When God’s Answer is Different Than We Expect

as published at https://encourage.pcacdm.org/2019/01/14/post-template-104/

It was the answer to prayer I didn’t want to get. It was not only disappointing—it was costly.

It was one of those life situations that getting the answer I wanted would have had no grand effect on the universe, but have made my life (and my family’s life) quite lovely. Time, prayer, wise counsel, and careful planning had all gone into setting the stage. The answer I wanted would have allowed me to honor God in so many ways. The correct answer to my prayer was obvious, and I couldn’t wait to receive my blessing from the Lord’s hand.

But the answer that seemed so right never materialized. I felt as though God had failed me even though I had done everything right. I prepared for a season of action, yet God had me continue in this season of waiting. In between the sharp pains of disappointment, questions swirled like brittle leaves on a blustery day. Why had it turned out this way? Why did I have to suffer? Didn’t God care?

Why had it turned out this way?

I had a plan. It was a very simple script to follow. There was no drama, plenty of pleasant dialogue, and a predictable happy ending. It was a slice of Hallmark in my minivan life. I didn’t need the dusting of fairytale magic to make all my dreams come true— just a little celestial nudging to tip the scales in my favor.

As what usually happens when I look back on motives in that crystal-clear rearview mirror, I noticed a lot of me: my expectations, my strategies, and my satisfaction. I had taken up so much space at the table with my wants, plans, and desires that there was very little room left for God. Once again, God did what only he can do so masterfully. He swept all my facts and figures on the floor, erased the diagrams clean off the board, and patiently held my gaze while he said, “Wait.”

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

This business of life is full of decisions. It is good to hope and dream. It is good to strive for excellence. It is good to plan well. But for all our planning, all our wisdom and knowledge, we can’t control the outcome. It is good to seek the Lord’s favor, but we cannot put him in a box. He will decide the steps we take.

Why did I have to suffer?

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

The Lord promises his people good things: welfare, a future, and hope. Nowhere is happiness guaranteed. It’s bigger than just getting by. It’s greater than finding the comfortable. Our Father deeply cares that we conform each day to look more like him in this journey of sanctification. God takes a greater interest in making us holy than keeping us happy.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kids, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

This quote would probably never be considered by a clever marketing team to put at the top of Christian recruiting posters. The promise of hardships and trials is certainly not upbeat or initially enticing. Or is it?

Our perfect ending has already been planned. Even though the journey may have a few more bumps, bruises, and stumbles than we expect, we will assuredly be shaped in the image of the Son. The Lord promises to walk with his children and continually give them what they need— not necessarily what they want. The pain of today is nothing compared to the glorious perfection to come.

Doesn’t God care?

“You don’t love me anymore!” my young daughter once sobbed with tears streaming down her face.

Oh, how that made my momma-heart ache! If only she could peel back the curtain and see all the hours I have spent praying for her, serving her, and giving my very self to grow a strong woman out of her.

How embarrassed I am to admit the number of times I internally scream at God when he doesn’t answer my prayer the way I want him to. Romans 8:32 convicts me with the reminder that God has loved me so much he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” If God is willing to give me his Son, “will he not also with [Christ] graciously give us all things?”

God does care! Like a parent yearning the best for their child, the Lord desires the best for us. I know the Lord is good. I know he has planned my steps. I know he has a perfect future waiting for me. I know he has given his all to make me his. How can I ever doubt that he cares?

It was the answer to prayer I didn’t want to get. It was a season of wrestling with my God. Fortunately, no matter how hard I pushed against him, he fiercely held his grip on me.

I still don’t know what the Lord has planned, but I trust that he will love me well. The ending may not turn out the way I planned and the journey may be painful, but I know that my Father cares. His love is enough.

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