The Weight of Expectations
The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time was a day full of joyful celebration. The crowds of people who followed Jesus were excited! They were hopeful! They were ready!
They believed that Jesus had come to fulfill their deepest desires…their greatest expectations! They believed that their God had, at last, sent His Messiah to free them, to save them, and to establish His kingdom.
And they were right!
And they were wrong… all at the same time.
They were right—Jesus IS God’s Messiah— the one who came from God to save them. But their thoughts of being saved were dominated by ideas of power, human glory, and the overthrow of Roman authorities.
They believed that Jesus was going to establish a kingdom, but they were expecting a national political kingdom where Jesus sat on a throne in Jerusalem—a kingdom where Israel would regain the glory they had known in former times.
They completely missed the paradox of the kingdom Jesus was ushering in.
He rode in on a colt, not a stallion. He was a servant, not a warrior. And the saving work he would accomplish was for the whole world, not just Israel.
The crowds were joyful and hopeful, but they were blinded by their own expectations.
They believed in Jesus, yet they held on to their expectations of what God’s Messiah was supposed to do, and they placed that expectation right on top of Jesus.
Was wanting to be freed and saved wrong? No. Was wanting Jesus to lead them and be their king wrong? No, not entirely.The problem was that they SET their expectations according to THEIR will and THEIR understanding as if they were praying, “My kingdom come, My will be done on earth as I envision it.” It was an expectation that became a burden and weighed them down when Jesus didn’t act accordingly.
We all have them. We all envision our lives going a certain way. We all hope for the best possible outcomes to take place. But I believe that even the most well-intentioned expectations can become a weight on us and suck a lot of joy right out of our lives if they are not surrendered to God.
Now, what exactly do I mean by an expectation? An expectation is an outcome based on my personal will and desires. It’s a “self-seeking outcome.”
Thomas A Kempis, a priest and author from the 14th century, best known for his work The Imitation of Christ, said this, “If there be in you any self-seeking, this it is that burdens you and weighs you down.”
Whenever we set out to have our un-surrendered wills accomplished, or whenever we place our hope, our joy, our satisfaction, or our worth in our expectations or our desires, we have just created a very heavy burden.
Because what if they DON’T become a reality?
What if those expectations AREN’T met—those expectations for our families, our jobs, our future, etc.?
At even the thought of that possibility there are now lots of reasons for fear to take over, because if our hope, our self-worth, even our faith, are dependent on those things happening, then anxiety and worry set in, and all sorts of “What if” scenarios begin running through our minds.
That fear sets in and we think, “I HAVE to make this happen!” And so we hustle and we work and we grasp and we strive as if our lives depended on it. We tell ourselves, “I have to have this to be whole,fulfilled, happy, valuable.”
Talk about STRESSFUL!
But as much as we might like to try, we can’t control things like the future…other people’s choices or actions…illness…death. We can’t control any of that.
So what many of us do without even realizing it is what the crowd did to Jesus:
We say to ourselves, “He’s the One who can handle this. And then we take all those fear-wrapped expectations and we place them right on top of Jesus.
That seems like the right thing to do. I mean, we have faith in Jesus. We believe in him. We know he is powerful and capable. We believe that “all things are possible with God.” But here’s the problem: All of that faith and belief is now interpreted through the lens of whether or not my expectations— based in MY will— are met.
God is good because my life is good.
God is faithful because my expectations are met.
But we know that life is not always good and our expectations are not always met. So if our faith is dependent upon them becoming a reality, where does that leave us in the difficult and disappointing times? What might that do to our faith?
I really like what Anne Lamott had to say about expectations. She said, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”
I think she might be on to something there.
Placing your hope in your expectations only sets you up for disappointment and resentment. Why? Because your expectations cannot hold the weight of your HOPE.
Christ is the only one strong enough, faithful enough—the only one steady and sure enough to hold your HOPE. He is the only one you can trust with your joy, your satisfaction, your purpose, your worth, your family. And He will be there when your expectations abandon you.
So what’s a better approach?
Acknowledge your expectations and desires.
Take some time to consider what expectations you have and ask yourself where those expectations or desires are coming from. Are they coming from a comparison to other people’s lives? From the culture’s standards of success and happiness; from a self-seeking, selfish ambition? Are they rooted in some insecurities or fears? You may find that some are just good, normal expectations. The goal is simply to be honest with yourself and name them.
Now, confess your expectations and desires to God and surrender them to Him.
Why? Because MY will is never going to dictate God’s actions. I can stress and strain, weep and wail, but my will is never going to dictate to God what He will or will not do. He acts according to HIS will and according to what He knows his best.
That's why the best expectation is a surrendered expectation.
Am I saying we shouldn’t pray or ask God for anything? Absolutely not! We should most definitely pray! But we pray with a willingness to let God adjust our expectations as needed. And the only expectation that can be adjusted is the one that is placed in His hands.
So in our praying, God must always be given the opportunity to course correct us when needed.
Jesus practiced this.
At the end of this same week that he rode into Jerusalem amidst the praise and fanfare of the crowds, Jesus found himself sweating and full of anxiety at the thought of what was ahead of him.
And as he prayed in the garden, Jesus didn’t pretend in front of his Father. He was honest when he prayed,
“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14: 36
What was he doing? He was acknowledging that he had a desire. He knew His Father could meet that desire in his power and strength, but he also knew that hanging on to it and demanding that His Father act accordingly—making it an expectation—would be placing his will over top of His Father’s will. And so, in his surrender state he prayed,
“Not what I want, but what you want. Not my will, but your will.”
That’s the way Jesus thought and in Philippians 2:5 we’re reminded,
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Surrender your expectations and desires to God—even the “good” expectations.
And just in case this “surrender” word is freaking you out a little bit, remember:
Surrender doesn’t mean that God is taking good things away from you or that you won’t have any joy in your life. It just means that they are not where all your hope is placed. Your joy or fulfillment is not dependent on your expectations happening. And your life—your faith in God— are not crushed if they don’t.
Your most vibrant life will be found—not in trying to force your expectations and will on God—but in seeking Him and surrendering to Him.
Your faith develops and strengthens, not when you demand your envisioned life and fixate on that, but when you choose surrendered trust in God, and learn to desire Him above any expectation you may have.
God can be trusted to always have our best interest at heart, so you can surrender your expectations and your will to Him without fear. And what you’ll find when you do this is that you are perfectly positioned to WAIT EXPECTANTLY for what He will do.
God is always up to something grander than we can imagine.
God always brings the WOW!
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was great! I’m sure the disciples were dancing with joy and excitement along with the jubilant crowds.
But by the end of the week, things would be very different. Their expectations would be crushed and devastated, and they would almost be crushed and devastated right along with them.
But then Sunday came…and Jesus rose.
And suddenly every expectation they had held on to so tightly seemed so small and insignificant compared to what God was doing all along.
In Psalm 37 we read, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of you heart.”
It doesn’t say, “Delight yourself in your desires.” or “Delight yourself in your expectations.” No, “Delight yourself in the LORD.” The more we delight in him, the more our desires are transformed. Our desires become His desires. And believe me, what God desires is infinitely more wonderful, more imaginative, and more fulfilling than anything we could imagine.
Can you believe this today? Can you hang on to this truth even when the pull to have what you want is intensely strong?
Whatever expectations or desires you have—as wonderful as they may seem to you—as badly as you may crave them—cannot begin to compare with what God has in mind.
His ways are always bigger… deeper… higher… than you can imagine.
May you trust that today.
May you trust that especially in your disappointments and pain.