I write a lot about the balancing act that comes with following Christ. The Bible points clearly to ideas that, in the earthly realm, seem to be in conflict with one another. We serve a God who is faithful and loving, but He is also just and fierce. Though He is faithful, we are told to expect trials. He is a Heavenly Father who knows how to give good gifts to His children, but He will also test our faith to mature us. We know that all things will work together for good, but we don’t know how our prayers will be answered.
When it comes to what to expect in life, people have theories such as Murphy’s Law, but Christians should not think or speak as though there is a separate phenomenon outside of God’s will. And for all of our pessimism about things going wrong, believers can all point to a time when God’s faithfulness brought unexpected relief to a difficult situation. So what do we expect from God when we are waiting on Him to answer our prayers?
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
At church, we’ve been going through the Gospel of Mark. One of the things we have observed multiple times in Mark’s narrative, is the apparent cluelessness of Jesus’ twelve disciples. They saw Jesus perform many miracles of various kinds, but they didn’t seem to understand that He could solve their problems, too. I have started to think we are judging the disciples too harshly. Because even when you know God is God, and that He hears your prayers, you can’t always know what to expect from Him. Expecting the good outcome that you pray for could be “getting your hopes up” because you don’t know what God’s will is. As we mature in faith, I know that God’s will becomes more apparent, and the very things we pray for change as He transforms our will to match His. But still, most of us aren’t able to see beforehand when the trials will come or when the richness of His blessings will overwhelm us.
When my sister and I found a new living situation last fall, she used the word astounded to describe how we felt when God’s blessing exceeded our expectations. We were trusting Him to guide us in our decision-making, and we were sure that He would be faithful to provide for us. Then, He went above and beyond. Is it wrong to say that God astounded us? Does it mean that we didn’t give Him enough credit for what He could do? We trusted God fully with the situation, but we couldn’t have known exactly how it would turn out.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus spoke of hardship and persecution for those who follow Him. This, along with our life experience, gives us a tendency to “manage expectations.” I was praying that a friend would be able to have an opportunity that she wanted. I talked to God about this issue of expectations because I didn’t want her heart to be broken. I wondered about the right way to handle it, if what she desired wasn’t God’s plan for her. For some reason, Job came to my mind. When his wife questioned why he was still holding on to his faith, he said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) If we accept the good, and God is so gracious to us, we must also accept the bad. Certainly, there will be plenty in between.
“Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
God is like a father on Christmas morning. Sometimes, His child is amazed and excited when a gift is far better than imagined. Other times, the child wanted something that wouldn’t have been good for him. So, the loving Heavenly Father has to give a gift which is better for the child, even though there will be disappointment. We always need to remember that God knows what is best for us. When we are astounded, we need to give Him the glory for all of the great things that He has done. When we are disappointed, we have to take it to Him and pray for the strength and grace to live out the circumstances that He has us in.
I’m cutting the disciples some slack. It takes longer than three years of walking with Jesus to work through these issues of faith. I am still working through them after thirty-some years! I believe that God understands when we are astounded or disappointed. What He wants from us is to keep looking to Him and trusting Him for our wants and needs. There will be trials, and, as I have learned time and again, God will say “No” to some of our requests. We will be astounded, and we will be humbled. As we pray, we can have faith that our God is able to do what we ask and much more. But our attitude must be like that of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who submitted Himself to the will of His Father. Whatever comes, there are some things that we can count on: He will always be with us, He will give us strength to face any circumstance, and His grace is sufficient for every trial.