WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT?
William Carey, the Father of modern missions, knew a thing or two about what we should expect. Jesus knew a thing or two about what we should expect. The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about what churches should expect. Our children think they know a thing or two about they should expect. Work colleagues know what they should expect from a Christian work colleague. Expectations abound. Missionaries expect. God expects. Preachers expect. Churches expect. Families expect. What you expect has a large bearing on how you handle what life throws your way. It is also one of the single biggest factors in determining your level of zeal for Jesus today...
This week has not been what I expected. I've been surprised everyday by the unexpected. I've been unexpectedly blessed; I've been unexpectedly attacked; I had anunexpected conversation with an influential leader; I unexpectedly received an encouraging email from someone outside of our church; I was unexpectedlydiscouraged; and then I received an unexpected phone call from a young man looking for the truth about God. But through all these unexpected moments there has been one underlying expectation that has enabled me to keep going.
How do you handle the unexpected? What has unexpectedly happened to you, that in hindsight, you could have reasonably prepared for? Do you find that people generally don't measure up to your expectations? As a believer, what expectations do you have of God? What expectations do you have of your church? What expectations do you have of your family? Your expectations determine your level of satisfaction with your key relationships including your relationship with God. Too many people are settling for a cold, stale, distant relationship with Jesus because they have lost the hope of having their expectations met. When your expectations are grounded in the loving truth of God's Word, you can never be disappointed with your relationship with Jesus.
A large part of what I do is to filter and guard what comes our way as a church. The Bible refers to the one God calls to lead a local church as an "overseer" (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7). Being called to oversight places a pastor in a vantage point that is both a blessing and a burden. To be a full-time pastor is a blessing incomparable with any other. It affords a man the privilege of devoting his energies to the work of God in His Word and among His people. It grants him an open door into many homes that would otherwise be shut to him. It allows him to read, study, pray, reflect, so that he can better minister God's Word as spiritual food for hungering souls. There is great honour in doing this well (as the Holy Spirit tells us in First Timothy).
¶ Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
First Timothy 5:17
But it is also a burden. Not merely because of the responsibility to care, lead, and feed, but because of the expectations of others. Quite frankly, I didn't expect the burden to be so great. Neither did I expect that it would be so difficult to explain it to others. "Over" -sight gives a certain vantage point. Over the past decade in particular, the Holy Spirit has led me increasingly into a deeper appreciation for history. As He has fed my heart and soul with understanding of why things are the way they arebecause of what has happened, I have been divinely led to realise that certain things will be because of certain things that are. That is, we can expect that history will unfold in a certain direction because certain decisions and actions have been made and taken today. A "Mars a day helps you work, rest, and play" is only half what you should reasonably expect. If you eat a "Mars a day" you should expect the day when it won't be so easy to "work rest and play" (or fit in your airplane seat). Pastoral oversight sometimes means that the person serving the Body of Christ see things from a broader vantage point (in the sense of time, location, people affected, how it impacts the future) that others don't see. Oversight helps to prepare for the unexpected and reduce its ability to catch you off-guard. I would urge everyone to seek God for the ability to take greater oversight over your own soul and then watch how He strengthens your faith, stretches your capacity, and schools your soul.
God's gift of oversight to me subjected me to experience all three of these this week. Last night I was at a business dinner of very committed Christian businessmen and their wives. The speaker shared how their faith vision was to raise $700,000,000 this year to be able to give away Bibles to the peoples of the world who couldn't afford a Bible. (Last year they raised over $600,000,000 toward the same goal!) My faith was strengthened as I heard how they are helping countries like Mali (North Africa) which is 98% Muslim and 1% Christian. Only 4% of Mali is arable land, yet it has to supply the food for 80% of Mali. The average income per-capita is just $1.25 a day. A Bible costs around $7. In one week, they were able to give away 50,000 Bibles to people who had never of either Jesus, or the Bible. As I heard of the plight in Mali (now racked by famine, civil war, national bankruptcy, and a military coup) it lifted my vision off my various unexpected trials and challenges and up to a bigger vision of what God is doing and had my expectation of God re-calibrated.
"A crisis doesn't make a man - a crisis reveals a man."
As I've mentioned in our Sunday services over the past few weeks, the Australian church is largely struggling to attract Aussies. We praise God for what He is doing around the world and how immigrants from these revival-blessed nations are now trickling into Australian churches, but by-and-large Australians are becoming increasingly unreached. The desperate phone call I received from one young man this week was both unexpected and very welcomed.
He shared how he was now in crisis. He desperately wanted to believe the Bible but felt that the arguments for atheism were too persuasive. He shared how had been attending a contemporary church in Launceston where everything about the church and its message told him to ignore his doubts and settle for a feeling or experience of God. But when he raised questions from the Bible, he said, he was continually surprised to find that the pastors and leaders he spoke with were unfamiliar with these Bible references. He didn't expect that.
