Faith, Anticipation and Expectation – When you don’t know how to pray or what to believe

anticipation, faith, expectation

We are a¬†“Faith” generation. Many of us who surfed the wave of “Word-Faith” teaching that swept explosively through the Church in the 1980s and ’90s have since found our balance point in life. As with any fresh movement of the Spirit, there were excesses, misunderstandings, and actions out of spiritual immaturity unchecked by the wisdom and experience of older saints. But millions of believers around the world found a new vitality with God that had been absent so long in their traditional church upbringing. I was one of them.

Life teaches you — if you let it. If you have “eyes to see and ears to hear”. We grow; we learn. Part of my journey was learning a comfortable “fit” for faith in my life. I discovered over time that I couldn’t simply express a desire to God, flip the switch of faith on in my heart, speak the word, claim the promise, and watch the results roll in. It didn’t always work for me. And for someone who takes the Bible very seriously, that was a problem.

What do you do when you stand on a verse that reads “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”, or “whatever you desire when you pray, believe that you have received it and you will have it” — and then it doesn’t occur? Any wise saint will tell you that you can’t pull verses out of context at will and make them work for you. Every verse has its place in the entirety of Scripture, and unless you’re reading it in that whole spectrum of light, you’re bound to go astray. Jesus said “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will …” (John 15:7). And that about sums it up. Your prayers, your wishes, have to come from a position of being one with Jesus. They have to line up with his will. Isn’t that what “in Jesus’ name” really means? You can’t ask for something in his name if it’s not something he wants or approves of. Like when Peter healed the paralytic who had been bedridden for 8 years: “Jesus Christ heals you. Now, get up and make your bed” (Act 9:34). As a believer, you are entitled to use his name, but it’s Jesus’ power, his authority, so you gotta have his permission first.

With that nugget of truth in hand, it is difficult for me to ask for a specific thing in faith unless I know specifically that it is God’s will for me at that moment. Even with things that I know in general are his will. I know, for example, that it is God’s will that we be well, healed, strong and healthy. I can cite you a handful of Scripture passages to back up that assertion. But how many times on his way into the temple had Jesus passed by and not healed the same crippled man later healed by Peter and John in his name (Acts 3)? How many times have I prayed for healing (for myself and for others) and the healing did not manifest? There is a right time and place, a right state of heart and position in life — even for those things that line up with God’s general will. So, in my experience, I learned that simply “claiming a promise” was not always sufficient. I needed a direct word from God on the matter before that “claim” carried any weight.

Otherwise, expectation can get you in trouble sometimes.

That was the problem with my faith. I could define what I wanted — you know, go to God with a specific request for a specific outcome. Like going through that period of my life when I switched career paths and had to reinvent myself. I’d apply for jobs I wanted, and because I was confident of God’s blessing, I expected to get them. But many of them fell through, and I was left to deal with the bitter disappointment and the shaking of my faith.

Too specific an expectation without a direct leading can really mess you up.

But when I stopped trying to force specific outcomes, when I did the leg work but left the results in God’s hands, that allowed God to move me in directions he wanted me to go, and I would be excited and surprised by the unexpected places he took me. That slight difference in perspective made all the difference. When I did not have a definite word from Heaven, I switched from expectation to anticipation.

We used to sing this little ditty in church years ago, and I love it to this day. “I anticipate the inevitable, supernatural intervention of God, I expect a miracle. I expect a miracle. I expect a mir-a-cle.” (Yeah, it comes across better with music. ūüôā ) It always summons up images for me of the Israelites as they’re leaving Egypt, chased by the Egyptian army, and blocked by the Red Sea. They didn’t know what God was going to do; they didn’t know how he was going to save them. In fact, most of them were sure they were going to die. But a handful of brave souls had faith in the promises of God. They did not have faith for a specific result, but they waited eagerly (sweating profusely, I’m sure), anticipating SOMETHING supernatural.

And that’s the key. Without a definite leading from God, we shouldn’t “expect” definite things — but we should¬†“anticipate” his inevitable intervention. We may not know what it is, but we know he’ll do something. “Holy Anticipation” is putting your faith in GOD, trusting in his love and faithfulness — not trying to dictate a desired outcome.

