Does God disappoint us?

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God so often disappoints us. No, let's not kid ourselves, we place our hopes in him and those hopes many times fail us. The fault, however, is not with him. The fault is with our expectations, and with what I call, "the God of our imagination." The only reason we could ever be disappointed with the Eternal is if He somehow doesn't meet our expectations.

Recently, someone reminded me of something I said in a sermon long ago and had all but forgotten. A great lady whom we all loved and for whom we had prayed long and hard, had died in pain from what was probably colon cancer. There was no small amount of disappointment when she died after so much prayer. My sermon addressed the basis of our disappointment. Rather bluntly, I fear, I said that the objective of God calling us is not merely to save our miserable hides, but to spend us in his service.

Specifically I said, "God is not in the business of the preservation and perpetuation of human flesh." And I think it is in this error that we so often become disappointed. We think our aches and pains are as important to him as they are to us. They may be, but it will not be for the same reason at all.

The Apostle Paul

There was a man who is mentor to so many of us. His name was Saul of Tarsus. We have come to know him as the great Apostle Paul. At one point in his ministry he was moved to write of his experiences with God. He said that he knew a man in Christ who had been caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words, words which it is not permitted man to utter (see 2Corinthians 12:1 - 4). In context, it is clear that Paul himself was that man, but he doesn't want to couch it in those terms. So that he would not become vain due to what was revealed to him, God gave Paul a 'thorn in the flesh' to keep him humble. The apostle prayed three times for the trial to be removed. The answer he received was blunt and to the point.

"My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness." (verse 9, HBFV)

Paul's response shows the mark of a true mature Christian.

Therefore, most gladly will I (Paul) boast in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10. For this reason, I take pleasure in weaknesses . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong (verses 9 - 10).

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I must confess I am not there yet. I can't take pleasure in my infirmities. Sometimes they hurt terribly. But I do understand what Paul means when he says, "when I am weak, then I am strong." Paul knew that he could not do what he did, that he could not know what he knew, go where he had gone, understand what he understood, and be whole in the flesh at the same time. I can say this from Scripture, and I can confirm in my own life and experience. The greater the gifts from God, the closer one is to him, the more one understands of him, the more he intends to use a person in his service, the greater the need for infirmity of the flesh.

A subtle answer

God so often disappoints us because he is so often subtle. We want to see the withered hand go straight right in front of our eyes, We want to watch as the man born blind can now see. We want to watch the man who had been crippled all his life who now can dance and laugh. We want to see Lazarus walk out of the tomb. We want to see fire fall down out of heaven. And we are a little bit disappointed when we don't see anything.

Actually, it is not that we don't see anything at all. God may make a sick man well, but we wonder if he just got better. He may find you a job, but you can't tell if he really did or if the job was just there, and time and chance led you to it. And that leads us inexorably to a fact of life: God is subtle in his dealings with man and he prefers to keep it that way.

Consider, for example, a man named Naaman. This man was not a Jew, but a Syrian of some importance. He was the military chief of staff to the king of Syria. But he was also a leper. As the story goes, he was an admirable man in spite of his leprosy, or perhaps because of it. A man with the kind of power he held could easily have been a very different man. His wife had a servant, a little girl, who was captured from Israel. She seems to have cared about this man, because she told Naaman's wife that if Naaman saw God's prophet (who was Elisha at this time) he would be healed (2Kings 5:1 - 3). Naaman heard of this, and when he spoke to the king, the response was immediate, "Go, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel." Now this is impressive! It gives you some idea of the esteem the King of Syria held for Naaman. This was no ordinary General.

When Naaman brought the letter to the king of Israel, it frightened him. The Israelite king tore his clothes and wondered if this was a trick. But the prophet Elisha heard of these goings on and called for the King to send him down so he learn that there really was a prophet in Israel. So Naaman went, and stood at the door of Elisha's house with all his retinue. Elisha didn't even come to the door. He sent a servant out who spoke to Naaman and told him to go wash seven times in the Jordan river and he would be healed of his leprosy (verses 9 - 10).

This did not go down well. It is fair to say that Naaman was disappointed. To put it mildly, he was furious (verses 11 - 12)! He wanted to see Elisha clap his hands and shout, "Be healed!" He didn't get it. After he calmed down a bit he went down to the river and immersed himself seven times, probably feeling like a fool as he counted off the first six times. But the seventh time, he came up with flesh as clear and clean as a small child.

We mustn't be disappointed with the subtlety of our Father. I think he enjoys it. I think he laughed when he saw Nathan's face. And all this was set in motion by the words of a little girl. We would be well advised to get with the program and work his way instead of ours.

Elijah's disappointment

It is so easy to be disappointed. Take Elijah as an example. He had seen the fire fall from heaven on Mount Carmel, and one would think he would have been the king of the hill after this. But in a matter of hours, he was fleeing for his life from Jezebel, who had long since proved she was capable of murder. Elijah fled south to get away and came to a place in the wilderness where he sat, exhausted and defeated in the meager shade of a juniper tree. He prayed that his life would be taken from him. But God was not finished with him. An angel came and woke him, fed him and sent him on to mount Horeb where he came to a cave and waited there. As he waited, the Lord came to him and asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" His self-pity reply was that he was the only one left in Israel (or so he thought) who served the true God and that there were those who sought to kill him (1Kings 19:10).

After God displayed some of his power before the prophet (verses 11 - 12) he told him "in a still, small voice" to do certain tasks. He then subtlely corrected Elijah by stating there were seven thousand OTHER Israelites (other than himself) who also worshipped him (verse 18)!

Our expectations

We mustn't think God fails us or be disappointed with his subtle answers. It is more often than not his preferred manner of operation. And if we watch for it, we will be far more likely to see it when it comes. When we pray, we may not have the faith to move mountains. We may not be able to pray in faith that our tumor just disappears (although He has done so). But we can pray for relief from pain. A good night's sleep. A better doctor. Better medication.

Make your requests known. Ask as big as you want. Look for the leadership of the Spirit in prayer. You want to see the lame rise up and walk. That is great if it is the right moment for it. But it is disappointing if it is not. EXPECT God to be subtle in his reply, because he is that way far more often than not. And if you are watching for him to be subtle, you will see it.

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Miracles in the Old Testament
Miracles in the New Testament
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