Expectations

ExpectationsExpectations.

They can really screw with your head. Seriously.

Expectations are what we hope for, but hasn’t happened yet. And that’s the problem. Most of us go through life with reasonable expectations about what we think will happen in the future, but every once in a while (or maybe more often if you’re like me) a situation comes along where we lose perspective and become a slave to unmet or unrealistic expectations.

Have you ever been there? Excited and hopeful for the future, waiting with gleeful anticipation for the result of your fantastical desire. It could be anything: a new business, a finished art piece, a new blog post (ahem), waiting to hear back after a job interview, an exciting announcement; anything you’ve put your heart and soul into. In the beginning, it’s just a glimmer of hope and cautious optimism. You think you’re onto something strong and have good reason to believe it’s going to be a success. But over time, as you discuss the possibilities with family and friends, emotion begins to add fuel and something begins to happen: the shape of the thing you are hoping for grows into a much larger untamed beast. An unruly monster of unrealistic expectation that can end up shipwrecking your reaction when it arrives, resulting in frustration and potentially derailing your purpose moving forward. We’ll call this monster Unmet Expectations.

Having expectation is normal. If you take action, you can expect a result. The expectation itself isn’t the problem; it’s the unrealistic or unmet version of itself that is. Hoping for something is great, and having faith in the result is wonderful, but it becomes dangerous when the thing you hope for is based on emotion instead of reality. What I mean is, there is a fine line between being driven by passion and being hijacked by emotion. The former keeps you on level ground so you can continue running forward toward your goal, but the latter can send you into a free-fall of frustration and confusion when things don’t work out to the degree you expected. Passion drives you in the face of setbacks, whereas emotion requires damage control before you can move on.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last seven months since launching a new church (Encounter Church), it’s that having proper expectations is critical. So much hard work, energy, and resources went into getting it off the ground that by the time we launched publicly, I expected the masses to flood through the front doors in record numbers (may be an exaggeration, but you get the point). I had worked through every aspect of our approach, thought through our vision, and got our teams ready to go. At our grand opening service, we had 225 people join us and it was exciting! A success by all measures. The following week, we had a third of that number, and in my mind I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. For the next few weeks it was the same, and I wondered if something was missing. I mean, I thought we had the best thing around! Who wouldn’t want to be here to experience this?! I even began to think that maybe I was the problem. Maybe I had missed something, or maybe even that I just wasn’t a good enough leader to reach the goal that I had in my mind.

This is the problem with unmet expectations. More so, it’s a problem with unrealistic expectations. You see, it’s one thing to expect 225 at a grand opening, but it’s unrealistic to expect the same the following week. Why? Because statistics show that typically a new church can expect approximately 40-50% of the people to return in week 2. What was my problem? Even though I knew the statistic, I allowed emotion to hijack my expectations which resulted in me comparing myself and our new church to everyone else around me. I missed the point. My unrealistic expectation clouded my ability to focus on why we started the church in the first place: to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to those who are far from God.

I spent the next few months wrestling with my emotions and frustration, and by the grace of God finally came to the realization of what was happening to me. I wanted so badly to do something great for God that I couldn’t see what I had right in front of me. A church full of people hungry for hope and the true life that God offers them. I could have saved myself all the extra pressure on my shoulders if I had seen with proper expectations.

Do you ever feel this way? Does this resonate with you at all?

I learned the hard way, and am grateful that I can see clearly now. Because honestly, while these past seven months have been wonderful and full of fulfillment, I spent so much time looking for what I didn’t have that I missed some great opportunities for celebration.

Here are a few quick things I have learned about setting realistic expectations that may be helpful to you if you find yourself dealing with unrealistic or unmet expectations:

  1. Discover/rediscover your reason – Always remember why you are doing what you are doing. Focusing on the reason cuts through emotion and clears up the fog of unrealistic expectation. Knowing your purpose will keep you centered and on task.
  2. Research the typical – Find out what a normal result is for whatever you’re working on. Don’t just guess. Ask around. Check statistics. Learn your demographic. Some things have different results in different places. Having a hopeful, yet realistic target will keep you grounded.
  3. Don’t compare yourself – You are you, not anyone else. Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s success or results. This will rob you of the joy of what you have accomplished.
  4. Keep going – Whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Remember #1 and keep going because the reason you started in the first place was you believed in what you were doing. Don’t give up.

