On Expecting the Predictable

In the 10th century B.C., Israel - then a united kingdom - essentially had it all. While we know that God's work was far from over, the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai seemed to reach a powerful climax when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, a generation of wandering in the desert, no shortage of bloodshed while taking possesion of the promised land, and a few missteps while establishing a united kingdom, everything finally seemed... right. 2 Chron. 5-7 paints a powerful picture of celebration, triumph, and great anticipation at the inauguration of what should have been a long era of spiritual health and national peace. The glory of the Lord filled the temple. God dwelt in the midst of his people and they enjoyed the opportunity for fellowship with and forgiveness from him like never before. There was relative peace within the kingdom and with it's neighbors. Israel propsered.

Just over 200 years later, Israel - now the northern portion of a divided kingdom - was utterly defeated by the Assyrians and carried off into exile. Judah - the southren kingdom - would soon suffer a similar fate. (2 Kings 17:6-41, 25:1-21)

What happened? It may seem obvious with the benefit of 2,736 years of hindsight. But you can imagine the Israelites' questions as they were being led away, "Why is this happening to us? I thought we were God's chosen people! Where is he? Why has he abandonded us? How can a good God let this happen?"

In fact Israel and Judah's conquer and exile shouldn't have been a surprise at all; they should have seen it coming. God is who he says he is and does what he says he'll do. All the way back on the brink of their entrance into the promised land, Moses solemnly warned Israel what would come, "if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today... The Lord will bring you and your king, whom you set over you, to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have know. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone... The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understad, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young," (Deut. 28:15, 36, 49, ESV). Later, at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, Solomon re-issued this warning, "if you turn aside and forsake my statues and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples," (2 Chron. 7:19-20, ESV). After years of sin and idolatry, what did Israel expect?

There's an abundance of uneccessary anger and anxiety that come from wrong expectations. If you expect that your faith ensures financial prosperity, you're in for some unnecessary anger when your home loses value. If you expect God to reward your faithful church attendence by answering your prayers on your timeline, you're in for some unnecessary anxiety when your deadline comes and goes. Whether you expect it or not, sometimes God's discipline hurts. Even if you know it's inevitable, it's still a hassell when your car breaks down. But if you think God immunizes you from painful lessons and bad alternators, then you've set yourself up for an extra dose of pain and frustration, at least some of which dwindles if you see these things coming.

Meanwhile there's an abundance of peace and freedom that comes from expecting the predictable. God is who he says he is and does what he says he'll do. People are who God says they are, and the world works the way God says it does. There's peace in expecting that your future has little to do with the value of your home. There's freedom in expecting that God will tell you what you need to know when you need to know it. There's comfort in expecting that God will use pain for good. There's at least some benefit in expecting that, sooner or later, you're probably gonna get a flat tire.

So, where do your expectations come from? Why do you expect what you do from God, people, or the church? Do you expect God to do what you think he should do or be the way you think he should be? Do you expect the world to be the way Modern Family and The Good Wife say it is? Do you expect your marraige to be like a country song? The church to be the way some blogger says it should be? One of God's many great gifts to us in the bible is the opportunity to know what to expect. Not about how Mike Olt will adjust to playing third for the Cubs at the major league level (which is well, by the way... at least I think... well I hope... well we'll see), but about the things that matter most. It's good news that there are probably fewer surprises in life than you and I might suspect.

When the Israelites turned to idols, what did they expexct would happen? Did they think they were immune to consequence because they were God's chosen people? Did they think that faithfulness was less important since they had established a kingdom and temple in the promised land? Whatever the case, it certainly doesn't seem like they got their expectations from God.

Maybe they wouldn't have turned to idols if they really expected - with conviction- that God would respond the way he said he would. Even if that expectation didn't change their behavior, at least they wouldn't have been surprised by the consequence. Rather than doubt God, perhaps their faith would have been ironically strengthed when they witnessed God doing precisely what he said he'd do. At the very least they should have found comfort in remembering Solomon's prayer that, "if they sin against you - for there is no one who does not sin - and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity... then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas and maintain their cause and forgive your people," (2 Chron. 6:36-39, ESV). God gave them the opportunity to expect all this. God told them how to respond when this happened. And things may have gone differently, may have been so much better, if they had simply expected the predictable.

In God's word he tells us what he is like and what he will do. He tells us what people are like and how we can expect the world to work. There's far more to living an abundant life than expecting the predictable, but it's certainly a piece to the puzzle. Praise God that he has given us that piece (ya, sure, that's a pun).

Let's learn from the mistakes of our Israelite brothers and sisters. Let's resolve to be people who expect God to do what he says he'll do, expect the world to be the way God says it will be, and expect our lives and our faith to work the way God says they will. Let's expect the predictable by expecting what God says will be.

To get you started on the path of expecting the predictable, here's a baker's handful of things I think the bible says we should (or shouldn't) expect:

1 - Don't expect Christianity to be easy. (2 Tim. 3:12; Matt. 16:24-25)

2 - Expect to prosper in the fruit of the spirit, not the things of this world. (Gal. 5:16-25; Phil. 4:10-13; Matt. 6:25-33)

3 - Expect to have good days and bad days, healthy days and sick days, just like everyone else. (Matt. 5:45b; Phil. 4:11-12)

4 - All people are born sinners, so they're not intrinsically good; expect them to act accordingly. (Rom. 3:9-23; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 Cor. 5:9-13) *** But, remember, all people are intrinsically valuable because they are created in the image of God. Treat them like it. (Matt. 4:43-47) ***

5 - Expect that both non-Christians and Christians will sin. People will lie to you and gossip about you. They'll be selfish and rude. Even in the church. And you'll do it too. (1 John 1:5-10) *** On this subject I'll offer a free word of advice: admit when you're wrong and genuinely seek forgiveness; freely give forgiveness to those who do the same. (Matt. 18:15-35; Col. 3:13) ***

6 - Expect to be forgiven, justified, and one day perfected and united in fellowship with your loving savior and his people for eternity by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 15:12-58; Rev. 21-22:5)

Grace be with you

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