When God Doesn’t Show Up

Living Out Your Purpose in the Midst of Broken Dreams

Emma Tautolo

Emma Tautolo is a southern California native who has lived in Arizona for almost a decade now. She has spent the last 12 years on staff with Athletes In Action leading and equipping students and staff in college sports ministry and cultural competency. She has served locally as a part of her church in outward focused mission and care and is an executive leader with a movement of local churches putting Jesus on display by equipping, reconciling and activating God’s people in Arizona called the Surge Network. Emma has her master’s degree in Missional Theology and loves the ocean, Pit bulls and 90’s-00’s r&b.


I’m thinking of John the Baptist today. And I’m thinking of a specific moment from Luke chapter seven. And this is right after Jesus had healed someone from sickness, and He had raised a man from the dead. And John the Baptist is actually in prison. And he’s hearing about everything going on. And he actually calls over two of his followers, and he’s like, “Hey, I need you guys to go take this question to Jesus from me. And let me know what His reply is.” Right? He wants to ask this question from prison. And the question that he asks, that he sends off to Jesus is “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” 

And this is a really interesting question given who asked it, right? Given who John the Baptist was. Because in the Old Testament, it was foretold that the Messiah, that before the Messiah, a prophet would prepare the way. So according to passages like in Isaiah 40, the prophet would be a voice calling in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. And so we’re told in Matthew 3 and in Luke 3 that this prophet was John the Baptist. And so he was the one who would herald the coming of the Messiah. If you think about it, there’s almost no greater task entrusted to a human being. And so one day as John was preaching, Jesus came. And the Gospel of John tells us that when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And so he clearly, very clearly knew who Jesus was. And he knew what his task was: to prepare the way for Jesus. And he was performing this task beautifully. 

But then your boy John was thrown in prison by King Herod for calling out his unlawfulness and his unrighteousness, essentially. And you can imagine John the Baptist in prison, right? In literal chains, in a stone desert fortress, on an uncomfortable bed of stone or cement. And he starts getting reports of Jesus and all that’s happening in His ministry. And I can just, I can hear what his mind might be thinking, right? “Well, Jesus, while you’re hanging out with drunkards, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, I’m in prison, locked up, not knowing what my future holds. And on top of it, I’ve been living out my purpose. I’ve been living out the voice calling in the desert, to herald the coming of the Messiah, of you. I have been doing the work, the really good work, that you’ve called me to do. And so surely, the least you could do as the Messiah is break your boy out of prison and crush all my enemies, right?” 

So when in Luke seven, when John sends off his followers to ask Jesus this question, he’s essentially asking the question of Jesus: “Was I right about you? Are you really who you said you were? Are you the Messiah? Or did I even understand Scripture correctly?” So John begins to wonder, as he’s wasting away in prison, that just maybe, maybe it’s possible Jesus is not the Messiah. Maybe Jesus is not who John thought he would be. Maybe … maybe Jesus is actually not going to come through for him. Right? Maybe Jesus is not going to answer his prayers or spare his life. And then I think, well, what did that do to John the Baptist? 

And I can picture it because I pull up the scripts that run through my own mind, right, when God doesn’t answer my prayers, right? When I plead and I beg God to move, and His answer to me is, “No, not today.” Right? The scripts that play in my mind are those of doubt, are those of wondering: “Are you really who you say you are, God? Are you really the one who’s hearing the cries and the prayers of your people?” Right? “Or did I make a mistake? Did I make a mistake in following you?” Right? When the hopes and the dreams that I’ve prayed for since I was a teenager, right, when those are yet to be realized 5, 10, 20 years later, of faithful prayers, and you don’t see them come to fruition, right? “Are you really who you said you were? Do you hear me? Where are you?” Right? 

And so Jesus gets this question sent to Him from John in prison. And what it says in Luke 7 is that “At that very time, Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and He gave sight to many who were blind.” And then He says, “Go back and report this to John.” Here’s what He says. He says, “Go back and report to John, what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed is he who does not fall away on account of me.” 

So Jesus is essentially saying: “John, I’m not going to come through for you. I’m not going to show up and bust you out of prison. I’m not going to liberate you at this time. John, I’m not even going to save your life.” Right? “I’m not going to come through for you the way you want me to. I’m not going to answer your prayers, the way you’ve been hoping and asking me to. But blessed are you, John, who does not fall away on account of me.” Or, right, “Blessed are you, John, who does not stumble, fall away, or lose faith in who I am because I don’t come through for you.” Right, “Blessed are you who does not fall away or lose faith in who I am because I don’t answer your prayers the way you want me to.” Jesus is like: “I’m doing what I came to do. I am fulfilling my purpose. And you too are living out and fulfilling your purpose beautifully.” 

And I think of John in this moment. Oh, I just, I’m like, “I feel you bro.” Right, because I think of what this season has been for just me. But it’s been filled with breakups, cancer, death, aging parents, polarization, division, disunity, pandemic, grief, mourning, disappointment, loss, and more and more loss. And in the wake of all that, right, in the — John is feeling that, John the Baptist is feeling that — and in the wake of all that, what will it take for me to live out a life of glorious purpose? Because ain’t nothing about life seeming very glorious in the moment. But yet, I’m compelled by a vision that all of my life, all of your life, and all of our work, right, your and my work is a part of this bigger story. 

And then the last thing I want to say to you is, when you’re wondering where God is in the midst of your life, and you’re wondering if you’re even headed in the right direction at this point, remind yourself that you belong right where God has you, right? Normalize doubt, like John the Baptist, right? That doubt is what followed as Jesus wasn’t going to show up the way he thought He would, right? But John the Baptist — like the doubt came, and the questions are good. And God can take all the questions, right, even the biggest, scariest, most complex and painful questions, right? Jesus can take all the questions, all the cuss words, all the ways that we cry out. And we wrestle and we are like, “Where are you God?” The questions are good. 

And you can be confident of this, that even when your life feels like it’s spiraling out of control beyond repair in some times, some points, it feels like that, we can be confident that God is still accomplishing His purpose in our lives, right? And the odds are, the odds are that He’s actually using the painful spiraling to accomplish the biggest, most beautiful purposes in our lives. So remind yourself that you’re right where you’re supposed to be. You belong where God has you in this moment of working through, and walking through, and wrestling along the way, when God doesn’t show up the way we hope He does. So living out our purpose amongst broken dreams and unfulfilled longings by finding worth and beauty in our work, right, alongside our complicated questions about why God is writing our story the way He is, right? Teaching our feet to dance upon disappointment, under the shelter of deeper surrender, right, deeper surrender to God’s story, and wrapped in a warm blanket of hope.

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