Years ago, when our children were younger, we used to schedule “mystery family vacations.” The idea was a brilliant one, I might add. The concept was simple. Lisa and I would devise a fun family vacation but keep it a secret. We would simply share with our children the date of departure, the date of return and provide them a packing list, inserted with a few decoys to throw them off. The first year our children complained that we were terrible parents trying our best to ruin their lives, (jury is still out on that one) but then the rest was history. Many of our most treasured family memories have come from these wild experiences. I will have to share them with you sometime, but here is an abridged version of one.
One particular summer, we had scheduled a trip to visit the Grand Canyon, Zion and some of the other various amazing sites out West. We chose to do this during the month of August, which by the way, is the hottest time of year to visit these sites… but it is what it is. One of our surprise sites was to spend two nights at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the world-famous Havasupai Lodge. I had seen a short documentary about this place and the beautiful Havasupai Falls, located within walking distance of the lodge. I had heard that Tom Cruise had visited, which incentivized Lisa to now want to go. Knowing all of this, we booked ourselves a two-night stay. The simple plan was to walk the 8-mile trail to the lodge, enjoy the surroundings and the oasis, then helicopter out a few days later. However, to say the least, the lodge was nothing like I had expected. I was thinking something like a Disney property…. more resort like. However, it was not…I would say it was a glorified Motel 2.5 (vs 6), at best. I would suggest that the idea of a resort at the bottom of the Grand Canyon within walking distance of an oasis was grander in my mind then the actual place itself. I think the scorpions, the flies, the heat, the clogged tubs and the sense of feeling trapped took away most of those feelings. However, what memories we stored…. a lot with tears of laughter and joy, were worth the price. Quite the adventure, one that has become legendary within the annuls of our family and is worthy of a whole article itself.
I sometimes think that is the way we are with God. We have these expectations of what God is like, how He behaves or what He may or may not do and then we may experience something different. We believe if we just pray hard enough, fast long enough, or behave a certain way then God will show up. We have examples of that. However, we do run the danger of taking God and putting Him in a box we created, expecting Him to be something we need or desire. However, no matter how big our imagination, God never fits into our box.
I struggle between the tension of having faith, persevering and not losing hope in God’s promises all the while realizing that God has a plan that is much more intricate and grander then I can imagine. The prophet Isaiah, in the Bible’s Old Testament, makes a statement in the 55th chapter when he speaks for God (that’s what prophets do) and says, “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” He goes on to say more. What is also interesting is that some theologians believe that Isaiah is the one Paul references in Hebrews 11, when he talks about some being “sawn in two.” Ouch! Assuming that may be the case, how did Isaiah reconcile his devotion to God, all the while being threatened with a horrific death, knowing God could spare him? Jesus faced the same situation in the Garden of Gethsemane as He faced death. He reasoned with His Father with a conclusive statement, “not my will but your will be done.” Are you seeing a theme here?
Therefore, how do we reconcile the fact that while we are hoping for a miracle, a job, a saved marriage, a healing, or the salvation of a loved one, while we wait and wait and wait, sometimes nothing happens. Perhaps our worst fears materialize, yet at the same time we are not to lose hope in God’s promises and His faithfulness. Is it wrong for me to place expectations on God based on my understanding of His word? Absolutely not! However, it still doesn’t make it easy.
Here is a thought that helps me, and perhaps it’s my way of rationalizing the mystery of God’s ways, but I must stand on it. I think it is a matter of perspective. Sometimes it’s the perspective of time. I want something done now and soon, and God says it will be done, but in His timing. He has an eternal time clock. I have a limited clock… a lifespan is considered forever in my economy. He measures in generations. Therefore, perhaps I have to find myself fully trusting Him regardless of how I perceive the outcome to be. For example, think about Jacob living for years believing his son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal only to realize years later that he had been deceived, lived years in grief, only to find out that God had redeemed the evil in a most spectacular fashion. Take time to think of the myriad examples of men and women in the Bible that lived in faith, not knowing if what God was doing was working or not, but whole-heartedly believed Him anyway. That does not remove the tension, but it does give it perspective. God does not exist to serve me, but I exist to serve Him.
Therefore, what is it today that you do not understand about God? What promise has He not fulfilled yet? Where are you disappointed in Him? What are you waiting for? Where do you feel that perhaps God has forgotten you? Remember, He has never broken a promise, and remember He gave it all for you; therefore, He has no reason to change. Start this year with a recalibration of your expectations. Identify them, articulate them, put them in the proper place, hope for the best, but surrender your perspective, learn to be suspicious of your opinion and draw close to Him. The closer you are to Him the clearer His perspective becomes. By the way, God exceeded our expectations in the Grand Canyon. It was what man had done that was a disappointment. Are you seeing a theme here?
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.