It has happened! 2020 is officially over. I can’t remember people ever anticipating the start of new year with so much excitement. I get it. I’m glad too.
As 2020 was ending I would hear people speak of 2021 as if all would go back to normal, but 6 days into the new year, after the violence in Washington D.C., we all discovered that “normal” is still on vacation.
One of the biggest emotional setbacks and spiritual pitfalls we can experience is when our expectations and reality are not on the same page. It happens all the time. When we get married, we imagine marital bliss, but what actually happens is morning breath. At work we believe we will find success and promotions, but what really unfolds is…well…work. When stuff like that happens, it can feel like getting punched in the gut.
Now, what is going to happen if our hopes for 2021, and what actually happens in 2021, are nowhere close to each other? What are we going to think about the purpose of it all? What feelings will we have about God being in control? Will we remain hopeful or will we become hardened and cynical?
How can our hope in God, his purposes, and his plan remain vibrant even if what we long for just doesn’t happen? Here are some things I’ve learned to help keep my expectations in check.
1. Let Biblical wisdom be your guide. Don’t let expectations for life be unrealistic. Instead, filter your expectations through what Scripture reveals about a life devoted to Christ. For instance, the Bible clearly teaches that God uses suffering to develop character (Romans 5:3-5). It also alerts us that if we are lovers of the Gospel we will eventually suffer for its causes (2 Timothy 1:8). When is the last time you left room for the possibility of suffering for good character and the causes of Christ?
If hardships come for those two noble causes can’t we fully expect some trouble in 2021 for lesser reasons? If we don’t lower our expectations and make space for letdowns, disappointments, struggles, and problems; then when they come, we will lose heart. We can prepare ourselves by realistically surveying the world we live in and declare: In this life we will have trouble, but it’s okay, because Jesus has overcome this world.
2. Learn to be content with what God has given. This doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or seek improvements. It means we learn to enjoy where we are as we pursue the objectives God has called us to chase.
Contentment is not just accepting your position and possessions. It is making sure you are in pursuit of the right things in life.
Some days life rocks. Others, it will suck. But contentment is not found in circumstances, it is discovered in pursing the good deeds God has planned for you. When the purpose of your life is on target then you are much more prone to emotionally and spiritualy survive the bumps in the road.
3. Seek to experience God’s presence in the limitations and frustrations of life. Don’t believe the lie that God only shows up in comfort, prosperity or victory. God’s presence, offered through Christ and experienced through the Holy Spirit, is available in every situation. He is there to high-five us on the mountaintop, hold us in the valley, and encourage us in the daily grind.
His presence is more of an awareness than a feeling. The awareness is fueled by knowing the promises in the Bible and living as if they are so. It is what we call faith. As we “faith” God he produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our attitudes and actions.
Just as an orange tree does not have to grunt and sweat to produce an orange; we don’t have to work to obtain these attributes. We just live in his presence and they show up. All we do is cooperate with his leading; one day at a time.
It is not easy to have realistic, God inspired expectations. We live in a world that constantly tells us we deserve more with less problems. It is just not true.
There was Jesus by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton gives me a fresh perspective when life lets me down. I pray it will encourage you.