Expectations and Reality Letting Jesus be Jesus

Expectations are a force to be reckoned with!  All of us can attest to this.

In relationships when expectations aren’t communicated and/or met, that’s when things get dicey.

At our places of employment we don’t always manage our expectations well.

When setting goals we don’t always adjust our expectations appropriately so as to account for our foibles and scheduling snafus of various sorts.

In other words, our expectations can really impact our lives.

I think, however, that there’s a mostly unexplored arena when it comes to expectations — namely this: We often have very specific expectations of Jesus that he simply is not going to meet because they run counter to who he has been revealed to be in the Scriptures and in our lives.

Jesus and Expectations

After Jesus fed 5000+ people, he immediately had to deal with their misplaced expectations.  Look at John 6.14-15:

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Do you see it?  Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the midst of lots and lots of people…and those same people then began to think very highly about him.  They wisely identified Jesus as a prophet, which is surely true (at least in part).  But Jesus discerned what they were thinking, specifically that they wanted him to be their king whether he wanted to or not.

And while Jesus will be the ruling king of kings some day, that day had not come then (and has not come yet either).  Jesus had different plans, plans that didn’t line up well with the expectations of the people.

So what did Jesus do?  He withdrew to a solitary place.  He not only did not meet the expectations that were hoisted upon him, but he executed a full-on retreat.

What is behind all of this?  There must be more to this story.

There is!  The vast majority of the people whom Jesus interacted with during his earthly ministry were Jews living in Palestine.  They had for quite some time been ruled by Rome, with a long list of rulers who pre-dated the Romans.  Many of the Jews of Palestine were sick and tired of being dominated by others, being taxed by foreign authorities, and having their religious freedom impinged upon with the introduction of gods from other lands.

In other words, many Jews who lived in Palestine during the first century were ready for a political change.  And one of the most common and popular conceptions of the messiah, God’s promised deliverer, was that he would come as a military conqueror, setting the Jewish people free from their oppression.

Jesus, however, didn’t have military conquest as part of his messianic blueprint (at least not yet).  And he refused to be boxed into doing something just to fulfill the expectations of the people.

As a quick aside, we can really learn a lot from Jesus right here!  How often do we get sucked into the vortex of people-pleasing?  How often do we let the expectations of our families, friends, spouses, churches, societies, cultures, etc. impact our decision-making?  It’s not bad to consider the opinions of others when making decisions, but it seems silly and ultimately dangerous to follow the whims of others no matter what!

Our Expectations Today

All of this talk about some of the Jewish expectations of the first century has me thinking about the expectations that we demand Jesus fulfill today.  What are they?  What are some of the things we want Jesus to do for us, our way right away?

Here are a few that come to mind immediately:

  • We expect health and wealth when we have faith in Jesus.  This expectation is nefariously stoked by prosperity gospel preachers and leaders who claim that if we “seed” their ministry with our offerings, then we will be guaranteed a large return on our spiritual (but very financial) investments.  But those of us who don’t fall for those shenanigans still fight the constant pull toward thinking that God somehow owes us health and wealth anyway.
  • We expect inner peace and freedom from large external anxieties when we follow Jesus.  We think that if we are “in the center of God’s will” that everything will be hunky-dory for us and we will feel right and good on the inside.
  • We expect that things will be easy for us when we believe in Jesus.  We’ve been told that God won’t give us anything that we can’t handle, so we assume that we will never be thrown another curve ball after committing ourselves to Jesus.
  • We expect that God will vindicate our thoughts, opinions, and political leanings as a result of our faith in Jesus.  We think that since we follow Jesus, then what we think is not only right but that it’s the only way of thinking about things.  Thus, God will step in an prove us correct, right?
  • We expect that God will ensure that our kids will turn out “right,” that our friends will never leave us, that our parents will learn to respect us as adults, and that our spouses will always put our interests before their own.
  • We expect that if we follow Jesus, that he’ll help us get rid of all temptation from our lives.  We’ll no longer have to struggle with lust, over-eating, gossip, materialism, and the like again!

And, friends, the list could go on.  We want to “make Jesus king by force” too, though what we want his kingly power to accomplish in our lives may be a bit different than what many first-century Jews wanted.

Here’s the truth: We want to use Jesus’ kingly power to do what we want, to fulfill our desires, to make our expectations come into reality.

But that’s just not how it works.  Jesus is king.  And Jesus does what Jesus wants to do.

Luckily for us we catch a really strong glimpse of what’s central to Jesus in the Bible.  In 2 Corinthians 5.19 Paul tells us what Jesus wants to use his kingly power for — to reconcile all things to himself and to commit to us this same task.

So instead of pushing for Jesus to accomplish what we want, why don’t we instead accomplish what he wants!?  Why don’t we join him in his will to make all things right!

 

What do you think?  How do our expectations play out in our relationships with Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Absurd Trust Jesus Inspires Impractical Faith

At the bottom, faith in Jesus is utterly absurd.  Those of us who have followed Jesus for a long time take completely for granted things that are impossible to understand, much less trust.

Let’s just run through a few things that we believe that are hard to wrap our minds around:

  • God created everything seen and unseen out of absolutely nothing.
  • This all-powerful God of the entire universe cares about each of us.
  • God has always existed as Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, yet one essence.
  • The second person of the Trinity, Jesus, became fully human while remaining fully God.
  • And Jesus did this because he loves humans, though none of us deserve his love.
  • Jesus, who was fully human, never sinned.
  • Jesus was killed as a rebel but was raised from the dead by the power of God.
  • Subsequent to Jesus’ death, the Spirit was sent to live within all who follow Jesus.
  • The God of the universe empowers his broken followers to live out his divine mission.
  • God calls together a community of diverse people who can love one another more closely than family.
  • And at the end Jesus will return to earth in power to serve as ultimate Judge.

