What to Do When God Fails Your Expectations

Jesus' words to John the Baptist at Machaerus are God's words to us.

We don’t say it out loud, but often we expect that if we believe and live correctly, we’ll have great marriages, healthy bank balances, well-balanced children, and freedom from major problems.

Macherus is where John the Baptist was imprisoned

(Photo: Machaerus is where John the Baptist was imprisoned. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Of course, we know better—but we still lean on the side of expecting blessing for obedience.

The truth is, we have expectations of God. And sometimes, honestly, He fails those expectations.

Here’s why.

We Have Expectations of the Expected One

We’re not alone in our expectations. Do you remember that John the Baptist struggled with his own sermon?

  • He had proclaimed the Messiah’s kingdom coming with power and justice.
  • But instead, Jesus’ ministry centered on preaching and on acts of mercy, and John found himself unfairly wasting away in prison at Machaerus near the blistering shores of the Dead Sea.
  • Gentle Jesus hardly seemed the political Deliverer everyone expected.

Unable to reconcile the seeming contradictions, and imprisoned in his thoughts, John doubted his own message. John sent messengers to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).

In other words, the Expected One had certain expectations placed upon Him.

Jesus had failed to meet them.

Macherus, where John the Baptist was imprisoned.

(Photo: Machaerus, where John the Baptist was imprisoned. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Our God-Sized Expectations

Has it ever seemed to you as if the “good news” of the Bible doesn’t work in the real world? Ask yourself:

  • If the gospel “worked,” what would it look like?
  • What do I expect from Jesus?

Even when our expectations are biblical, as John’s were, we still see them through the lens of impatience. We suppose that if God has promised to act, He should act now!

As if God’s whole universe orbits around our timetable.

Our God-Sized Disappointments

When we find ourselves most disappointed with life, it’s not because something in life has failed us. Rather, our expectations of what life “ought to be” have failed us.

Or understood a different way, when we find ourselves most disappointed with God, God has not failed us—but our expectations of God have failed us.

  • We should always hesitate to assume the gospel doesn’t “work” when we simply cannot see the big picture.
  • When we struggle to connect truth with life, we must embrace the limitations of our understanding—and also the limitlessness of God’s.

In response to John in prison at Machaerus, Jesus graciously challenged him to shape his expectations from the Word of God and not from the circumstances that seemed to contradict it: “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matthew 11:6).

We should never judge God’s love for us based on our present circumstances. 

Why Jesus Disappoints Us

Jesus was willing to disappoint everyone but the Father. Everyone.

Ponder that for a moment.

Jesus loved His followers enough to disappoint them, to allow them to question His power and to struggle against their own expectations, in order that they could experience true joy in the long term.

Jesus is willing to disappoint you for the same reason.

Tell me what you think: What disappointments have you experienced from God that ended up becoming blessings? To leave a comment, just click here.

Walking in the Footsteps of JesusLike This Post? Get the Whole Book!

This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ.

• Enjoy an engaging, inspiring, and humorous travelogue that mingles the life-changing truths of Jesus with a walking tour of the Holy Land.

Experience the Holy Land through the sights, sounds, and tastes of this personal travelogue, and discover how these sacred places influenced the lessons Jesus taught.

You will discover lessons Jesus has for your life.


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  • Charism

    Great article. I found this website because I was searching for Christian sites in Rome. I like this line: “Our inability to understand Jesus should give cause for worship, not cause for doubt.” It seems like today the phrase, “I don’t know” is never well-received (in ANY area of life) 🙂 . Imagine how many people have said to themselves, “What if they ask me something I don’t know?” I love the idea of praising the Lord because I don’t have all the answers (but He does); and not walking away with the intent of returning  until all the answers are clear. 

    • Glad you stopped by, Charism. And I’m glad you liked this post. You’re right, if we walked away until everything was clear, we’d never return. How can a finite brain comprehend an infinite God? I wouldn’t want to worship One I could fully understand– at least, in this life. Thanks.

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  • Michele

    I’ve been reading Job again lately, and this matches closely with what I read there. Good article.

    Even in today’s churches, people still try to make you feel that if your life with Jesus is not free from problems, worries, etc., then you are somehow less than a full Christian. But throughout Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the apostles, they said to expect persecution, trials, and tribulations.

