Our daughter is expecting. She is large with child, “all baby,” obviously waiting for something to happen. The clothes, diapers, and crib are ready, expecting to be used. The older siblings are ready, expecting to hold this wee one who has made them “Big Brother” and “Big Sister.” We are ready, expecting a successful labor and delivery, a healthy baby, a new child and grandchild to bring us great joy.
Expectations are powerful. God uses promises, but the enemy so often uses expectations. We expect so much—trains and buses to arrive on time, cars and trucks to stay in lane, children and adults to stay in line.
We expect to live long, satisfying lives. We expect God and/or medicine to heal us. We expect to be happy. We expect our parents, spouses, friends, siblings, grown children, and pastors to meet our needs.
We expect life to be fair, at least to us. We expect not to feel lonely, not to suffer long, not to be broken or scarred irreparably. We expect to overcome our circumstances, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to live independently. We expect to succeed more than we fail, if we just try hard enough. We expect a return on our investments. We expect God to answer our prayers in a way we can see that makes sense to us. We expect God to fulfill His promises in a certain way and in a certain time.
Yet we have a very surprising God. In essence and character, God is constant, unchanging, dependable, and trustworthy. He always keeps His promises. But His ways, especially His Why’s (“Why did You do that, God?”) and His How’s (“How will You do that, God?”), are inexplicable and unexpected. God is beyond our understanding and beyond our ability to predict or control.
Indeed, one of the few things we can predict about our triune God is that He is so very unexpected. Who would expect God to pursue fallen humanity relentlessly with His love, down the meandering, often backtracking, disappointing halls of history? Who would expect God to choose for Himself a small, stubborn group of nomadic shepherds and bricklaying serfs when He could have chosen the wealthy, learned, and successful Incas, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, or Americans? Who would expect God to keep His covenant promises when we, the weaker party, did not and do not and will not? Who would expect God to value slaves, women, orphans, widows, aliens, and the poor? Who would expect God to tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, like Jesus did?
Who would expect God to become a defenseless, droppable, discardable, hungry baby? Who would expect God voluntarily to humble Himself, to give up His power, to take the form of a servant in order to die a death of humiliation on a cross (Phil 2:6-8), to be limited in human flesh like us? Who would expect God to be like us—to age, to need to grow in wisdom, to hunger and thirst, to be so tired he naps in a wildly rocking boat, to dread the future so much he sweats blood?
God specializes in the unexpected. He specializes in silences that teach us, in wilderness experiences that shape us, and in long centuries of waiting for promises to be fulfilled at just the right time, in the best possible unexpected way. He specializes in babies born to unlikely women—the barren (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth), the widowed foreigner (Ruth) and the unmarried, shamed young virgin (Mary).
Mary showed me how to respond to the unexpected—with trust in God’s goodness, love, power and sovereignty. So I am approaching the delivery of our next grandchild holding my expectations lightly and choosing to trust God regardless of results. I want to shift my focus from unfulfilled expectations to gratitude for what I have.
What expectations of You, surprising God, would You like me to let go? What expectations of myself? Of others? Of the world? Change my expectations to rest in Your promises. Open my eyes to see Your presence, particularly where, when and how I least expect.