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I remember when I first came to Christ. I thought I would never sin again. Boy, was I surprised—the very next day after the Lord regenerated me. It got worse from there. I assumed that there was a path laid before me that would not have all the twists and turns that my Christian life has had. I understand why someone would say, “I tried Christianity, and it did not work for me.”
Every Christian has to work at aligning their expectations with the life that God gives them. For some of us, we have to chuck a few notions that won’t fit inside God’s narrative for our lives. The more you try to bend your preferences into His script for you, the more frustrated you become. It’s like the child demanding the parent give them what they want. That is not how Christianity works.
God has a plan for you, and it’s a good one, though it would not be the one you would write for yourself. Go back to the parent/child analogy: it’s the careless and unloving parent who would give the child the pen and say, “You can have your life the way you want it. Start writing.” Perhaps you can query yourself. What have you expected, and in what ways do you need to adjust those expectations? I trust these thoughts will help in your ongoing realignment to the Lord’s plans for you.
Expectations are typical for any human. God encourages us to have them. The Bible is clear that He will give you the desires of your heart, right (Psalm 37:4)? For example, the Lord wants you to know there is a gospel that will transform your life. Hope and faith are pregnant with expectations. He even presents heaven as a place full of eternal delight. To have expectations is at the heart of being a Christian (1 Corinthians 15:19).
The problem with prospering Christians is the competing worldviews that influence our expectations. America, for example, is the land of plenty, a place where most people realize their dreams. You can be all that you want to be in a first-world country like America. I’m thankful for God’s blessing in our country, but I’m well aware that God’s favor can turn into temptations for our most dominant desires.
We are an individualistic, ladder climbing, opportunity-seeking people where prosperity, hedonism, and narcissism blend to give any person a preferred lifestyle that is second to none. It is impossible to be a Christian in America and escape the influence of the “American way.”
Because of these competing worldviews and the power of temptation, every Christian must have a clear understanding and practice of suffering (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21). Typically, in our evangelistic efforts, we forget to reveal the secret handshake that all Christians know intuitively. It sounds something like this.
Hello [Friend], Do you want to suffer? Are you interested in conflict? What do you think about walking counter to our culture? Any interest in folks misunderstanding, rejecting, ridiculing, and slandering you? If this is something that does not frighten you away, would you like to become a Christian? Before you decide, I want you to read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.
From this introduction, you can walk them through the “hall of faith chapter,” where they’ll read about some of God’s choicest servants losing their lives for the furtherance of the gospel. Whenever we talk about expectations, the wise person starts from a biblio-centric worldview, and suffering must be part of the discussion.
Once you distinguish the competing worldviews—Christian and culture—and expect that your life is one of suffering, your next expectation is to be a servant (Mark 10:45). The force of the gospel points away from the believer and toward other people. The inherent quality of the gospel is others-centered.
The gospel is more about what I can do for you than what you can do for me, which is the ultimate antithetical-to-our-culture message. Jesus came to save us and envision us to be like Him (Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1). He’s the suffering Servant. Our highest aim is to imitate Him, which you will do in proportion to your theology of suffering coupled with your others-centered, serving attitude.
As you see, Christian expectations run counter to how others will talk about what they expect. I doubt being counter-cultural, embracing suffering, and seeking to serve others would be the first thing out of the average person’s mouth. What about you? What comes out of your mouth when you think about your expectations? My three-point list is not exhaustive, but if you don’t have biblical expectations, you can be a Christian but not one with the distinctive of Christ.
A lot of counseling is for folks who have experienced failed expectations. They expected a particular kind of life, and it had not come to fruition. I’m not haranguing these disillusioned folks; they are just like me. I expected what Christianity was going to do for me, and what I hoped for and what I got were a million miles from each other. Failed expectations are part of every believer’s experience.
Sometimes in all our dreaming about how we want things to be, we don’t input culture, suffering, and serving into those dreams. It’s not that your expectations have to be wrong, but if you don’t push them through the right filter, you’ll more than likely land on the pile of the disillusioned. This possibility is what made Christ so different.
All of His friends fell away from Him at the very moment when He needed them the most. The brilliance of His worldview is that His expectations were subservient to His highest one. Ironically, His friends’ failures pushed Him further into His Father—His highest hope. Jesus knew that no matter what happened to Him, He would be okay (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 12:1-2).
As your soul settles into the reality and reward of the expectations mentioned—culture, suffering, serving, you’re ready to think about a few more that will transform your soul. Let’s talk about marriage expectations. Every couple that ever tied the knot brought dreamy expectations into their covenant.
In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul talks about other-worldly expectations that you can have in your present-day marriage. He connects the marriage to Christ and His Church and then launches into how a husband can enjoy an amazing life with his wife. Ephesians 5:27 says there is coming a day when Christ will receive a fantastic church. How will that happen, and how can a husband enjoy such a cherished expectation?
The answer is in Ephesians 5:25-26. Here is what you can expect: if you die for your wife while helping her in her sanctification, you can expect a beautiful treasure. The key is not to skip verses 25-26 while expecting her to be that amazing, wonderful bride that we see in verse 27. The expectation is that if you die for her, there is a reward coming your way.
I can hear the retort now. “I’ve done those things for my wife, but she continues to be a nag.” I won’t argue with you because all of us feel some version of your complaint. Parents struggle this way regularly; they pour their lives into their children, only to see them walk away from the faith. You have two choices: you can manage your expectations or they will manage you. Jesus, again, is our prototype for your disappointments.
He came to our little world to save us. His friends forsook Him, and we were no better than His rag-tag friends (Romans 3:10-12). Rather than Him placing expectations on us to meet His hopes, He chose a different course. He pressed on toward the cross, entrusting Himself to His highest expectation (1 Peter 2:21-25). Rather than those who refused to follow Him, He chose to yield to His Heavenly Father.
Many of us need to reevaluate why we became Christians in the first place. We committed our lives to God because He was our highest expectation. No matter what happened with our lives, we expect God to take care of us. This expectation did not come with a footnote that He would also give us everything we want.
Without a robust theology of suffering, we will set ourselves up for patterns of bitterness, anger, disappointment, frustration, criticism, blaming, and much more. We must be on constant watch and exercise vigilance, by taking our souls to task regarding how our worldview of expectations competes against a God-centered worldview of expectations.
This mandate does not mean we should not expect preferred, temporal things from the Lord. God is a generous God, but our expectations cannot have the accent mark on earthly desires. God is not a cosmic genie that we summon to meet our most cherished aspirations.
You can test where you have placed your accent mark. Is God your highest expectation, or are there other things that rank higher than Him—the things that control your thoughts? The “Job Test” will reveal a lot about your wants and desires. Do your most controlling thoughts during your disappointments say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?”
And [Job] said, Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22).
Though Job had his problems, he got this part right. He had a balanced perspective on God’s kindness to him. Recently I told a gentleman that it could be God’s kindness to bring his adultery into the open. Initially, he did not see it this way. From his perspective and his wife’s, his exposure was the worst kind of news. He did not want anyone to find out, and she did not want to go through the subsequent pain.
I understand their perspectives, but think about this. They have been married for a long time, and their marriage has been full of disappointments. There was little hope that things were going to turn around. Neither one of them was God-centered. It was God’s mercy to implode their marriage. From that traumatic point, they started working on things that had gone unattended for many years.
God is a jealous God. He will not let his children worship at the altar of idols forever. There are times when He will insert Himself into our lives to bring correction, which can be painful but for our good (Hebrews 12:6-11). Today they are getting their expectations—God-centered ones, and they are thankful for His tender mercies. Sometimes the path to our expectations has to take a route that we would never map for ourselves.