The headline I recently read was this, “Sinkholes leave Florida neighborhood looking like cratered wasteland.” People of a Central Florida neighborhood are stuck in a nightmare after a dozen sinkholes opened, forcing the evacuation of a bunch of homes. Residents said the holes burst open as water started exploding into what looked like a geyser shooting out of a now-empty pond.
Central Florida is sinkhole alley with porous limestone resembling Swiss cheese close to the surface. The holes in the limestone existed long before the neighborhood was built. Apparently, no one called in geologists to extensively examine the underlying soil and rock before all those houses were constructed. What strikes me is that Florida sinkholes are notorious yet people bought those houses and moved in anyway, probably expecting the solidness of the housing construction to keep them safe. One resident said that he’s hoping the city engineers fix it so he doesn’t have to “worry about those sinkholes happening anymore.” But, the bedrock hasn’t changed. It’s limestone! Limestone dissolves. And, porous limestone dissolves faster. I learned this in geology classes in college. Those expectations of a permanent fix need to be released, or the residents will be continually disappointed.
Expectations can become sinkholes for us.
Those sinkholes remind me of a topic of conversation at a women’s retreat recently. We were talking about the storms of life and how we respond to them. The speaker shared that there are really two types of storms that hit us—those caused by our own disobedience and those that hit through no fault of our own. Hurricane Harvey hit my Christian friends hard on the Gulf Coast. An otherwise healthy and very godly young mom is battling cancer that just won’t go away. A happily married couple, who love Jesus, can’t get pregnant.
When we go through such difficulties of life, we all have what we would consider acceptable outcomes. Expectations. But, those expectations can become sinkholes if we try to hold onto them too tightly.
In our small group discussion at the retreat, one woman brought up the concept of obedience to the Lord and expecting a reward from Him for that obedience. That seems to be biblical. God commands our obedience. He certainly implies that we will be rewarded in some way for our love and obedience. We feel HIs pleasure and His joy as we follow Him closely. Then, troubles hit. Two people who kept themselves pure for marriage experience infertility. That doesn’t fit the expected outcome of sexual purity before marriage. A pastor suddenly deserts his wife and three children. She is stunned. Wasn’t she being obedient to the Lord with her life? That desertion doesn’t fit the expected outcome. How hard it is to release those expected outcomes and find joy in the trial.
Joy requires us to release our expectation of acceptable outcomes.
I read an article recently that stunned me with this statement:
“Joy requires us to release our expectation of what is an acceptable outcome.” (Jenny Heckman, Just Between Us, Spring 2018, p. 44)
I think expectations of acceptable outcomes are like sinkholes waiting to happen. When we approach troubles with expectations of what we think are acceptable outcomes and then something else happens, our disappointment and anger can explode like geysers shooting out of a “now-empty pond.” It’s okay to ask for specific answers to prayer. But, we need to hold onto those expected answers with open fingers. We must release them to Jesus, and let Him decide what to do. That’s releasing expectations.
We see in Philippians 1:12-18 how Paul did that. His readers might have thought that Paul’s imprisonment had hampered the building of the church of Jesus Christ. Paul announced that the things that happened to him were actually advancing God’s program. It didn’t depend on Paul. He had released that expectation.
Because of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, many people had heard the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it, including Roman imperial guards. And, other Christians had become more outspoken in sharing the gospel, inspired by Paul’s courage. Some weren’t doing it out of pure motives. But, Paul believed that it was better for people with impure motives to preach Christ than that they not preach Him at all. It’s all good and glorifying to God. Paul released the expectation that he had to be the one leading the charge.
And, we see in the next verses, that Paul released his expectation of only one acceptable outcome. Getting out of prison would be great. But, if God chose to leave him there or to have him executed, Paul considered those as acceptable outcomes as well. And, he rejoiced about it.
I love what long-time seminary professor Dr. Tom Constable said about this, “[Paul] could maintain a truly joyful attitude, even in unpleasant circumstances, because he derived his joy from seeing God glorified—rather than from seeing himself exalted.” Paul could rejoice at any one of God’s acceptable outcomes. You and I can choose to do that, too.
I heard Bible teacher Chuck Swindle say this, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Sounds like we need to prepare ourselves ahead of time with a God-honoring response, doesn’t it?
Here’s one of them: rejoice at God’s acceptable outcome.
Rejoice at God’s acceptable outcome.
When you release your expectation of acceptable outcomes, you can rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.
That reminds me of how both Martha and Mary responded to Jesus in John 11:1-44. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” That was their only acceptable outcome.
But, Jesus had a greater purpose. What floors me is that John 11:5 says that Jesus loved them. Loved them, and still let them go through that pain. They did nothing wrong. He wept with them. But, He had a greater purpose.
When Martha and Mary saw Him, they had to trust His goodness in whatever He would do for them in their trial. What would be His acceptable outcome? Bringing a four-day dead Lazarus back to life was a far better outcome than the sisters had in mind.
By faith, we can avoid the sinkholes of unreleased expectations. We do that by releasing them. We can know with certainty that Jesus loves us and knows what is going on in our lives. We can have confidence in His power to do something about it. But, the way to release expectations is to trust in His goodness in whatever He chooses to do in that situation.
Jonathan Evans, the son of Bible teacher Tony Evans, recently gave the eulogy for his mother who died of cancer. So many had prayed for her healing and were disappointed thinking God had not answered their prayer. In reflecting on this, Jonathan felt the Lord telling him this,
“There were always only two answers to your prayers—either she was going to be healed or she was going to be healed. Either she was going to live or she was going to live. Either she was going to be with family or she was going to be with family. Either she was going to be well taken care of or she was going to be well taken care of. Victory belongs to Me because of what I’ve already done for you. The two answers to your prayer are yes and yes. Because victory belongs to Jesus.”
Joy requires releasing our expectations of acceptable outcomes. When you release your expectation of acceptable outcomes, you can rejoice at what our Lord does instead of complaining about what He does not do. You look at everything with the Lord’s perspective.
Dear reader, we have a big God. Yet, God may not choose to rescue you from everything that is threatening you. Or, from poor decisions made by you or someone close to you. You may face what seem like insurmountable circumstances in your life. You may have to give up something that gives you security. You may be waiting for God to answer a desperate prayer. Are you willing to accept the yes He wants to give?
It’s okay to ask for your heart’s desire. But, leave the decision in His hand. Accept the outcome that He provides. And, let Him fill your heart with joy in whatever He chooses to do.
What trials are you going through right now? What in your mind do you expect to happen as acceptable outcomes? Maybe it’s time to release those expectations and stay on solid ground.
Want to have joy in your life? Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the fullness of His joy. Then, live in that joy!
Knowing Jesus Knowing Joy Bible Study of Philippians (read online)
Knowing Jesus Knowing Joy Bible Study of Philippians (download pdf)