I remember when I was a young girl, I had so many hopes and dreams for my future! When I look back I realize that although some of them came to pass in some form or fashion, most did not. I didn’t dream about my baby dying or my marriage falling apart. I didn’t think about the time when my then husband was unemployed for almost two years. I never once dreamed about being alone in my fifties, without a husband, a career, an education or the ability to take care of myself. No, those things were not on my agenda or on my radar. I dreamed about falling in love, being a stay at home mom, having children who grew up and growing old with my husband while seeing our grandchildren being born. Happy dreams and a happy life is what I thought about. But unfortunately, for anyone who’s been around on this earth long enough, we realize all too soon that life never happens quite the way we had hoped or dreamed. And when things happen that we don’t understand, it is easy to become angry and frightened and blame someone. Sometimes we blame other people, sometimes we blame ourselves and often we blame God. After all, doesn’t He have the power to fix all things, to prevent all things and the power to stop bad things from happening?
If ever there is a story in Scripture that shows us the devastating effect of a life that didn’t turn out quite the way someone had dreamed or planned, it is the story of John the Baptist. When life takes a nasty turn, one we didn’t see coming, it can take even the strongest person down to a place of hopeless despair and complete loss of faith.
Now let me give you a little background about John. He was born after his father, a priest, had a supernatural encounter with the angel Gabriel while serving in the temple. His dad is struck mute by the angel because he didn’t believe Gabriel when he told him that he and his wife would have a baby. They were old and Zacharias, John’s father could not believe that they were physically capable of becoming pregnant. (You can read the story of John’s birth in Luke 1.) But sure enough, John was born and things seemed wonderful. Fast forward and John who is now about 30 years old is preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Israel. He sees Jesus and announces to everyone that Jesus is the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world. At this point, things must have seemed wonderful to John. He has a thriving ministry, thousands of people are being baptized by him, lives are being changed and at one point Jesus calls John the greatest prophet that ever lived. See Matthew 11:11. What could possibly go wrong you might ask?
John manages to offend King Herod and Herod has him thrown into prison (Matthew 14:3). This is where things begin to get tricky for John. We are not told how long John’s ministry lasted, but it clearly did not end the way John had envisioned. John, now languishing in jail becomes thoroughly depressed and loses his faith. How do I know this? In Matthew 11:2 John is in prison and he hears about the works of Jesus so he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus the following question: “Are You the coming One, or do we look for another?” Say what? This is the same man who just months before tells people the following when he sees Jesus in John 1:29: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This man knew who Jesus was! How could he possibly have fallen into such despair that he no longer believed?
Jesus Himself tells us the answer. In Matthew 11:5-6 Jesus answers John’s disciples with the following: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Did you catch it? Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me!! There it is. John is offended with Jesus and in that cloud of despair, anger, blame etc. etc. John loses his faith and doesn’t even know who Jesus is anymore. That’s sad, really sad.
So what can we glean from this story and how can it help us? Let me go back to the beginning of this post. Stuff happens in life, bad stuff, stuff we don’t expect, anticipate, dream about or hope for. Ministries are cut short, jobs end, marriage fall apart, people die or get sick, the list is endless of stuff that can and does go wrong. But just like John, when stuff goes wrong, we have a choice. We can choose to look at our circumstances and the shattered dreams and lose faith and become offended with God or we can choose to look at what Jesus has done in the past in our lives, what he is doing in other people’s lives and the promises that He has given to us, and we can choose to trust Him. I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t take faith while we are on the mountain, when things are going great. It takes faith when we are in the valley, when things are falling apart and nothing makes sense.
Trusting God is a choice. I have been in that valley far too many times in my life when all I could see was darkness. I had to choose each and every time to lift up my eyes and trust Him. Sometimes in my darkest hours, I would remind myself like Paul in 2 Timothy 1:2 “I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him… I would remind myself that God is good and He is good all the time. Like David I would encourage my soul and choose to trust my Father, my Friend and my Comforter. If you are reading this and your dreams have been shattered, look up and choose to trust Him. He is a rewarder of those who do.