincerity to honor God’s generosity to us. Sometimes we make these commitments to feel holy as though there is a moral superiority in our gift.
But just like impulse buys, these dedications can become traps when we don’t fully understand what we are doing and later deny our commitment. This happens when we set aside Sunday as a day to the Lord, and then we make it a day for ourselves and our recreation. We do this when we commit to spending time with God in his Word and prayer and never even begin. How many Lenten commitments go into the trash can littered with so many New Year’s Resolutions and diet plans? How often do we say we are going to support the work of Jesus financially and then don’t? How often do we “intend” to serve, but every time there is a call to volunteer we make one excuse after another?
The trap for us is that what we meant to be a decision that expresses our love for God becomes a time of guilt when we once again fail. The commitment unfulfilled piles on our souls another layer of shame we are not supposed to carry. The moment of commitment is not the moment that counts, it’s the moment we follow through. The moment we honor God is not when we sign our name on a list but when we do the work…
Admittedly, I have fallen into those traps. Times of emotional holiness give way to practical selfishness, and I do not fully count the cost of a commitment. The good news is that God is not expecting perfection from us, but rather devoted intentionality in which we let our desire to honor him outweigh all other concerns. When we fail, our responsibility is to get back to it, and pray for the Holy Spirit’s power to do the work in us we may not be able to do on our own.