We all know the feeling! Sometimes, our "experiences" in life do not measure up to our "expectations." We expect much! We experience little. This leads to a letdown which may cause feelings of disappointment, frustration, and anger! How is it for you? What did you "expect?" What are you "experiencing?" Do you know the letdown that can occur when there is a wide gap between the two? Could it be that we need to rethink the basis and rationale for some of our "expectations?"
Over the years, has the hype of "The American Dream" prompted us to have visions of eventually being able to live on "Easy Street?" Have we expected to one day enjoy "the good life?" Has this been your "expectation," but not yet your "experience? "Are you feeling disappointed? Cheated? Angry? Or, maybe this gap of frustration for you occurs in connection with matters related to family life, finances, health, or career. We expect much. We experience little.
There is a religious version of this same problem. Some would say, "I believe in God. I go to church. I am religious. Surely, the 'Good Lord' will take care of me and mine." Expectations! Sort of a "cloud nine" view of religion. While it is true that the Lord is good, does this mean that religious, church-going people should always expect to be spared from the trials and tribulations of human existence? During the stormy days of life, can our expectations make us more vulnerable to confusion, doubt, and fear?
Do we need to re-think some of our expectations? What on this earth are you expecting?
A Biblical Perspective on Life in the Flesh!
What does God say? This is always the right question to ask.
What does God say in His Word about human existence on planet earth? What does He tell us to expect as we journey down the roadway of life? Are we to be optimistic? Realistically, should we envision roads that are always smooth, straight, and downhill? Or, will a Bible-based worldview bend us in the direction of a more pessimistic view? Should we actually anticipate and expect some curves, hills, bumps, and even ditches along the way? Based on biblical teaching, what on earth should we expect?
Effects of "The Fall" and "The Curse?"
In Genesis, we have the biblical record of human rebellion against God in the beginning. Adam and Eve! They refused to listen. They refused to obey. Satan's voice prevailed over God's voice. Because of their rebellion, they "fell" from God's favor and received a "curse" which has affected all humans since. It is described in Genesis 3:1619. Hear what God said to Adam and Eve after their "fall."
To the woman God said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."
To Adam God said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it; Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:16-19)
The biblical testimony is that due to "the fall," there was "a curse" placed on the human family. The curse extended to the physical universe--even the earth was cursed. If you read carefully, think deeply, and reason correctly, you will see that there is a connection between the message of these verses and the fact that earth-dwellers have always strained, struggled, and suffered. Life on planet earth, inevitably, will bring toil, tears, thorns, thistles, sweat, hard work, and pain. In an environment that has been cursed because of sin, humans will inevitably face some circumstances and conditions that are unpleasant, painful, or even deadly. Have we forgotten or overlooked "the curse?" How should this reality affect our overall view of life in the flesh and reshape our "expectations?"
What was Job's Assessment?
Job was a righteous man. The Scriptures say, "He was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." (Job 1:1) A good man! Yet, he suffered in ways that were extremely severe and painful. He lost his family, his wealth, and his health--everything except his integrity and faith. Along the way, his assessment of life on earth was, "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil." (Job 14:1) Did Job simply need to cultivate a more positive mental attitude, or could it be that his assessment provides us with valuable insights about the nature of life in the flesh?
What Does the New Testament Say?
Jesus told us the truth! He said, "In this world, you will have... trouble." (John 16:33) Obviously, this statement does not harmonize with many people's perception of "The American Dream." The modern-day American translation would render this, "In this world, you will have... success!"
Paul echoes the words of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5. He refers to "our earthly troubles" and reminds believers that "outwardly they are wasting away." In this same context, the human body is referred to as a "tent." Have you spent any time in a tent lately--especially when it is cold, windy, and rainy? No wonder Paul writes, "For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened."
In Romans 8:18-25, Paul expands these concepts as he speaks of "the creation being in bondage to decay." This is not a permanent kind of bondage as Paul points to an eventual liberation that will come at the end of time. Yet, until that time, he says that "we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies"--a reference to the final resurrection of the dead.
