“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died’ ” (John 11:20,21).
WE CAN EASILY IMAGINE THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF MARY AND MARTHA WHEN JESUS DID NOT COME TO BETHANY IN TIME TO HEAL THEIR BROTHER LAZARUS AND KEEP HIM FROM DYING. They knew Jesus had the power to prevent their brother’s death, and they had made their request respectfully, as between close friends. But their initial hopes were dashed. Though He ended up doing a greater thing, Jesus did not do what they had first asked.
How do we deal with “unanswered” prayer, the kind in which God does not do the thing we have asked Him to do? Is it right for us to be “disappointed”? Let me suggest that there are two different kinds of disappointment, one of which is right and acceptable to God while the other is wrong and insulting to God.
The sinful kind of disappointment is sinful because it’s selfish and demanding. We resent that we didn’t get our way. Or we’re shocked that our plans didn’t work out. Or we question God’s goodness. Or we wonder whether there’s any point in praying in the future. These kinds of thoughts betray a sinful lack of faith.
But there is another kind of disappointment, and this is nothing more than the sincere brokenness of heart that comes from a desire that God has left unfulfilled for the time being. In Gethsemane, was Jesus “disappointed” when God did not “hear” His plea to be spared from the cross? If you think He could have received His Father’s answer without a broken heart, then you’ve not thought about the bitter agony in which He pleaded with God. But Jesus’ broken heart would have been a pure and unselfish heart: willing, in true love, to yield to the higher and better way.
God never says no to any honorable request except to accomplish a greater good. The absence of the lesser good may leave us in pain for a while, and God will help us deal with that. But the key is truly wanting the Lord’s will to be done. If that’s what we desire, then we can be sure: our desire will never be disappointed.
“God will inevitably appear to disappoint the man who is attempting to use him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort for his own plans. God has never been known to disappoint the man who is sincerely wanting to cooperate with his own purposes” (J. B. Phillips).