On January 20, 2017, the last thing in the world I wanted to think about was my future wife.
Two days prior, I’d broken up with my girlfriend of over two years — the one I’d thought might be “the one.” Now I was sitting at one of my best friend’s weddings, watching two people stare lovingly into each other’s eyes and commit their lives to each other.
I was incredibly happy for them, but their joy was a stark, painful reminder of what I didn’t have (and how far away I was from having it). It was as if someone picked a scab, then repeatedly shoved a lit match inside of it… not super enjoyable.
Mike White’s recent message (6/25) on missed expectations brought me back to that moment. The message centered on the prophet Elijah, who in 1 Kings achieved one of the most dramatic victories in biblical history. Up against 450 prophets of the pagan god Baal, Elijah called upon God to set fire to his sacrifice, a feat that Baal worshipers couldn’t achieve. God came through, and Elijah killed the losing prophets, telling the evil king Ahab to go home and have dinner.
At that moment, Elijah was on top of the world.
When Ahab reported what happened to his wife, Jezebel, she sent a message to Elijah, threatening to kill him as Elijah has killed Baal’s prophets.
Death threats were nothing new to Elijah. He was aware of the perilous position that being God’s prophet put him in and how much the royalty despised him. Elijah became afraid and ran for his life, eventually collapsing under a bush in the desert, begging God to kill him and end it there.
What happened to the courageous victor from just a chapter ago? Where was the champion who taunted his competition and put them to death?
Elijah had simply had it with God. After faithfully serving God for many, many years he felt there was little success to show for it. Elijah thought that with his grand victory over Baal’s prophets, God would move and reclaim Israel for His people.
But that wasn’t God’s plan.
Missed expectations are one of the most dangerous chasm-creators in our relationship with God. When He doesn’t act in the ways we think He should, it often feels like a betrayal.
If you love me, God, why did I get laid off? Why can’t my husband and I get pregnant? Why won’t my estranged son even acknowledge I exist?
These are healthy questions to ask God in prayer, but if we allow them to erode our trust and faith in God’s goodness, they become toxic. Instead of questioning God’s plan, I challenge you to flip the script: challenge yourself and where your expectations came from.
Let’s go back to my missed expectations at that wedding: I was upset with God because my relationship with this woman had ended. I had expected we would eventually get married and, when that didn’t come to pass, I wondered what God was doing.
Now, let’s examine the reasons why I thought I was supposed to marry this person (and why they were ridiculous):
- My parents were high school sweethearts who got married in their early twenties and I was already 27. I thought I’d be long married by this time (each marriage has its own unique, perfect timeline, and when my parents got hitched has nothing to do with my marriage).
- I’d been dating this woman for a long time (there’s no “dating clock” that rewards you with a ring when you reach it. Some couples date for six months, others 10 years).
- My girlfriend and I had talked about marriage and kids many times already (talking about being married is very much not the same as being married).
- We already had a dog together (LOL).
God didn’t promise me that I would be married by a certain age or guarantee me a partner if we dated for a certain amount of time. These were constructs I made in my head, but God never agreed to them. They were as binding as a contract written on a piece of toilet paper.
When you think about it, I was pretty audacious: I created a plan, presented it to God, and said, “OK, now you carry it out.”
A tiny, know-nothing human was making demands of the all-powerful God who created him.
When we find ourselves most disappointed with life, it’s not because something in our life failed us. Rather, it’s our expectations of what our life ought to be that have failed us.
This isn’t a modern-day phenomenon, either. People have had misaligned expectations of God for thousands of years. Just look at Jesus’ life alone:
- John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin) proclaimed the coming of a Savior with power and justice. When Jesus arrived and centered His ministry on love and mercy, John questioned if Jesus was who He proclaimed (Matthew 11:3).
- Martha confronted Jesus after her brother, Lazarus, died during Jesus’ journey to see him (John 11:21-22).
- Peter expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans and rescue the Jewish people from Roman rule. When Jesus instead told the apostles that He must be killed, Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him (Mark 8:31-32).
The Bible is story after story of people expecting one thing and God giving them another. The most successful aren’t those who question and resist God, but faithfully trust in him even when they don’t understand.
Do you think Daniel expected God would allow Him to be thrown into a pit of lions when he defended his faith?
Did Ruth expect to be a widow traveling in a foreign land with her mother-in-law when she married her husband?
Would Abram, who’d lived his entire life in Hurran, expect to be asked out of the blue to pack up and move to a new land?
I’m sure doubts crept into their minds, but even while their heads might not have aligned with God, their hearts did. They understood Isaiah 55:8-9, even if they lived before it was written:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Sitting in the pew at my buddy’s wedding service, I was not happy with God. I was 27, single, and had no dating prospects. This was not my plan.
This was His plan.
Little did I know, my eventual wife was sitting five feet from me.
That night I met my friend’s twin sister. Less than two years later, it was us walking down the aisle.
How crazy is that??
God’s plan is so immeasurably better than ours, and He’s capable of so much more than we could ever expect of Him.
This knowledge doesn’t make life easy, and I don’t want to sound like I’m belittling a struggle you might be facing. If you’re going through a divorce or fighting a serious health struggle, it sounds really callous and insensitive to hear, “Don’t worry, God has a bigger plan!”
Here’s the thing, though… God never promised easy. In fact, He laid out a very clear expectation for what our earthly lives would be: “In this world, you will have trouble…”
However, we also have these expectations that Jesus set for us:
- He will not leave us (John 14:18)
- He’s prepared a place for us to live with Him forever (John 14:3)
- He lives with us and in us (John 14:17)
We’re going to have missed expectations. Human nature leads us to try to control our fate. When challenges arise, I challenge you to examine your expectations. Return to the promises Jesus outlined for us and trust in the plans that God has for you, even if you can’t see them yet.