You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Discovery House Publishers (April 1, 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I Didn’t Sign Up for This is Aaron’s first book. Previously his writing has been seen in The Odessa American newspaper and the magazines Learning Through History, Discipleship Journal, Leben, Marriage Partnership, In Touch Magazine, and multiple issues of The Lookout Magazine.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Without the least bit of notice, life can take a sudden turn down a road we never anticipated or never would have chosen to travel. I Didn't Sign Up for This! Navigating Life Detours offers insights from the life and times of the prophet Elijah to encourage readers who have suddenly veered off the road into a wilderness experience. It provides guidelines and tools to help readers align their expectations with God's plan, fuel their lives with faith to overcome their fears, and find their way home. It offers fresh perspective on the need for God's direction throughout life's journey.
List Price: $10.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Discovery House Publishers (April 1, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The Story of Elijah
Late Ninth Century B.C.
Mount Carmel, Israel
Three groups of people made their way up the mountain.
In the first group were thousands of regular, everyday people.
They were making the short trek, ready to see one of the ancient
world’s greatest pieces of theater—a showdown between rival
prophets. Many of them were trying to decide exactly what to
believe and just who to worship. These people were not royalty,
nor were they priests. They were shepherds, farmers, and fishermen.
If nothing else, these Israelites anticipated a good show.
Interspersed within the first group was another group, this
one numbering 450 strong. The colorfully adorned men in this
second group were prophets of the Canaanite fertility god Baal.
Worship of Baal, who was typically pictured as a bull, had been
practiced in this area long before the Israelites had conquered the
Promised Land. Now with the worship of the one true God at
an all-time low in Israel, these priests had done much to lead the
Worship of this pagan god revolved around fulfilling the
desires of the worshipper. The ultimate act of worship was when
the worshippers worked themselves into a frenzy of passion, with
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the prophets and priests functioning as sacred prostitutes. Worshipping
Baal meant excitement, thrill, and feeding one’s own
appetites and desires.
The third group of people was not really a group at all. It was
one single, solitary man. As was his custom, the man wore a hairy
garment and a leather belt. He was not only the underdog in that
day’s contest, he was also the reason for the gathering. Every step
that his sandals took crackled on parched ground. And every
crackle reminded him and everyone else that he was the one who
had caused all of this trouble. He had prophesied that it would
not rain in the land of Israel until he said that it would. Then
God commanded him to leave the land of Israel. Now, three
years later, he had returned, and the dry and barren mountain
was testament to the authenticity of his prophecy.
The prophet Elijah made his way up the formerly beautiful
Mount Carmel to take on the prophets of Baal, one versus four
hundred fifty. So much had changed during the three years that
Elijah had been gone. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had murdered
God’s prophets, and the drought had brought on a severe
famine that was felt heavily in Ahab’s capital city of Samaria.
When the prophet had reappeared, King Ahab had called him
the “Troubler of Israel.” Elijah challenged Ahab to gather the
nation and the priests of Baal to meet him on Mount Carmel.
The meeting would show, once and for all, that God was allpowerful
and that Baal was an empty shell of a dead and uncaring
Once Elijah, the king, the prophets of Baal, and the assembled
crowd had settled in on a plain just below the mountain’s
peak, Elijah began to speak. The prophet’s voice bellowed across
the natural amphitheater created by the mountain’s features as he
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The Story of Elijah / 11
challenged the people of Israel to choose whom to follow, Baal
or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He directed that two
oxen be brought and that the 450 prophets of Baal be given their
choice of cattle to sacrifice. Each would prepare their own ox for
sacrifice. Then whichever deity sent fire from heaven to consume
the sacrifice would be the one true God.
The prophets of Baal went first. A careful observer of the
priests slaughtering the bull and placing it upon the altar would
realize that they already had a major problem. They worshipped
a god of fertility, the one responsible for thunder, rain, and agriculture.
Yet the priests were performing their sacrifice after three
years of drought and famine. In fact, the very mountain on which
they now stood had been a national symbol of vibrant beauty
(Song of Solomon 7:5; see also Isaiah 35:2), but now, after three
years without rain, it was an icon of futility. The prophets performed
their rituals with much music, dancing, and gyrations,
but the entire morning passed without any word from Baal, or so
much as a spark from heaven.
By noontime, with the act of Baal’s prophets growing tiresome
for the assembled crowd, the lone prophet of Yahweh
became more and more openly adversarial. Despite the fact that
this large contingent of colorfully adorned priests had continuously
chanted, “O Baal, answer us” for several hours, they had
seen no evidence of their deity. Elijah heckled them, saying, “Call
out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or
gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs
to be awakened.” Elijah had the audacity to suggest that Baal was
asleep, or possibly even away on a trip. No doubt this taunting of
the prophet’s theological nemesis both shocked and delighted the
crowd that was by this point bored.
