Expectations are tricky things. They can elevate our hopes to rarified heights, darken our fears, or land somewhere in between. We can even fear to hope since we may jinx our plans. For instance, when our daughter Rebekah was in High School, she refused to get excited about an upcoming mission trip to Mexico out of fear that her hopes would be dashed. I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another.
We also have a set of expectations for God. Things we hope for or dare not hope out of fear of failure. Our expectations are often based on what we’ve seen or heard from the experience of others. But I propose that the root of our expectations needs a completely different source.
One day, early in Jesus’ ministry, Philip was called by Jesus with the familiar “follow me.” Philip not only accepted Jesus’ call but ran off to tell his friend Nathanael. John records, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45–46, NASB95) Nathanael had expectations regarding God’s promised Messiah which Jesus, being from the village of Nazareth, just didn’t fit.
A few verses later Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49, NASB95) So what changed? Nathanael met Jesus. His expectations dramatically changed because of getting to know Jesus for himself.
We all have expectations about what this life of following Jesus should be like. Thoughts on how we should feel about our world and circumstances. Expectations about what should change in our lives. Views of how God should answer our prayers. Notions on how Christ should impact our marriages, our finances. our health, our children, our job or business. We may expect God to respect our sacrifice of time and tithe to the point where we feel He owes us. Sometimes our expectations are properly balanced; sometimes they’re completely out of whack.
So, what’s the best way to set proper expectations? Get to know Jesus. Not in a theological or historical sense where we learn about Him but know him as a person. This may require throwing off some religious baggage. It may mean that we have to forgive God for what we perceive as failures on His part. It may require smashing our preconceptions about God and Jesus so we can see with new eyes, hear with new ears, and feel with a new heart.
How do you get to know Jesus? Well, that’s the crux of this whole adventure and you probably already know the answer. Read and study the Bible, especially the Gospels, and talk to God in prayer. Like building any relationship, it takes an investment of time, an open and transparent heart, and a listening ear. It’s amazing what Jesus can do with those simple ingredients. Why not give it a try and see how knowing Jesus changes your own expectations about, well, everything.