Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Expectations

[what's brewing: dissention]

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “great expectations”? Charles Dickens, perhaps? An inspiring sermon you may have heard about having great expectations for the work God is going to do in a certain situation or setting? I have to confess that my first thought when I hear this phrase is…great disappointment.

I’m not usually such a pessimist, but it’s true – over time I have come to believe that the higher and greater my expectations are, the more likely I am to be disappointed. I would suggest that this perception is actually a part of what keeps me optimistic in many situations – my expectations are low, so I am always hopeful for what may transpire. I don’t go around expecting the worst; I just try to keep an openness of mind with most things so that I don’t set myself up for disappointment.

(I was reminded of the importance of this approach when we pulled into the gate of the summer camp we took all of the kids to for a week of fun and play. I had a distinct image in my mind of what it would be like, which was supported by the high expectations I’d gathered from various stories over the year. I only realized how unrealistic my expectations were as the gate opened and I realized that our “beach camp” was a walled-in plot of dirt in a coastal town!)

Part of my cross-cultural adjustment has been finding a healthy balance between this low-expectation approach and still waiting expectantly upon the Lord to do great things and remaining faithful as I wait. I’ve been challenged to sift through my own expectations in order to set realistic ones – weeding out elements that are based on my own cultural background and trying to develop a more realistic view for this time and place that I’m living in.

I’ve shared pieces of my cross-cultural ministry experiences (all largely stemming from my expectations) here on CG Confessions before – the good, the bad and the funny. I know that setting more appropriate expectations has become a central point in my coping strategy with some of the issues that we’ve faced here. From perusing your blogs, reading your comments and conversing with other cross-cultural ministry comrades, I have taken comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones who seem to encounter almost comically frustrating episodes of drama in local church ministry.

After watching too many seemingly successful conflict resolution efforts dissipate within days, sometimes even hours, of seeking biblical resolution between members of our church, my expectations for genuine forgiveness have become very low. After hearing people respond to wise and truth-laden sermons by wishing So-And-So could have been there to be convicted of their sin, my expectations for repentance and confession have dropped as well.

As I have lowered my expectations to help combat my frustrations, I have also focused on reminding myself of these truths:

change is slow,
Christ’s call is radical,
and old fleshly habits can be powerfully gratifying in difficult times.

So recently I have been praying with great expectations for Christ’s transformational touch to be upon us all, while maintaining low expectations for day to day change, which has been giving me the patience I need to keep going.

And then out of nowhere, at a meeting I didn’t even want to attend because of the inter-church drama that has drying me up this week, my expectations were so greatly exceeded that I hardly knew what to think. Dissention was brewing even as the meeting was beginning and my low expectations had dropped even lower. We moved through our agenda and as I set my weary eyes on the clock, wishing I could transport myself home to bed, the Spirit began to move…

One brave woman confessed her anger towards another woman in the church and sought her forgiveness.

Another brave soul followed suit and confessed resentment and distrust towards a fellow elder in the church, who then offered his forgiveness and reconciliation in return.

A young woman on the brink of scandalous divorce exposed her hardened heart and asked for help from those around her.

Testimonies of broken patterns of alcoholism, domestic abuse and marital unfaithfulness came from several others.

Spontaneous prayer was offered over individuals as they shared their stories.

And we simply sat back and watched as our expectations (low though they may have been) were not just exceeded, but shattered by the movement of the Spirit in our presence.

And I’ve been relishing this powerful reminder of the importance of continuing to have great expectations for what God can do without expecting great disappointment as a result.

8 comments:

Shilo said...

What a POWERFUL testimony. Thank you for sharing!
Blessings!
Shilo

Libby said...

Yes, thank you. I've been up and down with expectations lately and you aren't the first one to remind me this week that God is the God of the impossible. At the same time he also wants great things for us. I believe it sometimes. And other times...not so much.
But that doesn't change HIM and his plan! What a great thought!
Greetings to all you ladies this week!
Can you all please pray for me and my family too as we are in the last few weeks before furlough? There are some pretty intense moments as well as some great ones. You understand.

Chantelle said...

Thank you for the reminder. I often suffer with low expectations and hurt feelings when it comes to team, and what a powerful story that God can work in our midst!

-CM

Duane and Carin said...

Thank-you for this encouragement and reminder that it is the Holy Spirit that can change people, our job is to pray and to keep showing up.
Be blessed today,
Carin

Becky Aguirre said...

Well-said and I agree with Shilo, what a powerful testimony! I think it's easy to become cynical and skeptical when we think we don't see "progress", and yet perhaps those are the times when God is working the most and we just can't see beyond the surface...or maybe even that we're the ones God's working on!

kimom said...

YES!!!

This story imparts hope.
Prayer works!
God is alive...
and at work to grow and beautify his Bride...
in his time.

My expectation troubles originate with my 'fear of man'. I feel like I have to have something to 'show' for all the folks at home who are giving sacrificially every month to send us here. Will I have 'enough' to write them about in a newsletter? Will they be satisfied when we tell stories on furlough? I am afraid of failing them, so then I expect more of myself, so then I expect God to 'do' more that I can see. What a vicious cycle of disappointment! We have a family joke that 'We didn't come here to write a book!'

Thanks for making me smile today, for sharing hope in God, and for reminding me of my own vicious expectations! =)

Grace from Congo!

Stephanie said...

I so relate to this testimony. We have a family joke (that I created!) that says, "The key to happiness is low expectations!" It is true so much of the time and really good to learn to keep our expectations balanced... but, on the other hand, I definitely see this affecting me negatively. I don't "hope" or "expect" much or at least I try not to! It is really a way of controlling my environment and managing my emotions... not really based in trust. Good thoughts! I am challenged. Thank you for this...
Stephanie
www.hisgirlalone.blogspot.com

agapesantos said...

Thanks for the blog. This is my first "read", I know I'm a week behind - but the title caught my eye. I think the expectations I struggle with the most are much closer to my chair :-) and the great disappointment I so often feel starts with what is going on in my chair... does that make any sense? I loved this blog- it's not about what we can do, but about what the Holy Spirit does... as we become more like Christ. Sounds good - but oh, the girl in the mirror does struggle with thinking she needs to be in control. thanks again. i'll be joining you for coffee again.

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