But What About Positive Expectations?
Wednesday night at our Hermitage small group we were discussing “Killing Expectations”. Judy, who leads discipleship class at in our church, brought up an excellent question. As a former school teacher, she was familiar with the use of positive expectations in helping children to achieve their personal best in school. So, what about positive expectations—aren’t they a good thing?
What I gathered from the ensuing discussion was that we need to clarify the difference between expectations of performance based on subjective standards with the more objective standards of being which have their basis in the Being of God. Expectations of being involve our character, personality, temperament, and aptitudes—in other words, our capacity as human beings—something that is unique to each person.
These expectations of being have their basis in God, and like the nature of God’s Being, they reflect the Persons who exist in loving communion, in unity, diversity and equality. Jesus Christ, who is the perfect reflection of the Father, is the supreme standard from which all humans draw their being. And Jesus performed perfectly all that is expected of each of us during his life here on earth, and died and rose in our place. He took up into himself our humanity with all its missing of the mark and failure to meet expectations, and he stands in our place.
God calls us to put on Christ—to put on his perfected humanity—so that we can and will become all that God intended each of us to be as humans. God’s expectations, whatever they are, are fulfilled in Christ, and now he calls us to participate in Christ’s perfected humanity, to grow up into Christlikeness.
The thing is, we tend to read the scriptures, with its lists of commandments, from the viewpoint of expectations that God has for us. We read the scriptures backwards, putting performance first, and then grace and love. But God always puts grace and love first.
For example, we say we have to keep the Ten Commandments or we are worthy of death and God will punish us. Then we say, if we repent and confess our breaking of these commandments, then God will forgive us and we will be saved. This puts grace after law instead of prior to it.
We can forget that before God ever gave any commandments, he made a covenant agreement—something which was not based on performance, but on the love, grace and character of God. God rescued his people from slavery, not because they were good, obedient people, but because he loved them, had made a commitment to them, and they needed saving. He was the one who over the centuries, not only guaranteed the keeping of the covenant, but also renewed it over and over whenever it was broken.
Jesus in his life, ministry and teaching, put grace first. For example, in Mark 2, we read the story of a man who was paralyzed, whose friends brought him to Jesus to be healed. What’s interesting is that Jesus saw the faith of his friends, not the paralyzed man’s faith. And the first thing he said to him was not “Repent and believe”, nor was it “Be healed!” No, it was “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The first thing Jesus addressed in this situation was forgiveness—something only God could give, and he gave it without any expectations in advance.
Later, after dealing with the unbelieving scribes, Jesus gave the man a command—to pick up his bed and walk, to act upon the forgiveness he had given him. Obedience to Jesus followed receiving forgiveness for sins the man hadn’t even confessed. Grace before law. How counterintuitive is that?
That beautiful phrase Jesus spoke on the cross, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” shows us again that God’s heart of grace precedes any command God may give us. W. Paul Young in “The Shack”, points out that it isn’t God’s nature to put expectations on us, so much as it is to wait with expectancy to see what we will do and how we will do it. God already knows the extent of our inability to reflect his perfection. And it does not keep him from loving us and encountering us in grace. His focus is on his relationship with us, not on our performance.
Whatever lists of things we find in the Bible that tell us what we should do and how we should live are not prescriptive—as in a doctor’s order for medicine. But rather they are descriptive. They describe what it looks like when we live in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and are fully sharing in their Triune love and life. Not doing these things means we are not living in agreement with who we are as God’s beloved children, and so we will experience painful consequences as a result. And God doesn’t want that for us.
So, going back to the question of positive expectations. We need to keep in mind what we are talking about isn’t necessarily expectations of being, but mostly probably expectations of doing. We are expecting a person to perform in a certain way or to achieve a certain standard. These standards may be established by institutions, society, businesses, or even by people. Often these standards do not take into account the reality that people are unique and don’t all perform or achieve in the same way or to the same level.
Benchmarks, such as those used by schools to monitor their students’ scholastic performance, are useful tools. They encourage achievement and improvement, and help prevent failures in learning or service. They can be quite subjective, depending on how they are defined and assessed. They most likely do not take into account differences in being or circumstance, or relational factors such as grace and love.
We would like people to achieve their personal best and be effective contributors to the overall goals of the group. But unless we remember that we are all persons, with limitations and brokenness that inhibit our perfect performance in every situation, we will hold others to expectations that may be destructive rather than life-giving. The key, I believe is relationship—grace and love first. Then expectations or rules. In that order.
