John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” -Luke 7:18-19
The holiday season, along with advent, is a time of heightened expectation. For some, it is “the most wonderful time of the year” but for others, it is the most challenging time of the year. As New Year approaches, people also begin dreaming of a “fresh start” and thinking about new resolutions. With anticipation that “this year will be different” people begin to make plans to implement changes that they hope will fulfill the desires or longings in their heart of what life should look like.
Whether it’s the holiday season/New Year’s resolutions or not, we all have different expectations of life, ourselves and others. We also have expectations of God. For those who choose to follow Jesus, we also develop more expectations based off his promises of what life should look like in following him.
And all of us, to one degree or another, wrestle with the reality of unfulfilled expectations and the confusion, frustration, grief and disillusionment that come as a result.
Let me cut to to the chase. When you find yourself in this place, first of all know that you are not alone. Not only are you not alone, but you are actually in good company. Some of the “greatest” hero’s of the faith faced severe seasons of doubt and disillusionment revolving around unfulfilled expectations.
Consider Job. An entire book of the bible (the oldest of all the books of the bible) chronicles his journey through his wrestling with God over why what happened to him happened, to Mary and Martha in John 11 when Jesus doesn’t heal their brother but let’s him die, to Jesus’ own disciples when he is crucified, to John, Jesus cousin, who was the first to boldly call people to put their trust in him as the long-awaited Messiah; life did not turn out the way they expected, and as a result they found themselves wrestling with doubts and all kinds of emotions. This is very human, even for those we hold up as the greatest men and women of faith.
Secondly, it’s not about whether you wrestle with doubts or not, it’s about what you do with or in your doubts and disillusionment. When expectations are shattered, when longings go unfulfilled (and they will), when God’s promises seem to have failed, the question is whether you will turn to God with your confusion or away from him in bitterness. It is at this point that many people harden their hearts, fall away, and stop following Jesus. (See John 6).
But if you come with the openness that while you are hurt, confused and struggling, but could have missed it with either misplaced expectations, misunderstanding of his timing or incorrect interpretation of his promises, your faith can be restored. In fact, your faith can even become stronger in the end, even though it will initially feel weak and fragile.
When John sent his disciples to seek clarity about whether Jesus was the one or if they should expect another, Jesus said two extremely things to strengthen John’s faith. The first was this: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
In other words, Jesus was saying: “John, don’t just consider your personal situation and unfulfilled expectations in your life, consider all the other evidence that points to me being who I am claiming to be.”
When we are dealing with unfulfilled expectations in our lives, we normally and naturally become consumed with that situation. Our focus therefore becomes very limited and narrow. In those moments, it is important to consider not just our personal experience that has confused us, but all evidence that confirms the claims of Jesus. Our faith can easily become too subjective to our individual experience and emotions, instead of objective in outward evidence. Sometimes we need to get the focus off our situations in order to see more clearly.
The other very important thing Jesus said to John was this: “Blessed is anyone who does not fall away on account of me.” (John 7:23).
Jesus says the same to us today when we find ourselves in a crisis of faith because of unfulfilled expectations: “My child, if you will continue to trust me in spite of your disappointment, disillusionment and doubts, you will be blessed in the end.”
In other words, we have one of two choices when things don’t turn out as we thought, hoped or expected. We will either fall away or continue to trust no matter what Jesus does or does not do in our lives. If we choose to continue to trust Jesus, we will be blessed because this is when faith becomes most real and thus most rewarded.
Faith becomes most real when trust has to be exercised in the midst of doubt, not because of lack of doubt.
In John’s case, Jesus did not come to deliver him physically from prison. He was in fact beheaded. For Jesus’ other disciples, all but one of them would also end up becoming martyrs. Their reward would not be an earthly reward in their life-time. But we consider them blessed, for they endured to the end in their trust in Jesus, and so stored up great treasure in heaven and the promise of a greater resurrection.
In Job’s case, God never directly answered his “why” question regarding his suffering. However, God did reveal himself to Job in a powerful way (see Job 38-42) and he was blessed more in his latter life than even the first part of his life.
In Mary and Martha’s case, Jesus didn’t heal their brother because he had something far greater in store: a resurrection! However, before Jesus raised him from the dead, he called personally for Mary who was keeping her distance from Jesus out of bitterness of heart. But after Mary comes and pours out her emotions at his feet, Jesus calls them to exercise faith saying: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” He then proceeded to raise Lazarus from the dead, a miracle far greater than the miracle they were looking for! Perhaps, your prayers have gone unanswered because Jesus has something better in store than you could have imagined or asked for! (Ephesians 3:20-21).
Ultimately, Jesus is saying the same to each of us that He said to John, Mary and Martha: You will be blessed and you will see my glory if you continue to believe despite your doubts and emotions.
Whether God has something greater in store on earth for us now, or in eternity, he wants us, as someone famously put it before, to trust his heart when we cannot see his hand.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” -John 6:67-69