I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. Kirk Franklin had just proved that gospel songs could be played in church and in the club. Gold and purple “Jesus Is Lord” banners were selling out as fast as you could sing a Maranatha song. It was an age of believing that the gospel could be connected to prosperity; that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also a Benz, a McMansion, a future husband (also known as Boaz), a future wive (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, a larger paycheck, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it, or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet (or shofar or boom box or tambourine or whatever you had on hand), believing that these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.
I don’t mean to poke fun. Okay I do a little bit, but I can’t completely poke fun. Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses that the lender had nearly laughed them out of the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry and start families. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer, and will do all in his power and unlimited resources to fulfill your request.
Then I grew up. I learned the painful way that sometimes, even when we pray and ask God, even when we quote back to God in our prayer the applicable scriptures, even when we walk around the object that we are praying for six times and play our trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer us the way we want him to.
What do we assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about us. He must not see how hard we’ve tried to be good, honest, and righteous.
Sometimes God is the great leader in a ministry of our disappointment. Sometimes we don’t get the job we asked for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman we thought we were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes we want a Benz and we can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows us to be disappointed. Sometimes we learn through tears, heartache, anger and frustration that God is not a yes person, a genie to summon when we clasp our hands together to pray, a leprechaun or Santa who will fulfill our wishes if we are good children.
Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we ask because as great as our plans are we don’t know the future pitfalls of our request. Sometimes he doesn’t answer our prayers the way we’d like and later in life we are thankful for his “no,” “not yet,” or “wait.” Sometimes we try our best to reason his sovereignty and we are never able to understand his reasons or the why to anything.
I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. There are questions I will always have of God that I may have to wait until heaven to ask him (assuming there is question and answer time in heaven).
I was denied to three grad schools. I fell in love and had my heart broken. I’ve experienced broken family relationships that did not wrap up cleanly and with resolve like a Hallmark Channel family movie. I’ve had my health threaten my life and dreams. I’ve been angry with God. I’ve cussed and cursed. I’ve brandished my fist at God and I’ve wept like a baby with my face planted in the carpet asking for his help.
Disappointment is the crucible that can make even the most faith-filled person question God’s existence and his authority. It can also be the place that we truly find God and separate our need for answers from his all encompassing love for us. God is not an absent parent who, between shifts at his job and a run for cigarettes, forgets that we need milk for school in the morning. God is not a strict teacher who wants to sting our knuckles with a ruler every time we make a mistake.
God loves us. Not just because bumper stickers or badly designed t-shirts say so. God loves us. Not just because we try to be good or do good things for him. God loves us. Not because we clock in on time at church on Sunday or ladle chili into bowls at a soup kitchen. He loves us because he said so, because it is only in his character to do so. He is the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles. He is the God who keeps track of our tears, helps us to find joy and wants to walk with us everyday, whether we have the answers or not.