Thank you, Father, that you were the first One to move in our relationship with you. You forgave us long before we even realized we needed forgiveness. Thank you that you did not wait for us to say or do the right thing first, but you went ahead and offered us grace anyway. Grant us the heart and will to offer forgiveness freely to others as you have offered it to us. And may we always live in a way that shows our gratitude through love and obedience. Through Jesus and by your Spirit, amen.
“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5
By Linda Rex
I was reflecting back on some of my life events recently, when it occurred to me that we don’t take seriously enough our participation with Christ when it comes to our relationships. It seems as though we go through life interacting with others and building relationships without taking into consideration all of our life is bound together in union with Christ in the Spirit.
For example, we bounce or in my case, crawl out of bed in the morning, go through our routine, and find ourselves in the middle of the day, wondering why our spouse is cranky, our boss is rude, or our friend is ignoring us. We may decide then that we need to follow some Biblical principles in order to try to fix the relationship. Following them may or may not help, but sometimes even our best efforts don’t change anything—in fact, at times, they seem to only make things worse.
I think the error is in believing that somehow by doing and saying the right things we cause the right things to happen in a relationship. We turn people into objects we act upon, which automatically respond in preset ways to certain words and actions. How many books have you and I read which teach us this very thing: In order to have a good marriage, you have to do x, y and z, in that order?
We approach our marriages, our child-raising, and our friend and work relationships in this way. And we approach our relationship with God in this way too.
But the thing is, relationships involve persons. And persons derive their identity from the three Persons of the One God who are united, diverse and equal. In the oneness of the Trinity, there is always freedom based in love. That freedom means that no one causes the Persons of the Trinity to do anything. God acts out of his own nature as Father, Son and Spirit in love, in whatever way he chooses to. The Persons of the Trinity may respond to our efforts, but they are not obligated in any way by anything we say or do to act in certain ways.
Some of the greatest hurts in our relationships occur because of these types of expectations we place upon God and upon one another. Expectations in a relationship are helpful only if they are held within a framework of grace, because no human being can perfectly and fully meet another human being’s expectations. Rigid expectations, when they are unmet, create resentment, bitterness, hate, and anger. They create a separation within a relationship—they do not build unity. Nor do they facilitate love.
Holding God to our human expectations is actually arrogant. After all, God is free to do whatever he wishes in any and every situation. Whatever we may expect of him, he is going to do the good and right thing. He’s going to be loving and gracious, faithful—he is and will be true to his nature as God. Our expectations do not change who God is and what he does. They only hurt us, because when God doesn’t perform to our expectations, we end up hurt, angry, and frustrated.
Holding our loved ones to rigid expectations can be very abusive. To expect a child to do something beyond their age and capacity and to punish them when they fail to meet our expectations is destructive to their mental and emotional health. To expect a spouse or loved one to perform something exactly how we think it should be done, with no room for individuality, personality or preference is selfish and controlling, and destroys trust and love, and stifles affection.
The sad thing is, not only do our rigid expectations ruin our relationships, but they also blind us to our own shortcomings. We become so focused on the other person’s failures that we cannot and do not see the many ways in which we ourselves have not kept our word or have been unfaithful. We are so “right” that we don’t realize how very wrong we are.
The truth is that there is only one Being, our Father, Son and Spirit God, who is able to fully keep his side of a covenant. It is his covenant with us as humanity that is the basis of our relationships with others. Because we could not fulfill our part of the covenant agreement, the Word came into our human flesh and lived out our part perfectly and completely. It is Jesus Christ who is the One who is the perfect human, who never fails to keep his promises and perfectly fulfills his Father’s will.
Jesus is the risen High Priest who stands in our stead, bearing us in the presence of the Father. He also, as the Mediator, intercedes between each of us, being the One who perfectly relates to us and to his Father in the Spirit. God sends his Spirit into human hearts so that we are bound together, not only by our common breath in the Spirit, but also by our common sharing in the humanity of Christ. At the basis of all our relationships is Jesus Christ in us by the Holy Spirit.
This means that all our relationships with God and each other are set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, our Intercessor and our Lord. They are mediated by Christ in the Spirit, who works to bring about love, joy, peace and unity in our relationships. Whatever efforts we may make to heal, bless and grow our relationships need to have their center in Christ by the Spirit, because it is his relationship with his Father in the Spirit which defines what true relationship is.
