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FIRST-PERSON: Where to put your expectations

KENNER, La. (BP)–Expectations are relationship-killers. The wife expects her new husband to be the Prince Charming of her dreams. The boss expects the new secretary to read his mind. The congregation expects the new pastor to reverse the declining attendance, preach inspiring sermons and attend every social occasion. The pastor expects the members to support him, keep down dissension and respond to every challenge he throws their way.

It sounds so noble to have high expectations. Like we believe in one another. But it’s a trap.

The person who expects perfection of me has set us both up for disappointment. I am not perfect, and anyone looking my way to find it will leave in frustration. I am, however, encouraged that Scripture deals with this subject. Lately, I’ve been camping out in the vicinity of Luke 6 and 7, making discoveries about our misplaced expectations and the rightful place to direct them.

Among the gleanings:

1. Expectations about other people: Give them up.
In Luke 6:32-36, after commanding us to love our enemies and do good to those who do us wrong, Jesus cautions us to expect nothing from the people to whom we minister. It’s just like the carnal world, He says, to do things to others then sit back, expecting a proper response. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, without expecting to get anything back.”

Everyone who ministers in the church or through her would save himself a lot of grief by jettisoning his expectations. If the people respond, fine; if not, that is their choice. Do your job and go on to the next task, with your eyes on the Master.

2. Expectations about Jesus: Lift them up.

Luke 7:1-10 tells of the Roman centurion who intercedes with Jesus for his ailing servant, then sends a delegation to ask Him not even to bother coming to the house. “I do not consider myself worthy,” he said, then added, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

This man has focused everything on Jesus. That’s the point. We never go wrong in looking to Jesus as our Shepherd, Sustainer, Strength, Salvation and Song. (Don’t be put off by the “S” words; believers can do this for every letter of the alphabet! Jesus is our Alpha, Almighty, Apostle, Amen, Author and Advocate; Brightness, Beloved, Beginning, Bridegroom, Bread of life and Branch; Chosen, Captain, Comforter, Cornerstone, Chief and Counselor … convinced?)

We can never expect too much of this One who is our all in all. You can make a case for the weakness of our churches and the defeat in our lives from our low expectations toward the Lord Jesus. On this subject, John Newton wrote:

“Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring,

For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much.”

3. Expectations about the preacher: Lighten up.

Luke 7:18-35 revolves around the expectations people had of Jesus and John the Baptist. John sends a delegation to ask the Lord, “Are you the expected One? Or should we expect someone else?” Jesus instructs the messengers to return and describe the life-transforming miracles they are seeing, and John will figure it out for himself. After they departed, the Lord addressed the crowd in defense of John.

Jesus treasured this rough-edged prophet, whereas the “nice” people of the day were put off by John’s clothing (what there was of it), his diet and his rude ways. The Lord asks, “What were you expecting in John? A weakling who took polls to find out where he stood? A softling wearing the latest fashions from the king’s tailor? Whatever you were looking for, you got it and a whole lot more!” (my rather free paraphrase).

Throw away your expectations when God sends His man to your town. God will do it His way, and He will not ask our permission. Baptist polity aside, God does not give a rip about what the majority want or the polls say. As the Apostle Paul said in Romans 3:4, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Liberate the preacher from your job description. Encourage him to obey the Father, and you support him.

4. Expectations on yourself: toughen up.

Luke 7:36-50 describes a woman who slipped into a home where Jesus was the guest of honor and proceeded to weep over His feet, anoint them with a costly perfume and then wipe them with her hair. The host, a Pharisee named Simon, tactfully said nothing, but his acidic thoughts could peel the paint off the wall. If Jesus were really who He claims to be, He would reject the adoration of this sinful woman. Look at her! Look at Him! To which Jesus replied, “Simon, when I entered your house, you gave me no kiss of greeting. You did not wash the dust off my feet. You did not anoint my head. But this woman has not stopped kissing my feet, bathing them in her tears and anointing them. She loves much because she has been forgiven much.”

As with all of us, Simon would have done better by directing his high expectations toward himself. Church people get this backward so easily — expecting everything from the people around us and the man in the pulpit, while asking little from Jesus and letting ourselves completely off the hook.

As a result, we go through life frustrated and critical toward the people around us. Why aren’t they doing their job? Why isn’t the preacher more effective? Why does the church put up with the hypocrites in the pews? Why do they elect teachers who do not subscribe to my 25-point plan for revolutionizing the world?

It’s the old “Speck in Your Eye, But I can’t See the Railroad Crosstie in My Own” approach. “Oh sure, I have these weaknesses, these areas that give me problems from time to time,” we say, “but I accept myself warts and all, I cut myself slack, I give myself grace.” It all sounds so noble, but all we have done is sanction our hypocrisy.

After Jim and Tammy Bakker fell from the PTL pedestal, he later said, “We thought the rules that apply to other people did not pertain to us.” Tough with others, but easy on myself. It’s an old story, one that always ends with a downfall.

“Heavenly Father, give me three things in this life: a heart of fire toward Thee, a heart of flesh toward others and a heart of iron toward myself. Amen.”

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever