This evening, we join together during this Lenten season to continue our “Giving Up” message series. Tonight, we’re being encouraged to give up expectations.
I chose this topic because it at first seemed contradictory to me.
When it comes to approaching God, I believe that expectation is something that we should actually passionately seek to possess and not to intentionally give up. After all:
Why pray if we have no expectation that God will hear us?
Why obey if we have no expectation that God will bless and reward us?
Why serve if we have no expectation that God can transform someone’s life?
Why lay down our lives for Jesus if we have no expectation that He will give us life abundantly now and eternal forever?
Faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, for eternal life, for the fullness of salvation, for everything we need in life unites us this evening. This faith which we possess is defined in Hebrews chapter 11 verse one as:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Faith itself doesn’t seem to only hint at expectation as a prerequisite, it more so seems like faith is the very embodiment of expectation itself.
For certain, we do approach God with expectation.
Expectation that God will hear us when we pray.
Expectation that God will bless and reward us as we walk in obedience to Him.
Expectation that God can and will transform someone’s life.
Expectation that He will give us life abundantly now and eternal forever.
Expectation that every one of God’s promises are, “Yes and Amen!”
This expectation doesn’t offend or displease God. In fact, God loves it when we approach Him with this type of faith-filled confidence and expectation! In fact, James writes and warns us that unless we approach God in this way, we should expect to receive nothing from Him.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
There is, however, an expectation that we certainly must give up. If we fail to give up this particular expectation, then we will be deceived into believing that God has failed us and that His word and promises are not true. It is these unmet expectations that cause us to lose faith and doubt God. This expectation that we all must give up is revealed in the Bible as clear as black is from white, but we still often miss it.
This expectation that we simply must give up is the expectation of how and when God will fulfill His promises. We must accept the truth that God frequently does not act as we would expect Him to. That old saying that, “God works in mysterious ways.” rings true all too often. Even as God, Himself, declared:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God has directly told us that His word is always good. What He says will always accomplish His purposes. We can stand firm on and sure on God’s word. However, when doing so, we absolutely must give up our expectations on how this will take place. God’s ways are not the way that we would do things. God doesn’t think in the way that we think. For these reasons, we cannot expect God to do things as we expect Him to.
For example, if I plan to send you off somewhere, what are some things that you would expect from me?
Where you are going?
Directions to get from here to there?
What you will need to take?
How long it is going to take you to get there?
When you will be returning?
Those are all very reasonable and logical expectations that we would have of someone who is sending us off somewhere. Most times in which God sent people off to a new place, He didn’t provide any of this information at all. One of the most widely known examples of this is found with Abram:
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
God certainly didn’t act as we expected in this situation. Abram had to give up all expectations and fully trust God. He had to trust that where God was taking him was a better place, that God would provide for him as he traveled, that God would direct him in where he should go.
Time and time again, God acts in ways in which we would not expect. God created all of creation, except mankind, by simply speaking. God freed Israel from Egyptian slavery by hardening the heart of the Pharaoh. God took Jonah to Nineveh in a great fish. Joshua marched around a city for seven days to crumble the defensive walls of Jericho. Israel won the battle against Moab by digging holes in the valley. Goliath was defeated by young David. A poisoned stew was cured by some flour. A spring that produced bad water was healed by some salt. A blind man is healed by Jesus spitting in the ground and rubbing the mud into his eyes.
Let’s not even get started on the unexpected way in which our Savior was born, lived, and died. On second thought, let’s go there. The Pharisees, Sadducees, elders, and teachers of the law knew the word of God inside out and backwards. They literally had every word of the first five books memorized as well as most of the books of the prophets. However, when the living Word of God, Jesus, their very own long-awaited and carefully sought out Messiah, stood face to face with them, many didn’t recognize Him. They knew the written word of God, but they did not recognize it embodied in the flesh as Jesus.
Jesus is born of a virgin engaged to be married who could have, by His very own law, be put to death. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is born in a manger. He befriends the tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and lepers. He chooses a thief as the treasurer for His ministry. He chooses uneducated, ordinary men to begin a movement that would radically transform the world so that even us, sitting here this evening, are impacted by it. He, who is the only one worthy to pour out the wrath of God on all His creation, chose to personally pay the price for their salvation from it.
We could go on and on all night about the Biblical accounts of how God acts in unexpected ways. The point, however, is this. We must choose to give up our expectations of how God is going to act. We must proceed forward in life with fullness of trust and faith in God. We must cling to the truths that we are certain of. God’s word and His promises will absolutely be fulfilled in our lives as we remain faithful to Him. When and how He chooses to do so, however, is intended to be more of an adventure and mystery.
This keeps us always passionately pursuing Him and leaves us with no other choice, but to testify to just how awesome He is. When His word and promises become our reality, it will not be us who can take any glory nor will we be able to boast in anything that we did, but rather only to testify how good, faithful, and all-powerful our God truly is. Tonight, give up your expectations of when and how God will act, and rather embrace the adventure and remain steadfast in your trust in Him!