“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV
At the beginning of last year, I applied for an internship I really wanted. It wasn’t just a “unique opportunity,” but a dream I didn’t think would ever become reality. God’s answer to a prayer I whispered as a teenager seemed to be unfolding before my very eyes. I was called in for an interview in March; and they offered me the position a week later. I signed all the papers and was scheduled to begin work in April.
But as quickly as everything came together, it all came undone. Within a week of signing my commitment to work, God told me to surrender the internship. Though I knew it was what He told me to do, I did so reluctantly. And after telling the employer I had to back out, I spent weeks wrestling with grief unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
This has been the first time I felt as if God Himself has taken something away from me, something that I felt belonged to me. I have not been angry at Him, but I have been afraid to put my trust in Him again. Instead of expecting His best, I got in the habit of keeping my expectations so low that I didn’t know how to be hopeful anymore.
In spite of my fear and hopelessness, God stayed faithful to me. Though I struggled with placing my full trust in Him again, He stayed patient with me. Months later, everything about this situation “clicked” as I was reading through the Gospel of John. In John 11, Mary and Martha send word to Jesus about their sick brother, Lazarus. But instead of coming to them right away, Jesus stayed where He was; and by the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days.
Both sisters told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” In a lot of ways, that’s how I felt about God in respect to this internship. I wondered why He didn’t show up when I needed Him. I wondered why He let me experience such deep disappointment. But I found purpose in what Jesus said in the beginning of this chapter: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4, ESV). Though my grief was immense, it was not enough to bury me. More importantly, it was not enough to outweigh the glory of God and the gift of witnessing His will unfold in my life.
Perhaps with the delay of everything going “back to normal” and all the difficulties of being in quarantine, your trust in the Lord is wavering. You wonder why He’s letting all of this happen and why He hasn’t changed anything...yet. But even when He doesn’t give us what we think is best, God is still good. He is still faithful. And He has always been worthy of our trust. In Him, we have every reason to expect HIS best—even in the middle of a difficult season.
Acts Chapter 3 begins with Peter and John encountering a lame beggar. Unable to walk since birth, this man had to be carried to the gate of the temple so that he could ask for alms, or charity, from everyone who passed by. Knowing this, you can accurately guess that he asked the apostles for alms, too. But unlike other passersby, Peter addresses the beggar directly. And Acts 3:5 (ESV) says, “[the beggar] fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”
Imagine the beggar’s thoughts in this specific moment. The best he ever hoped for was probably a warm meal or a generous donation. But even then, those things were just temporary comforts. At the end of the day, he’d still be in need, and he’d still be carried to and from the temple every day to ask for charity. For a brief moment, I imagine the beggar is disappointed when Peter says he has no money to give. Then I imagine he is confused when the apostle adds, “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6, ESV). And as soon as the beggar took hold of Peter’s hand, he felt strength in his feet and ankles. He didn’t just stand up—he jumped to his feet and walked into the temple with Peter and John, “leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8, ESV).
Sometimes, our low expectations are revealed by the words we say and the requests we make. Though we know God’s love for us is great, we refrain from asking Him for “impossible” things because we don’t really expect certain situations in our lives to change. For instance, because we no longer expect the best in other people, we don’t ask God to restore our estranged family relationships. Because we don’t think it’s possible to live debt-free (or feel we deserve God’s help after making unwise financial decisions), we don’t ask God for His guidance and provision in our finances.
If our expectations are limited, our perception of God is limited as well. We expect less because we don’t fully see Him for Who He is: powerful, almighty, all-knowing, holy, full of grace—and compassionate. Our God is big, and He cares for us. As you go about your day, make it a point to remind yourself of these things frequently. Let your expectations be shaped by who God is and the grace He extends to us through Jesus.
Prior to the “shelter in place” orders due to COVID-19, we all had events and milestones we were looking forward to celebrating: birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, weddings, family vacations, and more. Most of what we thought would happen has been erased. If events weren’t canceled, they were postponed. And in the delay, we became acutely aware of how our lives—even our calendars—don't line up with what we expected them to be.
Yet, in spite of all this, we still have one thing to look forward to celebrating. The Bible describes it as “the day of the Lord,” when God will declare righteous judgment on the world and Jesus will usher in His kingdom on earth. If you grew up in the Bible Belt or had intensely religious relatives, you’re probably familiar with this part of Scripture—and it may be a source of fear and discomfort. After all, the image of God bringing down judgment is a sobering thought!
