Suffering with hope

When God’s Promises Look Different Than Our Expectations

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We sat in amazement, shocked by the unexpected blessing that the Lord provided for our family right before Christmas. A few years ago, after going into a Christmas season with the hard reality of no income and the heavy weight of trials on our family, we had accepted the fact that this Christmas would contain few gifts, less activities, and greater simplicity. Out of the Lord’s underserved goodness, however, he chose to take our empty hands and fill them with unexpected gifts. One of those gifts was a last minute free trip to Florida.

After a chaotic few days of planning, we surprised the kids and we were on our way. We were filled with thankfulness and amazement over the undeserved blessing that we had been given. That is, until problem after problem began to arise. Snow storm, flight delay, trapped in the airplane, sick child, screaming children, and a mix up that prevented us from entering the home we were staying when we arrived at 2:30am. “Ok, I thought; this wasn’t what I expected, but we can make the best of this.” That thought, however, was short lived as the next several days brought feverish and vomiting children, sleepless nights, tantrums, and an urgent care visit, while we stared out longingly at the beautiful weather from inside of our home. This wasn’t what I had expected. Why had God given us this gift only to tear it to pieces? In between helping sick children and falling asleep standing up, I began to wrestle with what I had expected and what God had allowed. Was God being unkind or was I having wrongful expectations of something that I didn’t deserve in the first place?

That week was hard but, in hindsight, it also challenged me to look at ways that I expect the Lord to act – ways that he never promised. 

Do you find yourself disappointed or even devastated at times, struggling to understand how God’s goodness, faithfulness, and provision aligns with your circumstances? For example, have you prayed desperately for a job promotion, but time after time you get passed up by a less experienced employee? Or have you begged the Lord to heal your loved one (or yourself), but each doctor report seems to be more disheartening? Or have you prayed for wisdom in making a life-changing decision, but now it seems that the Lord led you down a path full of unexpected challenges?

If God is good, faithful, just, loving, kind, merciful, gracious, compassionate, and sovereign, why does he allow these confusing circumstances that tend to rattle us? 

I certainly don’t know all of God’s purposes and am still left feeling baffled by certain circumstances that he has allowed, but I have seen ways that I have created distorted expectations of his promises, which complicate these unexpected twists in life. 

I believe that one of the main ways we can have distorted expectations of God’s promises is in regards to his faithfulness (and goodness). 

God is faithful. That is a promise. (1 Corinthians 1:9) But we need to know what he does and doesn’t promise believers that he will be faithful to do. 

God’s faithfulness promised in his Word is not always how we expect his faithfulness to look.

Here are several (not all) promises that the Bible gives us in regards to how God will be faithful –

*He doesn’t promise to save us if we are holy enough, strong enough, or involved enough in ministry, but he does promise to be faithful to save us if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9-10)

*He doesn’t promise that he will always act according to what seems good and faithful in our eyes, but he does promise to be faithful by sanctifying us completely and preparing us for our eternal home. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)

*He doesn’t promise to save us from all trials but he does promise to be faithful by allowing affliction to teach us to love and obey him. (Psalm 119:75)

*He doesn’t promise us protection from all of Satan’s attacks, but he does promise to be faithful by strengthening and guarding us against the enemy. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

*He doesn’t promise to answer all of our prayers in the way we desire, but he does promise to hear and answer all of what we ask that is in accordance with his will. (1 John 5:14-15)

*He doesn’t promise that we will be confident and capable in everything we do, but he does promise to be faithful to give us his strength, wisdom, and power to accomplish all that he calls us to. (Philippians 4:13)

*He doesn’t promise that we will never fail to trust him, but he does promise to be faithful, even when we are faithless. (2 Timothy 2:13)

*He doesn’t promise us that he will protect us from scary circumstances, disorienting paths, dark seasons, or times of loss, but he does promise to lead us in paths of righteousness, restore us, be near to us, comfort us, and fill us with himself. (Psalm 23:1-6)

*He doesn’t promise that we won’t be tempted, but he does promise to be faithful by not letting us be tempted beyond our ability. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

*He doesn’t promise us that we will no longer struggle with sin, but he does promise to be faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness if we confess our sins. (1 John 1:9) 

*He doesn’t promise to save us from suffering at the hands of evil or painful circumstances, but he does promise to be faithful to use our suffering as we trust in him to produce endurance, character, and hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)

*He doesn’t promise to protect us from all harm and disappointment, but he does promise to be faithful to work all things together for our good (eternal good) – even when we can’t see it or understand it. (Romans 8:28)

*He doesn’t promise to keep our bodies, minds, or earthly hopes from wasting away, but he does promise to be faithful to renew our innerselves day by day, even as our outer selves waste away. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

*He doesn’t promise to end our suffering on this earth, but he does promise to be faithful to use this momentary affliction to prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

As I reflect on these incredible promises of God’s faithfulness, I am freshly aware of how often I expect him to act in ways he never promised. 

He desires our hearts to let go of this world and grow in our love for him. However, he often does that by removing from us and denying the very things that we desire on this earth, allowing room for us to discover that he is truly all that we need. That is his faithfulness. 

He desires us to rely on him and not on our own strength and wisdom. However, he often does that by allowing weakness into our lives or placing us in situations that push us beyond our abilities and comfort. That is his faithfulness.

He desires us to trust him completely and be anchored in the hope of salvation. However, he often does that by allowing circumstances that we can’t make sense of, stripping away earthly hopes that distract us from the secure and eternal hope that he desires us to know. That is his faithfulness. 

Friends, if you’re experiencing circumstances that seem to contradict the goodness and faithfulness of God, would you join me in examining our hearts to see what ways we may be expecting God to act that he has never promised? As we do that, may we confess those to him and be comforted and encouraged by all of the ways that he has promised to be faithful to us as his children. Thankfully, he is patient and gracious towards us as we grow to trust him for who he truly is, rather than the God we may have expected him to be.

Praise the Lord that even when we are faithless, he will remain faithful. 

In Christ, 

Sarah Walton

Photo Credit: gwendolyn.allsop Flickr via Compfight cc

9 thoughts on “When God’s Promises Look Different Than Our Expectations”

  1. Wow Sarah, I will be reposting this when I get home. I am aware of some of the trials you are under but only those trials could produce this wisdom and beauty. Thank you so much for sharing this. There is no milk here, this is solid steak, much indebted. God’s grace, peace and blessings on you and yours. – Bruce

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  2. Sarah, this list of what God promised (and didn’t promise) reminds me of a section of my chapter on spiritual warfare (BARRIERS – So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?) Having on the spiritual “amour” doesn’t mean we won’t get into battles! Having on the belt of truth doesn’t mean we won’t hear lies, it does mean we have the weapon (God’s Word) to combat those lies. Having our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” doesn’t mean we can put our feet up and relax! (etc.) God equips us for the fight, He doesn’t let us hide from it. (Good thing – without a battle we’d have no victory. 😉 )

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  3. Thank you dearest Sarah! God has indeed gifted you with wisdom and encouragement! This is so beautiful and needed! This world and our flesh , tugs, pulls, and distracts us, eroding our faith!! So grateful for His promises and faithfulness!

    Stand firm precious sister! God does use you so much! Love following you on Instagram…your so funny! You have a precious family!

    I pray for you, as you bless others and glorify Christ so much! Just wanted to send you encouragement and to thank you this morning! Hope that marriage book is going well! In Jesus love, Teresa

    Teresa Moore

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