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069 Adjust Your Expectations

In church a week ago my pastor was discussing the relationships between Jesus and His disciples as a model for our relationships with each other. While he was talking God dropped a word on me about the same subject. It had its own outline and thrust, so I decided not to muddle the thinking of the congregants by speaking out in the meeting at that time; the pastor's message was clear and important, with a slightly different direction. So I decided to write it here instead.

The message is about how to make our relationships work better, and it's this: "Adjust your expectations."

The idea is that what we expect from others, from ourselves, and from God affects how we relate to them all. For most of us, our expectations tend to be out of kilter in consistent directions; we're all more or less the same, being human, and this causes predictable problems for us all. 

So the particulars of fixing things go like this:

(1) Expect less from your friends.
(2) Expect more from yourself.
(3) Expect far, far more from God.

To the details:

(1) Expect less from your friends.

The point is that we save ourselves grief if what we expect from our friends is realistic. Whenever we get angry with a friend, it's almost always because we expected something of them that they either weren't able to deliver, or that they weren't willing to. 

For instance, let's say we've made ourselves available to attend all their major life events--birthdays, kids' graduations, recognition in church, etc. Then one of our special days comes around and they just can't make it because of something we consider trivial--a football game, an office party, whatever. We get offended because we expected something of them that they weren't ready to deliver. Maybe we had a right to expect more, but that doesn't change things; we're offended because of the distance between what we expected and what they delivered.

Or we expect them to be good Christians like we try to be (more on this in a moment), and then we find out that they talk about our problems behind our backs. We take it as a betrayal, because we've never done that to them, and besides, "You're supposed to be a Christian. Christians don't do that!" I've seen quite a few people leave churches, and sometimes even leave the faith, because somebody said something in church that they judged as "I thought they were Christian. Christians don't do that."

If we adjust our expectations of our friends downward, we get offended less, and life becomes a lot less stressful. We need to realize that their lives aren't really about us; they're carrying their own burdens. We need to release them into God's care. And we need to realize that church is really just a big Sinaholics Anonymous meeting, and everybody in the meeting is going to fall off the wagon now and then. Yes, Christians do do that--for anything you can imagine. We're all broken.

I don't see Jesus getting bent out of shape by the failures of others, though He had plenty of opportunity. He clearly was aware of what others were going to do: "One of you is going to betray me." "You're going to deny me three times before the rooster crows tomorrow morning." "So, none of you could stay awake even one hour?" But what He did not do was reject them because of it. He knew who they were, and He accepted them as they came, even while He was coaching them to become more. 

At the same time, He kept a little distance because He knew what to expect; see John 2:24-25. This calls for wisdom: we should love without becoming entangled in others' brokenness. If we do go with somebody into the brokenness of their world, let it be deliberate and redemptive, not enabling. (Those are counseling buzzwords, and I should probably say more about them another day.)

Back when I was a brand-new Christian, the guy who taught our little Bible study in the dorms gave us advice for how to forgive everybody. He said, "Make excuses for everybody else the way you make excuses for yourself." That turns out to be excellent advice. Say to yourself, "They're having a bad day." Or, "Ok, God will have to work on that a bit more before they're completely Christ-like." Or even, "God didn't call them because they were perfect." The things we say to ourselves to let ourselves off the hook when we screw up, we should say about others who upset us.


(2) Expect more from yourself.

Reread that last paragraph; it cuts in two directions. While we ought to be making excuses for our friends, maybe we should stop making all those excuses for ourselves. After all, while Christians do do X (whatever "X" is), we're not supposed to. So while we're making excuses for the brokenness of others, we should set high goals for overcoming our own brokenness, so others won't have to make excuses for us.

For any human being, this is always true: you can do a lot more than you think you can. So none of us should let ourselves off the hook when we fall short of excellence.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we all break out the cats-o-nine-tails and whip ourselves for our mistakes. That's worse than useless. Most of the time when we're beating ourselves up over some repeated sin, what we're really doing is trying to pay for the sin (which Jesus already paid for, by the way) by making ourselves hurt--after which we'll consider ourselves paid up, and then we can go do it again. That produces nothing.

Nor am I saying that we can become mistake-free, Our lives become less stressful when we recognize that certain weaknesses are simply human, and we all do them. Everybody's an idiot sometimes. Everybody forgets peoples' names, takes wrong turns, locks the keys in the car, etc. We should develop a sense of humor about those sorts of things, because usually they don't matter.

But what we should be doing is setting goals for ourselves that are just a little out of our reach. Goals that are too easy don't make us grow. Goals that are completely unreachable make us give up and lose hope. But goals that lie just beyond where we're comfortable reaching call us to become better than we are, and that's life-giving.

So we need to keep ourselves aware of the goals for Christian conduct that the Apostles set, and if we fall short we need systematically and prayerfully to plan ways to keep ourselves from falling short again. That way we can gain ground.

And finally,

(3) Expect far, far more from God.

This is always true: whatever you think God can do, He can do infinitely more than that. However great you think He is, He's infinitely greater than that.

And more to the point for most of us, whatever you think God is willing to do for you, He is willing to do infinitely more than that for you. He doesn't just love you, and He doesn't just like you. He adores you--more than you're capable of adoring anything, and especially more than you're capable of adoring yourself.

(And, no, you're not the exception to that, and no, you haven't done worse than anybody else so that God is going to make an example of you for the world. That's just your self-indulgence talking. Don't go there.)

The truth is that God is waiting eagerly for somebody to trust Him for something bigger than usual, so He can show everybody how much more He's capable of. That's what is happening when we see guys going around healing everybody in the gay bar or preaching the good news in mosques; somebody has finally decided to take God at His word and trust Him to do His part.

So just generally, if you're asking God for X, start asking Him for 10X. If that's too big, ask Him for 2X--whatever X is. But ask for more. You're not being grabby or greedy. You're obeying God. He wants you to do that. He's been waiting for eternity and more for somebody to ask Him that.

Now, I'll give you a warning: in all the stories I've heard about people who have decided to ask more from God and achieved big breakthroughs, part of the story includes how long they asked without receiving anything before the breakthrough came. One guy said he prayed for 1,000 people before he saw the first one get healed. Another said that his church prayed weekly for 18 months before they saw anybody get healed (yes, they were both believing God to heal people.) And one pastor reports that his family had five generations of pastors who all prayed for an outbreak of the power of God in their church before it actually occurred. We forget sometimes that there's an opponent who wants very badly for us to give up on God, and who will try to block anything God wants to send our way. It takes time and persistence to push through that. But if you believe that God is whom He says that He is, and you don't give up, eventually you will have what you're seeking.

That's all for now. The word is, "Adjust your expectations." Expect less of your friends, more of yourself, and much more from God. Your life will become less stressful and more fruitful.


Phil Weingart

And as always, if you haven't got my books yet, visit Amazon dot com and get them. Click on the images and you'll get to the right place.


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