Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington
The Shape of Rescue

The Shape of Rescue


What does rescue look like?

Rescue doesn’t always appear in the form we expect. That’s because God doesn’t think as we do. He doesn’t act as we do, either. And trouble follows when I expect God to respond based on my understanding of the situation instead of His.

I could be fervently praying for something, only to miss the answer because it doesn’t look anything like what I’m expecting. Or it’s exactly what I need, but not at all what I want.

For example, years ago I wrote a children’s picture book and submitted it to various publishers. The responses were always positive, but not positive enough for the book to actually be published. I concluded God was saying no to this request, because from my perspective a yes could only mean a publishing contract. But a short time later, I met Crystal Bowman, a prolific children’s writer whose rhythm and rhyme flowed like music. We collaborated and she breathed new life into the project. A well-known Christian publisher soon published it.


Expect the Unexpected


God’s yes didn’t look like what I originally expected, and I could have missed it if I hadn’t been open to what He was doing. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “We must always be prepared for the unexpected when we are dealing with God.”[i]

Consider the response of the early Christians in Acts 12:11-17. Believers had congregated to pray for Peter’s release from prison. But when Peter knocked at their front door, they left him standing outside while they argued about whether it was really him!

The prophet Jonah learned this lesson the hard way. God called him to preach a message of repentance to Jonah’s sworn enemies, the Assyrians. Rather than risk his enemies being spared from God’s wrath, Jonah hopped a ship heading west instead of journeying east in the direction of Nineveh. A violent storm resulted in Jonah close to drowning at the bottom of the sea, pleading with God to save his life. God did save him. But rescue came in a form Jonah least expected: a giant fish swallowed him. Not only did this not fit his idea of rescue, it felt more like divine judgment. In reality, it was a bit of both as God rescued Jonah physically and spiritually.

I saw this principle played out when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Such a horrid prognosis couldn’t possibly be associated with an answer to prayer, could it? It could, indeed, as this illness became the impetus for him to surrender his life to Christ. Rescue wrapped in the unexpected as he moved from death to life.

As we proceed through this new year—one month already completed!—let’s prepare ourselves for God’s unexpected movements in our life. Pray for answers. For relief. For rescue. Then lay aside expectations of what the answer should look like and receive what the answer does look like. It just may surprise you!


[i] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Faith Tried and Triumphant (Baker, 1988)


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  1. Angela Van Etten

    Thanks for the reminder to see the unexpected movements in my life as God’s ability to do far more abundantly than all I can ask or think.

  2. Lisa Quintana

    Ava! This is so good. I needed to hear this today. Thank you! (I hope your husband is okay?) May God bless your work, as He has shown to do in unexpected ways.

  3. Ava Pennington

    Thank you, Lisa. He graduated to heaven 3 years ago, so yes, he is, indeed, now okay!

  4. Jessica Brodie

    You are so right that God’s “yes” doesn’t always come in the packaging we expect! Thank you, Ava!

  5. Melissa Henderson

    I pray I am always open to God’s plan for my life. Great message Ava.

  6. Yvonne Morgan

    God’s ways are not like our ways so we need to be open to accept the answers. Thanks for sharing this encouragement Ava.

  7. Nancy Head

    God’s unexpected moments. So scary. So exciting!

  8. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Ava, so many tragedies occurred in our family in 2020 that we’re still reeling from and processing them! I didn’t like the events and the outcomes so far, and I certainly didn’t see God’s hands in them. As we now tiptoe into 2021, I hope that we’ll see the outcomes that you’ve described here, where we see the why and the reason. From the experience of many years as a believers, however, like you I know that we don’t always get to know the whys immediately, or maybe even never until we get on the other side. The choice that lies before us then is will we give this over to God and then trust him with his plan, whatever it is. Thank you for this post, sister! It is quite timely!

  9. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Ava, thank you for sharing this! So many difficult things occurred in our family in 2020 that we still have yet to see the whys and the reasons. At this point, the situations remain unsettled and up in the air in some ways. No solutions or outcomes wrapped up nice and tidy yet. I want 2021 to bring those whys and reasons, but after decades of being a believer, I know that we often don’t know the whys and reasons on this side of heaven. We may not know until we get to the other side. Your post is quite timely, and I appreciate it greatly! It helps me to guard my expectations!

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