I can spend a long time browsing through the selections of birthday cards available in our shops looking for a suitable one for a particular friend or family member. They can be very entertaining! I remember one I’ve seen recently with a picture of a little dog looking up hopefully in anticipation no doubt of a treat, with a caption that read “Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.” I think this was supposed to warn the recipient that they wouldn’t be getting a present as well as a card!
This set me thinking about the difference between hope and expectation. In the Bible the word hope, and words deriving from it, are associated with the righteous, gladness, and goodness and used four and a half times more than the words of expectation. The word expectation is used in connection with the wicked, perishing and anger. Hope lifts our spirits, encourages and inspires us. We can persevere in hope. Expectation, on the other hand, can be burdensome, discouraging and deadening.
As Christians we are encouraged to hope, especially in the promises of God. Hope brings peace and is deeply connected with trust in God and his purposes. Expectations, however, can be land mines that damage relationships and cause disappointment and even despair, the very opposite of hope. How many arguments start and how much heartache is caused when one person doesn’t fulfill the expectations of another or when circumstances just don’t meet our expectations? Family holiday times and Christmas are notoriously fraught with arguments and tensions as people fall foul of expectations, their own or those laid on them by others. When I recently did an audit of my relationships I discovered that all my frustrations were rooted in failed, unrealistic and unfair expectations of others, of myself and of God.
We may not get what we want when we want it or expect it, but I believe we can trust God to keep His promises and that He does have our best interests at heart. To quote church leader Rick Warren – ‘What gives me most hope every day is God’s grace; knowing that his grace is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God.’