Joy and Unmet Expectations

Posted: January 4, 2009 in christian growth, Joy

Ezra 1 sets the background for Ezra 3 – the people have gone out of exile in Babylon to begin rebuilding the Temple.  Some in this group of returning captives had been born in Babylon and had no idea what the original House of God had looked like…others, however, had a very clear understanding of how it ought to look.  As the foundation of the “second” temple is completed, many begin to rejoice.  And this is when it gets really interesting…

READ: Ezra 1 & 3

Key Verses: Ezra 3:11-13

Key Principles: In order to know true joy, we have to bring our expectations into alignment with the purposes of God.

They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, “For He is good, for His mercy and lovingkindness endure forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid! But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house (Solomon’s Temple), when the foundation of THIS house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice, though many shouted aloud for joy. So the people could not distinguish the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far off. Ezra 3:11-13

Few stories in the Bible are more dramatic than this one but I love it for our study of joy. I’ve tried to see this situation from the perspective of the “ancient men” – they saw the original and they knew the stories of its fame and grandeur. Clearly a new one built by a few thousand newly-freed Jews with the resources of a foreign king is going to pale in comparison. And maybe they were also weeping because they knew that Israel had sinned her way into the situation and they’re realizing that the “coming out” is going to be a long and laborious process. I get all that, but I still think that this moment was cause for real, true joy. This was not a moment when God was restoring all the former fortune and splendor of Solomon’s kingdom; this was a moment when God was restoring the vision of what the kingdom could become for the next generation. The building of a new life outside of captivity would be up to this small remnant and God had set them on the path to do it. So, looking back over their shoulders at this point, replaying what used to be, wishing for a rewind is not healthy or encouraging or mindful of the miraculous things that God has done to get them out of the pit and to this new place of possibility. The priests should have seen this as the first day of a new life and looked ahead to the ways that God would restore and rebuild them (if He’s done this much, surely He’ll do more.)

Wow, I do this ALL the time. In fact, I was doing this last week. Remembering a situation that went bad almost 20 years ago and wondering what my life would be like now if it hadn’t gone that way. And though God has done exceedingly abundantly more than I could ask or think in my life in the 20 years since, I was caught in a pit of unmet expectations.

People regret so many things: not finishing their education, marrying the wrong person,  making a big mistake on a job or in a relationship, the way they were raised as a kid, what they thought their lives would look like at this point – there are so many things that can march into the category of disappointment and chip away at our actual now and present joy. All of these things that haunt us in the rear view mirror are distractions and drain us of current, real, possible joy.

In order to know true joy in each moment, we have to bring our expectations into alignment with the purposes of God. How do we deal with unmet expectations? I’m still figuring it out, but I think it has a lot to do with gratitude…being intentionally thankful for every single thing – big and small – that comes from His hand and His heart.

This week I’m determined to look toward the coming year with thanksgiving first, and form my expectations around His purposes for my life. From that will come true and lasting joy…I am just about certain of it.

Expecting only Him,


P.S. Honestly, friends, I really AM trying to make these posts shorter but I’m not having any luck whatsoever. Feel free to edit as you go…read every other sentence or something because I just can’t trim anymore than I already have. You’re awesome to put up with my verbosity!

  1. It’s very interesting…the rear-view mirror is meant to be a tool we use to keep things that are behind us from creeping up and crashing into our present position. Yet we get so fixed on what things look like in the past that we crash our future ourselves!

    I think that real joy also comes from being thankful that those things I “regret” do not define who I am now! Though they were unfortunate, and I sometimes wish it could have been different, those things didn’t at all ruin God’s ability to work His wonders in my life. I think that realizing how much God has done in us and through in spite of our failures is a perfect reminder of how powerful and limitless He really is…and to me, that is worth rejoicing!

    My expectations have to be in His ability to carry me above my humanity, rather than trying, in my humanity, to live up to expectation. His ability to do that gives me the ability to expect the impossible!

  2. Sarah says:

    Wow, that’s so true. Looking back in disappointment over even small things or little mistakes or embarrassing moments in our past can really steal our joy! Keeping the Lord’s perspective about our lives and seeing ourselves as He sees us can be a conscious effort sometimes, but releases us to experience real joy. I love the rear view mirror analogy!

  3. Jen Hoffmann says:

    Ms. Bo…I need you to put a tag on your Joy study posts so I can go back to the older ones…I’m reccomending you 🙂

  4. bolovesjoe says:

    Jen – shoot! I thought I did it earlier, but WordPress made a bunch of changes and somehow my tags didn’t “stick”. 🙂 Thanks for the head’s up.

  5. Ann Dunagan says:

    Hi Bo!

    Good word. Today I feel like one of those ancient ones, who remembered the glory of the old temple, but were saddened by the spiritual attempts of today.

    Do you remember long ago when you spent days focussing on trying to find the chocolate flowers for that women’s retreat we did . . . and then all those favors ended up melted in the car? It’s funny, because out of all the preaching and teaching that went on at that event, that is the only God-nugget that stayed with me all these years.

    Today, a group of homeschool kids and parents came with me to do a special missions chapel at a local Christian high school. We had a whole presentation intricately lined up – with special music, choreography, drama, short YouTube videos, special photos, and a mission DVD. I ended up running late due to trying to buy candy for a “necessary” object lesson and getting stuck behind a snow plow . . . and then by the time I got to the school, their internet wasn’t working right in the building, and we couldn’t access our slides . . . and we totally couldn’t follow the “plan.” All my efforts to try to make it extra-special, fell short and totally flat. Although the kids and choreography were awesome, my preaching felt shallow, and missed the “depth” of heart-changing power. I felt like crying afterwards . . . or hiding in a hole.

    Most people said it was good; but I know it wasn’t what it should have been. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit wasn’t “there” like I’ve felt Him before. The experience felt like a spanking-discipline from God. My only consolation was remembering your melted garden flowers from years ago . . . and hoping that somehow God’s grace would cover me and minister, even in my shortcomings.

    Wanting that JOY (even when expectations fall short),

  6. bolovesjoe says:

    Oh, Ann…I have lived that darned chocolate garden favor lesson over and over and over again in my life. Most often when I’m feeling pretty on-top-of-the-world, something melts. I’ve grown really thankful that He uses these “small” things like chocolate and slow snow plows to keep us really connected to His big heart. You’re connected, my friend – and you’ll take your bucket back to His unending well of salvation and you’ll draw with joy. (Maybe there’s CHOCOLATE in the well!) Love you!

  7. Ann Dunagan says:

    ahhhhh, Bo . . . you about make me cry . . . with JOY.

    I really needed that word of encouragement.


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