Christ’s relationship with the Father does not require or use expectations. Christ does the will of the Father because his own will is in perfect unity with the Father’s will. Christ’s will and the Father’s will are one in the Spirit. Their relationship is based on love and mutual submission, not on fulfillment of expectations or obligations.
If in our human relationships we were to release everyone from any and all expectations, and instead focus on the relationship Christ has brought us into with the Father in the Spirit, we would experience a huge shift in our dynamics. When we begin to treat one another as persons who equally yet diversely share in our common union with Christ in the Spirit, we open the door for love, unity and peace. Accepting that we are all broken people sharing in the grace of God in Christ will begin to create in us a spirit of humility, mutual submission and service.
When Christ admonished his followers to be people of their word, he was well aware of their inability to always be faithful and truthful. Jesus himself is the only human capable of actually keeping his word and fulfilling the will of God. Thankfully, God’s relationship with each of us as faulty, frail and at times untruthful people is not based upon our ability to perform, but upon the inner relations of the Father, Son and Spirit in their perichoretic union and communion, and upon the grace and love showered upon us through Jesus Christ.
Our relationships with one another, especially in marriage and family, need to be built upon this same foundation. It is in looking to Christ and participating in his perfect relationship with the Father in the Spirit that we find the grace to love and respect one another, and to be faithful and truthful in every circumstance of life. Whether we bound out of bed or crawl out in the morning, we all share in Christ, and can by God’s Word and through the Spirit find the wisdom, strength and whatever we may need to truly love and care for one another like we should. May God find us so doing!
Father, thank you that by your Son and in your Spirit we have been given a relationship with you and each other we could not have otherwise. Grant us the grace to throw away all our expectations of you and others which create division and hurt in our relationships. Instead, may we live together in love and grace, awake to the life you have given us through Christ and in the Spirit, expectantly looking forward to all you will do to heal, restore and renew. Through Jesus, our Lord, amen.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33–37 NIV
by Linda Rex
One of the things that I enjoyed when my children were younger was buying them gifts for a special occasion. Months before the event I would be listening to them as we did things together, trying to see what kind of things they enjoyed and what they might be interested in having. We would walk through a store while I was getting some household items, and I would watch them linger over a toy or game that caught their eye.
I’d watch them plan out the number of chores they would have to do or how much allowance they would have to save up to buy it. Often it would be more than what they could manage immediately. They’d talk about it occasionally, maybe even hint around about it, but for them it was just a dream—their heart’s desire that they couldn’t see their way to achieving.
So it was with much secret delight that I would find a way to purchase the item and wrap it up so I could give it to them on a special occasion. Then I would expectantly look forward to the day when I could watch their face light up with joy as they opened their gift.
Can you imagine with what expectancy God awaits to reveal his Son to us in all his glory? And how he joyfully anticipates the day when you and I along with all his children will be revealed in the full glory he has given us in Jesus Christ—a glory that is already ours, but is for now, hidden with Christ in God? (Col. 3:3-4)
The ascension, which we will celebrate this Sunday, is so significant an event!
Jesus brings each and every one of us into the presence of the Father in the Spirit, so that our redemption is secure. And each and every moment, as a living Lord bearing our humanity, Jesus Christ intercedes for us and intervenes in our lives day by day.
He is actively working, building his temple, the dwelling place of God, even now—working for the day when everything he accomplished in his life, death, resurrection and ascension into glory will be worked out in our human sphere, when his kingdom will be on earth as it is in heaven.
And we get to participate in what he is doing in bringing his kingdom here on earth! We can stand expectantly waiting and doing nothing. Or in our expectant waiting, we can be busy participating in his work of bringing his kingdom to earth.
We can respond to the lead of his Holy Spirit as God shows us ways to love God and love others. God has given each of us a way to participate in what he is doing in the world—let us do it in union and communion with the Father, Son and Spirit and with one another day by day.
And let’s do it in expectant joy! Our ascended King rules even now and is handing us the gift we’ve only dreamed of having. He’s saying to you and to me: “Open it! It’s yours! I bought it, made it, just for you! You’ll love it!”
Thank you, Daddy-God, for the great gift you’ve planned from before time and have prepared for us. You gave everything up so we could have this gift. And you gave us your Son and now you’ve given us your Spirit. We have been given all we need for life and godliness. What a gift! Thank you so much! We receive it with great joy and gratitude. Amen.
“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11