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The priests of Baal responded to the eccentric prophet’s ridicule
by taking their worship to extreme measures. Since their
deity was not responding to their chants and calls for actions, the
prophets now began to slash and cut themselves. Cries rang out
and blood gushed over their vividly colored outfits as the prophets
grew more and more desperate for Baal to act. This disturbing
behavior continued until the middle of the afternoon when Elijah
finally had had enough.
Against a backdrop of his opponents’ pitiful cries for action,
bloody and beaten by their own desperate hands, Elijah called
the people to gather around. He took the time to choose twelve
stones and to construct an altar, which he promptly surrounded
with a trench. After the painstaking process of constructing his
altar and digging the trench, Elijah killed the ox. After the animal
had breathed its last, he cut the ox into pieces and laid the
bloody pieces on the altar to be sacrificed. Then, in a move that
shocked the crowd as much as his earlier taunting, Elijah commanded
that twelve pitchers of water be poured on top of the
ox and the altar. After a three-year drought, the spectators must
have gasped when so much water was used that it even filled up
Then Elijah prayed. Though his prayer was relatively short, it
must have felt like he prayed for an eternity. There was no delay
in what happened next. Unlike Baal, whose priests had sought his
help for hours, Elijah’s God saw no reason to delay.
Fire exploded from heaven and streaked across the evening
sky. The fire blazed closer and closer until it impacted Elijah’s
makeshift altar as if God had punched the earth with a fiery fist.
The fire completely consumed the ox, the water, and even the
stones. Where once had stood an altar, was now just a smolder.
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The Story of Elijah / 13
The solitary man in the hairy garment wasted no time in
completing the triumph. Elijah turned from the smoking ashes
that proclaimed his God’s victory and commanded the people to
seize the bloody and defeated prophets of Baal. He then meted
out the punishment God had decreed for false prophets—all 450
prophets were slain. There was no trial. They were all guilty and
they paid the price.
As an encore, Elijah told King Ahab, the most prominent
worshipper of Baal, to take his chariot down the mountain
because it was about to rain, for the first time in a very long time.
A great rain did come, but not before the prophet outran Ahab’s
chariot down the mountain.
Few human beings in history have ever had a better day than
Elijah did on Mount Carmel. Words such as legendary, historic,
and awesome only begin to tell the story of the showdown on
Mount Carmel. Had newspapers existed at the time, editors
would have had strokes trying to come up with a headline that
would do it justice. With apologies to a young shepherd boy who
one day slew a giant and eventually became king, the feat brought
about by Elijah was only rivaled in Israelite history by Moses’
parting of the Red Sea. Years later young Jewish boys would urge
their fathers, “Tell me about the day with Elijah on the mountain
But the prophet’s great day quickly turned into a very dark
night. In a stunning turn of events, fire from heaven became a
distant memory for the prophet almost before the embers of that
blaze had grown cold.
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A few years ago my girlfriend (now wife) and I spent a Fourth
of July weekend with her family at their lake house on Eagle
Mountain Lake. We had not been dating long, and it was my
first time to visit them at the lake. Much of the weekend was
spent on WaveRunners, objects almost as unfamiliar to me as the
members of my wife’s family. We were out on the WaveRunners
one morning when I was told to take the WaveRunner I was on
and follow someone else, also on a WaveRunner, to a dock across
At the time I was more than a little distracted talking to my
girlfriend, and so I did not pay close attention to the person I was
supposed to follow, or even where my destination was. After a
minute or so I took off across the lake, chasing the person to the
dock. I could see him in the distance, and so I followed, and followed,
and followed, until finally, after having crossed the width
of the lake, I arrived at a marina and realized, much too late, that
I had followed the wrong person.
I was now alone on an unexpected detour on a lake as unfamiliar
to me as the Sea of Galilee. Actually, I might have known
the Sea of Galilee better, because I had at least seen pictures of
it in the back of my Bible. I did not know even the basic shape
of Eagle Mountain Lake. I had no cell phone, and I had not
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16 / AARON SHARP
memorized my girlfriend’s phone number on the off chance I
could find a phone.
Despite the predicament in which I found myself, I thought
that I could find my way home. I remembered that I could see
the lights of a baseball field from their back porch. Surely I could
find a baseball field along the shore somewhere. Once I found
that, it would be a breeze to navigate the rest of the way. Besides,
this was Texas—how big could the lake be, anyway?