    I once held a sobbing little girl for an hour after giving my testimony at a girls’ camp. I had felt that I needed to share my testimony because up until the point when I shared, the testimonies had followed this basic pattern: I was horrible (or my life was horrible), then I became a believer and all of my problems disappeared. Well, that had not been (and still has not been) my experience at all. I came from a family that sent me to church with the neighbors so that I could be “a good moral person”. When I accepted the Lord as my savior, it took them by surprise and they belittled and ridiculed me and said that, “it’s just a phase.” Anyway, to make a long story a little shorter….that message was exactly what that little girl needed to hear. The previous year at the same camp, she had accepted Jesus under the impression that all of her problems would go away…but they hadn’t…her dad still drank, her parents still fought like crazy, etc….People had given her a false expectation of Jesus. I was able to share with her the thinking that our problems do not go away because of believing, in fact, they may get worse (and the Bible suggests that they will get worse)…the difference is that God carries us through and gives us strength…
    God bless you, sir!

    • These are great thoughts, Michelle. No doubt, the Lord used your painful past to encourage that girl– with many more to come. The lie that says all problems disappear is one of many the enemy uses. You might want to check out this blog post I wrote about 4 lies that Christians believe. Thanks again for your super comment.

    • Gail Cantrell

      It’s really sad, the “Prosperity Gospel” is preached much more than the True Gospel.

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  • Gail Cantrell

    When I read the subject, I instantly thought, I never really had any expectations of God. Well, I did, but not really, it was others telling me God would heal my daughter, so I expected Him to heal her, because they were telling me He would. When she passed, I wasn’t upset at all with God. The bible says we are all appointed a time to be born and a time to die, it was her time. Now other than that, I really do not have any expectations of Him, what He did at the cross is sufficient enough in itself. Anything above that is lagniappe. I’ve been struggling with the following statement: “When we find ourselves most disappointed with life, it’s not because something in life has failed us. Rather, our expectations of what life “ought to be” have failed us.”

    • All I meant by that statement was that our expectations of life come through the filter of what we think life should be. God knows best, and so, He often allows our disappointment. Thanks, Gail.

      • Gail Cantrell

        I meant I was struggling with exactly what the statement was saying. I feel I’m not getting what should be rightfully mine. However, you just enlightened me, just because I think ( or general population thinks) it should be that way doesn’t necessarily mean it should. This is helpful, thanks.


    This is one of the best short teachings I’ve seen on this topic, Wayne. And it’s one of the most important topics you could write on, IMO. One thing that has helped me in this regard is to realize that one of God’s primary goals for Christians is to conform us to the image of Christ, which (unfortunately for us) requires that we experience pain, disappointment, and trials of various kinds. If we expected *that* and saw how important it is to God, we might actually be surprised at how little we suffer. “God is more intent on the production of character than He is on the provision of comfort.” —Ern Baxter

    Another thing God has to teach us is that we can’t control Him. Sometimes we can only really “get” that when He postpones answering our prayers or just says no. “God’s arm is untwistable.” —Derek Prince

    And I really love your pithy statement, “Our inability to understand God should give cause for worship, not cause for doubt.”

    • Thanks for these great quotes. Yes, I think if we knew what God knew then we’d more willing surrender to the tough parts of His will for us.

      • JFKAR

        I’m clicking through all the links and the links’ links. So much good stuff—I could be up late! (It’s 8:00 P.M. where I am.)

        • Thanks! It will all be there when you wake up. 🙂

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  • Greg

    Oh boy, Im so glad I found this blog. Its one of the only ones with good topics about serious issues. I like getting to the meat of things.

    Expectations of God: From all my years in service, and the many fellowships Ive been a part of, I can tell you one thing about this. The large majority still believe that God will reward them for good behavior and proper lip service. Pastors are dishing this out from the pulpit in as many meaningful ways as possible for two reasons: To keep people committed in an uncommitted world . To avoid sounding negative in an already negative world. Most pastors want to preach the holy Word of God and have it interpreted in the audience by reprobate and regenerated minds alike – as positive and encouraging. Simple as that.

    Ive personally asked many pastors behind closed doors about their true feelings on the subject of expectations, and here is what they say. “Greg, people are coming to church hurting, needing guidance, and wanting to make friends. They aren’t coming to church to be told to give up on their dreams and follow Jesus. They expect me to tell them what God wants them to understand, but I try my best to enable them to trust God alone by not offering myself as help too often, or committing to any individual beyond what I would do for the rest, and in the end, I have to remain detached enough to protect myself from burnout. I tell them all to believe in God-sized dreams and trust Him alone because it keeps them thinking about hope, but when someone is disillusioned in life, we can only truly say a couple of things a) its good to be disillusioned to get back to reality. b) put more faith in God and keep waiting on Him.”

    So what are people left with? Basically a circular lie. Your dreams with come true after you fully trust God.