And that’s just a few things!  Any item from that list could be examined on it’s own and could be labeled as patently absurd!

What we believe can really seem bonkers, which is easy to forget when we’re inundated with it all the time.

But there’s another aspect of following Jesus that’s absurd as well, namely, that Jesus can do great things with very little starting material.

We see this very plainly in John 6, which I’ll focus on for the rest of this post.

What’s Absurd in John 6?

Let’s look at John 6.5-9:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

It’s pretty easy to see what’s absurd in this passage.  Andrew brings a boy’s small lunch to Jesus in response to a massive and hungry crowd of people.  What did he think Jesus was going to do with such a small amount of food?  Even in offering it us, Andrew waffled a bit when he said “but how far will [it] go among so many?”

Isn’t Philip’s response to Jesus’ question a bit more reasonable?  I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to take in the whole situation, do a quick quantitative analysis, and then present the facts?  Philip was right in what he said.  He was reasonable.  It would take a fortune for everyone to just have a little.

But when Philip was doing his calculations in his head, he forgot about the one huge wildcard, the one factor that makes the absurd possible.  That wildcard, that factor is Jesus.

And, if we remember rightly, Andrew, Philip, and all the rest already know that Jesus deals in the absurd all the time.  He turned a huge amount of water into really fine wine (John 2).  He healed a man who had been disabled for more than most people lived at the time (John 5).  And now a huge group of people were following him around because he had healed the sick (John 6.2).

They should have and could have known better.  And they perhaps would have known better had either of them been given three days to think things through.

But right there in the moment Andrew leaned on being realistic and strategic.  And even though Philip’s response could be seen as hopeful or even faithful, he ultimately hedged his bets by casting doubt on the situation.

We know the end of this story, Jesus causes the absurd once more.  He turns this little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed 5000+ people to fullness, with a bunch of leftovers remaining.

Jesus didn’t just use this as an opportunity to feed some people who would get hungry again.  No!  Instead, for Jesus this became a prime opportunity to engage in some leadership development.  Jesus knew that for his followers to begin truly to have absurd faith, they would have to be walked through the process carefully.  And he was willing and patient enough to take on this task.

Absurd Faith Today

What about now? Is Jesus still walking us through opportunities to trust him, no matter how crazy the scenarios we face might be?

Is he still teaching us to be curious and faithful?

The answers, of course, are “yes.”

Think abut this: Jesus came to accomplish a major rescue and restoration project on all of humanity.  He got the ball rolling (to put it lightly!) and then he entrusted this mission to us.

Us.  Broken, sinful, untrusting us.  How utterly ridiculous!

How does he expect us to do this?  How does Jesus expect us to help him fulfill this mission?

Here are a few initial thoughts:

  1. Seek divine guidance. The first thing that we must do in order to build absurd trust in God into our lives is by reaching out to him.  We need to pray and ask God to help us trust him more and more.  And when we face crazy situations in life, and we will!, that’s when we need to pray for his guidance…and then do whatever he leads us to do!  And it will help us to peruse the Scriptures seeking to learn how God taught others to have this kind of trust in him and then attempt to make ourselves open to the same kind of divine assistance too.  And, very importantly, we will be best served to seek this divine guidance within community so that we can hold each other accountable and encourage one another.
  2. Submit to the Spirit. “Submit” is a pretty dirty word these days but it’s vital if we want to trust God more and more.  Why?  Because we are tempted to submit to all sorts of other things and people…and we often give in!  What are some of those things that compete for our submission?  Our selfish desires, our friends and family, our bosses, out cultural standards, money, power, possessions, comfort, etc., etc.  Instead of submitting to all of those things, let’s submit to the Spirit, who will most assuredly lead us into deeper faith.
  3. Hold to our strategies loosely. Philip wasn’t wrong to think things through.   But perhaps he was wrong in that he held to his strategy too tightly; so much so that he couldn’t see past it.  So as we seek to be closer to Jesus, become more missional, lead better, be better spouses, friends, parents, etc., let’s not let our versions of what will work get in the way of God’s version of what actually will work!
  4. Give to Jesus what we have access to. I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek here because Jesus already owns all that we have and all that we can potentially get.  It’s all his.  But when we pretend that we can selfishly hold stuff for ourselves, we miss out on opportunities to see what God might do with whatever we have to offer, even if it’s just some bread and fish.  So, our job is to turn all that we steward back to God (not just 10%)!  In so doing we will witness him do great things with what we have given him, thus making us more likely to trust him the next time!
  5. Be consistent in our efforts. It is hard to have absurd faith that God can do anything.  But as we make a habit of doing it more and more, it will become a more regular occurrence in our lives.  It will never be easy because we all still have to deal with the gravitational pull of our selfishness.  But with consistency we can build habits that in turn will grow into deeply-rooted patterns of behavior.  And that’s the zone that we all want to be in!
  6. Allow our trust to grow with evidence. But the Enemy and our old way of doing things won’t quit easily!  When we exhibit this kind of faith in God and he comes through like he so often does (though in surprising ways that don’t always match our expectations), we might be tempted to explain away how God moved.  Maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe it was really our efforts and skill.  Maybe this, maybe that.  But if we give God the credit he deserves, then our trust in him can grow so that the next time we’ll be a bit more likely to lean on him no matter what.

 

What do you think about absurd faith?  What’s difficult about it?  How can we make it a larger part of our lives?  Let me know in the comments below!