Minutes turned into hours. I traversed the lake trying to find
my way back with little success. At one point I ran out of gas and
had to dock my vessel at the home of a nice couple who helped
me as much as they could. I did not know what city my girlfriend’s
family house was in, as several bordered the lake, so they
gave me a full tank of gas and I headed back out onto the lake.
The hot July Texas sun had turned my usually pale skin into a
shade of tomato red. My sunburn hurt, I was exhausted, I was
embarrassed, I was frustrated, and with the sun slowly beginning
to descend, I had no idea where I was or what lay in front of me.
Eventually, however, I found my way home. They had sent a
search party out for me, but I managed to find my way back on
my own, saving a tiny (very, very tiny) sliver of self-respect. To
this day, her family still talks about my afternoon on the lake,
and I laugh about it now, telling everyone that I know the lake
better than all of them put together. But, if I am honest, that is
not the only time in my life that I have been on a detour. The
other times did not involve lakes, WaveRunners, or sunburn, but
the change in my course was just as unexpected, just as fearful,
and just as frustrating.
There was the time that I got the call from my parents telling
me that my mother had cancer. There was the year after coldidn'tsignup_
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Introduc tion / 17
lege when I struggled to discern God’s will for my future. There
was the time in seminary when I hurt my knee, requiring a surgery
that took all of my savings for school and then some. There
was the huge conflict in my extended family that may never be
resolved, my graduation from seminary with no job prospects,
my wife’s miscarriage, and the unexpected loss of a close friend.
There was my layoff, then my wife’s, and then mine again.
All of these circumstances left me feeling much the same as
I did that day on the lake. At least with my aquatic adventure I
can look back on it and laugh, but I cannot say that about all
the other detours. Nor can I explain why these difficult times
occurred, or what God was doing in my life through them. Some
of them are, at least this side of heaven, unexplainable. I could
make up a reason for their happening, but I do not truly know.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all
end up on these unexpected detours from time to time. Maybe
it is bad news from the doctor, a pink slip, an argument, or any
number of things, but we can easily find ourselves in situations
where we feel like I did that day on the lake. Often we begin to
question ourselves, God, and life itself when our planned course
changes direction. We wonder why our problems seem to get bigger
by the minute and worry about how long it will be before we
can find our way home.
Fortunately for us, the characters of the Bible are no strangers
to detours. Job’s detour—the sudden loss of his children, possessions,
and health—was quite possibly unlike any before or since.
Abraham’s detour of being unable to produce children left him
feeling so out of sorts that he slept with his wife’s servant in an
attempt to accomplish God’s will on his own. Joseph went from
being his father’s favorite child to a slave, sold into slavery by his
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brothers, and then to a falsely accused prisoner. David experienced
detours that left him so exacerbated that he exclaimed:
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
The list of detoured lives that grace the pages of Scripture
could go on and on. It includes men and women, Jew and Gentile,
old and young. This is important for us to note because often
when we are in the midst of a detour we feel like we are the only
one who has experienced anything like the heavy fog in which
we are living. If you are not careful, you can conclude that you
must be the only person who has ever felt like life is closing in
on you and nothing is going right. The question of the prophet
Habakkuk, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will
not hear?” (1:2), will be on your lips, and it is important to know
that you are not the first person to have thought those thoughts
and said those words.
Perhaps no biblical figure has taken a more disappointing
detour than the prophet Elijah. Elijah bursts onto the stage of
biblical literature from out of nowhere. After the death of Solomon,
the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms, with the
northern nation of ten tribes going by the name of Israel and the
southern two tribes, Benjamin and Judah, going by the name of
Judah. As you read about these events in the book of 1 Kings, you
see a pattern develop in Israel. The kings “did evil in the sight
of the Lord,” and they got progressively worse. By the time you
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Introduc tion / 19
read about King Omri, who “did evil in the sight of the Lord,
and acted more wickedly than all who were before him” (1 Kings
16:25), you are convinced that this nation must have hit rock
bottom. Then you read about Omri’s son, Ahab:
Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the
thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son
of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.
Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more
than all who were before him. It came about, as though
it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the
daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve
Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal
in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also
made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord
God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before
him. (1 Kings 16:29–33)
Chapter 16 of 1 Kings ends with a summary of the depravity
of King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel. Between the two of them,
they were the most wicked monarchy in Israel. They openly
defied God and His laws for the nation.
Chapter 17 then begins with an unexpected contrast: “Now
Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to
Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand,
surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by
my word’” (1 Kings 17:1). From out of nowhere, in the midst of
deep wickedness, Elijah storms into the story proclaiming that
there will be no rain for three years. His appearance is sudden.
We had no evidence that anyone was willing to stand for God,
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much less openly oppose the most wicked of kings, but that is
exactly what Elijah does.
