When God gave Joanna Weaver a vision of the man she would marry and that man eventually proposed, she was certain it was a match made in heaven. Because they both loved Jesus and felt called to ministry, she was confident their marriage would be a wild success. But eight years after marrying her pastor husband, Joanna found her heart growing hard and her love growing cold as the disillusionment of unmet expectations ate away at her soul. Joanna’s story is full of hard-won wisdom, and it is a grace to welcome her to the farm’s table today…
The Oregon night lay thick above me, studded with diamonds dancing amid the dark pines. Though I stood at a distance, I could feel the bonfire’s heat as orange-red flames sent sparks upward. Shadowy shapes moved around me, drifting slowly toward the fire then back again, but I barely noticed. All my attention centered on one thing. The crumpled piece of paper I held in my hand.
Victory Circle—that’s what they’d called the event during morning announcements. A unique and memorable way to end a week of kids’ camp, they’d said. A way to nail down what God had been speaking to young hearts.
“Get a piece of paper and write down something you need to commit to the Lord, then toss it in the fire at Victory Circle after the service tonight,” they’d told the campers, inviting those of us who served as counselors to participate as well.
My cheeks flushed with the fire’s heat but also with the memory of the one-sided conversation I’d had with the Lord that morning as I walked back to the cabin after worship.
“Oh, Jesus, it’s so wonderful to be in right relationship with you,” I’d whispered. “I can’t think of anything I need to surrender tonight. But if there is, please let me know.”
It was a dangerous but glorious prayer. For out of that invitation to examine my heart would come an encounter with God that would transform my life—and my marriage—forever.
As I opened my Bible for quiet time later that afternoon, I was shocked to find a piece of paper listing all the ways my husband needed to change. All the reasons our ministry wasn’t thriving. All the ways he’d let me down. Though I remembered writing the list, I was certain I’d thrown it away.
“I had a decision to make. Would I hold on to my expectations? Or would I entrust my husband—and myself—to God alone?”
Give it to Me, Joanna. The words came soft and low to my spirit as I stood by the fire that night. But objections flooded my mind as my eyes filled with tears. How could I let go of what felt like legitimate concerns? What if John never changed?
I had a decision to make. Would I hold on to my expectations? Or would I entrust my husband—and myself—to God alone?
….In some ways, expectations are a necessary part of life. As students we need to know what the teacher requires to get a good grade. As drivers we need to know the traffic rules to keep ourselves and others safe. As employees we need to know what time to show up for our job and how to do the work. Healthy expectations form the basis of society and give shape to useful and happy lives.
But less healthy types of expectations often lay below the surface of our hearts, causing us to act and overreact when people don’t do things our way. Formed by our past experiences, temperament, family of origin, and the culture we live in, expectations can be so ingrained that we rarely recognize them.
“we assume that everyone sees life the way we do. That they think like us, share our priorities, and navigate life’s difficulties as we do. It’s a rude awakening when we discover they don’t.”
Instead, we assume that everyone sees life the way we do. That they think like us, share our priorities, and navigate life’s difficulties as we do.
It’s a rude awakening when we discover they don’t….
When I entered marriage and ministry at nineteen, I arrived with a boatload of expectations. Because John and I shared the same values and had so much in common, I was certain we were bound for marital bliss. Because we both loved Jesus and had natural giftings, I expected our ministry to be a wild success. Filled with affirmation. Approval. Applause. Everything my Flesh Woman [that is, my lower nature] so desperately craved.
When those expectations weren’t fulfilled, naturally I set out to change my husband.
If he would just do this . . .
If he would stop doing that . . .
If he would be more like that person, then we could have that kind of success . . .
But instead of appreciating my help, God clearly told me, Get your hands off My man, Joanna. Changing John isn’t your job. It’s Mine.
“it turns out that God’s more interested in building His kingdom in us than He is in building His kingdom through us.”
Looking back, I can see that God frustrated my expectations for the simple reason that He wanted to get His hands on me. For it turns out that God’s more interested in building His kingdom in us than He is in building His kingdom through us.
That night beside the fire, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart: Stop praying, “Lord change my husband,” and start praying, “Lord, change me.”
It remains one of the most important instructions that I’ve ever received. I tremble to think of the beautiful marriage—the beautiful life—I almost missed.
Had God not demanded my list of grievances and had I not surrendered it to Him, John and I would have ended up as married singles. Appearing united on the outside, but, on the inside, living as far apart as two people could be.
I’m so grateful God didn’t let us settle for that….
Standing in the shadows of that long-ago bonfire, I watched as children and adults stepped forward and relinquished their burdens to the flame. But my expectations had become so embedded, I felt that throwing my wadded-up list into the fire would be like casting my very self into the blaze.
Finally, after everyone left, I stepped out of the darkness.
Tears running down my cheeks, I tossed the list into the flames. But instead of catching fire, the paper ball bounced off a log and rolled to the side. I used a stick to push it toward the blazing embers, but still it wouldn’t ignite.
Suddenly I realized that there was something deeper going on. My expectations had become a stronghold, a place where Satan felt comfortable and where Flesh Woman ruled and reigned.
This fresh awareness of the spiritual battle made me determined to relinquish the list more than ever. Pushing it deep into the fire, I prayed, Lord, I don’t want these expectations anymore. I give You my husband, along with my hopes and my dreams. Even if nothing changes, I trust You, God.
“As I surrendered my idea of how things should be, God was able to replace it with something far better.“
As the paper finally began to burn, God began to rewire my soul. Though it didn’t happen overnight, He began the process of restoring my marriage and renewing our love.
As I surrendered my idea of how things should be, God was able to replace it with something far better.
John and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary recently, and I can tell you that marriage can grow and change and there’s the hope that things can get sweeter and sweeter.
Especially when we get our eyes off people and place them solely on the Lord. Following David’s beautiful advice in Psalm 62:5 (NKJV):
My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
Joanna Weaver is the bestselling and award-winning author of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit, Lazarus Awakening and the devotional, At the Feet of Jesus. A pastor’s wife, mother of three, and avid Bible teacher, Joanna loves speaking to women about the powerful freedom that is found in making Jesus Lord and trusting him for things bigger than themselves.
Living in a fallen world, hard things happen. People wound us. Friends let us down. Without realizing it, our trust issues with people can become trust issues with God. In her newest book, Embracing Trust: The Art of Letting Go and Holding On to a Forever-Faithful God, Joanna shares her own journey to a deeper trust in God that’s led to deeper joy and peace. For its only when we embrace trust, that we fully embrace God.
[ Our humble thanks to Revell for their partnership with today’s devotion ]