Question: "What does the Bible say about expectations?"
Answer: Expectations can be high or low, reasonable or unreasonable, good or bad. The Bible speaks of expectations of redemption (Romans 8:19), expectations of judgment (Hebrews 10:27), delayed expectations (Proverbs 13:12a), realized expectations (Proverbs 13:12b), and unrealized expectations (Proverbs 11:7). Jesus told us to expect His return—although the timing of His return is beyond our knowing: “Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40).
Simply put, expectations are beliefs that come from a person’s thought process when examining evidence. We see the eastern sky grow pink, for example, and so we expect to soon see the sun. Our expectations are not always correct because of flaws in our logic and the bias of hope and desire. Sometimes, we “get our hopes up” based on a false premise or a misreading of the evidence. Often, we form expectations automatically, without conscious effort. When expectations are not met, pain ensues, and we often place blame on something or someone who did not live up to our expectations—even if our expectations were unreasonable.
Expectations based on human assumptions can cause trouble. For example, when a man and a woman get married, they both carry expectations into the marriage. The man may see evidence that his wife is a caring, kind, and patient person. He may form expectations about what she will be like as a mother. Or perhaps his own mother was a great cook, and he expects his wife to possess the same culinary skills. If she does not turn out to be a patient mother or a particularly good cook, he may feel hurt and let down. The woman going into the marriage may see evidence that her husband has a good job and is well-liked by others. She forms an expectation that they will not likely have money troubles. Then, if he loses his job or changes careers and they begin to struggle financially, she may resent him based on her expectation. This couple is now dealing with hurt feelings and resentment based entirely on what they had hoped would happen. There was no promise made in either case, but they both still feel as if they’ve been deceived. Faulty expectations can create a lot of trouble in any relationship, be it parent/child, boss/employee, friends, ministry partners, or members of a sports team. Any time there is mutual dependency, expectations exist, and, if those expectations are not met, conflict can be the result.
Many times, expectations come from what we’re used to, our family growing up, or our own personalities. If you grew up in a family where shouting and open conflict was the normal way to resolve an issue, you will expect others to shout and be pugnacious if they have a problem with you. A person who prefers to hide emotion and talk issues out rationally may find it impossible to convince you that she’s been hurt—she’s not shouting yet, so it can’t be that serious—and you therefore continue to repeat the behavior that irritates her.
There are some people who the Bible says should not expect much. The wicked, Proverbs 11:7 says, should not expect to retain their ill-gotten gains: “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, / and the expectation of wealth perishes too” (ESV; cf. Proverbs 10:28). Crime doesn’t pay, in other words. And the double-minded, faithless man should not expect answers to prayer: “That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7).
On the other hand, the Bible encourages those who trust in the Lord to expect good things from Him. “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him” (Psalm 62:5, KJV). Those who live in the fear of the Lord have this promise in Proverbs 23:18: “There is surely a future hope for you, / and your hope will not be cut off.” The godly are justified in having great expectations.
The Bible lays out some principles that help us form expectations and deal with the expectations of others:
Communicate: Openness and honesty with ourselves and with others is the first key. We all fail ourselves and others in many ways (James 3:2), and we should be able to admit when we are wrong. We should not base our expectations on mere assumption (see Proverbs 18:13) but on verifiable truth, if at all possible. We should discuss with our loved ones what our expectations are and what theirs are.
Forgive: The people in Jesus’ day were expecting the Messiah (Luke 3:15), but, when He came, they had some unrealistic expectations of what He’d do. They wanted the Messiah to free them from Rome, and they wrongly expected Jesus to establish His kingdom then and there (Luke 19:11). When He did not fulfill their expectations, they were frustrated and angry enough to kill. But Jesus forgave (Luke 23:34). If Jesus could forgive the men who called out “Crucify Him!” we can forgive our loved ones and friends who harbor wrong expectations of us.
Love: Love is patient and kind, and it does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). We need to remember that all people are different. If we have formed expectations for friends or loved ones that they cannot live up to, it is not their fault. We have the power to change our expectations, and, if we find that our expectations of others are unreasonable, we should be flexible.
In everything, we should look to God and trust Him (Proverbs 3:5–6). His promises are absolutely sound, and our expectation that He will fulfill His Word is called faith. We can expect God to do exactly what He says He will do (2 Corinthians 1:20; Joshua 21:45; Psalm 77:8; 2 Peter 1:4). When based on God’s Word, our expectations will never fail to be met. “The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy” (Psalm 19:7).