Have you ever travelled through an airport and seen unclaimed suitcases sitting on or next to luggage carousels? We might think that it would be hard to forget a suitcase after a flight (depending on how bad the flight was, of course), but astonishingly, millions of bags are unclaimed each year worldwide – sometimes after being misdirected but other times just forgotten and left in the airport to which they were flown. Unclaimed luggage in the United States over the last few decades has included bags containing incredibly valuable things such as a 40.95-carat natural emerald, a 4,000-year-old Egyptian burial mask, and even an Air Force missile guidance system.
Perhaps even more amazingly, what is true of luggage is also true of many people’s money. People forget that they have old or dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks, bonds or other financial holdings, and these funds often go unclaimed after their owners’ deaths, despite the fact that they may sometimes represent very large amounts. In fact, it is estimated that in the United States alone there are over thirty billion dollars of such unclaimed funds at a given time.
This may seem strange to most of us – especially when we realize that all the owners had to do to obtain their unclaimed possessions was to show two forms of identification to claim what was rightfully theirs. Yet hard as it may be for many of us to understand the huge number of suitcases and the massive amounts of money that go unclaimed each year, we too may be guilty of forgetting to claim some of the spiritual things – the standing promises found in God’s word – to which we are entitled.
How many promises does the Bible contain? Different estimates have been made by different people. Many who have tried to count the Bible’s promises feel that there are well over 3,000 and some feel that there are actually more than 5,000 or even 7,000. The 20th century Bible writer Dr. Herbert Lockyer published a book titled All the Promises of the Bible which claimed that there are actually some 8,000 distinct promises waiting to be claimed between the pages of the Bible.
However many promises the Bible may contain, the point is that there are ones applying to almost every conceivable situation in life. Most of them are clearly stated and waiting for us to claim them. But biblically, we do need two forms of identification, and many people are disappointed or disillusioned when they try to claim the Scripture's promises without them.
The Bible shows that to claim its promises we must be the people to whom the promises belong and the first identifier is that of obedience. Notice what the apostle Paul says specifically about this form of spiritual identification needed for promise claiming: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). While these words may sound somewhat formal to our modern ears, it is the same kind of formal language found in a passport or other form of identification, and its meaning is clear. To claim God’s promises we need to be as obedient as possible to what God reveals to us regarding his way of life.
But a single form of identification is often not enough to retrieve your unclaimed suitcase or financial account, and the same is true of biblical identification. The Scriptures specify a second form of spiritual ID that we need to claim its promises – that of perseverance. The book of Hebrews makes this clear: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36 and see also Hebrews 6:12).
Just as we may have to wait a little while in the line at the airport luggage office or we may have to wait patiently till we hear back from the bank from which we try to withdraw our unclaimed funds, spiritual promises sometimes require a little patience before they are fulfilled – but a promise is a promise and the God who gave the Scripture's promises knows that better than any of us and he will fulfill them (Numbers 23:19). Our responsibility is simply to know, remember and claim the promises he has given us.
Yet so often we do not claim promises we have been given or utilize them even when we need them. A historical example comes to mind. In the 1800’s the great warrior chief Isapo-Muxika, or Crowfoot, of the Blackfoot nation in southern Alberta, gave the Canadian Pacific Railway permission to lay railroad tracks through his people’s land. The grateful railroad officials gave Crowfoot a lifetime ticket to ride the trains, and the chief wore this ticket in a pouch around his neck – but never once used it – throughout the rest of his life.
That is a human trait all of us can display to some degree – to be aware of promises and perhaps even to treasure them, yet to not always actively claim them. That is why, like many suitcases and bank accounts, there are so many spiritual promises that go unclaimed. But the Bible is clear. As long as we have the two identifications of obedience and perseverance, we are eligible to claim what has been spiritually promised to us and what is rightfully ours.