    The truth about Christianity (on the part of the human participant) is that its a faith full of giving up everything you want to make room for being lived in by another being. If you want to dream of other things than that, you’ve gotta divide up your affections and hang onto other ideas. If you divide up your affections, your gonna get in a major inward battle fought between your idols and God’s Spirit, all while you’re falling to the bottom of a pit.

    If you invest everything into the invisible , intangible, mysterious, ancient, and sovereign God of the Israelites, you’ll get somewhere in life (and it’ll be different than what you saw in that old dream you gave up at the beginning).

    The truth about most people is that they just don’t wanna accept the -cost -at- that- price. Period.

    In conclusion, until someones mind is transformed and regenerated into craving the exact opposite lifestyle of the normal people out there (like the Jones’ or the other christians with nice upper-middle class lives) no matter what it costs, that someone will always be let down.

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  • Peter

    Am at my end. The wages do not coincide with the cost of living. I have asked, prayed, believed. And nothing for 10 years. Scripture seems to let God create to many conditions. And for all the waiting and effort? If not good enough by now?
    Then any and all I Do? Will never be worthy. If God is real? I ask for a large financial hand up. A positive financial windfall! Now!
    So be it. I truly can do no more.

    • Emotions are what we live with most, Peter, in spite of how often they skew the facts and often blind us to the big picture. I’m sorry you’re struggling. There’s no way to justify waiting to our emotions. Seeing God’s hand in your life right now may be hard by yourself. I urge you to connect with your pastor and with some other godly men in a small group who can give you the perspective to help you keep going.

    • DD

      Peter (Caiphas) Where are you meant to be? are you meant to be in that location and region anymore? when the brook dries up brother it is time to move to the next place where the ravens are instructed to feed you and yes that will mean leaving the comfort and stability of lack to which we become so accustomed to and when God allows the drainage to happen we need to ask, where to Lord? I just uprooted my entire life and live in another state without knowing anyone and God is forging a new path..hopefully that is the same for you but.. You can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens you!

  • Lisa

    How about praying fallen to your knees in your job while 8 months pregnant praying this job doesn’t fire me and holding on to make it to my maternity leave praying hard every day keeping faith! Untill 1 day the next week I’m pulled in the office being told I was let go due to me not putting correct dates of employment off by a few days on my last job ..Oh it gets better denied unemployment had my baby stressing out and found an overnight job paying little to nothing at 2 weeks after a c-section. Painful and this happens to me while I stayed in heavy prayer and I was done and treated by God as if I didn’t pray 1 day and lived like a sinner! I am extremely disappointed and terrified he is not looking after me and protecting me and what I asked for was not unreasonable just income I deserve while I had my baby nothing more . That still to this day has me looking at God some type of way !

    • I’m so sorry, Lisa, to read your words—and I can’t imagine the emotions you’re dealing with right now. I have no easy answers and no quick solutions, but I have seen dozens of instances in my own life and in the lives of others where a hopeless situation that seemed like God’s apathy turned out to be His mercy. I’ve written another post that may encourage you as well. If you’re not already, I urge you to find a good church with a small group of women who can come along side you, pray with you, and offer their collective wisdom. Satan will try to convince you God doesn’t care, when that is simply untrue. He is working His plan for you and He will guide you if you will wait for Him.

  • locha mwaos

    sometimes one has to wonder if we serve the true GOD how comes we struggle so much! financially , in relationships . If Jesus paid all for us on the cross then how comes we face the same struggles??

    • That’s a great question, Locha. Jesus’ death on the cross served to pay for our sins—that which we have done to separate us from God. Faith in Christ gives us peace with God and a place in His future kingdom when we die. Jesus’ death for us never promised to take away our struggles. Jesus Himself dealt with sorrow and grief, and He even suffered death on a cross. Our relationship with God doesn’t remove our problems in this life, but it gives us a good way to deal with them, and it reminds us that problems draw us closer to God. Otherwise, we’d wander off. Thanks.

    • DD

      Iocha Mwaos, I too wonder about that and I have stories for days of what has happened in my life, even my purpose for being on this post was because I was feeling the same way and look what has happened I ended up replying to posts and it is helping me not feel so mad at God. Lol, But what I am realizing is this. We are to fight do you understand? we are called to war and not skipping through the tulips sipping tea Lol..the devil is ruthless and foul and dirty and one of the methods he uses is attacking finances, attacking our relationships because here our hearts are, here is where we Love and Love passionately regardless of relational context. but the point of undermining a man or woman is destroy their finances and break their hearts.. do you see? when those things happen we become weak and we become no more a threat to the devil..we are to be vigilant at all times and we are to war in prayer.. I have learned that the simple boiler plate “Lord help me” is not enough in these days..it is time for the warriors to take their place the devil will never fight fare and God is calling us to get up and for us to stop wringing our hands..take up your weapons and put on your armour its time for war!