I don't know why he rang us (he said that he saw our website) especially since he has now moved to Hobart (presumably to do Uni). As we talked, he spoke of the deep irrelevance that church had been to him in trying to find meaningful and reasonable answers to the questions he had about life, God and the Bible. (Did any of us expect that when we started telling our young people 10-20 years ago to "not use your head but trust with your heart" that this would not be the result?) After a 90 minute phone call with the young man, I had only addressed a fraction of his questions (he had to go). I've invited him to call again. What was even more unexpected about the timing of this phone call was that earlier in the day I was doing some training with Josh and raised each of the issues (and how Christians should address them) that this young man was struggling with. This phone call drove home to me that we have literally thousands of such stories around Launceston and tens of thousands of these stories around Tasmania who have tried church and found it unsatifying - not because it lacked socially (most churches are filled with loving, caring people who readily get along well with people), not because it lacked programs, not because it lacked a good music, but because it was not a true reflection of the God they claimed to be serving and worshiping. Church should be the place where people can meet with God on a heart (strength from fellowship), soul (strength from prayer, reflection, and worship) andmind (strength from God's Word taught and explained) - where each strength complements each other.
We need to have right expectations of God, the Bible, and even our church. It is right to expect that God will honour His Word. Some people have been disappointed with God because He has not met their expectations of how they were hoping He would help or answer their prayers. This dashed expectation of God is partly created by some 'preacher-isms' that sound like they're in the Bible, but actually they aren't. For example, "God only ever rises to the level of our expectation." Therefore, they preach, "we need to lift our expectation of God so that He can do more." Bible verses like Psalm 78:41, that almost sound like they support this notion, are cited -
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
Psalm 78:41 KJV
Abusing Scripture like this only adds to the problem of believers having a wrong expectation of how God responds to His children. What the King James (and New King James) versions render as "limited" is translated, "provoked", "vexed", "offended" by all other translations. And certainly it wasn't Israel's lack of expectation of what God would do which "limited" Him. The idea that we command or even give God permission to do anything, is counter-Biblical. Anyone who bases their relationship with God on this notion is bound to be disappointed, because it's a false expectation.
¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Some believers have misplaced expectations of what it means to follow Jesus. A believer should expect that Christ expects we will trust Him. We should expect that Christ expects we will follow Him. We should expect that Christ expects us to come to Him when we sin, fail, make a mistake, hurt or are hurting. We should expect that Christ expects His followers will love what He loves - His Church. Trust, follow, confess. We can expect God's best when we trust, follow and confess. We can expect that we might not always understand what God's best is when we are having to endure and persevere. Loss doesn't look like God's best. Cancer doesn't look like God's best. Correction doesn't look like God's best. Loss, cancer, correction, while trusting, following, and confessing.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Right expectations of God come from His Scriptures. But this requires a right expectation of the Scriptures. We can not develop intimacy with God apart from (i) His Word and then (ii) prayer. We can expect to meet with God when we are in His Word. I'm currently reading through Leviticus in my devotions. I'm reminded again that each of the priestly rituals point to a work of Christ in a believer's life and that each of the sacrifices are a type or shadow of an aspect of Christ's ultimate sacrifice. We should expect that God intends to say something to us through His Word, rather than think He expects us to make it mean something to us. Yesterday I had someone tell that the Word of God can be interpretted in many ways. In one sense, they are right. The Word of God can be interpretted in many ways. But this understanding seems to confuse 'interpretation' with 'application' and fuels a disappointing expectation about God's Word. Because God has something intended to say in His Word, there should be only one interpretation of the Scriptures - yet we can each apply a Scripture differently.
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords
First Timothy 6:13-15
I opened these thoughts by honouring the memory of the great William Carey. He was a pioneer missionary to India at a time when missionaries were despised. Before he left England in the late 1700s, he famously said, "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God." This was a man who expected great things from God and suffered while he waited for it. His first wife died of madness after they had buried at least two of their children in the first few years after their arrival there. He battled depression and repeated setbacks. Sent to India on a mission to convert the Indians, he saw no converts for his first 7 years of ministry! Yet he continued to expect great things from God! He was convinced that God was great. He was convinced that Jesus Christ was as Paul described Him - King of Kings / Lord of Lords / the only Sovereign. William Carey let this knowledge shape his expectations of God and His Word. He would go on to be responsible for leading thousands of Indians to Christ who would be responsible for literally leading millions of Indians to Christ! Expect great things from God! Get your great expectations from God's great Word! But don't expect that it's your expectations of God that will change God! But do expect that God will shapeyou and your expectations.
as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.