I love the report in the Gospels about John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19) I love seeing that even John the Baptist had as much trouble recognizing Jesus as I do sometimes.
The truth is that I expect God to show up in certain ways and to do certain things, but He does not subject Himself to my expectations. He acts independently of what I expect.
John had expected Jesus to come as a conquering hero, throwing out the Romans, trampling the sinners, establishing a righteous earthly kingdom. But Jesus surprised John by coming as a Servant and befriending sinners and moving slowly and patiently toward dying for our sins. It’s not what John had expected, but it was the wonderful way God was working!
Likewise, I expect God to bless me and those whom I love with pleasant lives where the important things in life turn out well. But God doesn’t always fulfill that expectation (and hope) of mine.
I go through tough times, and I expect God to jump into my mess and rescue me from all my problems, but God often chooses to leave me in those problems for a while to build strength and patience and understanding and character in me. Christ doesn’t show up in the ways I expect, but, as John the Baptist found out, He does show up in the way that is best.
In the incident with John the Baptist, Jesus performed many miracles then said to John’s messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.”
In my own life, time and time again I have discovered God working for good in ways I had not expected.
A prayer that sums it up well for me is the prayer of an unknown Civil War soldier:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.