While this is the title of my least favorite of Dickens’ works (almost turned me off him completely!), that is not the subject of this post.
What I’m referring to is the expectations we have of ourselves.
If you grew up in church, you probably acquired a long list of rules for ‘good Christian behavior’. Even if you met God as an adult, if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you picked up the same kind of list.
“A good Christian reads the Bible every morning, and prays.”
“A good Christian always tithes, and gives offerings, too.”
“A good Christian turns the other cheek.”
“A good Christian obeys everyone in authority.”
“A good Christian …”
I could go on indefinitely. The list I had by the time I was a teenager was about ten pages long, single-spaced, in size 8 font! (Is it any wonder our children abandon the church as soon as they can?)
Father God has been working in my life for a long time to get me to see that my list of expectations was not given to me by Him, but by religion.
In fact, the only list He has ever given me (or indeed any of us) is very short – love Him, love others as we love ourselves.
That’s it!! Just those two rules.
And even those are not something He expects me to do on my own. He knows I cannot. The only way I can do anything is to allow His Spirit to do it in and through me.
Left to myself, I either do what I want to do – which is often not good for me or for others – or I do what I ‘should’ do, from that long list of expectations I’ve got for my personal behavior.
It has taken years for me to break the ‘law’ that I must read my Bible and pray every morning. I’m not saying I had to break the habit of doing it, because I never was able to develop the habit! The expectation – the duty – of obeying that law, kept me from doing it! The more I thought about how much I ought to do it, the less able I was to actually do so. (Is this what Paul meant in Romans 7, where he talked about wanting to do what’s right, but being unable to do it? Hmm.) Once I was free of the ‘law’ – my expectation of my behavior – I was able to spend that time with Him freely, eagerly.
Lots of other ‘spiritual’ (actually, religious) laws have gone by the wayside over the years, and even those expectations I had of myself as a wife, a mother, a citizen, a woman. There are many areas of my life where I failed to live up to my expectations of/for myself, but as I give Him all those expectations, He replaces them with His love, forgiveness and grace.
Recently, I ran into ‘expectations’ yet again!
Yet again, I had to take them to Father God, and see what He has to say about them.
And, yet again, He showed me that He has no expectations of me outside of Himself. Everything He expects from me has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ, so all I have to do (and that not by myself, but thru and in Him) is to be in Him. That’s it!
Paul talks about how difficult it is to live the ‘good Christian life’ in the last few verses of Romans 7, but then he goes on to say in the first four verses of chapter 8, that ‘there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ because ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free’!!
Free to live without laws or expectations that I cannot meet.
Free to be and do His will in this life because it is His Spirit living in me!
In Rom. 6:16, Paul talks about how obeying sin makes us servants of it. Yet, trying to obey the law is also a sin. Yep, you heard me! Romans 7:4, and many other verses throughout scripture (Romans and Galatians, especially), say very plainly that we are not in bondage to the law. So, if I try to obey the law – whether it’s the OT one, or those ‘religious laws’ I picked up as a child in church – I become a servant of that law. I deliberately (if unknowingly) put myself into bondage!
Let me say it again – whenever I start trying to obey expectations, whether mine or someone else’s – I have become a slave to that ‘law’. Yet we are born again into liberty!!
Throughout the New Testament, it is clear that we are to live a life of freedom from sin, the law, death, lack, etc. All that freedom is given to us by His sacrifice, and we sadden Him when we refuse to live in His freedom.
Living with great expectations of ourselves (spiritually or any other way) can bring us just as much disappointment and despair as that stupid story by Dickens.
Let’s give up our expectations and just live free. In Him.
May Father God and His Holy Spirit reveal to you the expectations or laws that you are bound to, that are not from Him.
May you allow His truth to set you free of those, and bring you into the life of liberty in Him that Jesus died and rose again to obtain for you.
And may that life be just as abundant and joyous as He promised!
“The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek for sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine; and at the right time, and in the right way, is the right fruit found on it. Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus.” Hudson Taylor