When God’s Answers Don’t Match Our Expectations

I’m guessing neither Simeon nor Anna was thinking that a helpless baby, born to a poor family, was God’s answer to their lifetime of longing and expectation (cf. Luke 2:22–38). Yet while Israel had been waiting for a king to arrive in triumph and glory, Jesus arrived meek and lowly and would preach surrender and sacrifice, not domination and retribution.

What Israel thought they needed from God was different than what they needed most.

They might have thought they needed political deliverance (Simeon) or a new husband (Anna) or restored fortunes (both of them!). But what they most needed was restoration with God. They thought they needed justice in this life, but what they needed most was abundant, eternal life.

We may think that what we need is physical health or financial assistance or family reunion, but what we most need, deep in our souls, is reunion with our heavenly Father.

Blaise Pascal, a great Christian philosopher, famously said that the human heart has a gigantic hole in it. That hole is not filled by money, romantic love, family, career success, or political peace and prosperity. It can only be filled by Jesus.

We were created for God; we need to be restored to him. Only this Messiah, the Christ, born as a baby to live the life we were supposed to live and then die the death we were condemned to die, in our place, can fill that hole.

That’s why Augustine, the fourth-century theologian, said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

The arms we search for in romance are God’s arms. The security we look for in money is found in his presence and promises.

The significance we crave in the approval of others—from our parents or spouse or likes on a Facebook post—is found in hearing God say, “You are my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

God is good, and we are supposed to ask for that goodness to break into our lives and our families.

So should we pray for physical healing? For an end to our loneliness? For political help? Absolutely. But we must always keep in mind that Jesus came to lead us into fellowship with the Father—because that is eternal and abundant life. Apart from fellowship with God, any other fix would only be superficial.

What God did for Israel was unexpected, but it was exactly what they needed.

Are you ready for God to do the unexpected in your life? No matter how spiritually mature you are or how certain you feel that you know what you need most from God—you have to be ready for God to do the unexpected in your life. If there is no room in your heart for God to surprise you, then it may not be God you are worshiping.

Sometimes the greatest love God shows us is not in fixing our problems but when he uses our problems to open our eyes to the treasure we have in him. And sometimes, that comes through pain. How does a surgeon bring “peace” to someone’s body if it has a tumor in it? She cuts the patient because she has to take the tumor out. How does a therapist bring “peace” to a person who is depressed? He dredges up the past, getting them to remember and confront painful memories. Often, we have to feel worse before we can feel better.

It is the same with spiritual healing: Sometimes the paths toward peace lead us through valleys of pain.

God will often answer our prayers by giving us what we would have asked for if we knew what he knew. And what he knows is that the deepest longings of our hearts and the peace we are looking for are found only in the knowledge of him.