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Understanding the Power of Expectations, Part 1

From the series I Choose Joy

Do you feel like quitting today? In your most honest conversations, do you feel like giving up and just saying to God, "I'm done"? If you need to know how to hang tough in really tough times join Chip as he reveals how you can not only survive tough times but, believe it or not, experience joy! 

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Message Transcript

The last question and the last key word that we are going to look at is the word expectation. And this, for me, is one of the most important ones.

I have a good, really, really good friend. They are family, they have been at all of my kids’ weddings, they were sort of like the grandparents or aunts and uncles my kids didn’t have because we lived so far away.

And it’s a couple – she found out she has pre-cancer and some cancer and she had surgery Wednesday and I went to see her a couple days ago. I walked in, “Bebe, how you doing?” She is bright and bubbly and, “Great!” I said, “But didn’t you just have colon cancer surgery?” She goes, “Yeah!” And I said, “Well,” I’m thinking, I’m glad you’re doing so well, but, how are you doing so well? This joyful look! She goes, “Wow! When they, before they did the surgery, the said, ‘We are likely going to have to take about twelve inches out of your colon.’ They took four! ‘And then, if it doesn’t fit quite together, there’s a chance that you might have one of those bags on the side for a while. And then we will come back and do another surgery.’ I don’t have any bags! ‘And not only that, but you’ll be in here at least six days in the hospital,’ and that was Wednesday,” she goes, “I’m going home tomorrow.”

Now, just listen very carefully. Her expectations were: a foot out of her colon, six days in the hospital, and the potential of wearing a bag on her side and another surgery. Her experience is: only four inches! I get to go home in a couple days!

Contrast that with someone else who walks in, they do an examination, they say, “Oh, some possible cancer. We are going to put you to sleep, the colonoscopy didn’t show what we needed to show, we are going to take a long needle, stick it in there, we might have to do a short exploratory surgery. It doesn’t look bad at all. We think it’s benign. I have seen this a lot of times. You’ll only be under for less than an hour. It’s not a big deal.” And you wake up several hours later and they say, “We took four inches out of your colon. You’re going to be in the hospital for four days.” What’s the difference? Oh my gosh! Your life and perspective and mine is geared around expectations.

I had a young couple come to me and they have been married about two or three years, and they were committed to the Lord and they were involved in ministry and, “We both waited.” I said, “What do you mean?” “We did not have sex before we got married. We did it God’s way. And we thought it would be great and we would have great sex in our marriage. It’s terrible!” Expectation.

I remember playing golf with a guy a couple years ago, driving around in a cart in Indiana. Really nice guy, had done really well, didn’t start his family until late, had a couple small kids, and his wife has this burden for international kids. They adopted three kids from China.

Money, time, energy – all that they have done – how could you do something better and more loving than adopting kids from China? And they just thought, God’s blessing, His favor. Well, you know what? His blessing and His favor was there. But all three kids have been in counseling. They have been in counseling. The medical bills have been off the charts, they have had two or three special surgeries.

And he sat across from me and he goes, “I just, I didn’t know if our marriage was going to make it. I didn’t know if I was going to make it.” And then he said this: “I don’t know if I would have done it if I would have known how hard it is, but my expectations were so out of whack, it has taken about four or five years to realize it’s really, really hard,” and then he smiled, “and it’s really, really worth it.”

Here’s the question: where are your expectations? What do you expect from God? What do you unconsciously think, especially if you listen to some of the current teaching? If you love Jesus, your marriage will be great. If you’re single, this person is going to walk into your life. If you love Jesus and especially send some money to their ministry and just think positive thoughts, everything is going to be great! Your kids are going to turn out right. Everything is wonderful.

Do you know why so many Christians are disillusioned? Because here’s the principle: the distance between your expectations and your experience is disappointment. And if you have unrealistic, delusional expectations, you get devastated.

Open your notes, let’s learn from the apostle Paul very specifically – what can we expect from God? And what does God expect of us?

He’s in prison. He is chained to these praetorian guards. He’s wondering whether, I’m going to be executed or whether I’m going to be released?