  • Andrew Gabriel

    Great post, Wayne.

    It was true to Scripture, spoke to a common issue people face, and made me think.

    Keep up the great writing.

    • Thank you, Andrew. May the Lord bless you as you continue to serve Him up there in Canada!

  • Dave S

    I am having a hard time to love and respect a God that would allow the murder of children. I was so dedicated to reading scripture, praying, and attending church with my family. Then came the rape and murder of an eight year old girl in Georgia right before I returned to Indiana. Then Sandyhook Elementary massacre. How can I pray to a God that allows this? Please don’t give me the Garden of Eden choice. These beautiful children didn’t have a choice.

    • I agree with you, Dave. It isn’t easy to understand how a good God can allow such evil in the world. I wrote this post to offer some insight from a biblical perspective. There are no easy answers, but sometimes the fallout of others’ choices spill over into lives that have nothing to do with the wrong. When we keep eternity in view– and see our existence (as well as innocent children) as longer than these few years on earth– we understand that justice doesn’t have to show up immediately in order to still be just. Again, I confess it isn’t easy to understand. May the Lord bless you as you move forward.

    • DD

      Dave S, I agree with you 100 percent and I had those questions too on many other matters, however what I would encourage you with is this. we live in a fallen world, this world is the devils own territory and we as believers are merely trespassing here do you see? so it is our duty those of us who are truly enlightened to Christ to protect the innocent, we cannot save everyone absolutely not but we are the Hands, The Feet, The Eyes the Heart, The Body of Christ, We can protect those children who are in our view and within our borders. God is showing you where his heart is, he has shown you his grief and you are feeling that same grief. You protect the babies and children, you sound the alarm of what cruelty the devil is doing and expose the demons that work for him..you be the eyes and arms and heart of Christ and protect the little ones..

  • Deborah Barnett

    My 18 year old son has been bullied by his peers since 4th grade. Not constant but consistent. I know before each school year is out, at least one incident will occur. Not trying to speak negatively, just honestly. These bullies were in spite of earnestly praying, blessing his enemy, turning the other cheek, do unto others…ALL FAILED. I know all the lingo, I am a pastor’s wife. I have never questioned the validity of God until I saw my gentle, not sissy son, beaten from behind repeatedly. He is willing to stay there at this school because it is his senior year and he is a starter on the basketball team. My son who once trusted God with his whole heart now doesn’t even like God. And at this point, I honestly don’t blame him. He is full of rage at the injustice of it all. My son who has never thrown a punch gets the same ISS because in an effort to scare the bully into leaving him alone threatens him. None of this is done for the sake of the gospel. It is done simply because a bully wants a fight, or a boy who wants an induction into his manhood with a fight under his belt seeks out my son, because they know he will not hit back. It is easy to win a fight over one who will not hit back. I am very disappointed in God. Numerous times I try to give reasons why. “God has a purpose, God will make you stronger, they will reap what they sow…. some useless line to justify why God didn’t show up. But the truth of the matter is, He didn’t. And bullying doesn’t make you stronger. It robs you of innocence, it destroys self confidence, it strips faith. And it makes a mother question her faith for the first time in her lifetime.

    • Tina Runge

      I am praying for you, your son, and your family, dear Lady. I would also get any help from any agency or authority to stop the bullying and advice from a counselor. I know God has compassion as he did for the woman who’s only son was dead and He raised. I am praying for all of you pray for comfort and wisdom as you deal with everything.

    • DD

      Deborah Barnett, I am saddened to read of another child being bullied I feel for you and I can identify with you. I too adopted the biblical principal initially when my daughter was being bullied and honestly I told her to stand up for herself and when it became too much (she was only 11 at the time) I went up to the school to the after school program and truthfully I warned everyone, put your hands or mouths to my child and everyone will suffer the consequences and I said it loud enough so everyone heard me. And truthfully the bullying stopped, I went to the parents of the children involved and I did initially get some nasty reactions back, but before I was a Christian I had a life and I let them know, the men as well there would be some serious consequences. I took the biblical context of slaying goliath. David used a weapon, he did not sit on his hands, when Jesus witnessed the money changers in the temple he used a weapon and raised heck with them and they scattered. I am not saying use a weapon per se, but I am saying this Slay your giant let yourselves breath your own truth. I do not believe that God wants us living persecuted at the hands of others. It is not the principle of an eye for an eye. No. but it is about protecting our own land and that usually comes with the mindset of by any means necessary.

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