When God Falls Short of Our Expectations

Every morning we wake up, we wake up with expectations. We envision the future events of the day based on the way we believe things should operate. If our expectations are exceeded, we are happy; if our expectations are met, we are satisfied; and if our expectations have fallen short, we may be frustrated or discouraged. 

As a coach, there are certain expectations I have of my players. I expect them to give their best effort whenever they’re on the floor. I expect them to implement things we’ve worked on in practice. I expect them to respect the officials, no matter the type of call that is made. I hold them to a specific standard, but when these expectations are not met it stirs up frustration, disappointment and discouragement. When my team exceeds the expectations that I set for them, I’m excited and proud of the way they’ve performed and progressed. My response is based on whether or not they’ve met the expectations I’ve laid out for them.

We may have similar expectations when it comes to our job. We expect our boss to hire and fire based on our production, our work ethic, and our character. And if we work hard, put in a few extra hours, and do what the boss tells us to do, we expect that soon enough we will be promoted, make more money, or be given greater opportunities. 

Unfortunately, we may be guilty of viewing our spiritual lives through the same lens. For example, we may think if we live a sexually pure life, God will give us a spouse. If we take our children to church, they will grow up to be godly. If we give to the weekly offering, God will give us a bigger bank account. If we just obey God and follow His commands, He will give us what we want. But this is not the way God intended our spiritual lives to operate. 

Because expectations are always rooted in beliefs, the expectations we have of God are ultimately formed based on our understanding of who He is. If we view God as the boss who is suppose to reward the work we put in, or the genie in a bottle who is suppose to give us the things we want, we will always struggle with broken expectations, thinking that God owes us something more.

If you’re honest, maybe you can identify a moment in your life when broken expectations left you feeling angry or bitter towards God, another person, or a particular situation. If that is the case, you’re not alone! Luke 15:11-30 tells the story of two brothers. The younger brother takes his father’s inheritance, runs off to a far away country, and wastes all his wealth on reckless, wild living. The older brother, however, stays home and dutifully serves his father day after day. When the younger brother comes to his senses, realizing his poor choices, he returns home and the father welcomes him with great joy. But it is the response of the elder brother that teaches us an important lesson on expectations. 

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in (v. 25).”

Why was the older brother angry? Because the younger brother was receiving from the father what the older brother felt he deserved. 

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him (vv.29-30)!” The heart of the older brother is revealed as he responds to his father. The older brother took pride in his righteous living and was so focused on what he thought he deserved that he missed what had already been given to him. 

The father responds saying, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (Luke 15:31).” The older brother failed to see that what the father had already given him was much greater than what he thought his father “owed.”

Let’s not be “older brother Christians” and fall into the same trap.  Let’s not miss the significant inheritance we have been given because we are living with unbiblical expectations of our Father. The moment we begin to think we deserve something from God is the moment we have lost sight of our sin and the grace by which He saved us. The gospel is not based on earning anything from God. It is based solely on what He has already done for us. We deserve nothing, yet he has given us everything. If we are in Christ, we have been forgiven, redeemed, and lavished in His grace. We have been adopted into His family, given a purpose and calling, and been given an inheritance far beyond what we can imagine (Eph. 1:3-14). So next time you are tempted to think that God owes you, don’t forget what He has already given you—Himself—and He alone is more than enough.