When I was twenty-something and single, I received all sorts of “encouragement” about my marital status from well-meaning family and friends. They’d say things like…

  • God has someone wonderful for you.
  • You just wait—your day is coming.
  • You’ll make somebody a perfect wife.
  • You never know who you’ll meet.
  • I hope you meet someone special; I really want you to be happy.

For better or worse, most people stopped offering this kind of, um, encouragement about my marital status years ago, but they still use the same theology when they talk to me about other areas of life that, for whatever reasons, haven’t lived up to anyone’s expectations. Pick your topic of personal significance – careers, friendships, financial situations, health – and someone will be there to tell you that everything’s going to work out for your happiness, really.

I’d like to believe this, but it just isn’t true – and you don’t have to look far or wide to find examples galore of God-fearing people whose lives testify that it just isn’t true.

I’ve been thinking about these kinds of statements again for a couple reasons – one of which is that Kregel Publications has decided to give my book Living Whole Without a Better Half a second run at life. In preparation for this, I’ve reread and revised the original manuscript, where I address this kind of bad theology in the first chapter. Instead of recreating thoughts, I’ve just excerpted myself below:

God Is a Genie

We tend to assume that God will give us what we want, just because we follow Him. Furthermore, He will do it in the way that we expect. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to figure out that this is not true.

Like you, I have a lifelong list of “heart desires” that I never received. As a child, with all my heart I wanted a pet monkey. Mom wouldn’t even entertain the idea. As an adolescent, I begged God for a clear complexion. Instead I got sick to my stomach taking tetracycline. As a teen, I wished to not have to ride the school bus with the elementary kids; by graduation, I was still riding the big yellow bus to school. As a collegian, I longed to meet “Mr. Right.” Now college is a distant memory, and I’m still single. As a teacher, I longed for changed lives in wayward students, only to see them sink deeper in depravity.

God doesn’t give us everything we deeply desire. The truth is, He hears the cries of our hearts, and He does answer. But as God, He holds the right to answer His way. The more significant truth is that He goes beyond our desires.

In his Gospel, the apostle John tells the story of a man with an expressed desire that God chose to bypass. The fifth chapter opens at the Pool of Bethesda, a first-century nursing home for Jerusalem’s down-and-outs. Admittedly, it may have been a home, but not much nursing took place around this pool. Medical treatment was only received by the first patient to get in the water when it periodically stirred. One very frustrated resident had been an invalid for thirty-eight years and had never won the race to the water. His real handicap, he said, was that he had no one to help him in the pool. If a roving reporter from the Jerusalem Herald had interviewed him, he would have issued a plea for someone to help him: “Just get me in the water.”

His desire was close to coming true when Jesus visited the Bethesda Nursing Home. Jesus asked the question, “Do you want to get well?” Ignoring the obvious, “Yes!” the poolside patient uttered his deepest desire, “I just need someone to get me in the water.”

Jesus didn’t grant his desire. He did better. Instead of helping him in the water at the magical moment, Jesus recognized the real need and answered in His way, satisfying the deepest longing of the man’s heart. He healed his body and offered healing for his soul. Jesus went beyond what the man thought to ask.

Jesus is not a bottle-bound genie summoned to grant every desire. He is, rather, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Keeper of divine promises. And His list of promises is more than impressive. It’s overwhelming.

  • [He] satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:5).
  • No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless (Psalm 84:11b).
  • And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
  • My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Perhaps my definition of these fulfilled promises is a spouse, but God and I often have different ideas about the way my life should be. My 20/20 hindsight leaves no doubt that His ideas are always better than mine. (Excerpted from Living Whole Without a Better Half, Kregel Publications, 2014).

– Back to 2013 and non-excerpted material – Knowing these things to be true and living in the midst of whatever life is for you isn’t easy. I feel that pain, still. Waiting for the benefit of 20/20 hindsight may take us onto the new earth – where (finally and mercifully) all tears will be wiped away, death will be dead for good, and we will live in the light of the risen Lamb. Maranatha (“Come, Lord!” 1 Cor 16:22).

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