When God Doesn’t Do What We Expect

Editor’s note: If you enjoy this post by Stacey Salsbery, be sure to tune in to the Revive Our Hearts broadcast or download the podcast today and tomorrow—you’ll hear Stacey’s voice as she shares her heart on the program. 

“Lord, he whom you love is ill,” said the message Martha and Mary urgently sent to Jesus when their brother, Lazarus, fell gravely sick (John 11:3). In other words, come quickly Lord; we need you.

Martha and Mary believed in Jesus and knew Jesus could heal their brother, so of course He would, right? After all, Jesus loved Lazarus and what’s more, they were confident He loved them. 

But as the hours slipped away, so did Lazarus, while Jesus delayed His arrival. Where is He? Does He not care? Does He not realize how sick Lazarus is? Maybe those weren’t the thoughts bouncing around in Martha and Mary’s minds, but those would have been the thoughts in mine. 

While waiting for Jesus to arrive, I envision Martha pacing and Mary distraught as she waits by her brother’s side. He’ll come, Lazarus. He’ll come. Just hold on a little longer. But Jesus didn’t come—at least not when they expected Him to, not when they asked Him to, and not when they wanted Him to. And so, Lazarus died because Jesus loved them. 

Wait, what did you say? 

John 11:5–6 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (emphasis added).

Jesus didn’t show up and Lazarus died because Jesus loved them. That’s the bottom line and it feels backwards, doesn’t it? I’d be on a plane or in a car faster than my kids can inhale a cookie if I received news of a good friend’s impending death. But not Jesus. He stayed put another two days.

Jesus Loves Us Enough to Work His Plan

Knowing how much Jesus loved this family (the same way He loves all of our families), I’m guessing Jesus ached to go to them. But God’s plan included something far greater than if Jesus came when they expected Him to, and Jesus loved them enough to work God’s plan even though it caused them pain. (Go ahead and read that again if you need to.) 

What feels logical to us is this: if God really loved me, He’d take this pain from me. He wouldn’t let this terrible thing happen. But praise the Lord that God didn’t take away Christ’s pain, or we’d forever dwell in pain. 

Our natural tendency in a season of hardship is to correlate pain with the absence of God’s love, but it’s just not true. God never stopped loving Jesus, yet hanging on the cross, Jesus felt more pain than we will ever imagine. God doesn’t desire that we experience pain, but for His greater purpose, He allows it. 

And like Jesus loved Martha and Mary, God loves us enough to allow our pain because He loves us enough to work His plan—a plan we may not understand right now, but a plan that is nonetheless good and right and holy and trustworthy. 

Jesus Loves Us Enough to Make Us Wait 

Jesus didn’t arrive until four days after Lazarus died. The Jews believed the soul departed the body on day four, so from Martha and Mary’s perspective this was a closed case. Death had claimed Lazarus and no one could do anything about it. (No one except Jesus, that is.)

God’s sovereignty plays a main role throughout this story. Jesus is in complete control from the time the messengers arrive with the news of Lazarus’s impending death to the moment Jesus calls him forth from the grave. But it isn’t Jesus rushing to Martha and Mary that highlights His sovereignty; rather, it’s His allowing them to endure a gut-wrenching wait that shines a spotlight on the authority of God. 

The sisters experienced some hard (and I imagine confusing) days before Jesus arrived. Perhaps that’s where you sit now. If so, let me encourage you with this: their long, insufferable wait had a purpose, creating space for God’s marvelous works to shine even brighter. Martha and Mary didn’t just get to see Jesus bring their brother back to health—they got to see Jesus bring their brother back to life.

Waiting does not (and never will) indicate that Jesus is callous toward our feelings. Even in this story that’s clearly not the case. When Jesus encountered Martha, He comforted her with words, knowing that’s exactly what she needed most.

But when Jesus saw Mary’s despairing tears, He was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33) and connected with Mary in a very different way: through heartbroken tears of His own. 

My friend, God’s plan for us may include some hard-fought seasons of waiting, but rest assured Christ is not unmoved by your feelings. He is compassionate and tender-hearted, and He has promised to walk beside us through each and every hard-fought day.

Jesus Loves Us Enough to Reveal God’s Glory

Just before the stone is removed and Lazarus is resurrected, Martha tries to stop Jesus from opening the tomb due to the impending smell of a four-day deceased body. But Jesus says to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

Yes, the sisters endured some hard and confusing days, but it was for the purpose of seeing the glory of God, who may not do as we expect, and may not do as we ask, and may not even do as we want—for He alone can do more. 

So don’t give up if God isn’t answering your prayers the way you expected; God has a glorious plan. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Just like Jesus assured Martha, if we believe, we too will see the glory of God. 

Praise the Lord that Jesus loved Lazarus and Martha and Mary enough to work His better plan, even though it caused them much pain. For after the sorrow came the Savior, after the hurt came the healing, and after the wait came the revealing. 

Even when we don’t understand, we can trust that God is working His better plan. “Blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isa. 30:18).

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

Join the Discussion