Great Expectations, Charles Dickens’ best novel according to some, tells the story of an orphan named Pip. Despite its popularity, many people have never read this classic work of fiction. Yet we all know what it’s like to have great expectations.
|People buy boats anticipating a bright,|
fun future. No one expects them to sink.
Students graduate from high school with lofty ideals and grand visions for changing the world. A couple exchanges “I do’s” at a lavish wedding ceremony, confident their chosen spouse will meet all of their needs and life will consist of daily episodes of happily-ever-after. Interviews go well and promising professionals get hired for their “perfect jobs,” certain the future holds nothing but one success after another.
Sadly, reality doesn’t always align with expectations. Idealistic students discover the real world isn’t so accommodating of their dreams, transforming some of them into cynics. Post-honeymoon, husbands and wives learn their mates have abundant flaws they either ignored or hadn’t noticed. “Perfect” jobs become drudgery, turning hopeful mornings into grievous chores as workers awaken with dread facing the onset of another workday.
Great expectations wilt in the face of not so great realities.
Sometimes church life isn’t much different. Pastors fall, exposing their feet of clay. Congregations divide over seemingly minor differences. Friends in Sunday school or the small group fail to come alongside when needed most. Admired “spiritual giants” prove to be a first-class hypocrites.
We commit our lives to Jesus Christ and instead of “showers of blessing,” we confront a deluge of problems. A friend told me years ago, “Before I turned my life over to Jesus, I could touch manure and it would turn into gold. After committing my life to Him, I’d touch gold and it would turn into manure.”
Or God doesn’t answer our prayers, at least as we anticipate He should. Loved ones die despite earnest entreaties. We don’t get the job offer we hoped to receive. A damaged relationship isn’t restored despite our best efforts. The infertile couple never realizes their dream of having a biological child. Is that the way for God to treat His children?
People and circumstances can and will let us down. At times we will fail to meet the expectations of others – even if we don’t intend to do so. And we discover God isn’t a cosmic short-order cook. He’s not there to do our bidding, and many times He doesn’t do what we expect.
Does this mean we should shelve all of our expectations? Should cynicism become our calling card, convinced things will never turn out the way we think they should? That’s definitely one approach. Another is to be realistic with our expectations. Aim high, but acknowledge life often has a way of falling short of the intended target. Ironically, sometimes we’re surprised to learn falling short was a better target anyway.
One thing we shouldn’t do is crumble in resignation to our “fate.” We can find encouragement from the best source of all – God. After all, He knows us better than we know ourselves. As John 2:25 says of Jesus Christ, “He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
When we feel misunderstood, underestimated or unappreciated for all we’re doing, again we can find consolation in the way Jesus was treated by people around Him, despite all His wondrous teachings and acts He had performed. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).
And we can trust that ultimately, no matter what life hands to us, God promises to meet – and exceed – our greatest expectations. Even in prison, the apostle Paul could confidently write, “according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
Paul had not the slightest fear or doubt that his ministry would prove to be in vain, despite great adversity and suffering. As he wrote to his disciple, Timothy, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).