Last week we talked about how surrendering our own plans is crucial to being ready to hear God’s instructions. How it’s not about throwing away our agenda or ideas—just holding them more loosely so God can swap them out as needed. This week I’d like to talk about surrendering expectations. It’s kind of like Surrender 2.0. Once you’ve started to get in the habit of surrendering your plans and seeking out God’s plans instead, you must also begin surrendering your expectations of what those plans might truly look like.
I’m a daydreamer. I could just totally live in my imagination and think through all the hypotheticals and cool things God might be calling me to do. I can come up with plot twists and character development and explanations of redemption. The stories I tell myself of what could be are mesmerizing. I like my ideas of how things can turn out! I really truly do.
However, like most lessons I’ve learned, I’ve had to learn to let go of these expectations over and over again. I pray for something, and God answers the prayer, but not in the way I had imagined. Or, God calls me to serve someone and the response I get from the person I serve just doesn’t satisfy me. I do the right thing, but maybe it costs me more than I’d like. I want to follow God’s direction for my life but it doesn’t always feel good in the moment.
Along with trusting God with our plans, it is imperative that we trust Him with the outcomes. In one season I prayed so hard for God to give my husband a good job. He answered by giving me a much better job than the one I had—one that set me up for learning opportunities I would not have otherwise gotten. It was still a solid 6 months or more before Steve got any job, but my prayer for provision was answered.
One time I threw a friend a baby shower. Of the 30 or so people invited there was only me and one other guest. I was so disappointed! I had been praying for provision for this family because they were going through hard financial times and I thought a shower was the answer. As the day of the shower quickly approached, and I knew that it was going to be a teeny tiny party, I had to shift my expectations. I felt very clearly in my heart that the Lord was telling me not to limit His provision to a baby shower. He would provide for their needs in His own way. The shower ended up being small, but very nice. The couple was grateful and they felt supported emotionally.
How often do I try to limit God to my ideas? Even now knowing better I still have to continually surrender these expectations. I am in control of my actions—not the outcome or response due to other factors. He calls us to obedience, not to our own ideas of success.
***If I expect God is calling me to big grandiose things, then I might not be aware of the small opportunities right in front of me.
***If I expect that God is only going to answer a prayer in the way I’m praying, then I might miss the actual answer He gives.
***If I expect that God is going to work in my timing, then I may grow impatient and bitter while waiting.
***If I expect that every step of obedience I take will immediately be rewarded or be popular, then I may grow weary of doing good.
***If I expect God to give me all the directions before I begin walking, then I may never take the first step.
What do you expect to happen when you are listening for God’s instructions? Are you limiting Him and therefore not hearing Him? Surrender those expectations as soon as possible and you can have so much more peace and joy. When we live in constant disappointment because of unmet expectations it is easy to give up and stop listening for God’s voice.
As you are reflecting and praying look at these common expectations we often have about a situation. Sometimes we don’t even realize we have these expectations, so shedding light on them and exposing them is a great first step towards surrender.
- Size. Maybe you want to do bigger or smaller than what God has called you to today. Even people with a large scope of influence are sometimes called to minister directly to just one person in a moment. If you are called to do a baby step that seems insignificant, then remember what God can do with the small offerings we give Him (loaves and fishes anyone???). And if the steps He’s called you to take seem way too big, lean on His strength.
- Way. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Not me. Not you. Not your next door neighbor. He’s the one who created EVERYTHING, so why do I sometimes try to insert myself into the position of God over my life’s story? Just as God is a creator, and we were created in His image, as humans we desire also to be creative. I believe God delights in our ideas and attempts, but only as long as we remain seeking Him first. When my children come to me with their ideas, sometimes their plans are way too unrealistic. Or maybe the plans involve too much play and not enough work. I listen to their thoughts and I guide them into a plan for the day that will be more successful. Sometimes I take their ideas into account and incorporate them into the plan. So please, tell God your dreams, desires, ideas, ambitions, etc. He is a loving Father. But as you share these things with Him, ask Him to refine and shape the plans into ones that will glorify Him. And hold all of these things out to Him so that He can exchange them for something better.
- Timing. Patient faith. We can have unmovable, unshakable, determined faith in God and yet still struggle with His timing. Surrendering our expectations of timing can be very difficult. It is tempting to give God deadlines, but it is also foolish. God is never in a hurry—he has power over life and death. Just think of Sarah in the Old Testament waiting for a baby who didn’t come until she was in her nineties! Or Mary and Martha waiting for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus, but instead Jesus showed up after Lazarus died! Our human deadlines come and go; do you have confidence that God still has everything under control? Do you have confidence that He has plans for you, even if you feel like He hasn’t given you direction yet? Surrender your idea of timing to the Lord. And know that you are not alone—I’m always in such a hurry too!
- Reward. It can be terrible for morale if you are taking steps of obedience with the expectation that the result will make you feel good. However, if you are truly working for God you should also be working for God’s glory. This should be the only reward you expect or seek. Anything else is just gravy. If you are frequently disappointed by the outcome of your obedience then check your motive. Are you unconsciously hoping for a pat on the back or an earthly reward? Surrender that idea and instead replace it with the desire to have God be glorified through your actions. You may never get rewarded here on earth, but that does not mean your steps of obedience were wrong or wasted. Have faith that God is working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot even fathom!
- Roadmap. I love maps. I like to see the big picture and how roads intersect and lead to all sorts of beautiful places. Maps are fascinating and informative. However, while God may occasionally give us glimpses of His “map” for our lives, usually we see only one step at a time. Can you learn to have faith despite the unknown destinations? The story of Gideon is a great example of God giving one strange instruction at a time. He used Gideon, an unlikely candidate, to win a great victory! If God had told Gideon from the start that He would have such a small group of soldiers defeat the Midianites, then maybe Gideon would have given up before he began! But once we begin to gain momentum in taking the steps God has for us, the easier it is to continue. We have such a limited perspective that if God showed us the big picture before we began walking, we may be too intimidated to proceed! Do you struggle with not knowing what will happen so you never begin? Surrender your need to know everything and instead rest in your faith that God already has it worked out. Find peace in the One who has conquered the unknown.
Once you have identified the areas you may be holding onto, go ahead and hold them out to God. He will swap them out for expectations that reflect His unwavering character. Expect that He is good regardless of how things look or feel. Expect that He redeems all things. Expect that He is faithful. Expect that His timing is perfect. Expect that He will be glorified. Expect that He is above all things. As you begin to take steps of obedience, hold onto these expectations instead.
Some additional reading, Bible stories and my own experiences:
Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
Matthew 13:31-32 “He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.””
John 6: Where Jesus feeds the Five Thousand
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “ But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
That time I was disappointed in how many people came to a party: God’s great love shown through meat, cheese, and wine?
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Luke 18:27 “Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.””
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him”
Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Psalm 147:4-5 “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
That time a couple of trucks rear-ended me: An Unexpected Impact
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
2 Peter 3:8-9 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Lamentations 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Acts 1:7 “He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
Genesis: Story of Sarah having Isaac: promised in Genesis 17, Birth in Genesis 21
John 11: Story of Lazarus’ death
James 1:12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Matthew 5:12-16 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Galatians 6:9 “ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
John 15:18-19 “ “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
Jonah 4: story of Jonah being mad that God showed compassion
That time God humbled me when I was being generous: A lesson in Generosity
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Luke 12:22-26 “Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”
Isaiah 46:9-10 “Remember the former things,
those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Judges 6-8: story of Gideon
That time I wanted to help my friend organize her garage: One little step at a time
That time I felt called and clueless at the same time: A Vague Vision