Episode 1. A Mismatch of Expectations
In this world, expectations are incredibly important. Because if we have the wrong expectations of someone or something, then it’s pretty much certain that we’re going to be disappointed. So … what do you expect of God? I mean, are you expecting Him to bless you or not? Is He an old man with a […]
In this world, expectations are incredibly important. Because if we have the wrong expectations of someone or something, then it’s pretty much certain that we’re going to be disappointed. So … what do you expect of God? I mean, are you expecting Him to bless you or not? Is He an old man with a big stick, or is He a kind and gentle Father … or both of those things? And if He is supposed to bless you, exactly what does that blessing look like? As things turn out, our expectations of God are really, really important. So let me ask you again, what do you expect of God?
You know what I think is one of the hardest things about following Jesus? It’s not so much that some people think I’m a little odd – how can he be all religious like that? Well religious is one thing I’m not. It’s not what other people might think of me – although of course in many parts of the world believing in Jesus is a death sentence, literally. There are people listening today who are listening in secret because if they said they believed in Jesus openly they’d be persecuted. But that’s not the case where I live.
The hardest thing for me here is that God doesn’t always dish up what I expect Him to dish up in my life. The hardest thing for me is I, like most other people, have grown up with the world’s idea of success, the world’s definition of success all around me.
We’re influenced by our culture and our culture tells us, society tells us, the advertising industry tells us that we’re successful if we have lots of money, a nice house, two cars, big flat screen TV’s dotted all around the place. We’re successful if life’s going really well and people can look at us and say, “Wow he’s successful!” “My goodness isn’t she successful!”
And we kind of equate that idea of success, an idea that’s been so deeply ingrained into our nature day after day, with the idea of God’s blessing. We imagine that when God blesses us we’ll be successful. Does that sound familiar? And today and over this week, in fact the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be chatting about why that one thing – this idea of success and blessing being the same thing – is one of the toughest things about following Jesus in this day and age.
Now I wonder if in your heart of hearts if you’re one of these crazies like me who follow Jesus. I wonder if in your heart of hearts when you hear that word ‘blessing’ your default position, your instant response is to equate God’s blessing with success here and now. I think there’s some of that in each one of us. Yeah, yeah, I know that Jesus said in this world we’d have tribulation, John chapter 16, verse 33.
We know that we’ll be persecuted; we know that it will be a hard road and Jesus said it will be a narrow road, a tough road to follow. We know all that theory but that’s for other people. You and me, we want to pull up next to this idea of success, we so want to equate success with God’s blessing that we kind of ignore all those other bits for us, the bits about suffering, persecution, laying down our lives and taking up our cross and following Jesus because success has been so powerfully woven into who we are. It’s an alluring concept, and when God talks about blessing the two seem to go so well together that before we know it we’ve got our little heart set on success. We’ve got our own little prosperity doctrine tucked away in our hearts. We go through all our religious motions on the outside but on the inside we get to firmly believing that God’s going to bless us with success.
Now of course sometimes He does, absolutely, but no one’s life is completely successful. There are people listening today whose marriages are falling apart, there are people listening today who are serving the Lord in some far flung dark hole of a place and nothing they seem to be doing just at the moment is having any impact.
There are people struggling through things at work, relationships, family problems, kids on drugs. There are people who have just had a loved one die. There are people … And when you’re in that place you want to scream out and say God? Blessing? How dare this joker on the radio talk to me about blessing, I’m not blessed by God, look at the mess, look at the pain, look at the circumstances I’m in.
Now we all go through those trials and we do. Now I want to come right back to why this is one of the hardest things for me in following Jesus and I suspect for you too. It’s because deep down we expect God’s blessing to equal worldly success and when God doesn’t stump up with the success we’re expecting then it feels like everything we believe about God, everything we’ve struggled for in following Jesus is a lie. It’s like a false promise.
You and I know when we stop and think about it, that a mismatch of expectations is always going to cause pain and conflict. If you expect me to do something or to say something or to behave in a certain way or deliver something and I don’t meet that expectation you’re going to be disappointed or angry or any number of other things with me, right? And if I do it over and over again eventually, after me missing all your expectations, you’re going to get really, really cheesed off with me.
And that’s where a whole bunch of people are with Jesus right now. “Well I tried to follow Jesus but…” But what? “But He didn’t deliver what I expected, it was hard, I still had to suffer, I felt abandoned by Him.” We all go through that.
I’ve been walking with the Lord now for almost two decades, a good proportion of that has been studying and preaching and teaching God’s Word, if anyone should be over that sense of disappointment because of what I get to do every day, being in God’s Word, it should be me right? And yet when I have to walk through trials and some of them have gone for a long time, years, the thing my natural me always wants to do is act up and to struggle with the fact that I’m going through some trial or other.
Why can’t everything just fall into place? Why can’t things be easier than what they are? So this series of messages that we’re kicking off today, whilst it’s called “God’s Abundant Blessing” and it’s all about God’s abundant blessing, it’s going to strike at the very heart of this mismatch of expectations. And we’re going to do that by unpacking exactly what it is that Jesus has to say about God’s blessings.
So have a listen, this is the well known Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5, verses 1 to 12 and it’s all about the blessing that God has for us, the kind of blessing we may not expect:
When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain and after he sat down with his disciples when they came to him. Then he began to speak and he taught them this saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice, be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophet’s who went before you.
Now forget that perhaps you may have heard that many times. Familiarity in this case is a dangerous thing because we just end up skimming over the top of things and let’s just say that’s the first time you’ve heard it, take it at face value, you are blessed if you’re poor in spirit, if you’re mourning a loss, if you’re meek, if you’re persecuted and all that stuff.
Does that sound anything like the world’s version of success to you? No me neither. Obviously Jesus has something totally different in mind and since He was talking to His disciples when He said this stuff, His closest followers, those who were prepared not just to listen to His sermons but to model their lives on Him under His mentorship then my hunch is that this is something you and I need to get our minds around, what Jesus means about blessing because His blessing is different.
It’s amazing! It’s not what we expected. His blessing is amazing because it’s for real. He doesn’t sugar coat things; He doesn’t give us the little white wash and say it will all be a bed of roses. He said, sometimes you’re going to be persecuted, sometimes you’re going to feel poor in spirit, sometimes you’re going to have to get in there and do peace in the middle of a battle.
Jesus is real and He wants to bless us in the middle of the real situations of our lives.