“Don’t get your hopes set too high.” I can still hear my mom’s voice gently teaching me at a young age how to manage my hopes and expectations. She was great at planning fun things for me and my brother growing up and on several occasions, she told us about fun family outings or vacations ahead of time so we could prepare and share in the excitement as a family. Now, she would only do that if she was 98% sure that things were going to go to plan, but sometimes if she suspected there was even the slightest risk of disappointment, she would remind us “not to get our hopes set too high” until we were 100% sure. It was a way to help us look forward to something, while still being at least a little prepared in case something didn’t work out. As a parent now myself, I see the wisdom in that, since sometimes life gets messy and we can’t always control the outcomes (try as we might).
Getting our hopes up is a natural tendency all throughout life. We hope we get what we want for Christmas, we hope that we’ll do well on our final exams in school, we hope for a job that is fulfilling and pays the bills, or to take that dream vacation. Yet as life twists and turns, we learn to manage our expectations and adjust our hopes to match the reality of the possible outcomes. You might not get exactly what you want for Christmas, but it’s the thought that counts. And the job may not be as fulfilling as you had hoped, but it pays most of the bills.
You’ve probably heard the expression “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.” I think it perfectly reflects our pragmatic acceptance that life will have its high points and its disappointments, and we will experience both.
The risk of this practical outlook is that sometimes we try to manage our expectations of God the same way we do the rest of life. We start to hold back parts of our heart, wary of disappointment. We hesitate to pray expensive prayers and downplay our expectations, just in case things don’t work out the way we imagined or hoped. Without even meaning to, we can end up placing our hope in the outcomes that our limited imaginations can conceive, instead of God himself, who is our ultimate Hope.
The thing is, God isn’t “practical” as we understand it. He doesn’t need to plan for the worst possible outcome, He is Lord in every outcome. His view is unlimited, His power unmatched, and His imagination is infinitely better than ours. He will blow our minds with what He can and will do for us. We don’t need to temper our expectations with God–He is able to do immeasurably more than anything we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Romans 12:12 encourages us to “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” (NLT)
Biblical hope is based on God’s unchanging character and unwavering faithfulness to keep His promises. When we remember the true nature of God, His faithfulness, love and power, we experience true hope and can have confidence in it.
Remembering who God is also makes it possible to be patient in times of trouble. It allows us to more readily trust that God is working in all things, and that regardless of the circumstances or their outcomes, our hope stands secure.
Prayer is the common denominator in both confident hope and patience in times of trouble. Talking to our Heavenly Father bolsters our confidence in Him and broadens our view to see things from His eternal perspective. It allows us to hope as we might never have before–not merely that things will work out just how we imagined, but hope that no matter what, we are safe and secure as in God’s Kingdom.
When I first started my career in radio, I felt called by God to step out in faith and apply for a full-time morning show host position. It came down to me and one other candidate and I prayed earnestly that I would get the job. I could envision every detail of what having this job would look like, and was excited and hopeful that it would all work out at least close to how I imagined. Instead, the other candidate was chosen and I was hired for a different position in the marketing department, with the opportunity to do some training to work part-time on the air in a different role. It was not at all what I had envisioned, in fact it felt like a total side-step to what I thought were my goals at the time. But in taking the marketing position, I learned skills and gained invaluable experience that I otherwise would not have. I got to be close friends with my supervisor, a friendship that has blessed me beyond words. And I still got to be on the air part-time which as it turns out, suited my family schedule even better! From my limited perspective, I never could have imagined all the blessings that were waiting for me. All I could do was pray and lean on my hope in God.
That is our role in hope, to pray and lean into God. He does all the rest. We don’t have to plot or plan or engineer our fate, we need only to pray hard, and lean on Him. Then, instead of feeling stuck in the waiting, we begin to look for where He is working. We can believe that He is in every detail, working things together for good. Even if an answer to prayer seems long in coming, do not give up hope. God is still there. It is through our times in prayer that we find communion with Him that allows us to see the bigger picture and trust that He will use even the hard times to ultimately bless us and shape us to be more like Him.
So lean in hard sister, don’t give up hope. Take heart and be confident that God is faithful and keeps His promises. Our Heavenly Father does all things well, so set your hope high on Him, keep on praying, and let God do the rest.