“The truth is a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)
Jesus spoke these words in Jerusalem just days before his death. As he further explained that he would be lifted up on the cross and would draw everyone to himself, the crowd challenged him, “Die? We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever.” (John 12:34)
Even though Jesus had given his disciples multiple indications of his suffering and death, they did not understand these things during his lifetime. In Luke 24, we are able to enter into the journey of two of his disciples on their walk to Emmaus in deep despair over Jesus’ crucifixion because they “had thought he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” (v. 21) Unrecognizable to them at first, Jesus himself began to walk beside them and explain the Scriptures in such a way that their hearts were burning within them.
Jesus' explanations of himself through the Old Testament revealed to them that God’s Word had pointed to the Messiah’s suffering and death all along and they had missed it. But when they “got it” and understood the fulfillment of God’s perfect plan through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection they were filled with hope and joy as they raced back to Jerusalem to share this Good News with their brothers and sisters (who were still in despair over Jesus’ death).
King David experienced his own unmet expectations with the LORD when Uzzah was struck dead for steadying the Ark as it was brought into Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 6). After a brief time of real confusion, fear, and anger toward God, David wholeheartedly sought Him for the answer, and He graciously revealed it. (See "Stop the Cart" blog on March 19.)
While Jesus' disciples and David needed God's revelation and insight to understand why things hadn't turned out the way they had expected, Naaman the leper needed to be open to God's acting in a completely different way than the way he had envisioned. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman, the commander of the Aramean army, came to Israel seeking healing from his leprosy, with a letter from his king and loads of lavish gifts. Elisha the prophet simply sent a messenger out to meet him with instructions to wash in the Jordan River seven times. (verse 10).
How did Naaman respond to his unmet expectations?
“...Namman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would surely come out to meet me!’ he said. ‘I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the LORD his God and heal me! Aren’t the Abana River and Pharpar River of Damascus better than all the rivers of Israel put together? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?’ So Naaman turned and went away in a rage. But his officers tried to reason with him and said, ‘Sir, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply to go and wash and be cured!’ So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times as the man of God had instructed him. And his flesh became as healthy as a young child’s, and he was healed! (verses 11-14)
Naaman had to die to self and his grand expectations of what his healing should look like in order to experience new life from a simple and unexpected way of being healed. As he died to pride and anger, his heart was opened to the God he had not known before. He said, “Now I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (verse 15)
My heart goes out to Jesus’ disciples, David, and Naaman as they each wrestled with their unmet expectations with the LORD. I have been having similar feelings of despair, confusion, anger, and wanting to walk away because God has not brought relief from my headaches when I thought He would and He has not answered our adoption request of two siblings from Gansu province. I feel that I have been living by adjusting myself to what seems like “God’s second best.”
Last week, a friend spoke a direct word from God to me; “You need to welcome unmet expectations in your life because they are going to come.” Welcome them? This truly was something I had not thought of before. I have been resisting them, confused by them, and discouraged by them, but I certainly have not been welcoming them. I have spent much time wondering where God or Charly or I have gone wrong as these dreams of the healing of my headaches and the completion of our adoption have not been realized. I have now come to believe that welcoming these unmet expectations is the key to opening the door of my heart for God to do something new. So, this past week I have been meditating on the idea of death to myself and death to my expectations of what I hoped God would do and has not done.
While pondering death, I have been admiring trees as we have driven through Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. Isn’t it incredible that a majestic tree grows out of a single seed? That seed must die before it can grow. I am truly amazed by God’s creativity through so many different kinds of trees and by their great beauty as their branches reach up to the heavens in praise of their Creator. While the branches stretch high to receive the sunlight, the roots bury down deep both to anchor the tree and to find sources of water.
Last year, a friend shared with me a picture of our relationship with God represented by two hands: one the certainty of God and the other the mystery of God. We need to embrace both aspects of Him. I can also see the branches of the tree as representing the mystery of God (open and somewhat vulnerable to whatever conditions and weather may come its way) and the roots a symbol of the certainty of God (held secure and stable, nourished and protected in the ground that God has placed it in).
One of my favorite passages about trees and their growth is Jeremiah 17:7-8
“But blessed are those who trust in LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green and they go right on producing delicious fruit.”
Those trees have hope, even during a drought, because they are not dependent on rain as their only source of water. Their roots go down deep, into an underground water supply (The LORD is called “the fountain of living water” in verse 13). I long to be like this kind of evergreen tree, holding on to hope in times of heat, receiving continual nourishment from the true fountain of living water.
A praise song our family especially enjoys is called “Near to You” by Brian Thiessen. We love the lyrics about longing to be near to God, and one verse in particular is a real challenge to me: “I turn my face up to the rain. There must be blessing in this pain.” I want to be venturing out on the limb of a tree, facing upward to heaven in expectation and trust that God will somehow bring blessing in the midst of pain. I do not want to keep hugging the trunk of the tree, only willing to embrace the certainty of God, and because of unmet expectations, refusing to accept God’s mystery. I am dying to the attitude that says “It doesn’t make sense for God to work this way.” I am now opening myself to the way He chooses to work in my life. I want to voice the words of Jesus as he faced death, “Father, bring glory to your name!” (John 12:28)
I can’t get away from the idea of death. It is even embedded in the last three letters of my name: Jodie. And I love that God has chosen my last name, through my husband, that of an evergreen tree: Pine.
I am choosing to believe that God’s design and way of working in my life are His very best for me. I do not need to adjust to what feels like second best in my life, because what I’m experiencing is the best. Nothing that has happened (or has not happened) to me has been a mistake because God’s loving, gentle Potter’s hands are protecting me and shaping me at every moment. He alone can give me sustaining hope in Him, and help me to welcome those unmet expectations. The Truth is that He is always GOOD.
I am waiting and trusting and expecting His blessing to come in unexpected ways.