My brother invested most of his adult life serving the Lord in some aspect of Christian ministry. Reflecting on the things that characterized his life, I asked him once what principles he found most helpful in managing his relationships with people over all those years. Knowing him, I anticipated hearing how he took some deeply rooted conservative theological concept and added a layer of positive pragmatism to make it fit the immediate circumstance. I got none of that. Instead, with no hesitation, he said, “That’s easy. My secret is that if you don’t expect anything from folks, they can’t disappoint you.” I think he was just kidding, but with my brother, you could never be quite sure. In any case, his comment suggests that a fresh consideration of the effect our expectations can have is worth our time. The nature of our expectations can influence our overall quality of life and affect our relationship with God.
Regardless of an abundance of bad news, we live in the greatest nation on earth. We have more immediate and convenient access to more sources of information about more subjects than any culture ever had. We have an incredible array of potential answers to almost any question that can be generated, and the number of searchable databases is growing at an exponential rate. We have more helpful services available to more people than ever thought possible. It’s hard to imagine any distressful socio-economic problem or challenging set of circumstances that some governmental agency or private non-profit group hasn’t developed some kind of public program to address. America still offers more freedom and more opportunities available to more people to attain economic success and personal enrichment than any nation or culture on earth. Our people should be the healthiest, happiest, most broadly informed, and most financially and socially stable people to ever inhabit this planet. In case you haven’t noticed lately, that is not the case.
An Incongruent Reaction ~
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has added 15 new mental disorders to its extensive list. There are more “treatments” and “therapies” being promoted as effective remedies to more issues than can accurately be counted, and the number is growing every day. In a nation filled with reasons to feel hopeful and optimistic, news outlets are constantly focusing their cameras on people claiming to be “disadvantaged” because someone has something they don’t have, or “offended” by someone’s casual comment, or who see themselves as “oppressed” because someone disagrees with them, or who declare their victim status through every social media outlet available. The prevailing set of expectations and the attitudes driven by them are far from optimistic or confident. A 2019 Deloitte survey reported that, “Despite the current global economic growth, expansion and opportunity, millennials and Generation Z are expressing uneasiness and pessimism—about their careers, their lives and the world around them… We’ve seen steep declines in respondents’ views on the economy, their countries’ social/political situations, and institutions like government, the media and business.”
The Personal Question ~
The personal question confronting us in light of all this prevailing negativity is, what do we do about it? Do we yield to the influence of the left-wing political agenda woven into virtually everything offered for public consumption? Do we adjust our expectations and attitudes to fit in with the crowd and stifle our speech, lest we arouse the attention of the trolls haunting social media? We know better, don’t we?
If we fail to take responsibility for our expectations, we’re in danger of slipping into a pattern of prayer that mirrors the approach my brother claimed to have. Lowering our expectations of God to protect ourselves from disappointment would be insulting to Him and devastating to the quality of our relationship with Him. One incident in particular illustrates the power that a man’s expectations had on Jesus personally and on the outcome of his request.
Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! …Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. Matthew 8:5-13 (NKJV)
The Centurion’s attitude of confident optimism was based on his belief not only in Jesus’ healing power, but in the extent of His sovereign authority. The soldier’s expectations were based on outcomes hoped for but not yet seen–sounds a lot like faith, doesn’t it?
A Radical Contrast ~
Even when faced with personal trials, intense opposition, painful persecution, incarceration and the threat of execution, Paul displayed an expectation based on supernatural power and authority that nothing could separate him from Jesus, and that victory had already been won. That fueled indestructible optimism and confidence.
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NKJV)
The negative expectations expressed by the upcoming generation are a product of the world’s morally bankrupt and spiritually vacuous value system. Jesus sent us to demonstrate a radical alternative to the popular culture, and living out contrasting expectations is a critical part of that mission. The two blind men who approached Jesus and asked Him to restore their sight challenge us. His response was to question their expectations. “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” He asked. When they said they did, He said, “According to your faith [what you really expect] let it be to you.” Maybe the key to transforming this culture lies in unleashing the power of expectations worthy of the One who said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NKJV)
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- “ . . . the key to transforming this culture lies in unleashing the power of expectations worthy of the One who said, ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33 (NKJV).” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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