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Every human should have expectations, but especially Christians. A Christian’s expectations are the most grounded because we have the most accurate understanding of what it means to be human while relating to others in a fallen world. We have enough biblical awareness to factor fallenness into our expectations because of our understanding of anthropology and hamartiology.
God also encourages us to have expectations, as implied by all the promises that He gives in His Word; we expect Him to do many things for us. For example, the Lord wants us to know He is good and gives us our hearts’ desires. God wants us to know about the cross and a Savior who can transform our lives. He wants us to have hope and faith—both concepts are pregnant with expectations.
The Hebrew nation lived in expectant hope of a coming Messiah. We live in the expectant hope of a returning King. The Father tells us of heaven and what great things He has reserved for the Christian (1 Peter 1:3-4). We expect the fulfillment of our eschatology. To see the One who died for us is our greatest expectation. Paul tells us that without this expectation, we should pity each other. To hope (expect) in God is a Christian way of thinking.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Because there is an enemy, it is easy to have dashed or altered expectations. In worse case scenarios, our expectations can go so far off the biblical center that we choose to chunk our faith and live according to the world’s expectations. The chief competitor of the Christian’s expectations is the influence of the culture. It’s the clashing of competing worldviews—theirs versus ours.
Many of us live in places of plenty where we can realize our dreams. We learn to become individualistic ladder climbers as we seek our fortunes. For those who cannot get a leg up on the ladder to success, the government is willing to lend a hand. Having a lifestyle the way you want it is not just an expectation but a demand that we have transformed into a right.
I’m thankful for the blessings that have come to our country, but I’m well aware that it’s a temptation for me to expect things that might be outside of the Lord’s intentions. I have sinful tendencies that can lure me to a way of thinking that diverges from what the Bible says. If I do not keep my mind immersed in God’s Word, I will quickly forget what biblical expectations are as I crave a way of life that may not be what God wants for me.
The bottom line is that an improper understanding of expectations can ruin my life and relationships. We must have the right view of expectations, which makes how we think about these things crucial. How should you think about God and expectations? What about others? What should you expect from them? Have you ever been in a situation with someone where your expectations for them and you were colliding with what they were saying (or doing)?
What if you described a situation where your disappointment in someone revealed how your expectation of them affected you adversely. Perhaps you have been in that spot where God did not come through for you. Maybe you were in a relationship that failed. You went in with all the optimism in the world and believed that God was the wind at your back. Then things went badly.
It’s not necessarily wrong to have unmet expectations. For you to meet all your expectations would require omniscience, which is not a communicable attribute. The problem is when our expectations clash with reality. If you do not know how to manage your expectations, it will be hard to recover your relationships with God and others. My goal here is not to harangue you for having an expectation, but I hope to help you learn how to live well with God and others when your expectations do clash with reality.
Whenever we start thinking about our expectations, we typically begin with what we expect from others. This starting point is not the right one. First, you want to address your view of yourself and your expectations. Rather than thinking about what you expect from God, another believer, or an unbeliever, what do you think about yourself?
How you think about yourself will have a direct and practical impact on how you think about others. Before you begin to measure other people and what you expect of them, examine yourself. It is impossible to correctly assess anyone if you don’t start with a sober self-assessment. Jesus taught us this fundamental truth. Here is how He said it.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
Paul died. After he died, there was a vacancy in the chief sinner seat (1 Timothy 1:15). Go ahead. You may assume that you are the rightful proprietor of his chair. But, then, wait a minute. That’s my chair too. You’re in my seat. Paul vacated it, and I ascended. It’s mine, not yours. Of course, I’m sure if Paul were alive today, he would enter the argument by saying we were in his seat.
Paul knew where he stood—or in the case of my illustration, he knew where he sat. He had a great perspective on himself. Similar to the appeal of Christ in Matthew, Paul calibrated his mind with the Bible. His presupposition released him from expecting more from others than what he could deliver himself. What Paul believed and practiced is a challenge for me to maintain. Too often, I will get the log and the speck in the wrong places.
It’s easy for me to see others as worse than I am. It’s ironic to place expectations on others when I can’t fulfill similar ones. I’ve written about this in my article I Got Angry at My Daughter the Other Day. In that case, I expected her to do what I was not able to do. Dave Harvey talked about self-deception, limited perspectives, and misplaced expectations in his book When Sinners Say “I Do.”
When you’re in a conflict with your spouse, or evaluating a past conflict, have you ever said (aloud or to yourself), “God knows my heart in this situation”? Was that a comforting or reassuring thought? Did you imagine that a divine examination of your deepest motives and desires would uncover nothing but the purest and most Christlike intentions? If so, you were on a dangerous stretch of road with no guardrail at all and probably well on your way to hurtling down into the bottomless canyon of self-deception. We’re talking crash and burn. But to live suspicious of your heart’s motivations, that’s safe spiritual driving. Many marriage problems could move toward resolution if the husband and wife actually lived as if they were “sinners” who said, “I do.” Sinners who are humble are growing more knowledgeable about their hearts. —Dave Harvey, p. 64
If you are going to be suspicious of someone, let that person be you. Now that I have passed many decades of living, I have concluded that my conclusions can be wrong. While I have opinions, as we all should, I do try to hold my opinions loosely. What I thought happened or assumed happened does not always happen the way I perceived it to happen. Therefore, before I place expectations on others, I do try to think rightly about myself.
With these things in mind, here are a few things I try to think about before I think about others and before I begin to place expectations on them. While I don’t do these things perfectly, I am aware of these practices and have tried to practice consistently. I trust these thoughts will grip you as they have grabbed me, and I hope they will calibrate your expectations of others accordingly.
While you should have expectations for other people and God too, it is wise and humble to make sure you line up your heart with how God views you first. If how you think about yourself lines up with what the Bible expects from you, you’re at a good starting point to address others.
Apart from the grace of God, we are worthless beings, which leaves no room for boasting, except for the grace of God in our lives (Romans 3:10-12). God expects nothing redemptive from us—apart from Christ. This news should humble us, which should impact (1) how we think about others, (2) what we expect from others, and (3) how we do life with them.
For some of you, the lost expectations have been monumental. I’m sad for you. I wish that I could make it better. Suffering is always hard, but it’s more challenging when our expectations were at the highest. Though you need to address what others may have done wrong, I cannot overstress how vital it is to start with you.
Your attitude will affect your altitude, as an old preacher told me one time. He was both corny and right. If you do not wrestle with God to bring your mind to a place of acceptance about your circumstances and dashed expectations, you will never be able to experience healing regarding those who disappointed you. I’m not saying that you will reconcile with anyone who broke your dream, but I am suggesting that you do not have to imprison yourself by the attitude you have toward God, others, or your situation.
Your call to action is to answer the questions that I have asked throughout this article. Ask the Lord to help you be honest, transparent, and courageous in accepting the real truth about you, them, and what happened. Perhaps it would benefit you to talk with a friend. As you work through the questions, be sure to read several of the embedded articles. As you are addressing yourself, you want to begin thinking about how to be redemptive to others.