The Value of Expectations

How would you feel if you found out that the ball coach for your favorite team entered every game expecting to lose? Or if you heard that a businessman went into every venture expecting to lose money? I think it safe to say that these individuals would not engender confidence in their abilities nor would they incite people to desire their services. Unfortunately, I have often come across members of the body of Christ who act exactly that way. I’ve seen it from preachers, elders, and everyday members. The attitude generally carries the mind-set that whatever is planned, people will not come; whatever needs to be done, people will not do; whoever needs to be helped, people will wait on someone else to do it; whoever is being taught will not really listen and heed; and the list goes on.

I have often used the expression: “People live down to our expectations.” As a general rule, people do not like to be disappointed; to get their hopes up about a situation and find it will not occur as desired. Therefore, it is easier to diminish our expectations initially, so that we are not disappointed when things happen the way we thought they would. The problem with that mentality is the devastating effects it has on our own work ethic. When I do not believe someone will work, I do not encourage them to do so; when I do not believe one will live correctly, I do not bother to give my best effort to teach and encourage him; when I do not believe one is “teachable,” I give half-hearted efforts “knowing” they will fail. Diminished expectations are always met, because they require no effort; but they are also suicidal, because they destroy the person who has them and that one’s ability to impact anyone around him positively.

Expectations are necessary, but beyond the simple need for expectations is the further consideration of the need for high expectations. As a preacher, I expect everyone to love God and his word as much as I do; to want to serve him with the same passion and zeal that I do; to love the souls of men as much as I do; and to be willing to put hands to the task as much as I am. Are those expectations always realized positively? Of course not; but does that mean I should not have such expectations? Consider a couple of principles from God’s Word:

There are biblical foundations for expectations. Paul was one who, as an apostle, wrote to many congregations and individuals. In each instance, he made known to them his expectations for them. He wrote on one occasion: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phi. 1:27 ESV). Paul’s expectation was for the church at Philippi to live in the same manner without him present that they would if he were right there with them: an excellent expectation. He would also write to Philemon his personal expectations of him regarding the situation with Onesimus. He tells the Colossian brother: “Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say” (Phm. 20-21). His expectations of Philemon are easily recognized.

We should not place expectations on others we do not apply to ourselves. Paul was adamant about his expectations for his brethren, but those expectations never extended beyond what he was willing to do himself. He told the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He told the Philippians to use him, and others like him, as examples to follow in truth (Phi. 3:17). The expectations Paul had for the brethren were rooted in the same principles of expectation he had for himself; one cannot legitimately ask others to do what he or she is personally unwilling to do. Therefore, it is wrong of me to expect someone else to visit when I refuse; to encourage when all I want to do is diminish; or to obey while I disobey.

There is sound, biblical foundation for having expectations of one another. However, one of the greatest flaws seen among Christians is the placing of expectations without ever communicating them. When we expect something of someone, we need to let them know what those expectations are and why. How many times have we moaned to others about the “half-back” Sunday nights, but never gone to those who are absent and extended to them both God’s expectations and yours as a Christian?  How often have we been disappointed in the support received for good works of the congregation, but never spent the time trying to show people why they are good works that need to be supported or have simply decided ahead of time that “most people don’t care” and written them off?

We need to have expectations for one another and they need to be high expectations. Low expectations allow people to continue to wallow in misery and mediocrity. It is high expectation, rooted in potential and ability, that is effective and useful; which is why we are told to, “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24). It is amazing to see the impact expectations can have on people when they realize that you care about them, their soul, and their influence enough to think about them and their abilities; desiring for them to be the best they can be. It is wonderful to see the growth of an individual who has been encouraged by confident expectation to grow, prosper, and flourish in the service of God.

However, it must be understood that there is good expectation and bad. Bad expectation berates and demeans when it is let down, it tells how terrible a person is and that he will never amount to anything. Such expectation is destructive and ungodly. Good expectation encourages and strengthens, recognizing the things that are already being done correctly, empowering one with greater desire and confidence; strengthening with trust and faith that others care and are there to help if problems arise. This expectation will make every individual better each step of the way.

What are your expectations of yourself and those around you? Do you expect them to fail? Do you expect them to love God as much as you do; to serve him with the same zeal; to work with the same love and devotion? Have you communicated that to them with love and encouragement, telling them how thankful you are for them and how much you need them (and God needs them) in his service? Or have you expressed to someone your joy and thankfulness that they have been meeting your expectations in serving God with all their heart and working as they should? Let us be about the business of encouraging one another with confident high expectations (whether with cards, letters, one-on-one discussions, or other means) that each of us may grow and prosper in being what God desires of his children.

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