Let’s talk about expectations.
Much of the tension in relationships comes from unmet expectations. We think someone should do something, and they don’t, and we’re hurt or frustrated. But sometimes the thing we think they should do was never their job in the first place, and the fault is ours for expecting something unreasonable.
Jesus often frustrated and confused people because they misunderstood His purpose in coming to earth, and they wanted Him to do things He actually never said He would do. Early in his ministry, there was a day when he healed a man in the synagogue in Capernaum, and then went home with Peter and healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the whole town lined up at the door and Jesus healed people well into the night. Everyone was really excited that they now had access to a 24-hour healing service right in their town, but in the morning they couldn’t find Him.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed, “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”—Mark 1:35-39
The people of Capernaum wanted Jesus to stick around and be their miracle machine, but He wasn’t interested. It’s true that He often healed people, but He didn’t come primarily to heal people. He came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God, and to die on the cross for our sins and to rise again. When people misunderstood, and thought that doing miracles was what He came for, they ended up disappointed. He often refused to do miracles on demand, to prove His divinity or to provide free bread, because He was clear on His purpose, even when those around him weren’t. He had a mission, and He was going to fulfill it, whether others understood and supported Him or not.
We all face this issue in various ways. Good parents know their job is to keep their children safe, to provide for them, to create an environment of unconditional love so they can thrive spiritually and emotionally, and to teach them the values they will need to get through life. But children often think their parents’ primary purpose is to entertain them and make their lives easy, and then we get to lovingly disappoint them. When we are working toward different goals, tension is often the result.
Misunderstood purpose is a major struggle for the church in America today. We live in a culture that no longer understands what the church is for, and as a result we often disappoint people who have no idea why we actually exist. Every week we get phone calls in the office from people wanting to know if we can help them move, help them pay their bills, join in with a certain cause in the community, etc. Sometimes we can, and when we can we’re happy to help. But when we can’t, we don’t feel guilty, even though they may be frustrated with us, because we know that none of those things are our real purpose.
The church has a mission, given to us by our Lord: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19,20.
Jesus told His disciples to go and make more disciples, more who would trust Him and follow Him and obey Him. In other words, the primary mission of the church is spiritual, not physical or political. We’re inviting people into a journey of faith, into a relationship with the living God through His Son, and we think that’s a worthy cause in and of itself! We’re happy to help clean up the local park, or to do what we can to help fire evacuees, but those things are secondary. When we’re limited, and unable to do those things as much as some people wish we would, we’re not failing at our job, because the people around us don’t tell us what our job is, any more than a child tells her parents what their job is. Just like children, what the lost people of this world need most is not what they are asking for. They need Jesus, and we exist above all else to tell them about Him. The challenge for us is to be clear about our mission, even if no one else is.
When the very first church had grown to over 5000 people, and the ministry of feeding widows was becoming hard to manage, the Apostles handed off the responsibility for that ministry to others, because it was becoming a distraction. This is what they said: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables…we will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word.”—Acts 6:2-4
I imagine that some were offended by their words. What could be more important than feeding widows? The answer: prayer and the ministry of the Word. The church has a mission, it has a primary purpose, and that purpose is spiritual, not physical or political. Feeding widows is a good thing, and we should try to do it well. But there are other organizations out there that also do a good job of feeding widows. What makes the church unique is the fact that we proclaim God’s Word. We offer the Gospel. We offer Jesus. People will not always understand this or be glad for it, but that’s okay, we love them anyway.
Are you clear on your purpose? If you’re like me, you’re surrounded by voices offering a hundred good ideas for things you could be giving your energy to. Jesus was wise enough to get away from the noise and pray, and when He did He found the clarity and strength to press on with the mission the Father had for him, regardless of others’ expectations. Let’s follow in His footsteps and lovingly offer the people around us what they need most, even if it’s not what they’re asking for.