What Do You Expect?
In February of this year, I spoke at the Florida Conference Women’s Retreat. Yes, I know that seems weird — and it may seem even weirder that this was the second time I have done so. Believe me, when they asked the 450 attendees to raise their hands if this was the first time attending, and I wasn’t able to raise my hand, I felt a little weird.
Normally, women’s ministries and I are politely acquainted but not in any kind of active relationship. About the only experience I had prior to these speaking engagements was conveniently forgetting something at the church office during the women’s ministry cookie exchange. I showed up, feigned surprise and “exchanged” a few cookies while blessing their good culinary work.
But I digress … .
Speaking during this event has driven something home to me that I long for in all our home churches. Each time I have gone, the women in attendance are overflowing with the expectation that Jesus will be present and work through the music, the speaker, the seminars and the fellowship to bring a life-changing revelation to them. They completely invest their faith in the worship opportunity.
Their expectation can be felt in the passion with which they sing, the engagement with the messages and the willingness to participate in everything — with hardly an invitation. No one has to beg them to sing louder or respond; they just do. Even a good morning is met with an “amen,” and, for a change, the instruments need to compete against the volume of singing in order to be heard. It’s electric.
What makes the experience especially meaningful for me is how much these women participate given what they are going through. Several ladies shared stories of husbands in prison, kids out of the church, financial troubles, work issues and a host of other trials that would make most people lose their faith.
Yet, these women refuse to let any of these circumstances steal their blessing and alter their expectations. In 2 Corinthians, Paul, speaking about giving, states, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (ESV).
While this certainly applies to financial stewardship, what about faith stewardship? What about the investment of praise, worship and hope? Heb. 11:6 says faith is what pleases God — so in all our giving of time and finances, what do we give in terms of faith?
Adventists like to judge Pentecostals for their emotional expressiveness during worship service while envying them at the same time. When I was among them in high school, I was amazed to see how early they would arrive to put their Bibles down on the front row — to save their seat — in order to catch everything that was spoken from the pulpit. I was stunned at how they had to create application processes because so many wanted to be involved or even apprenticed in audio/visual arts, or greeting, or even help direct cars in the parking lot. Every area of life had the potential to reveal Jesus to them, and they didn’t want to miss out. What kinds of expectations do we bring to ministry and worship?
We might expect the sermon to be similar to the other hundreds we have heard from the pastor. We may expect no one will sing. We expect to arrive 15 minutes late due to the inevitable family drama that occurs getting ready for worship service. We might expect we don’t have to try very hard because we are only volunteers. We might expect the service will be an hour, lunch will occur promptly at noon and once the sun sets we can go back to life, which we expect more out of than church — something wholly other and outside of life.
We have lowered expectations for our worship experiences and ministry opportunities. We lack any kind of vision for what God might be able to do if we invested our faith — and people perish for lack of vision.
We allow our faith expectations to take a beating through cynicism, stress, past hurts and imperfect realities we feel will never change. The product is cynical, stressful, harmful, stagnant faith-communities that die.
God has promised that where two or more are gathered in His name, He is among them (Matt. 18:20). He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to His children (Luke 11:13) — a gift that transforms attitudes and perspectives and realities. What if we, as clergy and laity, stepped back, identified our faithless expectations and replaced them with a fresh hope that what occurs Sabbath morning can be revelationary and revolutionary? How many blessings have we missed because our faith wasn’t paying attention? What do we expect?