Every honest Christian I know admits there are times when God does exactly the opposite of what you expected him to do. You felt sure God was leading you one way, but a door unexpectedly closed in your face. You thought God was about to give you some blessing, one you had already made plans to put to good use, when at the last minute, he withheld it. The job went to someone else. The sickness got worse. The girl said no. The home loan fell through. The visa was denied.

I once heard a prominent Christian leader confess that when he was in his early fifties, he felt convinced that God was telling him he had only one year left to live and to get his life’s work done. He obeyed, publishing his magnum opus within the year. More than twenty years later, he’s still alive and well.1 Does that mean he’s a kook? Well, he’s not alone in that experience: the patriarch Isaac spoke in Genesis 27 like he expected to die at any moment too (Gen. 27:2 – 4). Usually when people in the Bible speak that way, they expire pretty quickly! Isaac, however, lived on for several decades, reaching the age of 180 (Gen. 35:28 – 29)!

What should you conclude when God throws you a curveball? That God changed his mind? That you messed it up? That this idea about God moving in your spirit is imaginery?

Hold Your Interpretations Loosely

At the risk of belaboring this point: Such experiences should teach us to hold our perception of what the Holy Spirit is “telling us” loosely.

Even some of the holiest “ambitions” we feel certain God is moving us to undertake don’t pan out exactly like we expect — but that doesn’t mean God wasn’t in them! Jim Elliot believed God gave him a vision of seeing the Auca Indians of Ecuador embrace the gospel. He and his four companions got speared to death before making a single convert. Had they heard wrongly?

Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow, recounts how this tragedy led to the eventual conversion of the whole tribe. Furthermore, Jim’s example of commitment to the Great Commission has inspired thousands of young adults to go to the mission field, many to that same area. God did indeed inspire Jim’s ambition, even if it didn’t play out exactly like Jim had expected.

J. D. Greear, Jesus, Continued…: Why the Spirit inside You Is Better than Jesus beside You(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

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