The Hebrew writer refers to people of faith as "aliens and strangers on earth." (Hebrews 11:13-16) The same terminology is repeated by Peter. (1 Peter 2:11) Three chapters later in 1 Peter 5:6-11, life in the flesh is said to include anxiety, struggles with Satan, and sufferings.
What is the Biblical message about life on this earth? The clear testimony is that there will be toils, thorns, tears, troubles, and tribulations. Considering all that God says about human existence, it would be a mistake to conclude that life in the flesh will somehow be a "no problem, no struggle, no pain" kind of experience.
Cultivating Expectations that are Biblically Sound!
Could it be that the views and values of the secular world have shaped our "expectations" about human existence more than the realities that are presented in the Bible? Have we forgotten "the curse" and its effects on this world? Could it be that we have been living in either denial or ignorance of what the Scriptures teach us about life in the flesh?
Once we accept as valid the Biblical view of human existence, only then are we able to approach life with realism that is tempered with spiritual optimism. True, Jesus did say, "In this world you will have trouble." That's realism! That's fact! Yet, Jesus added a wonderful promise. In the same breath, He said, "In Life, you may have peace. Take heart. I have overcome the world!" That is spiritual optimism. That's a positive way of thinking and living!
As Christians, we can and must face the fact that we live in the real world where we sigh, cry, and die--realism! Yet, even in the midst of our sighing, crying, and dying, we can and must live with confidence that no matter what happens, we are loved by God and are assured of ultimate victory through Him--optimism!
Thus, our challenge and goal is to learn to live each day, good and bad, as optimistic realists whose very existence is driven and sustained by faith, hope, and love. "Faith" enables us to be "sure and certain" about realities we cannot see or prove scientifically. (Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 5:4) "Hope" gives us a confidence that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him." (Romans 8:23-25, 28) And, "love" keeps our hearts free of bitterness as we seek the will of God and the good of others around us. (l Corinthians 13:4-8)
Biblically-Based Expectations--Will They Make a Difference?
This view of life in the flesh will keep us from overreacting to life's troubles. Now, we know that in this world we will face trouble. Jesus said it. This prepares us for the ups and downs of life. It makes our suffering more endurable and less devastating. In fact, there are times when God allows His children to suffer hardships as a means of discipline. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
This does not mean that we view life merely as "one spilled glass of milk after another." No. Yet, when there is spilled milk, the confident and enlightened believer has the tools to clean it up and move on.
Optimistic realism gives us power to deal with all of life's experiences--the good and the bad. We praise and thank God for all the good. We are not overwhelmed when bad things occur. In the face of bad experiences, we are given power to cope. We know that no matter how painful or difficult the circumstances, the ultimate end will be good. (Romans 8:28) We never give up or lose hope! Obstacles become stepping stones, not stumbling blocks. This view of and approach to life will significantly affect our body, mind, and spirit.
This optimistic realism that Christianity nurtures helps us to accept what we cannot change. This is not to say that we are to "put on a happy face" and go around being mindlessly cheerful all the time. It is to say, however, that after we have done what we know to do to properly deal with the struggles of life, we can accept reality and persevere victoriously by means of God's sustaining grace! (2 Corinthians 12 7-10)
"Peace"-Defined by the World of the Word?
Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Look closely at Jesus' words! He said, "In Me, you may have peace." He offers... peace! Is this not what we want and need? Is this what we "expect?"
Surely we are able to see that there is an enormous difference between the "world's" definition of peace and the "Word's" definition! The world defines peace as "an absence of trouble." Many have dangerously built their expectations upon this definition. Confusion, frustration, and anger are inevitable. In contrast, note the Word's definition of peace. The Word of God defines peace as "strength and confidence through Jesus as we live in the midst of trouble."
Wisdom calls for us to make sure that our expectations are deeply rooted in the Word's definition of peace rather than that of the world. Through the strength that Christ provides, we expect to be strong and have confidence even in the midst of trouble.
In the next and final lesson of "The Seeker" series, we will answer the question, "What happens after we die?" This is a topic about which many people have questions and concerns.
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