Reflections: Expectations that Shape the Heart

Flickr photo by Jeff Kubina

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – Matthew 11:3

John, the prophet who announced the coming Messiah, questioned his mission as he sat despondent in jail awaiting execution. Even seeing God in human form, John had to fight with disappointment and disbelief when Jesus wasn’t like he had expected.

People have incomplete perceptions of God and each other, and plenty of expectations about them. Anticipating many possibilities of a new acquaintance or a new relationship, familiarity will expose us to events that will shape our hearts. Depending on the grace in our perspective, we can take offense or retain “good soil” in our hearts. Some propagate the dangerous message that having no expectations is the easiest way out of relationship troubles, which is true albeit it will set you up for a void connection. No trouble, but no depth, either. A garden flourishes if the soil is first tilled.

More or less, we receive what we perceive. Expectations don’t necessarily kill relationship, but a certain kind of expectation can. Expecting my friend to fulfill me in a certain way may blind me to the many ways he is offering me things that could fulfil. But if I am watchful for his gestures that could potentially bless me, I will grasp them. What we focus on, we magnify.

Unvoiced expectations can damage a relationship. A partner’s expectation for the other to speak or act in a certain way can yield resentment unless tempered by grace. Staying silent about expectations to avoid an awkward moment might end up in greater agonies of misunderstanding and hope deferred, which makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).

Jesus knew about pouring into people without expecting to receive the same back. Though countless turned away, many of Jesus’ true friends paid ultimately for their love and commitment to him. 1 Corinthians 13 demonstrates how God’s love in us does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking. God’s love is not given in increments relative to how obedient or loving we are in return. The love God gives is not fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the wrongs done to it. Love never fails.

Scripture taken from the NIV and the Amplified Bible.

Reflections: Identity

Psalm 34:22 “No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.”

Some characters from the Bible are difficult to identify with. You may not feel the strongest connection to Samuel, Noah, or Job. But David is the Bible’s everyman. To the poor or the young, he is David the shepherd boy; to the eminent, he is David who celebrated majesty with enormous wealth.

We will follow someone we trust anywhere. Having overcome life struggles, David the psalmist is qualified to lead us into worship of God and through whatever life circumstance we find ourselves in. Interestingly enough, Psalm 34 was written after David feigned insanity to escape from trouble with an adversary; Bible times had awkward moments.

Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read tells how relevant the Psalms are: they contain almost every human emotion imaginable. Many churches fear tears. Many frown at laughter, expecting pious sufferers. But David, the “man after God’s own heart” is not afraid to expose his emotions to God, the creator of emotion. A person who knows God knows He is close to the broken-hearted as well as being the giver of joy.

David’s psalm sets the bar high with the opening line: “I will exalt the LORD at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.” Is this unrealistic? If we magnify God and focus on Him moment by moment, we will be prevented from focussing so much on our problems. Our perspective will be filled with His greatness and His ability to handle our situations. Consider the author. David went through hellish times and is qualified to provide a living example.

David has a lot to say about identity. Much recurrent pain we experience and require healing from stems from a broken identity. We become new by shedding old identities in metamorphosis.

David writes, “Those who look to God are radiant. Their faces are never covered with shame.” Religion has a tendency to shame us by persuading us that we need to attain perfection. However, God’s message to humanity is diametrically opposite. It’s cheeky and potentially offensive how He calls us His “holy people” and “the righteousness of God” before we have even seen the final work of salvation. It is literally unbelievably good news.

He is the one in whom we find our new identity. We shed past wounds by receiving His love. We escape old habits by making Him our source of strength. As we go, He will provide appropriate “fires” in which we can choose refinement. Sadly, we can also choose to take offense and burn out. That’s why David invites the afflicted to join with him in worship. Our perspective will be changed after we taste God’s goodness.

Risk & Paradox

Published at Converge Magazine online:

The kingdom Jesus preached is an environment that does not fear looking upside-down to others. It involves risks; sometimes very small ones, sometimes great leaps of faith, standing upon nothing except the promises of the Bible, what some call “blind faith”, or, disparagingly, “foolishness”.

In this universe He created, God has set forth many paradoxes. Jesus and others through history have blazed their trails, proving, incredulously, the validity of these paradoxes as lives and indeed kingdoms and institutions have been revolutionized through the proactive love and demonstration of the Spirit’s power by a servant-king’s empowered disciples. To be first, one must become last. To become great, one must be humble. To become rich, one must realize one’s poverty. To live, one must die to oneself, taking up the cross daily. Remember that though paradoxes appear at first not to be true, they prove true through experience.

In the struggle of the early morning wake-up routine after a night of interrupted sleep, today’s dark, frosty dawn presented me with a choice testing my faith in one such paradox: do I go with the feelings, emotions and desires of my body, which would have been quite happy to sleep in (just 10 more minutes . . . ) or do I trust God when he says that if I put His kingdom first (how applicable that verse is in the ‘first’ light of the day), that all other things shall be added, supernaturally and generously, to me by my loving Father.

Too often I allow the outside world to dictate what I feel on the inside. This might sound very normal; indeed, it is the normal experience of many people to be bombarded and bullied each day by externals. We find ourselves affirming things we don’t believe, agreeing to things we don’t want, and failing to do things we should. However in the Bible I see a different way of living: one where our internal atmosphere has authority over external circumstances, starting with God’s initial creative act. Elijah’s prayer changes the weather. Jesus’ confidence could not be swayed by governors. Peter’s command heals the cripple.

So rolling out of bed, I grabbed my Bible and Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved and under the reading light I began to ingest words that would nourish me, as I am promised in the Proverbs. Indeed, if I eat no other food today, I am blessed by God. I am empowered by a sterling strength superior to my own variable energy level. I have what I really need.

By God’s grace and his gifts, I can stand and win against the pangs of hunger, loneliness, failure, and even death, for Jesus has conquered them all for us.

Though the spiritual life holds much in tension with human perception, the securities we are given are plentiful. Great and numerous are the promises of God’s Word. His heart is set towards us with a consuming and exultant love. I am His beloved. Here’s another paradox: His power is made perfect in our weakness. May our minds be utterly renewed.