False expectations can be devastating when they don’t work out the way you believed they would. In the little town where I live we’ve had three straight weeks of bare ground—no snow. I had become complacent and begun to dream that winter, as far as snow goes, was over. Yes, I understood we had most of February and all of March to go, but I wanted to believe that this reprieve from the storms of December and the first part of January was going to extend through the rest of the winter.
Of course, living where I do, that was just dreaming and I was silly to get my expectations up that we might actually have an open winter the rest of the season. As I lay in bed last night watching the snow fall through the filtered beam of the street light and muttering to myself about how this wasn’t suppose to happen, I got to thinking about expectations.
As Christians we have amazing expectations concerning God. Someone we know becomes sick and we automatically believe that person should get better because of our prayers. As is often the case when someone has a terminal illness or sudden trauma to the body such as a stroke or heart attack and the person doesn’t recover to our satisfaction, we are left wondering if our prayer life is defective, God doesn’t do miracles anymore, or for some reason God wasn’t concerned enough to intervene.
The truth might be, however, that our expectations are unrealistic. We have this need to believe, when faced with a crisis, that things will work out the way we wish. God’s will is not always our will and that is a hard pill for us to swallow when we long with all our heart to see a certain outcome in our life. James reminds us, “Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain,’ whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” James 4:14, 15
It would seem that James is reminding us that our plans are not necessarily God’s plans when it comes to our life, and we would be wise to understand that. We run ahead of God way too often instead of waiting on God for Him to lead. When my mother suffered a stroke my family was devastated. We rushed to her bedside, had her anointed and prayed our hearts out for her full recovery. But she didn’t recover. She spent three long years laying on her back in a nursing home. God gave us three more years with our mom and I am thankful for those years, but it was not what we wanted. We desired to see our mother restored to her happy, healthy and fun loving self, but we didn’t get that. These are the places in our lives where we need to remember God has a plan for each of us and He really does know what is best. We need to curb our unrealistic expectations and look at reality as it really is. James is exactly right, we need to pray, “if the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.”
A good rule of faith for anyone is found in Romans 8:28. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to His purpose.” It is not easy to say, “OK God, I am putting this problem in your hands and trusting you to do the right thing” when we want so much for the situation to be solved our way.
Poor Paul, the man’s life was one continual battle with disappointment and suffering. He would plant a church through much toil and blood only to see false teachers come charging in to lead people away from the Gospel. Other times he would be stoned, beaten, expelled from cities, thrown into prison and even on occasion end up shipwrecked. Yet Paul could write with confidence, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39 At times Paul must have longed for God to intervene and make things different, but he knew that, “in everything God works for good,” and he had the confidence, that regardless of what happened, he would never be separate from the love of God.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul complains about the thorn in his flesh, “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” There is no doubt about it, whatever or whoever this thorn was, Paul saw it as a humbling experience from getting too full of himself. That he did not want this problem in his life is evident from the next verse, “three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ “ Through suffering Paul was learning a valuable lesson about grace and the power of God that works in his life.
Nowhere in Scripture does God promise that we will not face tribulations and troubles, but He does promise that His grace is sufficient to see us through. He promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us in our time of trouble. It is through trials and tribulations that we grow closer to God. Luke tells us in the Book of Acts that Paul travelled to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch preaching the gospel and “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
The next time you face a crises remember that your expectations for the situation might be quite different from how God understands the problem. We need to learn to trust in God and rely upon His leadings and decisions because they are always the right ones. To this day I do not know why my mother lingered three long years, hardly able to move, in the nursing home. I do know that my mother never lost her faith and endured never once complaining or blaming God for her circumstance. Those three years that my siblings and I had with our mother were very special and looking back it was a strong testament of absolute faith in her God. I could only see the problem and failed expectations but my mother, the one suffering, rejoiced in the love of God every day and became a ray of sunshine to everyone who knew her. God is God and we are not Him so we need to let Him lead in our life and follow trusting that His grace is sufficient.