His circumstances are terrible, but he has an upward focus and an outward focus. He’s asking the question: What’s my purpose? And, now, he doesn’t know whether he is going to get to see this Philippian church that he loves deeply or whether he is going to die. And he has gotten some reports from one of their members, Epaphroditus. And there’s some disunity in the church and there’s also a culture in Rome and a culture in Philippi that is anti, anti, anti-Christian. It’s described as: these are the people that have turned the world upside down and in Acts it describes them as, “Everywhere people speak of this sect negatively.”

So, if you feel like the world is getting a little harder for Christians in the United States, if you feel like there’s some persecution happening, if you think that you’re labeled, they’ve got this on steroids.

And so in his final thoughts about choosing joy in chapter 1, he wants to set clear expectations. He wants them to understand: Look, this is what God expects of you in terms of your behavior, in terms of your beliefs, and in terms of your boldness.

And then he’s going to say: But I want you to also to know, this is what you can expect from God. Because if you don’t get clear, accurate, biblical expectations, you can actually have a pretty good life and be miserable because you think it ought to be a perfect life.

In one of my deepest times of marital struggle, and after lots of counseling I had such skewed expectations the first few years. I remember reading a line by Francis Schaeffer in one of his books. And he just said in passing, “A lot of people give up on a good marriage because it’s not a perfect marriage.”

And I was one of those people that privately inside was, “It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t what I thought, every area wasn’t…”

And so I want you to begin to ask yourself: What’s the issue that you’re struggling with or the person. And then I want you to listen carefully, because God is going to tell you: this is what He expects of you. And, by the way, when you give to God what He expects of you, there’s this domino effect where He begins to provide for you what you need. And He changes what happens on the inside.

So with that, we pick it up. Paul says: This is my final lesson. What does God expect? He expects consistent conduct. Verse 27, “Whatever happens,” he’s finalizing, literally, “at all cost, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” circle the little word: manner worthy.

It’s an interesting New Testament word. The Philippians would immediately recognize where he’s going. He’s taking part of their personal experience and he is going to give them this little parallel.

Philippi was a Roman colony. Now, it’s not all that close to Rome, but there was a war earlier between some generals. And Caesar and the little town of Philippi decided, “We are going to go with Caesar.” And Caesar won and so Rome made them an official colony. And to have citizenship was like, “Whoa.”

There were privileges. The Roman army, the Roman, all the aqueducts, everything that came with being a Roman citizen, Philippi really felt like, “Wow.”

But there was also responsibility of being a Roman citizen. You paid taxes to Caesar, there are certain laws that you kept, there was a certain way that you would be aligned. And so this word, really what he is saying is: Here’s what God expects. At all cost, literally, live like a citizen of the kingdom of God. You need to be one of those Christians that actually lives like a Christian. I don’t know where I heard that before.

But after traveling around probably six, seven years ago. And after traveling around America and teaching at a lot of churches and being with pastors and then I had a suspicion and then I remember picking this book up by John Dickerson and he started to talk about that the numbers of genuine Christians in America is highly inflated. They are more hated. The Church, in general, is going bankrupt – the next fifteen or twenty years at the current rate of giving and commitment. The morality in the Church.

Just, he goes through and basically does a diagnostic evaluation of born-again, Evangelical, people who actually believe the Bible, following Jesus. And he says, “They are on life-support.” The Church in America is descending. And this sparked, it sparked a movement among pastors.

And the answer, he said, is discipleship. And that’s really how God connected our hearts. And what the apostle Paul is saying, back then, was: the problem with the Philippians is you’re in danger of being Christians that don’t live like Christians. Your behavior, your morality, your finances, your priorities, your family – you say you love Jesus but your beliefs and your behavior is telling two different stories.

And, I don’t know, when I grew up, when your beliefs said this and your behavior said this, we called it “hypocrisy.” And what God wants is, we’re never going to be one hundred percent aligned, but what He wants is integration. He wants alignment, not perfection.

The alignment between what I say and how I live. The alignment where my words, my life, my energy, and my money align with what I say I believe. And when they don’t, it’s not that I’m a terrible person. I ask God to forgive me and I am honest and vulnerable about: I’m still on the journey.

And what Paul is saying is: This is what God expects. And then the very next line, you can imagine them thinking, Well, how would you ever know for sure whether you’re a Christian who is living like a Christian; whether you really are a kingdom citizen living consistently?

