“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” William Carey’s inspiring words have been used by generations of Christians to spur one another to action. And rightly so, for there is much truth in Carey’s words.
But the words, if used unthinkingly as a superficial slogan, may lead to some pitfalls that Christians must beware. In this article, we will look at the sentence “Expect great things from God”, while a subsequent article will explore the other sentence.
We should have great expectations of God because God is indeed great. The problem begins when we expect the wrong kinds of things or when our expectations are not actually great. Take, for instance, the Jews at the time of Christ who expected the Messiah that God would send. When they saw Jesus’s amazing ministry, they thought that the Messiah had come. But they were thinking of a political Messiah who would free them from the Roman yoke.
Some of them tried to force Jesus to become their Messiah king. However, Jesus rejected their populist but mistaken plan (Jn 6:15). They expected a victorious military Messiah but failed to read in Scripture that the true Messiah would be the Suffering Servant (Ps 22; Isa 53). They expected the greatness of the sword but Jesus came with the splendour of the cross. In their spiritual blindness, they rejected the majesty of the true Messiah by clinging to their small imagined saviour.
The greatness of God’s gifts are not necessarily measured in “super” and “mega” terms but may be seen when a child finds a loving hand to hold in a world full of harsh abusive and refusing hands (Mk 10:13-16).
Our expectations of God are great when they are connected with the eternal. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard reminds us that all temporal things crumble under the weight of the eternal. Survey all that is around, fast forward what you see, and witness how eternity turns them into dust. This biblical wisdom is needed to examine our expectations.
Secondly, our expectations are great when they have to do with the internal, for the eternal and internal are connected.
It is easy to expect the wrong kind of greatness. Simon the Sorcerer saw the power of the Holy Spirit exhibited in the ministry of Peter and John, and wanted a piece of the action. He offered to pay for the same power. But Peter rebuked him sharply, revealing the man’s inner rottenness and bondage (Acts 8:18-23). Simon expected the wrong kind of power – spiritual fireworks that amuse rather than the power that saves and transforms.
Some want miracles for personal amusement, but God is not in the business of entertaining us with His power (Mt 12:38-39). His power consistently changes character more than circumstances. He will not hold back pain, suffering and discipline to transform us and make us truly His children (Rom 5:3-4; Heb 12:10-11).
So what are you expecting from God?
C. S. Lewis wrote about how God defies our puny expectations:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that
those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? “The explanation is that He is
building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Surely God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). He defies our attempts to cut Him down to our size to fit into our limited horizons and individualistic concerns and desires. He urges us to look to Christ, in whom His power was greatly at work, raising Him from death and elevating Him to the heavenly throne (Eph 1:19-21).
We can expect that same power in our lives (Eph 2:6-7). Our expectations would be great only if they are focused on Christ and the salvation He has self-sacrificially won for us. We will then expect great things from God that have to do with the eternal and the internal.
The greatness of God’s gifts are not necessarily measured in “super” and “mega” terms but may be seen when a child finds a loving hand to hold in a world full of harsh abusive and refusing hands.
Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon was Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000 to 2012. Currently retired, he now keeps busy with an active itinerant ministry speaking and teaching in Singapore and overseas.