Elijah follows up this prophecy by obeying God’s directions
to live near a stream, with ravens bringing him bread and meat to
eat each morning and evening. After this he travels to the town
of Zarephath where he works miracles, including the raising of a
widow’s son from the dead. Then, when the drought is in its third
year, God instructs Elijah to go back to Israel and confront King
Ahab. Elijah obeys God and what results is a famous confrontation
between Elijah and 450 prophets of the false god Baal. By
the end of the confrontation, Elijah has called down fire from
heaven, the 450 prophets of Baal have been executed, Elijah has
outraced Ahab’s chariot down the mountain, and the storms are
One would expect after such powerful acts that Elijah’s
encore would be out of this world. Yet, in the words of A. W.
Pink, “In passing from 1 Kings 18 to 1 Kings 19 we meet with a
sudden and strange transition. It is as though the sun was shining
brilliantly out of a clear sky and the next moment, without any
warning, black clouds drape the heavens and crashes of thunder
shake the earth. The contrasts presented by these chapters are
sharp and startling.”1
Chapter 18 is a tremendous victory. The sun is shining, birds
are singing, and God has shown himself to be powerful and
mighty. It looks as though Elijah, through God’s power, can do
anything. Chapter 19 is a hasty retreat. Storm clouds litter the
sky, and suddenly God seems to have disappeared. It looks as
though Elijah, God’s formerly powerful servant, is weak and vulnerable.
It is in the black clouds that drape the heavens, the story
of Elijah’s detour in 1 Kings 19, that this book resides.
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Introduc tion / 21
It is important to understand that this book is not a howto
manual. It is not “Seven Steps to Finding Your Way Home.”
As anyone who has been on one of life’s detours will tell you,
formulas do not always work. Our culture is fascinated with formulas
and programs, but God doesn’t work that way. His Bible
isn’t filled with steps to follow to solve every problem, and this
incident in Elijah’s life is not a road map for getting to your destination.
I cannot guarantee that by reading his story, things in
your life will get better. Instead picture Elijah, and his troubles,
as a friendly couple at the lake giving someone in the midst of an
unexpected detour an extra tank of gas—and sometimes a tank
of gas is all you need to find your way home.
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I was in my third year of seminary when I met the woman of
my dreams. I still remember what she was wearing the first
day we met. We did not even speak that day when we both sat
at the same cafeteria table with a group of mutual friends, but I
was determined to find out more about her. Over the next few
months I slowly got to know this beautiful lady, taking careful
mental notes of what kind of a person she was, how she acted,
and what she liked. The more I got to know her, the more I found
to like. Thankfully, she did not seem repulsed by my presence,
so I finally decided the time had come to ask her out on a date.
Despite accidentally hitting her in the face with a door earlier in
the evening, her answer was yes!
My friends were sure that this was a match made in heaven.
She seemed to enjoy my presence, we flirted constantly, and we
had much in common. All signs pointed to this being the first of
many dates. My friends and I agreed: if there was ever a man whose
success on a first date was assured, it was on this date for me.
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Once she agreed to go on the date, the work began in earnest.
I carefully chose a restaurant for dinner that would be fun, not
cheap but not too expensive, with an excellent variety of dishes.
I then came up with after-dinner activities that would allow us
to talk and get to know each other. The plan was flawless unless
I did something stupid, which, let’s face it, is always a possibility
I picked her up that evening and we headed to the restaurant
for a fantastic dinner. I had pasta while she had crab cakes. At
some point in the meal she suggested I try the crab cakes, which
I did despite my complete aversion to eating just about anything
that comes out of the ocean. To this day she remembers the agonized
look on my face as I got my first and last taste of crab cakes.
Our dinner conversation was smooth and we discussed one
of the classes we had together—Old Testament History. I mentioned
a project that I was considering for the class, and before
I knew it we were discussing the possibility of undertaking the
project as a team. There could not have been a clearer sign that
this date was a home run. Surely, if we were talking about spending
dozens of hours together on a project, then she must like me
too. I was most definitely on my way to having a girlfriend soon.
After dinner we went to a bookstore where we each picked out
books that we would like to read and told the other person why
we found those particular books interesting. From the bookstore
we made our way to another restaurant where we each ordered
a piece of cheesecake and continued our lively conversation. All
night long I was the consummate gentleman, opening doors and
being attentive. As our night drew to a close, I prepared to return
to the dorm to tell all my buddies how I was such a thoughtful,
romantic guy and that we would soon be going on a second date.
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Detours and Unmet Expectations / 25
We pulled up to her apartment building and I walked her
to her door. On the way, I casually told my date how much fun
I had and how much I would enjoy being able to take her out
again. I uttered these words and then waited for the “Sure, that
would be great” that I was sure was coming. Instead of agreeing
to a second date, however, this lovely woman told me that she was
not interested in going on a second date and would really prefer
to remain friends.