Well, in the very next verses he explains. He says, What does it look like? This consistent conduct? “Then whenever I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel; without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you – and this will be a sign to them that they will be destroyed but that you will be saved, and that by God.”

In essence, he says, Okay, now, if I die, I’m not going to get to see you again. If I live and I am released, I am going to come see you again. But whether I see you again or don’t see you again, let me give you three specific ways that God measures whether you’re living a consistent life, a life that is aligned with His purposes and His will.

Now, I would like you to circle three words, and I tried to make it as easy as possible. You notice they are in bold, right? Okay? I want you to circle, he says, the first thing is that you are standing firm, and then underline, “in one spirit.” And I’ll explain it in just a minute. You’re standing firm in a culture that is against you. But, notice, you’re doing it in unity, in one spirit. You’re together on this.

Second, circle the words, “contending as one man.” Literally, it’s one soul. You’re in this together, but you’re contending for the faith. Put a box around the word, “faith.” This isn’t private faith. He says you’re contending, you’re striving, you’re in mortal combat. The word was used for gladiators going arm-in-arm and fighting against other people. You are contending for the truth, the doctrine, the reality that Jesus is God, that the Second Person of the Trinity became a man, that He rose from the dead. These narrow, absolute crazy claims based on His resurrection and His teaching, that He said the Word of God is true, that the Old Testament is true, That what I have shared with you, Paul is saying, what was written in the Prophets, the Law, and the psalms, and then predicting what the New Testament writers, he’s saying, I want you to contend, to battle for the faith.

And then, third, he says, “Don’t be frightened.” Do it without being frightened. The word here was a word used for a noise or something that would spook horses and they would stampede. He says, Don’t let persecution, don’t let what your boss thinks, don’t let what is politically correct, don’t want what everyone says, don’t let labels that people are giving you in the twenty-first century, don’t let it frighten you to where you shrink back and become this secret agent Christian. He said eternity is on the line! People’s lives, people’s souls, people don’t have to believe the right thing, but the consequences and pain of what happens when people turn away from God are devastating.

And so he says those are the three ways that you’ll know that you’re standing firm, that you’re living the life, that you have a consistent conduct. And then he says when you do that, it’ll be a sign. Literally, it’s a token, it will be a proof.

And after I explain these, I’ll tell you why it’s a sign and how it demonstrates the future of those who oppose you and how it also demonstrates your future because of your commitment and boldness.

Let’s go through these three words. It says, “Stand firm,” literally, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Anybody here every get discouraged and feel like, I don’t have any biblical grounds, but the world says, “You shouldn’t be this unhappy in this marriage this long. I think I’ll give up.” “All the other sales people are padding their reports. I’m going to give up.” “I know I should take a stand here in the hospital about this issue about life, but I might lose my job and I’m afraid. I think I’ll give up.” “I know what the Bible says about sexual purity and all the stuff that is happening in the world, but psychology has come a long way and I can’t imagine that Jesus would really expect us to have sexual purity and not live together and how bad can it be? I look at a few pictures now and maybe more then. Everybody does it.” “I know my finances don’t really reflect my heart but there’s a lot of pressure and there’s financial demands and life is really hard and God certainly can’t expect me to give back the very first and best. Ten percent? I can’t even live on what I’m getting now.”

So, what we have is a Church that is in danger of shrinking back and giving up on what they believe both corporately and giving up individually. You’ve got to hang tough in tough times. It’s in the difficulty, it’s in the pain. You have to lean in when it’s hard.

At the end of the day, it always revolves around this one issue: do you believe and trust God?

The conclusion of the secular world today is there is not a nickel’s worth of difference between the average Christian and the average non-Christian. And they see how most of us live and where our priorities are and our behavior and our morality and basically are saying, “Why should I trust in your Jesus?” That’s harsh, but that’s the lay of the land.

But here’s what I’m excited about. I get to be a part of a church and there’s a lot of exciting, dynamic churches and God is doing around America and around the world that are taking a stand. In fact, this first word is about, really, our behavior.

The second word: “contending for the faith,” it’s about our beliefs. It’s about standing up for what we believe. It’s battling, but winsomely, lovingly. Not angry. But it’s saying that there are certain things that are true.