Monday, June 22, 2009

is this what you expected?

This is from a talk I gave at a church meeting last night.

I was reading Luke 7 this week and the question that John the baptist asks jumped out of the page at me. He was in prison and sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the One we've been expecting, or are we still waiting?" Despite John's extensive preparation work for the long-awaited messiah, he still wasn't sure that what Jesus was bringing was what he had been expecting. Sometimes this life of following Jesus is not what I expected, either. I'm with you, John.

It got me to thinking about my love/hate affair with expectations and I came up with these delineations:
Expectation is:
- a prospect of success or gain
- belief that someone should behave in a particular way
- focus on a particular outcome
- Dean comes home with flowers for me.
Expectancy is:
- anticipation
- excitement, feeling hopeful
- focus on a catalytic factor, not an event
- Dean comes home and that brings many possibilities with it.

I showed a 5-minute clip from a video by Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, who talks about Expected Value, which is a probability formula in mathematics. Basically, the formula goes like this: Expected Value = (Odds of Gain) x (Value of Gain). The problem is that most people are not very good at estimating probability and value and therefore, make poor decisions.

We have a tendency to compare with the past instead of the possible, and this often stymies our ability to see true value. Shifting comparisons also add inconsistency to the mix. Basically, comparison is a very slippery slope on which to assign value. Interesting stuff, but I felt it was lacking a key factor. So, I rewrote the formula and put God in the equation.

Expected Value = Odds of Gain (certainty that God will do what he says, but most likely in a way beyond my imagination or experience) x Value of Gain (the value of what God brings to the equation is beyond comparisons, beyond my realm of possible: i.e. peace, freedom, love, union with God, communion with others, and more).

So, here are some tough questions for us:
1. Do I place my hope in a good God OR do I have a sense of entitlement that certain things should happen in my life because I believe in him?
2. Do I have faith in a creative and faithful Father OR do I presume to know what he will do and how he will do it based on past experience or some fantasy I have conjured up?
3. Do I actively submit to God's undeniable ability to be more than I can comprehend OR do I insist that he should enact my version of justice here and now?
4. Do I expect God to respond to my call, to act on my behalf, to be true to his character, and to bring honour to his name OR do I expect a certain event to happen in order to make me feel better?

I think that many times my expectations are not in line with what God is offering, and that results in frustration and disappointment on my part. I have started to pray: "God, what are you offering today?" Instead of just running down my list of requests, perhaps things would go better for me if I would see what he is bringing into my life and get ready to receive that.

Back to John's question. Jesus replied with the following list: "the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth have God's salvation hospitality extended to them." Then he turned the question back on John. "Is this what you were expecting?" Luke 7: 21-23.

Based on that, here is what I think we can expect when we follow Jesus:

1. To spend a lot of time with the poor and broken, fighting for their healing.
2. To encounter evil and do battle with it.
3. To be involved in the process of freedom on a daily basis
4. That not everyone will respond favourably to the invitation to experience God's saving hospitality.
5. To see the dead raised and yet give our lives (John was put to death shortly after this).
6. That Love will conquer all, but will take the time to woo its opposition.
7. That Love will never leave me nor forsake me.
8. That by hanging around with Jesus and practicing, I can learn to do the things that he did.
If we are expecting these things, we are blessed!
This is a picture of an empty chair on a quaint porch on the plateau in Montreal.

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