We arrived at her door. I thanked her for the evening, and
then made my way back to my car. Once inside I looked in
the mirror—did I have something in my teeth, or something
hanging out my nose the whole night? I checked my breath and
my armpits—did I smell bad? I mentally replayed the night’s
events—did she not have fun? I started reviewing our entire history.
Did she ever really like me? Was there something wrong
with me? Was I a bad date? These and many more questions
flew through my mind as I drove back to my dorm. Despite the
fact that everything had seemed to go so well, my expectations
proved to be the exact opposite of what came to pass. I expected
a second date, but instead I found myself watching basketball in
the men’s dorm by myself. A little less than two and a half years
later I would marry that same girl, but at the time I knew nothing
of that. All I knew was that real life had veered far off course of
Pretty much every human being who is old enough to walk
has experienced the disconcerting feeling of unmet expectations.
From the first time that another child played with the toy that
you wanted, you began to get the concept. You may have been in
a room full of toys, but that other kid had the one toy you desperately
wanted. You asked for the toy, you demanded the toy, and
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finally you tried to just take the toy. But instead of getting the toy
that you so prized, you got in trouble with an adult.
These first few experiences prepared us for the realization
that the world does not revolve around us and that more often
than not our expectations will be unmet. Yet, even as adults, we
still struggle mightily to remember this concept. This concept is
particularly foreign when we are, in our minds, living rightly. We
understand that if we live outside of the will of God, bad things
will happen to us. Those who choose to live a life of sin will
pay the consequences of that sin, and at times their lives will be
full of nothing but despair and tragedy. That part of life makes
sense to us rationally. Expressions such as “Garbage in, garbage
out,” “You play, you pay,” and “You get what you pay for” are all
evidence that humans comprehend the concept that if you live
dangerously, then dangerous things can and will happen to you.
We have the same expectation for living rightly—we expect
that good living will give us good results. Most of us operate as if
the number-one rule for living the Christian life is to do our best
to do the right things in the right way. Our to-do lists look like
this: go to church, read the Bible, pray, try to be a nice person,
love your family, pet the dog, put some money in the plate, pay
your taxes, buy lemonade from the little girl on the corner, and
try not to get too angry at other drivers (although the occasional
scream is perfectly acceptable). We do all of these things and
expect that because we have stayed on the straight and narrow
path, we will be okay and our good expectations for our life will
Unfortunately this “play it safe” philosophy does not protect
us from disappointment over unmet expectations (nor does it
necessarily equate to a healthy, vibrant life for a believer in Jesus
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Detours and Unmet Expectations / 27
Christ). It may make perfect sense rationally: good life = good
expectations fulfilled; bad life = good expectations not fulfilled,
but the path that the Bible presents to us is a far more rugged.
For instance, take the events that befell the prophet Elijah in the
beginning of 1 Kings 19:
Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how
he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel
sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me
and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of
them by tomorrow about this time.” (vv. 1–2)
Chapter 18 of 1 Kings closed with Elijah as God’s ultimate
champion. He was victorious over the idolatrous prophets of
Baal, outran a chariot down a mountain, and even kept running
seventeen more miles to the town of Jezreel. The biblical record
does not tell us what his thoughts were as he ran well over half
a marathon, but judging by his reaction beginning in verse 3 of
chapter 19, it is probably safe to assume that he did not expect
what came next.
Elijah was not the only one to return to the fortress city of
Jezreel. King Ahab also returned and was quick to inform Queen
Jezebel about the day’s events on Mount Carmel. Unlike Ahab,
who seemed to be in fear and awe of God’s prophet, Jezebel sends
a message to Elijah saying, “So may the gods do to me and even
more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by
tomorrow about this time.” To the modern reader this was the
equivalent of Elijah coming home and finding a severed horse’s
head in his bed, or seeing his face on Israel’s most wanted list.
Instead of being a hero, Elijah found himself as public enemy
number one, at least as far as the queen was concerned.
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One would expect that the man who just killed 450 prophets
of a false god would laugh at the threat of one woman. Elijah had
just called down fire from heaven; surely he feared no one and
nothing. If anything, we would expect more fire from heaven,
but the exact opposite happens. Before we get to Elijah’s reaction,
we must first consider one of the most frequent beginnings of a
detour—unmet expectations. Most scholars agree that Elijah’s
reaction is due to events not playing out as he had envisioned
them. Consider a summary of the situation by Ron Allen:
There are indications in the Elijah narrative that he
hoped to eradicate Baal worship and reestablish a united
monarchy under the pure Yahwism of Moses. The celebrated
contest on Carmel (1 Kings 18) actually began
three-and-one-half years earlier in the palace of Ahab,
when Elijah said there would be no more rain (17:1). Baal,
the fertility god of Canaan, was principally pictured as
the deity responsible for rain . . . Surely by all [Elijah’s]
actions an utter defeat of Baalism had been anticipated.
