Daily Devotion: When we don’t understand

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’

Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’

‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’

Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’

‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!’

Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – John 13:3-17

The lesson and imagery of Jesus, the Son of God, washing His disciples feet as a servant is immensely powerful. In the midst of this example and teaching moment, Jesus utters a phrase that is especially worth hanging onto when we don’t understand what may be going on in lives.

“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Jesus is addressing Peter who is stunned that His Messiah is going to do the job of a mere servant. In His love for His disciples, Jesus takes on the role of a lowly servant to teach them. At first they don’t understand what He is doing, why, or what lesson they are learning.

I believe we can take this statement, combined with the witness of the rest of scripture, to see that it holds truth for many, many circumstances.

God is often at work in ways we don’t understand, accomplishing His will, teaching us, and leading us towards truth and life, but we can’t see it at first.

When faced with difficult circumstances and challenges in life that we don’t understand, I think we can hang onto this statement made by Christ. There are a number of comforting truths to be drawn from it.


“You do not realize”Jesus knows that Peter’s reaction is based on the fact that he doesn’t know what Jesus is doing. Jesus doesn’t expect him to know. God knows that there are times we don’t know what He is up to or how He is working. Jesus is compassionate to our lack of understanding.


“I am doing”, Jesus is at work, He is active. Difficult situations tempt us towards thinking that God is not currently active in a situation, that He is absent or at least His activity is absent. However, we can trust that God is in fact acting and at work, even though we don’t see it or understand it.

Future Understanding 

later you will understand”, clarity is coming. We don’t necessarily know when, but we can take comfort in the fact that in some way we will understand better in the future. Whether that is here on earth or not we don’t know, but someday we will be able to look back and see clearly. 

God’s Glory and Love

This is implied. When we look back and understand, we will see the glory and love of God on display in ways we never imagined.   

In Isaiah, in the midst of a prophecy about the salvation of the Lord, God says this,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

and in Romans, Paul through the Holy Spirit says,

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?’
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36

On top of all of this, Jesus has promised that our all-knowing and all-powerful Father acts for His glory and our best interests in love. God knows our needs and He will provide. He is a good Father that gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 6:25-34, 7:7-12).

There is a quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon that I have used before, but is worth repeating often. (Whether he said it or said it this way is a matter of debate, but the truth in the quote is admirable).

God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. And, when you cannot trace His hand, you can always trust His heart.

So, when we find ourselves in those moments of life when we don’t get what God is doing–or not doing–or when we can’t see it or we question the reasons behind it, let us remember the words of Jesus to Peter and trust His perfect character.

“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

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