In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly (Psalm 5:3).
What a wonderful thing to be able to expect things from God. We have that privilege, as His children, because we know that God always says what He means, and He always means what He says. So when we read, for example, that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28), we can expect exactly that:
That no matter how dire or painful our circumstances, we can expect that God is somehow working those things for our good. Similarly, we can expect that God will still love us today because He is love. We can expect that He will keep us in His grace because He has made us His children. And we can expect that today, regardless of what it holds, will be filled with the mercies of God because His mercies are new every morning.
When it comes to our specific prayers, we can have the same kind of expectation. As David wrote in the psalm above, we can pray and lay our requests before God and then wait with a sense of expectation. We can know that He had heard those prayers, and that He will answer them in a wise and loving manner.
But there is a difference between expecting and presuming. And we would do well to major in the former and avoid the latter. Maybe a little example will help point out the difference.
Let’s say that your child comes to you in the middle of the afternoon and says, “Dad, will you provide dinner for me tonight?” The answer is yes because you are the kind of father who loves your children and you delight in giving them what they need. Your child knows this; in fact, he knows it so deeply that he rarely even asks if you will provide dinner. Instead, the question is more of an expectation, and it sounds like this:
“What are we having for dinner tonight?”
Whether or not the dinner will be provided has already been answered because your child knows you. And he knows how you have provided in the past.
So dinnertime comes and you do provide dinner. It’s tasty fair and includes a healthy amount of vegetables. But when you put that dinner down in front of your kid, his face falls and maybe he says something like, “Where is the pizza?”
And now we start to see the difference between expectation and presumption. Your child, it seems, not only expected you to provide dinner, but also presumed you would provide the same type of dinner that he had in his mind that you ought to provide. And perhaps that was not an outlandish presumption; you have, after all, provided pizza at points in the past. But not tonight. Because tonight was not the best night for pizza despite the desire of your son.
Silly example, but it’s still worth thinking about how often we are disappointed in the way the Lord answers our prayers. And if it’s very often at all, then perhaps we have drifted from expectation to presumption.
When we pray, we can be assured that God hears our prayers, but we can also be assured that our prayers are always, always, always limited in their nature. Our prayers are limited by our own wisdom. Or our own vision. Or our own perceptions. Or even our own pain. Now that’s not to say our prayers are not well-intentioned and even well-meaning; it only means that in our human capacity they are always limited. Consequently, when the answer to our prayers does come, we are often surprised by it because it looks different than what we were asking for. Or it doesn’t come in the timing we wanted. And we are disappointed by our own presumption.
To put it another way, an expectation is based on what we know to be true about God; a presumption is based on our own ideas of what is good and right.
God does what is good. What is right. What is best not only for us but for all His children. He weaves together all the answers to individual prayers in such a way that all of us are rightly provided for and helped. This is what we can and should expect.
But if we are surprised by the manner in which He answers, then perhaps we have stopped expecting things from God and have started presuming upon Him.