How have you struggled with expectations in your life? How have you kept yourself grounded? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Vine

The Vine

I was sitting in a hotel room a few weeks back with a choice to be made. I had a three hour break between the sessions of the pastor’s conference I was attending and had to decide what to do with the free time I was given. With my Dad taking a nap on the bed next to mine, I could either watch TV, play on my phone, take a nap myself, or I could take some time to do the thing that I actually came to the conference for: spend some dedicated time alone and in quiet with God.

You see, for quite a while I’d felt a longing or desire to get away for a bit and refresh. To separate myself from the busy-ness of my day to day life and focus for a while on the most important thing: the source of all life; God. Have you ever felt this desire or need? Not that your daily life is bad, but just the hunger to step away and get fresh clarity? This is what I was searching for when I went away to the conference a few weeks ago. What I found during that break in my hotel room that day has changed the way I live my life since.

As I was laying there, I decided to pull out my Bible and read…something…anything. I didn’t have a plan specifically. I started flipping through chapters and thought maybe I would land on a passage that would speak to me (I don’t generally recommend this method). When, predictably, I didn’t come upon anything specifically revelatory to my current situation I decided to stop and quiet myself from the inside. I connected with God in a moment of prayer and asked Him to speak to me; to take me the place I longed for; the place of quiet refreshing that would cut through the loud noise and pressure of my busy life. And then it happened.

Suddenly, as if appearing from out of the darkness of my quieted mind, an image of a tree with branches and twigs appeared, and the words “the vine” rang in my ears. I was intrigued. I wracked my brain for what it could mean, and then I remembered that Jesus talked about “the vine” and branches in the Bible in John 15. I opened my eyes, and flipped through the pages until I came to John chapter 15. I began to read the passage there and God spoke to me in a fresh and challenging way; the way that felt like He was speaking directly to me in that moment.

This is what the passage says:

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful… …Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… …This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Now, I don’t know much about gardening or horticulture, but I do know that if you cut off a branch from a tree, or even snap a twig from a branch, that those pieces will not last long. They will wither away and eventually die. As I was reading the passage, I felt like God was calling me to something I’d heard a thousand times, but that sunk deep into my heart for the first time.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…”

I realized that I spend so much of my time trying to be productive in everything that I do that I forget where the source of my life truly comes from. I can be incredibly efficient in my schedule and daily processes and still not be as productive as I could be if I tapped into the true life that is found in the quiet places of relationship with Jesus.

Here’s what I mean. There is something powerful about taking time away from “doing” things and spending it in “being” with God. Not trying to figure out what to do next, or how to do things better, but listening and worshipping, and resting in Him. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing…,” but what He was also saying is that when you’re connected to Him the time that you spend away will be well worth it! In fact, His words were, “If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” So the principle at work here is that taking time to stay connected to God actually refreshes and empowers me for the rest of my day. This not only brings a fresh perspective for what I face each day, but also brings with it a supernatural effectiveness or “oomph” in my tasks that can only come from God. We gain clarity, not because we heard a specific answer to prayer, but because the fog has been cleared away and time with Jesus fine-tunes our soul and spirit.  I’m not saying that we become Superman. Only that God redeems the time we sacrifice to spend with Him by giving us favor, wisdom, and direction that results in better outcomes. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we would “bear much fruit.”

I felt in that moment that God was speaking to my heart and telling me that everything I want in life is found in deeper relationship with Him. All fulfillment and meaning, purpose and value, belonging, direction and success; it’s all found in the Vine. Jesus is the source of it all. The perspective of it all will be shaped through that relationship and ultimate fulfillment is found there. I felt that God was inviting me into an experiment of greater time with Him on a regular basis.

So for the past few weeks, I have intentionally began my days with an hour of time apart with Jesus. Typically, I read through Scripture, medicate on it and pray, then sometimes I reflect in my journal or read a chapter from a book on growing in my faith. There isn’t a rush to it or even a purpose other than to “remain in the vine.” What I have found is that out of these times, I have been given ideas or promptings to questions I’ve been pondering elsewhere and that things seem to be clicking better in my family and work life. I am refreshed more today than I was even at the conference because I have been tapping into the source of life that never dries up.

I encourage and invite you to read John 15, and to ask God to speak to you in a fresh and revealing way like He did for me. It could be the thing that you’ve been searching for.

What could “remaining in the vine” look like for you? What are some creative ways you’ve found effective to building deeper roots in relationship with God?