If you have spent some time in a corporate environment, you would likely have heard the phrase “managing expectations”. It is often used as a synonym for lowering the expectations of stakeholders, employees, clients, etc. If your expectations are being managed, you naturally don’t expect the best possible outcome. Do we do the same with God? Do we manage our expectations of Him?
If like me, you dread being an optimist, then you probably spend a lot of time planning for the worst-case scenario rather than expecting God to surprise you when the chips are down. You manage your own expectations of God because you struggle to bring yourself to a place where you can expect the best of Him. I find this usually happens when I have to take a leap of faith or when a situation is outside my control. I spend so much emotional energy anticipating the worst that could happen and trying to figure out how I would deal with it.
I wonder how God feels when I do that. Though as a father, I think I have an idea. My 6-year-old doesn’t expect a bad outcome when he brings a problem to me. He is not thinking “I wonder if I can trust daddy to come through for me with this”. It would sadden me if he did. God is an immeasurably better Father than I could ever be. Unlike me, He is good and perfect, all-powerful and infinitely faithful. So, I can understand if it grieves God when I try to shrink Him down to match my lowered expectations.
On other occasions, I am disappointed when God doesn’t act the way I want Him to. In this regard, I wonder if sometimes we treat God the way a general treats his or her troops. We map out a plan for our lives even after we have said: “Lord I surrender my life to you”. We decide what we want, inform God and expect Him to execute our plan, just as a general expects the soldiers do as they are told. Jesus said we should seek God first [Matthew 6:33] because the closer we get to God, the less attractive everything else becomes and our expectations will reflect our relationship with Him. God is not an avenue for us to get what we want; He is The Way and the very thing we need.
One of the most striking stories in the gospels is that of John the Baptist sending his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah. The Bible is a very honest book because it portrays the humanity of its characters with all their flaws. John’s miraculous conception and birth were prophesied by an angel [Luke 1:5-25, 57-66]. And when Mary became pregnant with Jesus, the first relative she visited was Elizabeth, John’s mother. As Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she was so filled with the Holy Spirit that John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb. John knew Jesus in a way very few did.
John’s purpose was to prepare Israel to meet Jesus and to point Him out to the world [John 1:19-34]. He told them that when the Messiah arrives, He would judge the ungodly [Matthew 3:7-12]. So, imagine his surprise when he is thrown into prison for speaking out against king Herod who divorced his wife and married his brother’s wife [Matthew 14:3-5]. This was the sort of person John expected Jesus to deal with. Yet, what John heard of Jesus’s ministry did not tally with his expectations. Sending his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One or not [Matthew 11:2-3] was probably a veiled way of saying “you are not doing what I expected of you”. Most of us have had similar experiences with God.
Thankfully God understands us [Hebrews 4:14-16] and if we let Him, He will use our disappointments to build our faith. Conversely, if we don’t, the devil will use our disappointments to destroy our faith and crush our expectations of God. So, in those dark moments, resist the urge to pass judgement on God’s faithfulness because your story hasn’t ended yet. Abraham was still childless at 75 when God promised him a son and a legacy [Genesis 15] but nothing started to happen until he was 100 years old. He never saw that legacy. Moses after all his efforts to get the Israelites to the Promised Land did not set foot on it. Do you think from their vantage point today, either John, Abraham or Moses is disappointed with how things turned out?
No one is exempt from disappointments in this life. We will all have trials and the great temptation for God’s children is not lower their expectations of God, whatever the circumstances and challenges of life. Paul assures that God can bring good out of any situation [Romans 8:28] so our task is to hold out hope no matter what [Romans 5:3-5]. This also means we can have sky-high expectations of God because He is a good Father who loves us unceasingly, and He can exceed our wildest expectations [Ephesians 3:20].
Where does this message find you? If like me, you are struggling to imagine the best possible outcome as you take a leap of faith or battle with the hand you have been dealt in life, be encouraged because: “…no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” [1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV]. So don’t manage your expectations, set them as high as you and see what God does.