Expectations. We all have them. Of ourselves, of others, of the abstract concept we call “life.” It’s nearly impossible to walk through a given day without having or expressing some sort of expectations.
I see believers all around me, both on social media and within the in-person church, who express anger, cynicism, frustration, bitterness, and even hatred because other people don’t meet their expectations. How come they do this, how come they don’t do that, why is this X way, how come it isn’t Y way? These questions are embedded in our thinking and reveal an innate sense that certain things or people “should” be a certain way (that we determine) and a desire for justice.
I have personally struggled with my own expectations, very often voiced in complaint (the default language of a sinner!), with things as small as the behavior of neighbors and people that pass through my neighborhood. Someone slams a door and the noise reverberates through the whole building and I am startled and irritated by their lack of consideration for others. Someone throws trash on the street in front of where I live and makes it my problem and I am disgusted by their lack of respect. I expect they would know better. I expect they would not do it. The truth? My expectations are utterly unrealistic.
Answering Our Expectations
I suggest that as believers we need to submit our expectations to Christ. We can’t control how others behave and respond to us. We can’t control what they do on a daily basis. We have enough to be concerned with when it comes to watching our own behaviors and actions — and how they affect others. We have enough work in front
of us to see our own sins (although we naturally see others’ sins more easily than our own!). As Pastor Burk Parsons said, “I want to hate my sins more than I hate the sins of others who sin differently than I do” (@BurkParsons on Twitter)
If we align our expectations correctly with what we find in the bible, we can clearly see that the unbelieving world around us is exactly what Paul described in Romans 1:28-32:
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
Pretty accurate description of our world today!
The reason this is important and I was compelled to write about it is because the world is watching. They’re watching to see how we respond. Is it different than how they would? Does this book we read and this God we worship really change our attitudes and words?
A Change of Heart
I don’t want to see believers acting just like the world. I’m not talking about perfection; there’s no such thing inside this earthly existence. But in this sin-filled world, even being somewhat different — even a little progress — can make a difference and show the hope we have in Christ.
So what are some things we can do?
1. Memorize scripture. I’m sure you’re thinking, what?? What’s that have to do with how I respond? It has to do with what is in your mind. Our thoughts and minds aren’t renewed by some extra-biblical magic, but by immersing in and knowing the revelation that God gave to us. It also gives the Holy Spirit tools to use at those moments when we are tempted to respond in ugly ways.
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. [Ps. 119:11 ESV]
Note that the Psalmist views all sin (and that would include a sinful response to sin) as sin against God.
- For those of you who learn by doing, here’s a great memory tool: ScriptureTyper
- Create your own scripture “index cards” online: ProProfs Flashcards
- If you prefer to hear scripture (as it was originally done!), I highly recommend The Listener’s Bible. It is not a boring, bland reading and the download of the whole bible is very reasonably priced.
2. Preach the gospel to yourself. The gospel that saved you is the same one that keeps you. And you need to preach it to yourself daily. You were a lost sinner, dead in your sins and trespasses, and an enemy of God. You were given grace and need to give grace — even (and maybe especially) to those who (we judge) by their behavior as not deserving of it. In truth, none of us deserve God’s mercy and kindness.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. [Eph. 2:1-10 NASB]
3. Ask God to help you see people as He does: lost sheep, badly in need of a shepherd. Going their own way because they live in spiritual darkness. It’s hard to expect someone to act outside their nature. You cannot expect a lion to read a book or a rock to be able to talk. No less can we honestly expect ungodly, unbelieving people to act in any other way than what is true to their nature (as the Ephesians passage above states, by nature children of wrath). Yet God still made a way to reconcile us to Him.
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Rom. 5:6-8 NASB]
4. Acknowledge that your expectations are a reflection of your own self-centeredness. Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s when you expect others to act as you deem fit that you place yourself in the center of the universe. Further, you deny God’s sovereignty in placing those people in your path for His own purposes. So I encourage you to search your heart about what motivates you to have the expectations that you do and see if it isn’t often just as much about you as about the other person.
5. Pray for them. I don’t say this is easy, especially in the heat of emotion. But if you can do this, you will find your perspective utterly revised. It sounds simple, but what you do when you pray about a situation where your expectations have been frustrated is take yourself out of the center and gain wisdom from seeing that what they really need — the only thing that will ever change their hearts and subsequently their behavior — is the Savior.
6. Forgive. This goes hand in hand with prayer, I think. When I was growing up, and someone would do or say something unkind to me, my mother would always say, “consider the source.” Pretty good advice even if you can’t find it in the bible!
The most astounding biblical case of forgiveness happened in the face of people who did something far worse than anyone has ever done to us. As the crowd gathered and they nailed Christ to the cross that day, He spoke these words:
Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. [Luke 23:34 NASB]
Christ “considered the source.” He saw the nature and heart of people. He saw their utter inability to come to Him, their spiritual blindness, their lost condition and sinfulness. He saw that, in effect, they really did not grasp what it was they were doing.
7. Expect less from people and look with more confidence to God. What we can’t expect from people, we can look to from God, who is perfect. I’m not ruling out reasonable expectations in specific situations (for example, obviously husbands and wives have reasonable expectations of each other to a certain extent). But overall, people are not here to meet our expectations. In fact, we all will disappoint each other more often than not. We all require kindness, patience, and forbearance.
Ask God for opportunities to show kindness to others and when you get those opportunities, remind yourself you are going to give as Christ gives, not with expectation of return, but from the love you yourself have been shown in Him.