If God is So Faithful, Why Didn’t He Keep His Promises?

by Andy Wood on June 14, 2012

in Since You Asked

Promise.  It’s one of the most charming words in the English language.

Do you realize that so much of what we experience, of what we know about God, of our spiritual maturity, and of our success or failure in the Christian life has something to do with how we respond to the promises of God?  Peter says, “And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (2 Peter 1:4).

But what do you do when you are standing on the promises and it doesn’t turn out like you expected?

What do you do when you wait on the Lord, and all you get in return is more waiting?

What do you do when you know – you know you’ve heard from the Lord about a specific situation, and it just doesn’t happen?

In short, what do you do when you’re disappointed with God?

With Friends Like That…

I want to introduce you to two people who experienced that kind of disappointment.  They were sisters, and friends of Jesus.  And so was their now-dead brother, Lazarus.  These siblings from Bethany offered Jesus and his troupe a home away from home – a refuge from the madness of His schedule and demands.  So when Lazarus became gravely ill and they sent for Jesus, these women knew He would be faithful to save the day.

But there were too many days to save.

Day one – no Jesus.

Day two – ditto.

Day three – my God, where is He?

Day four – Jesus finally appears, and on separate occasions, both of these women said the exact same thing to Him – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Disappointment Collides with Hope

Other than those who traveled with Christ, nobody loved Jesus more than Mary and Martha, and the feeling was mutual.  But loving Jesus didn’t make them immune from disappointment, nor will it spare you.  In fact, sometimes the promises of God seem to directly contradict what we are experiencing.  Do the math here…

  • Day 1 – Lazarus gets sick, so Martha sends a message to Jesus, who is a day’s travel away.  Sometime just after the messenger leaves, Lazarus dies.
  • End of Day 2 – the messenger returns with no Jesus – just a promise:  “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.”  Seriously?  My brother is graveyard-dead and you’re sending a messenger with promises?
  • Day 3 – Jesus still doesn’t show up.
  • End of Day 4 – Finally He appears.  Thanks, Jesus. Glad you could make it.

What to Do with Your Disappointments with God

We know how this story turns out.  Martha and Mary didn’t.  They were hurt and confused and had no clue what this pain had to do with the glory of God that Jesus had promised.  And the ways they responded to this sense of unfulfilled promises from God can give us some anchors for our times of spiritual disappointment.

1.  Appeal to the love of Jesus.

“Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  That’s the message they sent to Christ.  We don’t know what made Lazarus so special, but to Jesus Lazarus was more than just a believer or a follower.  He was a friend.

One of the reasons this is so important is not so you can try to manipulate God to do what you want Him to, but so you can keep in mind that God has never forsaken His ultimate promise to you – to love you unconditionally.

2.  Move toward Jesus, not away from Him.

“When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him” (v. 20).  Oh boy, here it comes.  We pick on Martha a lot because she’s easy to pick on.  But one thing I love about her is that even in her times of disappointment, pain, or lack of understanding, she moved toward Jesus, not away from Him.

That doesn’t come naturally to me, so when I see it in others it challenges me.  My tendency is to go into my cave and hide or pout.  But what neither Martha nor Mary knew at the time was that He was about to redefine what miracles look like if they would just trust Him and move toward Him.

3.  Respond to God’s call, whether you feel like it or not.

True to her personality, Mary waited back at the house until Jesus sent for her (v. 28).  Then she came to meet Him, just as Martha had done.  Did she feel like it?  I doubt it.  Did she respond because she knew what He was about to do?  No way.  She responded to His call because He called her, and she trusted Him – even when she didn’t understand Him.

Don’t be surprised if, in the midst of your spiritual disappointments, you feel pressed upon by God to do something.  Be somewhere.  Say something.  It could be something as simple as showing up in church or getting alone with Him.  But when He calls, respond.

4.  Express your disappointment to God.

Mary and Martha used the exact same words, but produced different reactions in Jesus.  But both were true to who they were and how they felt.  I don’t think God expects anything less from you.

Jesus, you could have done something, but you didn’t.

Jesus, you could have been here, but you weren’t.

Jesus, you could have warned me that something bad was going to happen, but you didn’t.

Jesus, you could have protected me from this hurt, but you didn’t.

One thing is sure – when you’re honest with yourself and with God about your pain, Jesus will respond as personally to you as he did to Mary and her sister.

5.  Focus on a relationship, not a religious system.

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said.