The extermination of the prophets of Baal in mock and
grisly sacrifice at the Wadi Kishon (v. 40) seemed to be
the final stroke . . . But when Ahab witnessed it and
returned to his palace at Jezreel, did he depose his wicked
queen? No! He told her of Elijah’s victory and did not
prevent her from ordering Elijah’s execution in reprisal.1
Elijah had anticipated that the incredible force with which
Yahweh, the one true God, had shown himself to be would bring
forth a true and long-awaited revival among God’s people and
their wicked leaders. After all, had not people fallen on their
faces and shouted, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God”
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(18:39)? Surely Elijah expected that the northern kingdom of
Israel would turn to God, and possibly the kingdoms of Judah
and Israel would be reunited.
Sadly, Elijah’s expectation of what was to come could not
have been more different from what actually happened. Instead
of revival, Jezebel declared vengeance. Instead of becoming a
national hero, Elijah became a hunted man. Instead of a king and
a queen turning to the one true God in repentance, they stubbornly,
rebelliously, and violently lashed out at God’s prophet.
Like the prophet Elijah, often our unexpected detours start
with unmet expectations. Life takes us in a direction that we did
not anticipate and did not desire. The more we look around and
try to find somewhere familiar, somewhere that we thought we
would be had things been different, the more despairing we can
become. Our best attempts to solve the problem of a detour often
leave us with a bigger problem rather than a solution.
Understanding that unmet expectations may play a role in
our detour is not a solution to our problems. Just knowing this
fact will not help you see the situation clearly, but for the fog to
lift even a little, we must spend some time thinking about our
The Problem with Ou r Expectations
There are three problems with our expectations. First, our
expectations are uninformed, if for no other reason than because
they involve the future. It is not that we should never consider the
future, but that we must realize and anticipate that our expectations
may not, and likely will not, be met. Consider the following
people and their expectations of the future:
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• In 1969 a little known member of the British Parliament
named Margaret Thatcher said, “It will be years—
not in my time—before a woman will become prime
minister.” Yes, this is the same Margaret Thatcher who
was elected prime minister ten years later.
• In 1943 Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM
said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five
• In casting for the 1964 movie The Best Man, about
two leading candidates for the presidency of the
United States, a young enterprising actor named Ronald
Reagan was rejected for the part. Reportedly he
was rejected for “not having the presidential look.”
This is the same Ronald Reagan who took the real
oath of office in 1980.
• In 1918 Tris Speaker, a baseball Hall of Famer, felt the
need to comment on a move by the rival Boston Red
Sox, telling anyone who would listen that, “Taking
the best left-handed pitcher in baseball and converting
him into a right fielder is one of the dumbest things
I ever heard.” The player Speaker was referring to—
George Herman “Babe” Ruth—finished his career
with 714 home runs, a record that stood for nearly
• Lieutenant Joseph Ives, tasked with studying the
Grand Canyon by the U.S. War Department,
reported, “Ours has been the first [expedition], and
doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.”
Today nearly five million people visit the Grand
Canyon every year.
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We may laugh at these obviously far-off predictions, but if
we are honest with ourselves, our expectations for our own lives
are just about as inaccurate. Take these expectations, for example:
• I will not have health problems.
• All of my loved ones will live long and fruitful lives.
• I will know when to make a career change.
• I will meet my spouse and fall madly in love by the
time I am twenty-four.
• We will have four children.
• My spouse and I will always see eye to eye.
Now some of these expectations may seem a bit silly, and
some may be a little more serious, but any one of them can go
unmet. Those with some spiritual maturity or life experience will
look at the list and say, “Well, obviously those things may or may
not happen.” And it is definitely true that most of us understand
that bad things might happen to us, but the point is that even
those of us who are not new to the faith or how the world works
do not expect them to happen. Our expectations are for good
health, vibrant relationships, and sunshine in our lives. So, when
God allows something tragic or disappointing to come into our
lives, most of us are knocked off our feet by it. Our expectations
deal with the future, and the future is the one thing that we know
very little about.
Second, our expectations are selfish. Pause for a moment and
think about your perfect world and what the future would be like
if that world happened. Next think of not your perfect world,
but a reasonable expectation of life in five to ten years. Now consider
how many of your expectations revolved around yourself.