A “Facebook friend” of mine who pastors a large church in Washington, DC wrote today that the theaters they’ve been holding services in for 13 years are now being closed down. He wrote of his mixed emotions as one chapter of the church’s life closes and another is about to begin, not knowing yet what God is up to. He says, “Despite the sadness and craziness, I have a holy anticipation about what’s next. I’m [only] sure of two things. I’ll grow as a leader through this — and I embrace that challenge. And we’ll grow as a congregation. It’s not the way I would have written the script, but it’s good for us. We’re gonna follow the cloud and the cloud is moving!” As much as my limited spiritual experience tells me, he’s on the right track. He isn’t projecting the next step. He isn’t claiming a specific new site for his church — at least not yet. All he knows right now is that God is doing something — the cloud is moving — and he is anticipating a miracle.

Our faith can be expressed in both these ways. Expectation is appropriate when God has instructed us what his intentions are for us in a situation. But when we don’t know, when we are in a bind and just looking to God for a solution — like the Israelites, trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea — that’s the time for faithful anticipation.

For most of us, those are the moments we most often live in: uncertainty about the specifics yet. But those are perhaps the moments of our greatest faith, and we need to just hang in there, waiting with excitement and open eyes, so we can see the amazing thing God is about to do!

… And now, just because I’m feeling a bit musical this morning, here’s a bit that kinda sums it up …

photo credit: Joris Louwes via Flickr, cc

This piece originally appeared in Cafe Inspirado.
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STEVE SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.


Misfiring Faith

I come from a faith tradition that believes in miracles. We believe in divine healing, in supernatural provision, uncommon blessing, in Gifts of the Spirit like speaking in tongues and prophesy. We believe that God still speaks and moves today like he did in Bible times. But we also sometimes carry a heavy burden of “faith”. It’s the doctrine that God has given us authority to exert his power — if we have faith to believe it. And sometimes, I’ll admit, that faith is pretty elusive. So if some tragedy happens to us, if we lose our jobs or a loved one, if we get sick and recovery seems slow in coming, if our finances are a mess and the blessing isn’t falling like rain, we tend to beat ourselves up — if some caring brother or sister isn’t already pointing the finger at us — for our lack of effective faith. “Well, you know,” they will say, if we haven’t said it to ourselves, “‘if you only had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, Be removed and cast into the sea, and it would be done.” Guilt, on top of trouble.

Jesus apparently had that same problem sometimes. The same man who caused a fig tree to wither just by speaking to it also could only perform a few minor healings in a certain town because no one had faith and the power just wasn’t flowing. And that stymied him. Faith, real faith that unleashes miraculous power, is a rare commodity.

Faith is also selective. And I think this is where most of us miss it. We tend to take the shotgun approach: aiming at whatever target is in front of us at the moment and yanking away recklessly at the trigger. But faith is really a sniper’s rifle, a bolt-action, single shot weapon. When Jesus was walking along one day in the suburbs of Jerusalem, he runs across the pool of Bethesda where sick people would wait for the water to stir, then try to crawl into it to be healed. Like a modern-day evangelistic healing crusade, this place was packed. “Here a great multitude would lay, waiting …” (John 5:3). But Jesus picks out a single man. “Do you want to get well? … Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” What about all the others? This guy had been there a long time, to be sure. 38 years. But there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about this guy. In fact, the quality of his faith isn’t even mentioned.

When the religious leaders of the day challenge Jesus (because it happened to be the Sabbath, and miracles make religious people nervous), Jesus points out a few things. “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working. … I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:17-19).

A long time ago I was in a small group conversation with a pastor in Argentina. At the time, he was well known for his massive crusades where healings regularly took place, so naturally, they were always packed. He commented that it seemed like God tended to focus on one type of healing at a time in his meetings. One night, blind people would be healed. On another night, it would be the deaf or lame. This apparently bothered him, so he asked God about it one day in prayer. “Lord, why do you do it that way, and why are some types of people healed and others not?” God’s answer, he told us, put him in his place and at the same time, set him free from worrying about such things. “None of your business.”