“Sure, at the Resurrection,” said Martha.  That’s what her religious system (and the Bible) taught. What Martha didn’t understand was that the Resurrection is not a thing – it’s a person, and she was looking at Him!

Promises aren’t things. They’re extensions of the heart and character of God.  They are gateways through which we partake of the divine nature, Peter says.  When you’re disappointed in God, set aside your systems for a minute and let Him be Father to you.  Talk to Him.  Listen to Him.  Give to Him and receive from Him.

6.  Look for the greater glory.

This is hard to see, much less hear from somebody else when you’re heart deep in sorrow or anger.  But I’ll say it anyway… Maybe it’s time to raise the bar of faith.

Sometimes we believe that when God didn’t seem to keep His promises to us it was because we’d raised the bar too high.  Maybe it is because we had it too low.  Twice in this passage, Jesus said they would see the glory of God.  And boy, did they.

If you’re standing on a promise and it doesn’t happen like you’d envisioned, gird up!  You’re may be about to see the glory of God in ways you hadn’t imagined.

Your disappointing experiences are opportunities for you to experience greater glory and deeper faith than you ever could without them.  Bring Him your hurts, your confusion, your broken heart.  Bring Him the sting of your disappointments and the fear you have in ever trusting Him again.  Bring Him your humiliation and your heartache and hurl it for all it’s worth at Him if you need to.  I think He’s big enough to take it.

But while you’re there, maybe you can prepare yourself to receive something back from Him.  After all, He’s faithful to deliver on what He has promised, whether you can make sense of it all or not.  Faith in the face of confusion and hurt is still faith.  And if you don’t see the promise on this side of eternity, guess what?

You’ll just have to plan to enjoy it forever, not just for your short time on this planet.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Skye July 9, 2014 at 12:24 am

This was nice, mainly because it was honest. It wasn’t just some generic blah about how we must’ve done something wrong or didn’t do something-as the cause of the prayer being unanswered. I’m so tired of hurting. I’m so tired of struggling and more than anything, I’m so tired of being faithful and not ever getting a yes. Now, I’m 48 hours away from being evicted, me and my disabled toddler. Called every church in the county, none would or could help. No social services. No money left in the car or in a jacket. And no God. That’s the part that hurts. Being this hopeful and dutiful to serving Him and he doesn’t answer or maybe he did as this seems like a big fat ‘no’ to me. Anyway, at least you didn’t do what other people do. You just told it like it is. Sometimes, the answer is no. The faithful ones will get it on the other side. I doubt if I’m included in that bunch. Pray for me, if you have faith, that I don’t wake up tomorrow. Thank you.

Richard January 8, 2016 at 1:57 pm

I’ve given up on believing. .I’ve prayed in agonizing tears for help and each time,and I do mean each time,it only gets worse. He said ask and it shall be given,but hats not true. I’ve been on my knees begging in utter dismay and and wailing with tears flowing heavily. What did I get?..only more grief. I can’t take being rejected by a loving God anymore. Either I’m eternally damned or he honestly just doesn’t love me. Either way my soul has been shredded by his rejection. I’ll do my remaining time on earth the best I can. My soon to be ex committed adultery and seems blessed beyond reason. I’ve lost everything while trying to raise a grandson who is also affected by his not caring. I can’t in my heart believe anymore that he helps if we humble ourselves before him because he doesn’t . It ALWAYS gets worse!

Joshua February 15, 2016 at 5:37 pm

I am EXTREMELY disappointed with God. I do my best to do the right thing, I even go out of my way to be humble and let others go before me, in traffic and in real life. Oh you’re hungry so am I, but you go first. Oh do you need something? Though I have little I will give you what I have.

All of these I have done!!!! Many times!! And now I am starving yes literally, and I have nowhere to go, the homeless shelter will not let me in! Yet even though I did not feel like thanking God I got on my knees to give thanks in a freaking bathroom! A public bathroom in a dirty floor! most people barely bow their heads, I got on my knees, BOTH OF THEM!!

Yet God has not fed me or anything! I have to get to work and I am running out of gas! When I had little money I STILL GAVE TO SOMEONE ELSE, I even GAVE TO MY CHURCH OUT OF WHAT LITTLE MONEY I HAD! I could have used that money to eat and get gas, but no I didn’t!!

Today I let some people in traffic go and this super arrogant man in his faster car makes me look like a fool! Because I humbled myself to care for others! THIS IS NOT RIGHT!!! None of this is right!!

