Most people intuitively know that our expectations profoundly affect our life experiences. Yet even as believers, we simultaneously expect too much and too little. We need to discover what we should expect less of and what merits higher expectations. That involves lowering our expectations concerning all the advantages we think life should bring us while raising our expectations concerning Christ and what He is daily accomplishing in us.
Here are six false expectations—those that are not grounded in Scripture and undermine our happiness:
1. God’s Love for Us Should Look Just Like What We Want
God has promised us His undying love, but we often imagine how we’d do things differently for those we loved if we were all powerful. We’d surely keep anything bad from ever happening to them, right? That may be our understanding of love, but it’s not God’s.
If we ignore countless passages that promise us persecution and suffering while focusing on those that promise us God’s blessing, we lose sight of His promise to discipline us, build our character, and increase our Christlikeness through suffering.
We ought to expect with the highest confidence only what God has clearly, fundamentally, and absolutely promised. And if our gratitude is lessened with such an understanding, the problem is our expectations, not God’s promises. If we expect God to make our lives easy, our expectations are unbiblical.
2. We Won’t Be Persecuted for Our Faith
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NIV). Peter said we should be firm in our faith, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
In spite of multiple promises of suffering throughout Scripture, many Christians seem shocked or outraged when they have to face these trials. Americans have been slow to accept the extent to which Bible-believing Christ-followers have become socially unacceptable. Though we should work to hold on to our religious liberties, it’s likely they’ll continue to erode. But cheer up! Opposition is nothing new for God’s people, and historically the church’s greatest advances have come at the lowest ebb of its popularity.
The Christian faith may never return to its central public role in our culture, but Christ’s gospel is bigger than every obstacle. Sometimes a less popular church becomes a more faithful, dynamic, and joyful church. Any church whose happiness hinges on its popularity will either compromise its integrity or surrender its happiness—in either case failing to show the world the true and joyful gospel of Jesus.
3. Jesus Must Return in Our Lifetime
“Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42, 44).
Christ will surely return, just as He promised (see Luke 21:27). Since the beginning of church history, many believers have thought Christ would return in their lifetimes. So far, everyone who has died in the past two thousand years has been wrong in that expectation.
In recent years, I’ve often heard believers say, “Christ has to return within the next few years.” No, He doesn’t. He may, but He may not return for decades or centuries. That’s entirely up to Him. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to continue living for Him.
4. Life Will Go Smoothly and We’ll Always Have Health and Wealth
M. Scott Peck opens The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult. . . . Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult.” Well, it’s less difficult, anyway!
Paul said, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Food and clothing may seem like low expectations. By the standards of the health-and-wealth gospel, these expectations are dismally low, but they’re accompanied by dramatically high expectations of God, who gives us riches in Heaven. After all, He’s the source of our joy!
Has God promised to make us healthy and wealthy? No, not in this life—only in the resurrected life on the New Earth.
5. Life Will Be Fair and People Will Treat Us Kindly and Thoughtfully
Jesus said, “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? . . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:34-35).
All Bible passages about forgiveness involve lowering our expectations of people and not insisting they live up to our standards, or demanding perfection we don’t measure up to ourselves. God’s grace should calm us and cheer us.
If my saying, “Cheer up” seems naive, someone else—Jesus—said it first: “I have told you this, so that you might have peace in your hearts because of me. While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).
6. Churches Owe Us Better Treatment than We’ve Received
I am sadly aware that churches have contributed to much unhappiness. But when our expectations of church people, and especially pastors, are inordinately high, we become deeply disappointed, thinking that Christians should know better and have no business being imperfect (often not realizing how imperfect we ourselves are and that the problem with church people is often that they are too much like us).
Scripture tells us we shouldn’t be “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” but should gather together, “encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). When we back away from the local church, we often engage in spiritual isolation that’s likely to not only distance us from God’s work but also sour us and our children to the great good churches are doing.
We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, raise our expectations of our personal need to obey Him by being part of and serving the church, and lower our expectations of others so we’ll be more understanding and forgiving. Sometimes we need to find another church that teaches God’s Word and centers on Jesus. He sees all the flaws in the church, but He hasn’t given up on His bride, and He won’t (see Matthew 16:18). Neither should we.