Are Your Expectations Weighing You Down?
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
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 even our most well-intentioned expectations can become a weight on us and suck the 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, whenever we place our hope, our joy, our satisfaction, or our worth in our expectations and desires, we have just created a very heavy burden for ourselves.
Because what if they don’t become a reality?
At even the thought of that possibility, there is now ample opportunity 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.
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 must have this to be whole, fulfilled, happy, valuable.”
Inevitably we realize that we can’t control all the variables of life. So, we finally take all our fear-wrapped, un-surrendered expectations and desires to Jesus, because 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: When we take un-surrendered expectations to Jesus, all of that faith in His ability to handle them 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, if our faith is dependent upon our expectations of life becoming a reality, where does that leave us in the difficult and disappointing times? What might that do to our faith?
Anne Lamott said “Expectations are resentments under construction.”
I think she might be on to something there.
Placing your hope in your expectations being fulfilled only sets you up for disappointment and resentment. How? Because your expectations cannot hold the weight of hope—hope that life can be fulfilling for you. Christ 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?
First, 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 or selfish ambition? Are they rooted in some insecurities or fears? The goal is simply to be honest with yourself and name whatever expectations you have for your life.
Now, confess your expectations and desires to God and surrender them to Him.
Why? Because our wills are never going to dictate God’s actions. We can stress and strain, weep and wail, but our wills are 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 reorient our wills as needed.
Jesus practiced this.
At the end of this same week that Jesus made his final entry 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 surrendered state he prayed, “Not what I want, but what you want. Not my will, but your will.”
Philippians 2:5 reminds us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Surrender your expectations and desires to God, even the good and reasonable 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 faith in God won’t be 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. When you do this you'll find that you are perfectly positioned to wait expectantly for the beautiful thing He will bring into your life.
In Psalm 37:4 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.