Odds are 100 percent of them. Even if you were thinking of the
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marriage partner, you were thinking of the perfect marriage
partner for you. You might have thought of the future for
your children or grandchildren, but you thought of the future for
your children and your grandchildren. More than likely, nowhere
in your imaginings of your perfect world did you think about
what life would be like for your friends, much less acquaintances
or total strangers. This is a big area where our expectations fail—
our expectations revolve around ourselves, but God’s plans do
not. Our expectations are so often frustrated because while we are
focused on ourselves, God is focused on His purposes.
Third, often our expectations are unmet because we have a
false perception of who God really is. Our failure to understand
exactly who God is and what His priorities include is often one
of the biggest factors in our unmet expectations. Consider the
following popular, but false, ideas of God and His attributes:
• God is a slot machine whose sole purpose is to give me
what I need or want. How often do we become frustrated
with God because He has not given us what
we believe He should have? On this issue, it is easy
to point the finger at others, particularly those whose
theology disagrees with ours, but all too often this
view of God is a problem for all of us. God does desire
to give His sincere children the desires of their hearts
(Psalm 37:4), but He is not a genie granting our every
• God is (only) love. Now, the Bible very clearly states
that God is love (1 John 4:8). Love is not simply an
attribute of God; it is also part of His essence. Yet we
err when we look at God as being only love. Theolodidn'tsignup_
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Detours and Unmet Expectations / 33
gian D. A. Carson explains, “Our culture has been
purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable.
The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and
above all sentimentalized . . . Today most people seem
to have little difficulty believing in the love of God;
they have far more difficulty believing in the justice
of God, the wrath of God, and the noncontradictory
truthfulness of an omniscient God.”2 The prevailing
view today is that God is a kind, gentle, grandfatherly
being who delights in handing out candy and blessings
to people. Unfortunately this is not the God of
the Bible. The God of the Bible is love, but He is also
holy, righteous, and just.
• God wants me to be happy. Happiness is a funny thing.
It can come and go so easily. People today, particularly
Americans, live their lives in pursuit of happiness.
After all, are not we guaranteed the right of doing just
that by the Declaration of Independence? Yet God has
more important things to accomplish in and through
us than mere happiness. God’s purpose of using the
apostle Paul to spread the gospel was more important
than his happiness when he was executed by
the Romans (2 Timothy 4:1–8). God’s desire to provide
for His chosen people was more important than
Joseph’s happiness when he was sold into slavery and
falsely imprisoned (Genesis 45:1–8; Psalm 105:17–19).
God’s desire to proclaim the truth to His people was
more important than Jeremiah’s happiness when the
king became angry and threw him in a muddy pit
(Jeremiah 1:1–10; 38:1–13).
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• God will not give me more than I can bear (alone). Often
when we feel like life has taken a detour it is because
we are completely overwhelmed by circumstances. So
we cling to the idea that we can make it through these
trying times all by ourselves because God would not
put more on our shoulders than we can carry. That
sounds right, but it misses a large part of God’s truth.
God routinely puts more on our shoulders than we
can carry alone, which is how we realize just how deep
our need for God and other people truly is.3 If we were
able to bear the weight ourselves we might never properly
acknowledge God, or our brothers and sisters in
Christ who are able to bear our burdens with us (Galatians
• God wants Christians to be happy and joyful (always).
This is similar to “God wants me to be happy,” but
with a slight twist. Some people are under the mistaken
impression that God requires that we always
present ourselves as happy and joyful, without exception.
It is true that we should be full of God’s love and
the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge of God should give
us noticeable joy (Philippians 4:4). However, everyone
will experience times of sadness, fear, doubt, and
depression, and hiding these emotions is not spiritual.
The Word of God reveals that plenty of God’s servants
had hard times, not the least of which is the instance
in Elijah’s life about which this book is written. Job
experienced severe trials, and his reaction to them was
what one would expect: pain, frustration, and anger.
We might anticipate that God would respond to Job’s
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negative emotions with a fireball like the one that
consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. However, the Scriptures
tell us that even after Job’s emotional outpouring God
still accepted him (Job 42:7–9).
Dealing with Unmet Expectations
We have learned that when life takes an unexpected detour,
our first step should be to check our expectations. At this point
you may be thinking, “If that is true, then what is the solution
for dealing with these unmet expectations?” This is an excellent
question and one we will discuss, but first let’s change the question
around just a bit.
People on detours tend to look for directions and answers,
and what they really want is a map that shows the way back
home. But I would suggest that God’s primary purpose in allowing
your journey to take an unexpected detour is not just a lesson
in finding your way back to the interstate. As we progress
through 1 Kings 19, we will see that this was true of Elijah, and
I believe that it is true for most of us as well. Having said that,
let’s answer a different question: “If it is true that detours are
about more than simply finding our way back to our desired
path, then what are some guidelines for dealing with these unmet
The difference in that question and the one posed previously
may seem slight to you, but it is important. On a detour we
tend to become even more frustrated and disillusioned looking
for solutions. We are focused on the conclusion of the journey,
rather than the journey itself. In this circumstance, rather than
directions to our final destination, what we really need is extra
fuel to continue the journey.
