There is a somewhat famous psychology experiment in which people are told to concentrate on a group of people on a stage performing a certain activity, like playing basketball, and suddenly, a man dressed in a gorilla suit walks across the stage. You’d think that this unorthodox phenomenon would derail the entire experiment and draw everyone’s attention away from the basketball game, but surprisingly, most people don’t even “see” this gorilla-man, and have no recollection of any such thing happening.
I know this sounds highly unlikely and incredulous, but according to Science, there’s an explanation. The subjects of the experiment didn’t notice the gorilla dude, because the human visual system is primarily task-focused — though our eyes “see” a wide gamut of things, our brains are designed to selectively filter out copious amounts of these data, and focus on a particular thing at any given time… in this case, the basketball game. Summarily, these people didn’t have any visual defects, they were just so engrossed in the basketball game, that they didn’t realize when a man in a gorilla suit walked right in front of them.
Similarly, an extensive piece of research literature by Dr. Jon Lieff, M.D., reveals that ‘Expectation is often the reason for Selective Attention, and Perception. Therefore, in the brain, the unexpected is often, suppressed.’
And isn’t this just the story of our lives as believers? A lot of the time, we perceive our prayers as unanswered because God didn’t move in accordance with our many expectations. The phrase “God works in mysterious ways” has been beaten to a pulp, but it is also completely true. Basically, if we fix our attention solely on how we “expect” things to happen, we just might miss the real-life testimony going on in the background.
Take the Jews, for example. Can you imagine undergoing undue amounts of pressure and persecution while praying for generations to be rescued by the Messiah? By default, your expectations would gravitate towards a strong and mighty leader, clad in bulletproof armour, Angels at His side, riding His noble steed to slay all your enemies in glorious combat. Or, a savvy and noble politician who wittingly outsmarts all the evil folk, and against all odds, gains the seat of power and vanquishes all opposition, forcing them into a lifetime of servitude for their crimes. But oh, how wrong these expectations turned out to be, as God, in His infinite Wisdom, decided to send a manger-born carpenter’s son, who, instead of gaining a glorious victory in combat, was destined to be persecuted and eventually, nailed to a cross for heresy. What a twist, right?
Most of the Jews missed their Salvation as a result of their lofty expectations, but can we even blame them? They had spent so much time imagining the Messiah, that when He stood before them, they couldn’t comprehend the drastic irregularities between their expectations and the physical reality of their long-awaited miracle.
There’s surely a lesson in this story. A lot of the time, we expect things to happen in a certain way. We hope and pray for them to happen in an exact shape and manner, in accordance with our expectations, but most of the time, they don’t happen in our way or on our terms, and we are left feeling discouraged. We prescribe a recipe for how and when God should work in our lives, and when He doesn’t follow our orders disguised as prayers, our Faith inevitably takes a hit.
We pray for a door and get a window. For wine, but get water. For steak, and get bread… But are any of these less than miracles simply because they don’t adhere to the strict guidelines we’ve placed on our prayers? Are they any less miraculous because they defy our expectations? I should think not!
Open your eyes. God is moving in your life every day. Can you see it? He is talking, but are you even listening, or are you so preoccupied with your expectations that you begin to ignore the many real-life miracles that surround you? God cannot be placed in a box. Though He is always working in our lives, He does so on His terms, based on His Will, not ours, and definitely not based on the trivialities of our expectations. Even Jesus, when praying in Gethsemane ended His plea with the elegant “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours.”
This is a hard truth — not every prayer gets answered on our terms, or within our timeline, or at our behest, but though the path may not be to our specifications, His way is the Right Way.
Open your heart. Open your mind. Open your spirit.