Many religious leaders and experts of the Old Testament law expected a Messiah who would cast off the oppression of the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. Instead, Jesus spoke of an invisible kingdom and died on a cross like a common criminal. He was, in the view of many, a major disappointment.
Such is the problem with human expectations.
When we are caught in the trap of unfulfilled expectations, we are unable to experience everything God has planned for us. Such notions can come from others or be self-imposed. Likewise, the expectations we place on other people can similarly spread disappointment, anger, and misery.
Of course, Jesus was not a failure in God’s eyes; He simply failed to meet the expectations of men. This is a key truth that each of us must come to understand. Nobody should attempt to live exclusively by the expectations of others. Ultimately, we answer only to God. This does not mean that God will not place people in our lives to encourage right living, provide a level of accountability, impart wisdom, and set certain standards. Parents do that for children. Employers do that for workers. Even pastors do that for their members. And while these should be taken into consideration, they should not be the hard rules by which we live. Every standard of man must first be measured against the word of God, then the individual calling on our lives.
“Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus said to the religious leaders who accused him of blasphemy, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19, NAS)
This was the standard for Jesus Christ. Certainly, this satisfied the expectations of some people, but it shattered the ideas of others. It went beyond disappointment; it offended them. This will always be the case with man’s expectations. They will vary so much that some will be satisfied while others are disappointed or even offended. It’s an impossible game to play and one that should be avoided.
Jesus’ expectations for His followers can be summed up in one verse: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15, NAS)
Granted, it can be argued that this is an impossible task, but it should be noted that He didn’t add “without ever failing.” He knows that we will fail. That’s why in the next verse Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” (John 14:16, NAS)
We need the Holy Spirit to help us fulfill Christ’s commandments. This is the standard by which we live – God’s expectations, not man’s. Paul addressed this in his letter to the church in Galatia: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, NAS)
When we allow the Helper to guide us in our quest to fulfill Christ’s expectations, God promises that we will bear fruit, including peace, patience, love, kindness, and joy. If you are unhappy because other people do not approve of your life, then you need to ask whether you are striving for the favor of man or of God. If we are to serve Jesus Christ, we must cast off the ungodly expectations of others.
The son of a prominent Christian leader was once mistaken for his father. As he relates the story, he told the confused woman, “If you’ve seen the son, you’ve seen the father!” I was stunned and saddened when I heard this. As the son of a well-known evangelist, I would never aspire to be my father. That’s not a negative or derogatory statement. He has achieved many great and wonderful things, but he did it by striving to be the man God wants him to be. As his son, I must do the same, which is completely different. That is to say, I must also seek to be the man God wants me to be, which is not the same as being the man God called my father to be. In fact, our personalities and gifts are so different that if I tried to be like him, I would be a complete fraud. I can only be myself, yielded to God in order to shape me into the unique person He created me to be.
This is true for each of us. We are uniquely created, with different talents, gifts, and abilities. We must seek to please God with our lives by utilizing what we have to serve Him. We must avoid the comparison trap, where we look at others and create false expectations for ourselves or our loved ones. Paul wrote, “…when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” (2 Corinthians 10:12, NAS) We must measure our lives by one standard: God’s will.
Perhaps the more difficult expectations to overcome are the ones we place on ourselves. For many, we are our own worst critics. We may legitimately strive to live by God’s expectations and feel incredibly dejected or guilty when we fail. This can be the hardest roadblock to remove because the disappointment is often valid.
The critical facts to bear in mind are these: First, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). This is not an excuse to live in sin, but a statement of fact. We all miss the mark from time to time. The response God desires in these cases is not brooding over our failure or reveling in guilt, but repenting, turning from our errant ways, and pressing on toward Him. (Philippians 3:14)
Second, God does not reveal our sin in order to pour guilt on us, but to show us a better way. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NIV) When we confess and repent, God offers forgiveness, restoration, peace, and joy. There is no condemnation in Him.
Remember, in the end God will not say, “Welcome, my good and perfect servant.” Jesus’ parable of the talents ended well for those to whom the master said, “Welcome my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) We are not called to always succeed. We are called to be faithful.
We should also accept God’s grace in our own lives. We can never outdo God in the grace department, so while we should always examine our ways and turn from any errant thoughts and behavior, we should also forgive ourselves, allow the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage us, and seek to give our best in every area which God entrusts to us.
Expectations, when treated as a Godly standard to which we aspire, can benefit us. But when they become objects of discouragement or clubs with which we bludgeon ourselves and others, they are destructive. All expectations must be managed in light of God’s word and character.
Randy Robison is the author of God Wants You To Be Happy (Harvest House). He is in Cambodia this week with LIFE’s mission team.