I think one of the hardest areas in life to get a handle on, is how we deal and discern our expectations, in any given area or moment of life. And sadly, we often buy into (at best) half truths and false teachings. Which disables our ability to set realistic expectations for how we interact, believe, and trust God to work in our circumstances, situations, expectations, and life. There a lot of really nice, Christian cliches floating around that sound great on paper. But realistically and biblically are not true. You see a lot of these stereotypes in "God says vs. man says vs. the devil says" type of teachings. I won't dispute that there can't be truth to these statements. But I believe the context in which they are being used is key. Universalizing or generalizing them is not wise. And it can actually lead someone to act in direct opposition toward something God is actually doing in their life. Discernment and perspective are key.
Here are some statements that are common:
"God will not confuse you - or - God is not confusing"
"God will give you peace if it is His will"
"God will tell you and direct you"
"If it's hard, difficult, or doesn't make sense, then it's probably not God"
"If you face opposition in a given situation, it's the devil and not God"
There are many other statements that imply that God is only involved in a situation, when we have clarity, peace, understanding, and absolutely no turmoil. But if that is the case, then how do you explain nearly every great story in the Old Testament? The lives of David, Joseph, Moses and many others were anything but peaceful, stress free, easy, or clear in their understanding. There is a difference in saying "God is peaceful, patient, understanding, gentle, and has no turmoil and anxiety in His being" - and saying OUR lives often include the opposing qualities of those mentioned. God is a perfect and eternal being who sees the beginning and the end of everything. At all times. He is too vast and large to fathom. But we, as His people, live life in the midst of chaos at times. And has nothing to do with His character or that He isn't involved and working on behalf of situations in our lives. If the bar by which we judge and determine God's involvement in any area of our life are - for the most part, emotionally based - we are building a house on sand as Jesus said. So when the wind blows, and waves come crashing against us, the house will fall.
Our emotions cannot be the ultimate deciding factor when it comes to discerning the hand of God in our lives. And we can't go around blaming the devil for every situation that creates turmoil and distress. You never see Joseph, David, Elijah, or Moses blame the devil for their tough times. Which for the most part, their stories are all about difficult roads and journeys. With victories and large moves of God along the way. I think a large population of the church body has acquired this theology that God isn't going to make life a tough road to travel if His hand is involved in it. And only the devil would do that. But the Bible says the devil comes disguised as an agent of light. There may be some people who are easier to fool than others with (obviously) evil tactics. But I believe a lot of the situations we perceive to be God, because the peace is there, the road is crystal clear, and there has been little to no opposition - should be as questionable. If it's too good to be true...is it? Because I don't know one person in The Bible that had such an easy road. And the one's that often did, were evil leaders who did repulsive things. And God never removed them from their seat of authority (in a lot of cases). Now I'm certainly not saying that God cannot operate in our life on such a level. He certainly can. And I certainly can't address all of those scenarios here, but this is what we do know, God says "trust in Me with all of your heart, and lean not on your own understanding". He says "My ways are not your ways" and "walk by faith, not by sight".
A life lived for God is walking by faith, not by sight. The opposite of faith is not fear, it is certainty. It's when you DON'T know whats going to happen. When you DON'T have 100% certainty. It absolutely can involve stress, anxiety, worry, and fear. Because with uncertainty comes a lot of "what if's". What if you feel like God is calling you to relocate thousands of miles away. And you aren't sure. And He isn't really giving you much more information than an inkling in your spirit, that you feel is Him directing you. You have to sell your house, quit your job maybe, and perhaps a lot of other risky and uncomfortable decisions that must be made. Faith is risk! And The Lord asks us to live that way. What about waiting for a spouse or children? You feel like a particular person could be the right one, but you don't really know. You have prayed about it as much as you can, and have done all you can to make the best decision about choosing wisely. But the situation doesn't have the clarity you would like to feel. Maybe there are a dozen circumstances surrounding that person that just don't quite give you what you feel you need to choose. To make a decision comfortably. So maybe you walk away thinking it must not be God, because you need more "peace" to make a yes decision. Which leads you to someone else, with circumstances that give you more peace. But in actuality, the one you walked away from was the one God had in mind the whole time. Because He was stretching your faith. He was growing you and molding you, and teaching you to trust Him. And in time you would have seen that He was indeed behind it, the whole time.
Obviously, any of these illustrations could go either way. Discernment should always be used. The Bible says "test all things". The word "test" falls in the ball park of discernment. But often times, we still have decisions to make in full faith. Even when we have exhausted our best efforts at discerning a situation. The testing of something should not be based off of emotions, ideals, or pre-defined expectations. Because God will likely not be accommodating or tailoring your situation to your desires. Not during the "testing" phase. Because He is requiring you to live by faith. I think the more we know God's nature and character - the more we remember how He acted and responded in the lives of those who came before us - the better we can become at guarding our hearts and renewing our reminds. One key principle to remember is that God is ALL about faith. And He will test your faith! Which often means promising you one thing, and then allowing the exact opposite of that thing to happen in your life. He did this many times in The Bible, but Abraham is the first example that comes to my mind. Not only did he have to wait 25 years for Isaac - at an age far beyond child bearing days - but after Isaac was born and grew up a little, God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. God did not offer an explanation why or an alternative plan, so don't tell me that directive isn't a little confusing. Or jump back before Isaac was born, God told Abraham to pack up and move to a land "He would show him". But God didn't tell Abraham where to go, or what direction to move in. Sounds confusing to me...
The greatest things that happen in our lives are the ones God gets to orchestrate entirely on His own. And it is in our faithfulness and trust that we see the end blessing. Like the life of Job for instance. He didn't know that he was going to be blessed two fold at the end of his brutal trial. What gets us in trouble our or emotions and fear. We try to understand God when He says "don't try and understand, just trust Me". We want to have security before taking steps of faith. But the two can't exist. You can't have certainty and faith. There is a place of contentment we can achieve, in light of any circumstance (as the Apostle Paul describes in the New Testament). We have to learn to be ok with how God works. But it likely won't change the difficulty of the moment. James Dobson wrote a book called "When God Doesn't Make Sense". It is a really sobering read on this topic. We are surrounded (constantly) by things that God does or does not do, that really don't make sense. And sometimes it's not God at all. Sometimes it's just us. And sometimes it's the forces of darkness coming against us. So adopting cliches as core values isn't really helpful anyway.
In closing I want to say that God can definitely give direction. There are numerous verses in His Word that say we can ask Him for wisdom. I am not arguing that in this post. However, even in times when God tells us the outcome of a particular life event, there is usually a lot He leaves out. Which is what I would call "the middle". The faith journey always has a beginning, and eventually an end. But it's what happens in the middle that usually seems to be the area of greatest difficulty. Those are the times where we are trusting Him moment by moment, day by day etc. A person full of God will overflow with His likeness and Spirit, which would be displayed in our lives (see Galatians 5) despite the "chaos" of the journey we walk through. The fruit of His Spirit in us has nothing to do with the storm around us. And often times that is what it looks like when you are smack dab in the middle of God's will - a person trusting God despite uncertainty, risk, and the unknown. In spite of the many opposing and contradicting moments, they walk in peace, patience, joy, self-control, love, goodness, gentleness and perseverance.
So I will close in saying, don't buy into all the cookie cutter cliches that the only time God is present in a situation, is when the situation is all peace, joy, puppies and pancakes. Don't expect God to conform to your expectations. But know that He will be faithful to His Word and in fulfilling any promise He has made you. It's great when He responds with the peaceful and easy methods. But in my Bible, every great man and woman of God went through incredibly trying and difficult situations. Which were confusing, fearful, unpleasant, and hard. Yet they were right in the middle of His will, and He always acted on behalf of their trust and faith in Him. I'll revisit this idea a little more in a future post about faith and fear. Stay desperate for Him!