This pastor, like Jesus, just did what he was told. He only cooperated with what God was already doing. And if God chose to heal only people with eye troubles that night, then that’s what he’d go along with.

Our faith needs to be targeted the same way. We need to stop trying to command that mountain unless we see God already moving it and he specifically instructs us to speak the words. And it’s not like we’ll be sitting around for long periods of time with nothing to do. “My Father is always working — even to this day.” We just need to remember that when we try to assert divine authority “in Jesus’ name”, then Jesus needs to be the one actually giving the direction.

I believe in miracles. I believe in divine healing, in supernatural provision and blessing. But faith is the powder inside the sniper round. And I shouldn’t try to pull the trigger until given the order to fire.

Come and See

It’s a bright, cold Sunday morning, and as usual, I’m sitting with my coffee trying to focus my attention on God. The bills stacked on my desk scream out to be paid, the dogs are wanting their snacks, I’ve got books piled up that I’m leafing through to satisfy short bursts of curiosity, and then there’s the clock. I’m gonna have to get ready for church in an hour. All these little distractions. But I reassert my concentration: “No. I’m gonna spend at least a few minutes just with God first.”

I pull open my bible. I’m finished with Luke, so I should move on to the Gospel of John, but really all those “in the beginning was the word” lines just don’t appeal to me right now. Flipping the page, a section header catches my eye for some reason, and pulls me in: “Jesus Calls Philip and Nathaniel”. Thinking of a Philip I know who asked about lunch, I think I should drop him a note on Facebook. He’s started a fellowship for restaurant workers, people who normally have a pretty negative view of church folk. You know, all those after-church lunchers who take up tables, seem to always complain about the food or service, and never — absolutely never — leave a decent tip. Not a good reflection on the Church. And then there are a few other churches I know who are scrambling to attract new members. Flyers mailed out, sometimes door-to-door knocking, new holiday kids programs, or a new sign out front. Anything to “bring them in”. And I can’t help this little cynical thought flash across my mind, “if you put good food on the table, people will come — and recommend it to their friends. But if the food is bland, it doesn’t matter how much you advertise, people won’t be back.”

Philip in the bible was from a little town in Galilee, and Jesus, passing by, simply says to him “Follow me.” Philip has obviously heard Jesus teach and seen his miracles because he doesn’t even hesitate. He’s seen Jesus in action. What more did he need than that personal invitation? But the thing that struck me: the first thing he does is go tell his friend Nathaniel. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel is a bit skeptical, but obviously in a good-natured way: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” And then the kicker, Philip’s response. “Come and see.”

Okay, big deal. What’s so impressive about that? So many well-intended and compassionate Christians are really exerting efforts to “save the lost”. We’ll try almost anything to get them in our church doors. And that’s great. We should have a passion to bring people to God. But so many of these “lost” people — like the disaffected restaurant servers my friend Philip is trying to reach –have already tried church. They’ve had their fill of church-goers, and it’s left a bad taste in their mouths. And their initial reaction to a church invitation is very often like Nathaniel’s, “Church! Can anything good come from there?”

Our response SHOULD be “Come and see for yourself.” But do we really have the goods? Are we serving up the feast to feed them when they actually do come in the doors? Is Jesus really there? — and I mean in more than just an “of course, where two or three are gathered he is there, so obviously God is in our midst” kind of way. Philip heard and saw Jesus in action. He experienced enough of the real thing to be able to claim that Jesus was the Coming One the Law and the Prophets talked about. Can we make that same claim? Are people genuinely changed when they walk out our doors? Is the teaching the very words of God, like Jesus taught? Are those words piercing to the heart with divine authority and power? Are people being healed, are prayers being answered? Is there a real presence of God in our congregations — one that can disrupt our well-choreographed services if and when He decides? That’s a tall order. But if we’re not filling it then we’re just playing “at church” instead of really “being” the Church — the real, physical manifestation of the Body of Christ. Maybe WE need to spend more time in the presence of the One.

It’s a cold, bright Sunday morning, and I’m sitting with my coffee, trying to connect with God. I’m about to get ready for church, and I wonder what God will do, what he will say, in our midst today. And there’s only way to find out. Come and see.