But, believe it or not, there is hope in this promise. First, in delivering judgment, God will bring order to the chaos that surrounds us: “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless” (Isaiah 13:11, ESV). Those who have not been brought to justice or held accountable by earthly means will be personally dealt with by the Lord.
Second, as Christ-followers, we have been set apart as God’s people. Because of Jesus, we are exempt from experiencing the Lord’s wrath: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, ESV). To know the Lord and His love firsthand is a treasure all on its own; but to experience these things on this side of eternity is only a glimpse of what we are guaranteed to see after Christ’s second coming.
When Jesus comes back, we will experience what it’s like to actually be with Him—to see His face with total clarity and feel the warmth of His presence. When we think of the day of the Lord, we should feel a rising sense of hope and triumph. We don’t know WHEN it’s going to happen, but we can still find security in the fact that it WILL happen at God’s appointed time. Until then, let us stand firm and fix our eyes on the promise of seeing our Savior face-to-face, unencumbered by sin and brokenness.
When I transferred from a community college to UNC Charlotte, the pressure I put on myself to be the best was overwhelming. Nobody told me I had to impress my new professors and make perfect grades. It was a standard I imposed on myself because I felt that it was necessary in order to ensure my success during (and after) college.
However, the more I relied on my ability to perform, the less I trusted God and His sovereignty over my life. In my mind, I knew He was the reason why I was in this specific school, studying in this specific field. But in my heart, I was depending on the outcome of my performance for validation. If I did well, I celebrated my success. But if I slipped up or failed unexpectedly, I became discouraged and defeated. And in these moments, I doubted anything good could come out of this situation or that God could use my life for His glory or my benefit.
Instead of looking at my failures and inconsistencies, I should have been reminding myself of God’s faithfulness. David does an excellent job of this during the period of time he hid from King Saul. Though God had marked him as the future king of Israel, David came to one of his lowest points when, pursued by Saul and driven away from his home, David cries out to the Lord from inside a cave. “Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:6-7, ESV).
Though David is in a dire situation, his certainty in the Lord doesn’t waver. From the same cave, he writes Psalm 57:9-10 (ESV): “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Instead of seeing all the ways he’s been defeated, he fixes his eyes on the Lord and His character—steadfast and faithful. Instead of striving to help make God’s promises come true, David waits in confidence, knowing that God will make it happen because He said so.
Our victory does not depend on our performance. Though we are called to submit and obey the Lord, our works don’t ensure our success; only He does. This is good news because our mistakes, imperfections, and shortcomings will never be enough to change or diminish God’s presence in our lives. And what’s more is that He has the power to redeem our failures by using them to build us up and bring Him further glory.
If you struggle with the desire to “earn” God’s favor, and doing everything within your power to ensure it, surrender these thoughts to Him today. Trust in what He’s doing over your ability and performance and find rest in His steadfast love.
For years, I’ve suffered from anxiety. It’s something that I cannot control and can hardly explain. It’s not that I stay up late at night worrying, though I do sometimes do this. Anxiety, for me, is a feeling of being overwhelmed, panicked, and powerless to do anything that might immediately help. Anxiety is particularly detrimental for me because I’m a planner. I like planning out my day / week / life and I am focused on doing what I need to do to accomplish my plans. When I’m feeling anxious, though, I am confronted with the reality that my plans mean nothing, because in that moment, I can only survive to the next breath. Dramatic, I know.
I WANT to believe that God has plans for me and that He wants good things in my life. I want to believe that He has equipped me with the tools and resources to get through most anything in my life. Prayer and my relationship with Him are a few of the big tools in my belt. However, I still worry. I still try to control my surroundings. I still have crippling anxiety at times. I have to constantly remind myself that God has all of this under control; He will bring about a victory in my life and on this earth.
As Christians, we’re taught that God has a purpose for our lives and that He has promised us “the great day of the Lord,” a victory over evil and this world, and that we will ascend into heaven to be with Him. Though we may have been taught this in Sunday School or listened to sermons of this in the car on our way to work, it may not seem real to you. Maybe it hasn’t become real to you that God has a plan for us. He has a plan that has been laid out since the beginning of time and can never be derailed.
God’s sense of time is different than ours. He already knows He has won. He already knows what’s going to come on that “great day of the Lord” and He is confident in His victory because He’s seen it happen.
When you look at your situation, be rest assured that He has that situation under control. He wants good things for you and He will see a victory in your life, just like He will see a victory on that great day. Take a breath. Expect great things in your life. Don’t be complacent in your faith. Believe in His mighty power. Be confident in your God, Who has already won the battle to come.