I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was twenty-two years old, a first year student in Bible College, making my way into the school’s auditorium for our weekly chapel service.
When it came time for the sermon, the speaker—a pastor whose name I’ve long since forgotten—began his message by asking all of us students to close our eyes. Then he asked us to imagine that all of the godly dreams we have for our lives came true. “What does it look like?” he asked. I recall feeling a surge of energy shoot through my body. I was hungry to do God’s will. I wanted to preach the Bible. I wanted to pastor a large, growing, thriving church. That’s what I saw as I sat there with my eyes closed.
Then the pastor asked us to open our eyes. What followed was this haunting question: “Now imagine that all of the dreams you just pondered never come true. Are you still willing to serve God?” In a split second a wave of sadness washed over me. It felt like all the air had been sucked out of my lungs. I was disappointed.
God doesn’t always do what we want him to do. He doesn’t always conform to our expectations. We don’t like this because we think we know better. Author Gene Edwards once said that God’s will almost always involves a very memorable hour of virtually total destruction. While this might seem like inflated language to some, my time as a pastor leads me to the opposite conclusion. And quite often I’ve found that what brings about this total destruction in someone’s life is a dream that was never fulfilled, a marriage that ended in divorce, an unexpected cancer diagnosis, or the death of a loved one,
If you’re currently experiencing this—that is, if God isn’t conforming to your expectations, or if you’re living through the hour of total destruction, let me pass on three words to you: Expectations, acceptance, gratitude.
Expectations – When I’m feeling disappointed, sad, or frustrated, my first course of action is checking my expectations. If psychologists are right, then disappointment stems from unmet expectations. “Expectation is the mother of all resentment” I once heard someone say. While certain expectations are legitimate—if you work, you expect to get paid, for example—sometimes our expectations are too high. For example, I can’t expect everyone in my life to always follow through on everything they promise to do for me. I can’t expect my wife or children to read my mind. I need to get real. They’re not the fourth member of the Trinity. Ask yourself: Are my expectations realistic? Do I need to adjust them?
Acceptance – Once I’ve checked my expectations, I need to accept my circumstances. I live in a fallen world, filled with fallen people, who will let me down. Because this is my reality, I shouldn’t expect things to go as planned. Sickness and disease will be part of my lived experience. I should expect betrayal. I should expect friends to fail me. I should expect some level of injustice. But I need to accept this as my reality. Sure, I should work to make life better, I should try to improve my lot in life. But I do this prayerfully, laying everything before God, trusting that he knows better than I do. I must accept this reality in my life.
Gratitude – Once I’ve taken the first two steps, I should pause and give thanks for all that God has given me. Would I like some situations to be different? Sure. Would I have preferred that my friend not talk behind me back? Of course. Was it right that my friend lied to my face? No. But through it all, God is faithful. The story of Joseph (Gen. 38-50), combined with God’s powerful promises in Rom. 8:28-39, teach me that nothing happens to me by accident. Therefore, whatever comes into my life does so by the sovereign plan of God. He means to use all my painful experiences in my life for my good and his glory. Do I understand it all? No, I don’t. But that’s okay because God does. Because this is true, I wake up every day, and put one foot in front of the other and walk by faith, looking to the author and perfecter of my faith—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, who loved my soul to death and rose again victorious from the grave. Hallelujah!
Check your expectations, accept your circumstances, and express gratitude to God for the blessings he has poured out on you.