Over the weekend, I got to hear an experienced evangelist share story after story of how God has worked mightily through various outreach efforts. It's no wonder that his zeal for front-line ministry seems to have only increased with time over the past 25 years. He has seen God break through time and time again, and as he considers future evangelistic endeavors, his expectations are great and God-sized. While I felt inspired by the evangelist's contagious passion for ministry, I also became introspective about my own attitudes and approach to ministry. Do I have great, God-sized expectations too? How strong is my faith in what God wants to do and will do in my ministry context?
There's a subtle line between expectations that determine results and results that shape expectations. On one hand, we expect and believe God will do great things and we consequently move forward with great confidence in cooperation with God's Spirit. Then there are other seasons in which we don't see the results we originally hoped to see, and that subtle shift happens. The lesser results (or absence of results) from our ministry efforts actually discourage us from persisting with a sense of great expectation.
Am I the only one this has happened to? When I've shifted into this mode of expecting less, I rationalize and tell myself that I'm just being realistic, avoiding extremes by reserving my emotional energy to do the work of ministry when it comes and not just waste it on the anticipation of future ministry. While there is definitely a need for realism and pacing ourselves in ministry, I've begun to realize that the unnoticeable affect that realistic attitude has on me is that I end up walking less by faith and more by sight. Instead of being full of faith about the things that the God of the universe wants to accomplish in and around me, I become fearful of failure. Maybe you can resonate. And if so, maybe you need to ask the same reflective question that struck my heart this past weekend:
Do I have great, God-sized expectations?
I'll admit, while I've been giving this question much thought over the weekend, I'm still far from processing it thoroughly. So far, here's what I know...
SUSTAINING EXPECTATIONS IS KEY TO SUSTAINING EFFORT
Once our expectations drop, it's inevitable that our effort will follow suit. The positive flip side is true as well. When we expect much, we'll attempt much. Just consider these examples that are definitely worth imitating:
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus was an earnest and constant worker. He expected much; therefore He attempted much (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, 72).
The disciples were men who knew how to speak and pray sincerely, men who could take hold of the might of the Strength of Israel...They could hold forth the word of life because they had received the heavenly anointing. They expected much, and therefore they attempted much (E.G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, 594).
If you've found yourself cruising along in your personal outreach efforts or in your church ministry, it may be less about your desire to pace yourself and more about your feather-weight expectations. Oh that God would give us greater expectation so we can give all-out effort for His glory!
IT'S A FAITH THING
The question about expectations is at heart a question about faith. Do I really trust God? Do I trust God to do what He has promised? When I start to expect less in my outreach and ministry efforts, it's usually because I've become more focused on the results and less focused on God's promises. The thoughts that occupy my mental space sound more like, "Well, my neighbor hasn't really shown much spiritual interest so far," rather than, "God makes everything beautiful in His time, and I know He has set eternity in my neighbor's heart too" (cf. Eccl. 3:11). When we find ourselves in those ruts, we end up putting a lid on God's ability to manifest His glory much like the town of Nazareth who witnessed only a few of Jesus' miracles "because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:5-6). Instead, let's educate ourselves to plead with Jesus like the disciples did: "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5). Let's discipline our minds to intensify our focus upon what God has done in the past and promises to do in His Word.
"What promises" you ask? That's what I want to consider more thoroughly in the coming week or so. But for now, let's hang our hat on the reality that God is at work in the hearts of those around us -- in our family, in our neighborhood, in our classroom, in our workplace, in our community. Just as Ecclesiastes 3:11 makes clear, God has put eternity in people's hearts all around us. Whether I'm conscious of it or not, whether my neighbors are conscious of it or not, there's a heart longing for something that this world cannot offer, something that God alone can satisfy. And if God is able to put that longing there, then surely He can fulfill it too.