Irreconcilable differences … a phrase typically associated with divorce. My own divorce was granted on the basis of irreconcilable differences caused by infidelity.
There was a time when I wondered how any two married people could have irreconcilable differences, especially after a marriage has lasted two, three, or even four decades. Now I know. There’s usually more to the story than just irreconcilable differences.
But when else do we experience irreconcilable differences? Have you ever felt like your prayers and God’s answers represented irreconcilable differences?
I prayed so hard for my marriage to last. I begged God to restore our marriage and give us a new ministry. I repeatedly asked Him to convict my husband of his sins and return to his marriage, to his family. I begged Him to protect us—physically, mentally, financially.
And yet I still ended up in divorce court.
Or what about the man who longs for nothing more than to be a dad? Yet, for whatever reasons, his children choose to walk away, missing the years of sacrifice he made for them.
How about the family begging God for healing of their loved one, only to see that person suffer and die?
Or the child who asks God to help him forgive his estranged father and build a relationship with him?
I’ve seen so many prayers that—on the surface—appear to be irreconcilable to what actually happens. I’ve known people who walked away from their faith because the “answers” to their prayers didn’t match up.
But are these truly irreconcilable differences?
Let me start with my situation: While many of the prayers I prayed over my marriage and family went unanswered on the surface, I saw many of those prayers answered in the years to come…not in “our” lives but in my life and the life of my kids. God protected us by allowing my husband to resign from the pastorate before the ugly truth came out. He provided financially in ways I never could have expected. He has given me a ministry greater than anything I ever could have asked or imagined. While He didn’t answer my prayers in the way I expected, He definitely answered my prayers.
What about the father who longs to be a dad…but his children have walked away? Maybe his ex-wife has poisoned them against him or maybe he wasn’t such a great dad in the early days but has since repented? Maybe God picks him up and sets him in a family with kids who want and need a dad. Maybe the answer for this father doesn’t look the way he expected, but maybe God answers in an unexpected way.
How about the child whose father doesn’t repent but instead dies unexpectedly? What if God is sparing some other, more significant pain? What if God is stopping the abuse for your own protection? What if God is looking down the road and seeing the future on this earth and the most kind, loving thing he can do is to spare this child additional hurt?
Yes, our prayers and this life often seem to offer irreconcilable differences. But, instead of losing faith because our prayers seem to go unanswered, maybe we just need to adjust our perspective, to look for God in the unwanted and unexpected answers.
Here’s a few thoughts on the irreconcilable differences between our prayers and this life:
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans. Isaiah 55:9
We must always remember that God is omniscient, He sees all and He knows all. We, on the other hand, have a very finite view of life. We only see the here and now. We only see a very small sliver of what is actually happening. God, however, has the overarching viewpoint where He can know every intimate detail of what is happening now and what is going to happen in the future. His answers to our prayers take this knowledge into account.
Not only does God see all and know all, but His plans are for our good and His glory in all things. Maybe He looks down and sees the opportunity to do a work in us that never could have been accomplished if He answered our prayers the way we want. Maybe He wants to grow us, to develop an intimacy with Him that can only come through the trials of this life. Maybe His plan is so much bigger than anything we could start to imagine.
Ultimately, when our prayers and this life offer irreconcilable differences, we just need to relax and let God unfold the full picture before us in His time.
Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? Isaiah 43:18-19
Sometimes God wants to take us down a different path than the one we have been traveling. Sometimes He wants us to put the past behind us and watch as He starts a new work.
For example, God called me to ministry many years ago as a ten-year-old child. My view of that ministry was to be a pastor’s wife, to serve faithfully alongside my husband. Unfortunately, that view of ministry limited what God could do in me and through me. While serving as a pastor’s wife was a wonderful plan, God wanted to do more. He wanted to take me out of my comfort zone and give me the opportunity to proclaim His name in a new and different way. He allowed my marriage to fail, but He answered my prayers for a new ministry…I just didn’t recognize it at first.
Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks. Commit your way to the Lord! Trust him! He will act and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like high noon. Be still before the Lord, and wait for him. Psalm 37:4-7
God clearly tells us when we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. However, He has to transform our hearts so our desires are His desires. Then, when our hearts and desires have become one with His, He grants us the desires of our hearts.
I find it interesting that God follows up this familiar verse with the command to wait. Be still before the Lord and wait for him. Our desires are not granted immediately. It’s a process, just like everything else in the Christian life. He does a work in us in the waiting, teaching us to trust Him and His timing. We can never take short cuts in the Christian life.
Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us… Ephesians 3:20
When our prayers seem to be irreconcilable with this life, we can take great comfort in the promise that God is able to do far more than we could ever ask, hope, or even imagine. Maybe this life doesn’t look like what we wanted or expected; but maybe God is in the process of doing far more than we ever dreamed possible. Maybe we were selling ourselves short, failing to dream big enough. Maybe God is trying to stretch you, pull you out of your comfort zone where we can find so much more, where we can find the God who is able, whose mighty power is at work in each of us. Maybe He’s trying to do something we never imagined possible.
I’ve faced many irreconcilable differences between my life and my prayers, but I’m learning to trust God. I’m learning to trust that when the answers to my prayers don’t look the way I expected them to, I can still trust the One who sees all and knows all.
Lord Jesus, this life is often hard, and sometimes it’s difficult to see our circumstances as answered prayers. But we want to see this life through your eyes, with your perspective. Help us to release our expectations and trust that you are working something in us and through us in ways we could never comprehend. Help us to remember that you have plans bigger than we could ask or hope or imagine. Help us to remember that we have to wait for you to give us the desires of our hearts, to let you transform our desires into your desires. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.