I change my ways, I don’t drink when I could have, I didn’t have intercourse when I could have, and in spite of these circumstances of sleeping in my car in the cold and being terrorized and humiliated by people who drive by looking at me, I still give thanks to the Lord!

And I get nothing! I am still here now at this dreaded school typing this crap!

What loving God lets his followers starve, be out in the cold and suffer like this after I make MANY MANY ATTEMPTS AND GO OUT OF MY WAY TO DO GOOD TO OTHERS JUST TO SUFFER!?

You know that money I gave to the church, I could use that, that food I bought some homeless lady (like myself), I could have used that!

Job did not go through what I have been through! NO ONE DID!!!



Andy Wood May 5, 2016 at 6:55 am

Dear Skye, Richard and Joshua,

Thank you for taking the time to write out of your pain, disappointment, and obvious anger toward God. Many of the situations you describe are ones I can deal with personally. Others, obviously, I can’t and have no clue what you are feeling.

It is interesting to me that some of the language you use is also found in the Bible, as people like David, Jeremiah, and Job hurled at God out of their pain and disappointment. Jeremiah actually called God a liar and lived to tell about it. I have learned He is big enough to take it.

The one thing I wish in reading the story of Job – or my story or your story – is that God had actually given Job reasons that made sense to Job. He never did. He simply said, “I am here and I am God and you aren’t.” What I do know, both from personal experience and from what scripture teaches, are some foundational truths I have lived long enough to see.

1. God has forever settled His love for me, regardless of my circumstances. There is no injustice, grief, pain or loss that could ever take away the scandalous love that He displayed for me, a hopeless sinner, in giving His Son as a sacrifice for my sin.

2. There is no possible way to estimate or describe the depths of evil that this world has reduced itself to, driven by three forces – pleasure at the expense of your pain, profit at the expense of your poverty, and pride at the expense of your humiliation (1 John 2:16). In addition to that, we ourselves have added to that misery by our own actions or failures to act. And regardless of our failures, sorrows or victimization in this world, they aren’t God’s fault.

3. There are times when it feels as though I have earned something from God because of some good things I have done. Therefore when he doesn’t come through as I have desired or expected, He seems to be terribly unfair at best, “evil as crap” as you put it, at worst. But that perception is the voice of my pain and disappointment or the voice of an enemy whispering in my ear – an enemy that seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). But the honest truth is that if we all got what we deserved, we would all perish – not just immediately, but eternally.

4. For a true believer in Christ, he or she can cling to the promise that no Christian has ever suffered alone or without help. Sometimes the help comes in the form of relief. Sometimes it comes in the form of walking with you through the sorrow, suffering and unanswered questions.

5. The end of the story has yet to be told about you. David once described his agony like this (my paraphrase): “My tears have been my only companion day and night, while they taunt me – WHERE IS YOUR GOD?” Based on some of your reactions, I think you can relate. I know I can. But I also know that we’re all still on the journey and your story is still being told/written.

6. For whatever reason, things have a way of getting worse before they get better. This one has never made sense to me, at least not emotionally. I lost count of the number of times it seemed as though I made good choices (at least they were good in my view) but continued to get painful results. At one point I said, “I have done everything anybody asked or suggested I do, and nothing works!” At another point I wrote in my journal, “If one more person tells me my solution is to wait on God, I think I’m going to punch him in the face.” But you know what? They eventually got better.

7. Regardless of what you have lost, and your losses have been great, as believers in Christ there are two things we always have. You still have Jesus and you still have a choice. I wish I could say I had made that up myself. But my pastor actually said those words to me as I was on a pay phone in a behavioral hospital, having lost everything that meant anything to me. I would say the same things to you. Regardless of what is taken from you, you still have Jesus and you still have choices.

8. Our greater hope is not in this life, but in eternity. We often live as if this world is all there is, and people who pine away about happier days in heaven seem like escapists. But it’s true. The day will come when He will wipe every tear from your eye and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, poverty or pain.

9. God loves it when we trust Him. But one thing is greater than faith, and that’s desperation. This is where we pray things like, “Lord I believe… help my unbelief!” When we are hurting it’s hard to find a place of faith to hang onto. So I dare you to pray that biblical prayer: “God give me the grace to believe you when really right now I don’t trust you at all.

I know the pain feels endless. I know it doesn’t seem fair. I know it all appears to be God’s fault. But pain is a mocker and appearances are deceiving.

Whether you can feel it or not or see evidence of it or not, the truth is that you have never been loved more by God than you are right now. And though He may feel a million miles away, in truth He is as close as your next breath.

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