Holy Asides
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April 27, 2016, 8:30 PM

Expectation and Hope

Most people understand hope as wishful thinking, as in "I hope something will happen." This is not what the Bible means by hope. The biblical definition of hope is "confident expectation." Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is an important distinction to make when we speak of the “hope of Christ”, the “hope of life eternal”, or “faith, hope, and love will never cease.” However, there is something to be gained by embracing the “wishful thinking” type of hope, especially as it contrasts with worldly expectation.

Let’s create a scenario of receiving the new iPhone for your birthday. (Or whatever it is that you would rather have.) If you expect to receive the iPhone, you will be highly disappointed with any other gift that you receive. However, if you hope to receive an iPhone, there may still be some disappointment, but it will not affect you as strongly. You will probably be able to appreciate whatever gift you did receive, and maybe even see that someone went to the trouble of finding a gift that was a little more personal. I have come to see the difference between expectation and hope to be a spiritual discipline in my life, and the lives of many others. If you expect my sermon to last less than 15 minutes, you are going to get highly agitated when it hits the 18-minute mark. 

This difference between hope and expectation creates conflict and tension in relationships, families, churches, schools, governments, and probably everything else that we encounter. I know that when I most often experience anger, hurt and frustration, it is because I have projected my expectations on people, situations or institutions. I have long since expected my cheeseburger to be delivered to me the way I ordered it at the Drive-thru window. I hope it is, I check it to make sure that it is, and I send it back if it is wrong. But I no longer get agitated or upset. It does not affect me in a negative spiritual way. 

And I think that is what “wishful thinking” hope helps create. It provides the avenue to experience the peace of Christ. We do not have to overcome the barriers of ego, anger, and unrealized expectations. Moreover, it reminds us that there is only one thing that we be in confident expectation of—the grace, love and glory of Christ. Jesus admonished Martha when she was complaining about her sister, Mary, acting like a disciple (something traditionally reserved for men). “Martha, Martha you are troubled about many things. Only one thing is needed. And Mary has chosen it.” The same is true for us. There is much to hope for, but apart from the love of Christ, our expectations should be limited to the life promised to us in Jesus.

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