How many of you have ever done this?
Whenever you meet someone you immediately begin making expectations for what you think that person can do.
How about for yourself? Have you ever put unreasonable expectations on yourself for some sort of situation?
Here is the big one. How many of you have expectations for what God does in your life? Or how many of you try to make your own expectations for what God is calling you to do?
What would it look like for you to give up these expectations? To be more trusting, present, and possibly easy-going.
This Lent we are talking all about giving things up. Not giving up things in the way that we normally view it, but giving up things that are less tangible and more personal. It is fine this Lent to have your own practices of fasting that you take on, but I am encouraging you to give up a little more on top of that. I am calling you this Lent to give these things up to enhance your relationship with God.
Last week we looked at what it means to give up control, and allowing God to be ever present in our lives. This week we look at giving up expectations. That is expectations in how we view God and God’s calling in our lives. When we look at our relationship with God we often have expectations of who God is and how God works in our life as well as having expectations when God calls us.
As I have lived out my call to ordained ministry I am definitely guilty of having expectations for what to expect. I thought I would be in a much different place than I am now. Not just because I thought I would be serving in a city and not in Dinwiddie County, but also that by this point I would be much further along in the United Methodist ordination process. God called me and I immediately began plotting how this journey would go.
However, so many parts of this journey have not gone at all how I thought they would go. I thought I would go to a big university, like UVA or West Virginia, and get a religion degree there then go to Duke Divinity School for seminary, then right after I graduated seminary I would be commissioned then three years later I would be ordained. I figured when I got appointed to a church I would be in urban Virginia serving in big cities.
Well lets try to check things off that list. Did I go to a big university? No, I went to small liberal arts college in Ashland, Va at Randolph-Macon College. Did I go to Duke Divinity School? No, actually I got rejected by Duke and ended up going to Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C. Did I get commissioned right after I graduated seminary? No, in fact I am still not commissioned. In fact the first time I tried to get commissioned I got denied by my district committee on ordained ministry in the Elizabeth River District. When that happened I was very uncertain as to what the future might hold for me, and even if I would get licensed at all. Not being commissioned at that time puts a damper on getting ordained three years later…that would be next year and I am not even commissioned yet. And lastly did I end up in urban Virginia at a big city church? Exactly the opposite. I have ended up in Dinwiddie County, Va in two small rural churches.
I checked off none of those things yet I am oddly fine with everything that has happened with me so far. I loved Randolph-Macon and Wesley. I am ok with where I am in the ordination process, and I am thrilled to be appointed to two awesome churches where I have the ability to learn and grow in my ministry. It took all of that though to help teach me that I need to give up my expectations for what God is doing in my life and let God work.
Abram gives us this great example of following God and not allowing our expectations to get in the way. Look at Abram in our Genesis passage today.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” (Genesis 12:1-4)
The thing I find most phenomenal about this passage is that there is no recorded argument from Abram. God calls Abram to go and Abram goes, and if you read on he actually does. Abram follows God’s call and does what God calls him to do. It all started here by being willing to listen to God, and understand that what God has planned for Abram. While there sometimes is skepticism in Abram’s journey he always defaults to knowing that God is watching out for him.
Whereas on the other end of this discussion we have Nicodemus who has a rather puzzling interaction with Jesus in our scripture today. It is puzzling partially because of what Jesus says, but also because it seems Nicodemus does not understand Jesus. There is a breakup in communication, because Nicodemus can’t get away from his own expectations of who God is and where God is calling him.
We see that Nicodemus has an expectation of what it means to follow God. However, Jesus turns that upside down when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3) This statement confuses Nicodemus because of his expectations. Nicodemus thinks Jesus means a physical rebirth saying, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4) Jesus tries to explain it to him, but from how we read our scripture it seems to fall on deaf ears.
You see Nicodemus has this idea of what following and believing God should be, but when Jesus tells him differently he is confused and needs Jesus to explain it to him. We even see that he is still puzzled because he is interpreting it in his own mindset.
We do this all of the time. We expect that things happen a certain way. Sometimes we do it almost subconsciously. We don’t even think we are doing it, but we are. When we lay down our own expectations we again take away from God’s work in our lives. We are saying we don’t trust God, or that we think we know everything about God.
However, we need to release these expectations. We need to model our lives after Abram in our story today. I still find it phenomenal that Abram just goes, but he does. The writer of Genesis records no back sass or trepidation that we hear from many of the other prophets. Abram recognizes who God is and what God is trying to do through him and allows God to work with no argument.
Jesus gives us that nature of who God is and the mindset we carry with us in our lives when he says,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
This is the basic message that Jesus gives Nicodemus to remember. We aren’t going to know every little thing, but we must trust that the way Jesus is working is for the good in our lives.
What would this look like for us to give up our expectations of God or what God wants us to do?
I have already called you to give up control and rely more upon what God has planned for you and more on God working in your life. Now I am telling you to give up expectation and to trust God more. Trust that God will work within your life for God. Trust that God has a purpose greater than we can expect in our lives.
Allow God to work and trust that his will is good. When we do that we strengthen our relationship with God. We show God our faith and the lengths we are willing to go for that faith. We show God that we don’t care about our expectations, but are willing to work in and trust God’s plan.
Just like other things this sermons series it is not immediate, but something we work on. Something that takes intentional practice.
Give up those expectations and be present in what God has planned for you.
*Scripture used is from New Revised Standard Version