When Should “Surprise” Turn into “Expectation?”

This is not a blog that is intended to give answers. I offer it to you for thought, reflection, and feedback.

One of my favorite 80s movies–and the best corny high school movie of that era–is Say Anything… with John Cusack. And one of Cusack’s lines from that movie that typifies teenage angst:  “If you start off disappointed, then everything has to be a pleasant surprise.”

Yes, we might expect that from a teenager going through a dark-and-disturbed phase of life. But it seems that we often give in to that philosophy even in our adult life. Kind of like saying “It’s not going to snow” when, deep down, we are hoping for a blizzard.

It’s as if we have some cosmic power over the universe by being negative. Actually, what we are doing is making sure that our defenses are raised against the possibility of disappointment. If we set the bar of expectation low, then we are overjoyed when we jump it. And the margin of victory is just icing on the cake.

I have been guilty of this in many ways, and I was very guilty of it on Sunday morning.

I had completely geared myself up to preach to empty seats. I could count 18 people that I knew for a fact would not be in church on Sunday. I was fully prepared for the fact that the attendance, the offering, and perhaps even the spirit of the church would be low even in the middle of this extraordinary time of the year.

Shows what I know.

We had 95 people in church on Sunday. Even with all those people absent. Even with our choir being bulldozed by the flu. Even with several people that I expected to see being absent because of that very same flu.

A lot of bloggers/pastors may laugh at that. 95, and that’s good? Well, yes, it is. It’s not a big church, and the calling is not to be a “big” church. We’re trying to be who God called us to be, nothing more and nothing less. 59% of the churches in the United States average less than 100 in attendance, and that’s okay.

What is astonishing is the quality of what happened on Sunday, much more than the size of the group. Yes, I MUCH prefer to preach to a full room…but it’s quality worship that matters.

People were leading worship that had never participated. We had some terrific prayers offered by people in the congregation. Four people joined the church, with two professing Christ as Lord for the first time and coming to be baptized.

I was in awe of this incredible day of worship. But should I be?

Sometimes we set our expectations far too high, beyond the reach of what God is calling us to do. But at some point, should the element of surprise begin to disappear from the events at Augusta Heights? Should we be expecting great things–within reason–rather than getting a shock when God is coming near?

Maybe it’s time to realize that the Holy Spirit is up to some things that we can neither predict nor control. Maybe it’s time for us to get on board with the whole Advent message of expectation and anticipation because we know that good things are going to happen. (And they can happen even if the attendance is a little off).

Maybe it’s time for “surprise” to become the new “normal” at church. Anticipation and expectation can be just as enlightening and enjoyable as one of those pleasant surprises.


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