By Stacy Henagan, Crosswalk.com
How do I trust God when it seems He didn’t come through? Have you ever asked this question? Life is tough and unpredictable and rarely happens the way we plan so it’s likely you’ve prayed for something you didn’t receive or asked God to change something that painfully remained the same. After believing in faith and pleading, it seemed that silence was heaven’s response.
Jesus said that we will have trouble in this imperfect world (John 16:33). Too often I ignore this truth and focus only on the good God’s Word promises me. But sometimes the rumble of pain moves through us like an earthquake. And sometimes our experience seems to violently oppose the truth that we built our life upon. Maybe it was when you were served divorce papers or when you suddenly lost your job. For me, it was when Haven, my eleven-month-old daughter, was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer. Everything around me felt like it gave way to fear and hopelessness. Where is God? Why is He allowing this to happen? Can I trust Him? These were the questions scrolling through my mind like ticker tape.
God, in His wisdom, doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do. The idea of following Him forward on an unknown path is frightening, especially when the ground beneath us gives way and the hands that hold us are the same hands that allowed it to quake. But beneath all the fear and questions in my soul was a still and quiet voice that whispered for me to trust Jesus. The voice wasn’t demanding; it wasn’t shaming. It was tender, yet strong, and wooed my eyes to look up toward heaven in the midst of my trembling earth.
When You Don't Understand What God Is Doing
God never left my side through that long and excruciating ten-month battle-filled journey. But even in His faithfulness, He allowed my baby girl to take her final breath in my arms. This wasn’t what we prayed for or what we were expecting. It’s challenging to navigate the confusion of a loving God allowing us to experience pain. And not just any pain but the kind that knocks the wind from your lungs and makes you wonder if you’ll ever really breathe again. I fought to believe that He is always trustworthy.
It wasn’t just her death that made me question; it was also the fact that for every single day of those ten months we quoted Scripture, worshipped, believed, and prayed continually for her healing. I’m talking Bible in hand, on our faces, around-the-clock intense focus. That’s roughly 429,120 minutes of spiritual warfare. And yet, after all that, all that, it didn’t end the way I asked. But it doesn’t have to be as devastating as losing a child to feel that God hasn’t come through for you. It can be as simple as a dream that hasn’t materialized. It’s when we expected things to be different that we’re left with a decision to make, even if unconsciously. Will we move forward with God by trusting Him or stay stuck in our pain, questions, and disappointment?
Is it possible, even with all the sermons we listen to and books we read, that we’re more equipped to believe in faith for something than we are to work through the confusion and disappointment we feel if it doesn’t happen the way we want? What I’ve found from my own experience and in more than twenty-five years of ministry is that we tend to plant ourselves in our unmet expectations because we can’t understand the ways of God. But I learned something one night as I questioned God about His decision to take my daughter. In my confusion, He gently spoke Isaiah 55:8-9 to my soul.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (NLT)
Too often, in hopes of finding some assurance in the uncertainty of life, we attempt to force-fit the God of the universe into tidy boxes small enough for our finite minds to comprehend. We attempt to domesticate God—to make Him tamer, more predictable, more obedient to our desires. We want Him in bite-size pieces we can chew. But doing this strips away the very mystery and wonder that make Him God and that bring us security and peace. What gives us confidence can also be what scares us. What keeps us in awe can also be what we want to tame. God doesn’t always play by our rules. And He has every right not to because He’s God.
His words in Isaiah aren’t arrogant ones. They are words of assurance. When we can’t understand God’s actions, we can find hope in knowing His thoughts reach far beyond an earthly focus. He sees beginning to end and knows our future. I’m thankful He doesn’t obey my every wish, because my vision is shortsighted. Yet, God intricately knows the good plans He has in store for each of us and makes His decisions accordingly.
What Do I Do with My Disappointment?
Maybe you’ve unknowingly planted yourself in your pain. It’s easy to do. In this volatile place of unmet expectations, we can become one with our disappointment and take its name as our identity. Loss, divorce, infertility. We feel more connected with these things than we do with the hope that lies in the good future God promises. This weighty disappointment in turn paralyzes our feet from moving forward with Christ. It’s like concrete around our ankles.
If you have the desire to get out of your “stuckness,” here’s what you need to know: trusting God is the only way forward. I know this seems like an oversimplified answer to a life that is messy, hurtful, and complicated. But to follow Him, we have to trust Him even when we don’t know where He’s leading. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us to “strip off every weight that slows us down. . . And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (NLT).
If we focus on Christ and turn our attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will hear tender words like a whisper in our ears, Trust me, I know what I’m doing. This pain is not your end. There’s good ahead. Keep following Me and I’ll lead you there.
The voice we listen to in pain determines our destination. “For he is our God. We are his sheep, and he is our Shepherd. Oh, that you would hear him calling you today and come to him!” (Psalm 95:7). Will we incline our ear to the enemy’s lies or to God’s voice as He guides us toward His promises? Will we keep in step with His Spirit, moving forward as He walks alongside us? Or will we trail behind, allowing pain to be our guide and to cause us to settle for life in an emotional and spiritual climate that isn’t conducive for growth? The outcome of our lives’ journeys hinges on our choices. The Holy Spirit is near to help us make the right ones.
Keep Trusting Forward
Often our struggle is not because we’re weak or frail or God is unhappy with us, but because Satan understands what he’s up against. He senses the call on our lives and the potential inside us. We are a threat to his kingdom, and he will do whatever necessary to get us to stray off course or stop moving altogether. He knows that a detour will affect our lives’ trajectory and has a trickle-down effect on our families and those we lead. Being the liar (John 8:44) and accuser that he is, he crafts lies and adversity that will cut to our quick, and like a blinking neon light he points blame to God.
When it’s hard to reconcile pain with a good God, we must remember that the Christian life is a paradox. A binary existence. Grief from one’s pain and joy from Christ’s redemption. The natural and supernatural. Mortal and immortal. Dance partners until the day we enter heaven. This is the goodness of God. We are promised that the negative side of life, the things we don’t understand, will be met with His presence. His joy colliding with weeping. The morning colliding with the night. Grace colliding with ache.
Perfection isn’t required in this paradox. I’ve watched firsthand as my humanity-gone-amiss collides with divinity—and grace happens. That means we can bring Christ our anger, frustration, confusion, and doubt, and offer it to Him in honesty without fear of rejection. Hebrews 4:16 reminds us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (NLT). Our messy life has never weakened God’s faithfulness. If we hold tight to His lead as we’re navigating the dark, He’ll help us to trust His steps.
Instead of burying your hope in unmet expectations, seasons of disappointment, and questions that go unanswered, bury hopelessness. Instead of burying your devotion, bury your doubt and disappointment. Shovel the dirt on top of that grave, dust off your hands, and walk away. It’s worth it. Now on the other side of Haven’s death, I can see that every hard-earned step with God it took to get here was worth it. Please remember this: Don’t give up. The battle is fixed. You’ve already won. There’s good up ahead!
If you're interested in Stacy's full story, check out her new book Breathe Again.
Stacy Henagan is copastor of Keypoint Church in northwest Arkansas, a multicampus church she founded with her husband, Casey. Stacy also hosts an annual women’s conference and speaks at other events in the United States and overseas. Stacy and Casey have four children: Haven, who is waiting for them in heaven, and Holland, Hayes, and Hudson.
Stacy has free resources to accompany her book Breathe Again at stacyhenagan.com.
- Digital Study Guide
- 5 video teaching series
- 7-day devotional found on the YouVersion Bible app
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