Raise your hand if you’ve been disappointed when something you wanted, worked for, and prayed over hasn’t happened how you hoped.
I’ve been disappointed many, many times. The relationships that didn’t work out. The miscarried babies I never got to hold and see grow up. The broken and damaged parts of my life.
Everyone has their own list. Real life can be tough, full of experiences that disappoint us. It can be all too easy to assume that those who get what they want are living their Christian life “right,” keeping to the path God mapped out for them. The flip side? Believers who don’t get what they wanted, hoped, and prayed for must have done it “wrong” and strayed from God’s will.
Sometimes, that can be true.
But sometimes, possibly a lot of the time, it’s just plain not true. Bad things can happen to faith-filled people. People with no faith at all can appear to be showered with prosperity. We can’t make assumptions about our own or anyone else’s walk with God based on their external circumstances.
When our lives are going well, it’s easy to become complacent and believe this happened because we’re being “good” Christians. God becomes a cosmic slot machine. Put in your fifty cents by doing all the right things, and you get the chocolate bar.
On the other hand, when our lives are not going well, we either get despondent, believing that though we thought we were doing what God wanted us to, obviously we weren’t; or we get angry with him. “I did everything right. I paid my fifty cents. Now where’s my candy bar?”
I admit, here and now, that I’ve done both. When I released my first three books, sales exceeded my expectations. My writing business was a success. I thanked God, of course, but I also thought I’d been blessed because I’d worked hard and done what he asked me to do. I became prideful and complacent. I assumed he’d keep giving me more and more success.
I’ve been the caregiver of my disabled husband for most of our marriage, and I took my own health and strength for granted. And yes, I was prideful about that too! I assumed I stayed well because I ate right and exercised.
Then God allowed a business failure and a disabling illness to humble me. Ouch!
It’s taken time to appreciate the gifts in these events, the way they have drawn me into a far deeper, more surrendered, and more trusting relationship with God. But they have.
When I thought health and success were the result of something I was doing right, I felt pressured to keep doing it. When I know my blessings are God’s doing, I can rest in him, sure that he is in charge. And that’s a good thing. Me taking the controls is like a toddler driving a car on a freeway. Someone is in the driver’s seat, but they sure aren’t in control of the vehicle!
Slowly and painfully, I learned that what is required in any situation is to first be still before him. To recognize that he is God, in all. To trust he has a plan and purpose for my highest good. To listen for what he asks of me, and do the work he guides me to do. And then, to patiently wait. The outcome may not be what I hoped for, but the blessing will be there. The gift will be there. The highest and best good will be there. The peace and joy that comes from trusting God will be there.
I’m finally learning what Paul meant when he wrote in Philippians 4:12–13 (NIV), “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
I’m learning to pray not so much for what I want, but for what he wants for me. I’m learning what it really means to walk the path he’s laid out for me. Rather than a confident stride, it’s more like baby step, baby step, fall flat on my face. But he is always there to pick me up, hold me close, and encourage me to keep walking.
And that’s the greatest blessing of all.
Autumn Macarthur is a USA Today bestselling author, living near London with her very English husband (aka The Cat Magnet) and way too many spoiled rescue cats. She loves writing deeply emotional romances to make you smile and remind you how big, wide, and deep God’s love is. You can find her at autumnmacarthur.com.
Photograph © Erik Cid, used with permission