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We are unique individuals, and what God is attempting to
do in our detours will never be exactly the same from one person
to another. Rather than a one-size-fits-all answer, the following
principles are meant to function much as additional fuel to keep
you going even if your unexpected journey is a lengthy one.
First, when you find yourself on a detour and dealing with
unmet expectations, take the time to look for God’s purposes
instead of your best interests. As fallen creatures, we are inherently
selfish, and we live in a world that caters to our desire to
fulfill our own desires. So the idea that we should put God’s
purposes at the forefront is not one that comes easily to us. Certainly
it is not our first inclination, but the truth is that what we
think are our best interests are not God’s top priority. Anyone
who has been on a detour for any amount of time has probably
gotten tired of having sincere people quote Romans 8:28 to them:
“We know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God, to those who are called according to His
purpose.” The verse can be a great encouragement, but often we
misread it. The verse says that God “causes” everything to work
for good, but it does not mean that only good things will happen
to us. Very bad things will happen to us, but God has a purpose
and at times my best interests, at least as I understand them, must
take a back seat to that greater purpose.
Consider the story of the blind man in John 9. Jesus and His
disciples were walking together, and they passed a blind man on
the road. The disciples asked what they thought was an insightful
question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he
would be born blind?” (v. 2). They thought his physical impairment
must have been tied to a sin, and they wanted to know
whose sin it was that caused the blindness. Jesus’ answer to His
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Detours and Unmet Expectations / 37
followers, however, turned their theology upside down: “It was
neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that
the works of God might be displayed in him” (v. 3).
Imagine, if you will, the disciples’ shock. This man had been
unable to see for his entire life (that is one whale of a detour).
He had never looked into his mother’s or father’s faces, or seen a
sunset. He had been unable to play with other children as a boy
and had struggled with his lack of vision into adulthood. This all
happened solely so that God might perform a miracle in His life
for all to see. He had done nothing wrong, and his parents had
done nothing wrong, yet God allowed this disability so that He
could show everyone His power and glory.
If you are on a detour today, you are probably asking yourself
and God the most simple of questions: “Why?” You may receive
an answer to that question, and you may not. One sure thing is
that sometimes God allows our life’s path to take tremendous
detours so that He can be glorified and we can be equipped to
minister to others. If your detour has to do with sickness, it may
well be that God wants you to know and understand sickness to
minister to others experiencing the same pain. Maybe God has
allowed you to feel the pain of depression to help others who
struggle with depression. Or it may be that the relational conflict
that is causing you such angst may enable you to counsel and
minister to others who are going through or will go through similar
circumstances. Whatever it is that you are going through, do
not discount the impact that your experience can have on others.
Second, even when you are in the midst of a detour, keep
your expectations flexible. Too often our expectations are firmer
in our minds than is realistic. The apostle James stresses this
point in the fourth chapter of his epistle:
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Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go
to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage
in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what
your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that
appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead,
you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do
this or that.” (vv. 13–15)
Here, James is not condemning planning for the future, but
he is reproaching the attitude of believers assuming that they
were able to carry out their plans. They were treating their expectations
as if they were a sure thing, when it was all subject to the
mind of God, which no one can know.
Though we all have expectations, we must remember that
we cannot write our expectations in stone. If we are honest with
ourselves, we would have to agree with James’s point that we can
do nothing on our own. The only reason we make it from one
day to the next is because God has provided the breath and life
for us. We must approach our expectations with the understanding
that we have not been promised tomorrow.
In 2010 the United States military released a Joint Operating
Environment report that was commissioned as a look into the
future, an attempt to make educated guesses about environments
and challenges the military would face over the next twenty-five
years. However, the United States Joint Forces Command, which
published the report, placed the following statement at the front
of the study:
The Joint Operating Environment is intended to inform
joint concept development and experimentation throughout
the Department of Defense. It provides a perspective
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"I Didn't Sign Up for This!" is an engaging and very informative book that focuses on Elijah and his trials and uses it to teach us about our lives and the trials we face. Written in a style that is easy to understand and relate to, I found myself captivated with Sharp's style and concept.
Using both Elijah and stories of real people, this book shows that what we are handed may seem overwhelming or extremely difficult, but God doesn't just hand it to us and walk away. This book is an excellent study that is not overwhelming, but instead, an enjoyment to use!