“Lord, if you had been here . . .” John 11:21
Have you ever been disappointed with God? Be honest here. Have you ever expected one thing and received something completely different, something less than what you prayed for? Have you hoped with all your heart for God to move or act and He didn’t? Have your circumstances gotten worse instead of better, no matter how much you prayed? If we were talking about human relationships we would quickly say, “He disappointed me!” But do we dare say the same about God? Even if, deep down in our hearts that’s what we’re thinking?
Surely Mary and Martha felt that way about Jesus when their brother died. Take a moment to read their story in John 11. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were dear friends of Jesus. He had been in their home often and they were very close. You can hear their intimate relationship in the message the sisters sent to Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (v. 3). So they understandably expected Jesus to come immediately to heal their brother. But He didn’t. In fact, Jesus purposely delayed the trip to Bethany. By the time He finally made His way into the village, Lazarus was dead and already in the tomb. Martha and Mary both responded with words dripping with disappointment: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v. 21, 32). Jesus, You could have done something. You could have made him well. You could have helped—but You didn’t come.
Consider another person who turned to Jesus for help and was disappointed. Read Luke 8:41-49, the story of Jarius and Jesus. Jarius was a “ruler of the synagogue,” a very powerful and influential man in the Jewish hierarchy, who came to Jesus on behalf of his twelve year old daughter who was dying. Jesus agreed to go, but was interrupted on the way by a woman also in need of healing. By the time they started back to Jarius’ house, word came that his daughter had died. Imagine the father’s disappointment with Jesus. Why did you waste time with an old woman when my young daughter had her whole life ahead of her? If you had only ignored her, my daughter would not be dead.
If you’ve ever asked “why God?” then you understand that sense of disappointment. Jesus’ unexplained delays crushed their hopes and likely left them questioning Him. Like them, we petition God for His help and expect Him to come through. What do we do then, when our prayer goes unanswered and the situation becomes hopeless?
I believe we go to the Lord, like Mary and Martha did, with our honest disappointment. We turn to him, as I imagine Jarius did, with our breaking hearts and confusion. He knows our thoughts; He understands our feelings. Notice how the Lord answered them. To Jarius, He said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed” (Luke 8:50). To Martha, Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God” (John 11:40)? What do both of those statements have in common? One word: believe. Jesus didn’t berate them for their feeling—He only asked them to believe in Him. A man was dead, a child was dead; but the Lord wasn’t finished yet.
I think that is the key to believing in the face of our disappointments: trusting that despite our situation, the Lord is still at work. When it all seems lost, God still has a plan—and the power to fulfill that plan in ways we never imagined. For Mary and Martha and Jarius that plan was far more than they ever imagined; they not only received back their deceased loved one, but they saw the power and glory of God with their own eyes! Jesus could have come and healed their sick brother and child, but He wanted them to experience something far greater.
Believe me when I say I’m not just writing about a sweet Bible story. This is my testimony too. I have been in situations that seemed hopeless and I was honestly disappointed with God’s indifference to my prayers. But my Lord had not abandoned me. He was still working in my situation, albeit “behind the scenes” where I couldn’t see. He brought restoration, healing, peace, provision, and hope where there was nothing but disappointment and despair. I still face mountains too big for me to climb and valleys too deep for the light to reach, but I know that my Lord is a good, faithful God and whatever comes, He will come through—maybe not the way I expect or hope, but always in a way that allows His glory and power to shine through.
If your hopes are hanging by a thread, let me encourage you today to not give up on God. He says “Trust in Me with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, paraphrased). He has much bigger plans for you and your situation than all you could ever ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20). Hear Him say to your heart: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” Beloved, the Lord will never let you down.
Holy Father, in every hopeless situation I have ever faced, You have been faithful; You have done marvelous things beyond my expectations. I believe Lord—and I’m watching to see Your glory. Amen.