This is what the Lord is speaking to me as I read the account of the Israelites fleeing Egypt in Exodus chapter 14. They had heard God’s promise to deliver them from the oppression of the Egyptians and deliver them to the Promised Land (Exodus 3:7-8 & 6:6-8). It would be smooth sailing, right? Now that God had finally released them from Pharaoh’s oppressive hand, they would ride off into the sunset to the land flowing with milk and honey.
The Israelites were shocked when God’s promise didn’t unfold the way they had imagined. As they saw the Egyptian army approaching and heard the roar of thousands on their horses and chariots charging right for them, they began catastrophizing, and they completely forgot the promise of God.
They had replaced His promise with their plan.
And when events took a turn they didn’t expect, instead of pressing in and realizing that God had positioned them perfectly for His glory (Exodus 14:2-4), they responded in great fear, their eyes focused on the pursuing army (Ex 14:10).
But thankfully, the Israelites are not the only example we have in this story. When God’s call on our lives doesn’t unfold the way we expect or His promise doesn’t take place in the manner we had hoped, we can respond in fear and flight like the Israelites, or we can respond in faith like Moses.
Sure of God’s promise and His ability to carry it out, Moses saw the challenge as an opportunity to see the salvation of the Lord yet again (Ex 14:13). He understood that the greater our desperation, the greater opportunity there is for His glory. He trusted that the Lord would fight for them, they needed only to be silent (Ex. 14:14).
We can’t allow our unmet expectations to distract us from faith and steadfastness in His promise.
If we press forward in faithful silence, fearing not and standing firm, the Lord will fight for us and we will see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for us (Ex 14:13). We will see His glory over the enemy (v. 17), and we will believe in Him even more deeply (v. 31).
Joseph learned this lesson too, years before the Israelites found themselves in bondage in Egypt.
He went from receiving dreams of his greatness to being sold as a slave by his own brothers. I doubt that’s how 17-year-old Joseph expected his greatness to pan out. Yet even as a slave, the Lord was with him, and he became a successful man (Genesis 39:2). But just as he was rising to the top, seeing the promise of God’s greatness beginning to be fulfilled, it all came crashing down as he was wrongfully accused and thrown in prison (Gen. 39:20).
But even in these unmet expectations, God was positioning Joseph perfectly for His greatest glory, just as He had with the Israelites.
It was in the prison that God connected Joseph with Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. There in the pit, in the midst of his undeserved treatment— when most of us would have likely been pouting in a corner or shouting to the guards of our innocence— Joseph was noticing the plight of others. Asking the reason for their sadness, Joseph was given the opportunity to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and baker (Gen. 40:1-8).
Continuing in the confidence that all interpretations belong to God and faith in His Father in the midst of unfair circumstances, Joseph shared both the positive interpretation for the cupbearer and the devastating one for the baker. And both interpretations came to pass as God had spoken through Joseph (Gen. 40:8-22).
But Joseph’s unmet expectations continued in the prison.
Though he had asked the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh and so free him from the pit, it was two years before Joseph heard a word from the King’s house. Yet even after waiting so long on the Lord, his faith remained strong, and when he was called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph again responded in confidence in the Lord. “It is not in me, [but] God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16).
Again God gave Joseph favor, authority and leadership, this time not as a slave or in a prison, but as second in command of all of Egypt. And it’s in this role that God used Joseph to save his family from the famine and established Israel as a great nation.
Unmet expectations are a given. No matter what God’s call is on our lives, it will certainly not unfold exactly the way we imagine. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Are we willing to wait in the prisons (even the undeserved ones!) for longer than we hope or expect in order to see God’s greatest purposes fulfilled through us? Are we willing to focus our hearts on His promise even when it isn’t unfolding as we had planned? His glory through us depends on it.