And we had our hopes up that he was about to deliver Israel.(Luke 24:21)
The idea that God is about to do a new thing is a cornerstone among Christians. I understand why. Think about it: since the mercies of God are fresh every morning, what could be more predictable than a new thing. Yet, for humans whose thoughts and ways are much lower than God’s, the potential of getting the particulars of that new thing wrong are high, given the theological, dispositional, experiential and physiological variables that color our perception. But oh, how we love our particulars.
Have you ever gotten your hopes up that God was about to do something new, something that has failed to happen? If you have been a follower of Christ for anytime at all, you probably said, “Oh yeah.” Let me ask, what happened to your faith when the new thing did not play out? How have you responded in the months and years since that new thing failed to materialize? From this crossroad there are a number of paths one can take.
One path involves being emotionally wounded and blaming others (including God) for crushing our expectations. The travelers of this trail become victims who carry the heavy loads of bitterness and resentment. They may abandon the notion of a good or a sovereign God altogether because they perceive him as either the perpetrator of or an accessory to whatever the perceived injustice was. This trail just goes in circles. Even though it leads nowhere its travelers generally go there proudly.
Another trail involves re-imaging God such that His goodness and sovereignty could in no way be associated with the disappointing outcome. The reasoning along this trail is tortured, but it goes like this: I am a child of royalty… God gives me the desires of my heart… I didn’t get my particular desire; therefore, I must have used the wrong technique to get my new thing… So, I will now try this new and greater technique in order to acquire the new and greater thing from God. This traveler, with the view of God as one who responds to manipulation, is headed into a wilderness of error barren of relational intimacy. It’s just hard to love a slot machine.
Another trail is quite short, but popular nevertheless. Those taking it really just shift into neutral. They don’t want to renounce their faith. They want to retain the long-term benefits of Christianity (i.e. heaven) so they just settle into a manageable routine of Christian flavored activity and an unspoken vision of survival. They once took the risk. They put their hearts out there on some venture of faith only to have their expectations dashed. These travellers make an inner vow—a kind of pact with their own heart that says, “That will not happen again!” Since it is impossible to please God without faith (i.e. risk) this stalled-out traveler lives with the delusion that neutrality is safe.
Then there are those who, like all travelers, have their hearts broken while living for that new particular thing which evaporated or exploded in their face. This one however has something in their heart that the victims, users and quitters do not. This one has abandoned their heart to a faithful Shepherd, who pledges to see them to their high places. It is their understanding of God that he is both good and sovereign. So even though their natural mind has collected evidence which raises questions about the goodness of God, they discount such thoughts and press on. Such people are the disciples of Jesus Christ.
As the heart relinquishes its rights to itself and its bent on particulars, the kingdom makes its advance. The heart may mourn briefly but its sorrow will be turned to joy as the disciple discovers that Jesus himself is the prize and that intimacy with Him eclipses the realization of any under-imagined particulars. Because God’s intention is to reward us with himself, he jealously attempts to protect us from putting our confidence and expectations in any of the myriad substitutes (idols).
God is indeed a rewarder of those who follow this pathway of faith where the disciple honors who God is and what he says above his own human appraisal of matters. The authentic disciple makes the same discovery that the Emmaus road travelers did: the particulars of one’s expectations can be wrong. God was up to something far greater than establishing sovereignty over a geographic region or a singular nation. He was (and is) establishing his kingdom one heart at a time.
Father, as you did with your disciples, open our hearts and eyes to grasp the bigger picture of your redemption. Help us to let go of all our idols—making way for you, the King of glory, to triumph in our hearts, winning our affections away from all the competition. May we see the pathway of abiding with unprecedented clarity. Let this be our new thing.