• Richard Parrish

Who sets your expectations? God or culture?


What’s your initial reaction when you hear the word “expectation?”


Does it trigger a sense of dread or delight, obligation, or opportunity?


Words often have implications that go beyond a text-book definition. “Expectation” is one of those words.


A dictionary meaning of the word is:

“A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something…”

Some expect the future to be bright. Others view the days ahead of us as bleak. But all of us believe something needs to happen.


As a child, my interpretation of “expectation” was confined to a mandated requirement.


To experience the freedom of leaving the dining room table “required” me to finish all of the broccoli on my plate. No amount of complaining or the pained facial expressions of gagging would release me from Mom’s requirement.


What parent does not have expectations for their child?


We pray and hope our children will be healthy. So, as uncomfortable and unfair as it may seem in the moment, “expecting” our children to eat nutritionally is not punishment but prudence.


Here’s another question: How comfortable are you accepting a new job without understanding your employer’s expectations?


Not only do we want to have hopeful anticipation that the business or organization has a positive future, but we also want to know the “expected” requirements of our employer.


Expectations — both hopeful anticipation and mandated requirements — are necessary. Without belief and responsibility, we confine ourselves to a life of mediocrity and misery.


But, are all expectations reasonable?


Is it possible to impose unrealistic requirements on others? The obvious answer is yes. Is it conceivable for a parent to desire his son or daughter to excel in a position of prominence for which they are not suited? Of course.


What we expect of an adult is not always applicable to a child. To anticipate that a student with no preparatory math or language backgrounds can master complex calculus problems or skillfully translate Hebrew or Greek to English is unrealistic.


None of us escape a life without expectations: fair or unfair.


Discerning the difference is what’s critical.


If we only see expectations as obligatory, we slowly view life as unfair and embrace a “victim” mentality.


If we impose expectations on others, without offering encouragement and hope, we fuel discouragement and dread.


There are no shortages of expectations forced on us today.


Until recently, the expected desire of society was tolerance. “Let’s be more accepting of others.” “Let’s respect our differences.” “Let’s be gentle, loving, accepting, kind, and considerate.”


What happened?


Differing opinions are no longer accepted. Have you been on social media lately?


Gentleness, kindness, respect, and restraint —though expected from others — are unnecessary for me to practice if you disagree with me.


A shifting culture must never establish expectations, or we will never have the means of discerning what’s fair and reasonable.


Just because I feel I’m going in the right direction does not guarantee that I am. Without a compass in a murky and obscure world, we’re lost.


And let’s be clear: Our world has a lot of problems that make it challenging to find our way.


It’s tempting to believe that following others who share my ideology will eventually lead me to utopia. The problem is: It assumes my view is correct and ignores the possibility I could be wrong.


Allowing the blind to lead the blind is never in our best interest.


The Psalmist reminds us of how important God’s instructions are for our lives:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them, there is great reward.”⁠[1]

Stop. Go back and read this passage slowly. Savor those words.

  • God’s Word revives weary souls.

  • His Word is dependable and can be trusted.

  • His instructions (precepts) are reliable and cause the heart to rejoice.

  • If it’s difficult for you to see your way, God’s Word “enlightens” your eyes to see clearly.

  • God’s requirements are “true and altogether righteous,” and they are precious and to be desired.

My hopeful anticipation for tomorrow is centered in God’s Word, not in the fleeting promises of culture.


The Apostle Paul’s words of hope and promise in a time of suffering and turmoil are confident words centered on God’s reliability:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [⁠2]

Maybe it’s time for us to relocate our expectations to the source of delight and opportunity.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 19:7-11.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:31, 38–39.