“And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’” (Deuteronomy 3:23-28)
Four decades—that’s how long Moses had invested his life to lead the nation of Israel toward the land God had promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:7). However, as the Lord would have it, he would never set foot on Canaanite soil. That privilege would be left to Joshua. Of course, this is a source of tension for Moses—an unfulfilled desire that had been nagging him ever since the incident at the waters of Meribah (Num. 20:12). Even though he “pleaded with the Lord” to reconsider, his admission into the Promised Land would not be granted.
This episode in Moses’s life beckons an important question for our own: what should we do with our unfulfilled desires—those sources of unresolved tension in our lives that have left us disappointed, devastated, or despondent? Sadly, too few of us are equipped to face such a question. Ronald Rolheiser observes, “We stand before life too full of expectations that cannot be realized…we are convinced that all lack, all tension, all unfulfilled yearning is tragic.” Whether it pertains to romance and sexuality, career, sickness and disease, parenting, or ministry, many assume that to live with unmet expectations is an insufferable misery that must be resolved as quickly as possible. However, the Bible offers a different perspective. It reveals that while we are fixated on what we don’t have, God’s focus is on what we are becoming for the sake of His purpose.
This is what happened to Moses. Silenced by divine rebuke, he stopped pleading with God about his unmet expectations and started listening. God’s Word on the matter would result in Moses being consumed with one burning passion for his remaining days—to see God’s people love, worship, and obey Him under Joshua’s leadership and beyond (Deut. 4-32). By not getting what he wanted, he became what God wanted, which is infinitely better.
Perhaps God wants to do something similar through your unfulfilled desires. Maybe that’s why He’s not answering your prayers the way you’d like. Could it be that He wants to use the tension you feel to prepare you for His purpose in a specific way? Is it possible that He wants you to become something that will make a difference in someone else’s life?
Our Lord Himself, having experienced all that is common to man, is not unfamiliar with unfulfilled desires and the role they can play in God’s greater purpose. With the cross looming on the horizon, He prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). The cup, of course, would not pass from Him. But had it happened any other way, there would be no gospel, and we would be eternally shut out of the kingdom of heaven. In a sense, then, God’s only “no” to Jesus turned out to be the only way He could say "yes" to sinners. And Jesus, knowing this, surrendered His desire, praying that God’s purpose would prevail: “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”
In the end, we must accept that there are times when God chooses not to fulfill our desires. Yet we must recognize that such times, though difficult, are sovereignly orchestrated opportunities out of which we are being called to “bear more fruit” for the kingdom of God (Jn. 15:2). By not fulfilling Moses’s desires, God prepared Joshua and the Israelites for their entrance into the Promised Land; by not allowing the cup to pass from Jesus, full atonement was made so that eternal life could be offered to the world. What about you? Have you thought about how your unfulfilled desires might have an important part to play in God’s purpose?
Don’t believe for a moment that the longings you have long felt can be written off as a tragedy you must survive. Instead you must see them as a treasury that is brimming with potential blessing, fruitfulness, and eternal glory. Perhaps, then, the greatest tragedy of all would be that you never become the kind of person who can say, “Not my will but yours be done” and truly mean it.