You can’t do that. How many times have we heard it? You can’t do that. That’s too hard. It costs too much. We’ve never done it that way before. You’re too young. And you’re too old. And you are not a man. The world is really good at telling us no. So good, in fact, that we often find ourselves living up to low expectations. Instead of seeking the things that are above and putting ourselves into every task as though we were doing it for the Lord (which is what we are instructed to do in Colossians 3), we settle for good enough.
In their book, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations,” Alex and Brett Harris note that our society doesn’t expect much from young people – except trouble.[i] As a result, teens become blinded by complacency.[ii]
“But don’t kid yourself,” the Harris twins write. “The cost of complacency is real, and it can be tragic. We slide into habits of mediocrity and excuse making. Life gets boring, and we’re not sure why. We know, or at least suspect, that there’s a lot more we could do or be. But floating along, there’s no way to be sure.”[iv]
So how do you know if you have become blinded by complacency? ShareFaith magazine offers five warning signs. 1. You depend on tradition instead of the Holy Spirit. 2. You tolerate sin. 3. You see no fruit, no evidence that your life of faith has accomplished anything. 4. You are not pursuing spiritual growth through prayer, Bible study, worship, or service. 5. You remain focused on yourself and not on others.[v]
Is some of that hitting a little too close to home? I confess. I found this chapter on complacency very convicting. There are a couple of areas of my life where I have settled for good enough. Perhaps you have, too. Take heart. We don’t have to stay where we are. We can move beyond the expectations of the world around us. We can strive for more. We can strive to please God.
One way to exceed worldly expectations is to do what is hard for us.[vi] What is hard for you might not be hard for me, but I may not be any good at the things that come easily for you. You might be very disciplined when it comes to diet and exercise. I am not. But I can become more disciplined in those areas. And you might find it very hard to talk to people about your faith, where I find that really easy to do. But you can start praying that God will help you take advantage of the many opportunities you have to share your faith with others. It might be scary at first. But that’s kind of the point. When we do what is hard for us, we are relying on God, and that’s when faith grows. And that pleases God very much.
One way to exceed expectations is to do what is hard for us. Another way is to be known for what we do.[vii] As followers of Jesus Christ, it is not good enough to simply refrain from doing what is bad. We must do what is good. Micah 6:8 spells it out. What does the Lord require? To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. And that pleases God very much.
We can exceed expectations by doing what is hard for us, and we can exceed expectations by doing what is good. Another way to exceed expectations is to pursue excellence, not excuses.[viii] If there are areas of your life where you are settling for just getting by when you know you could do better if you really tried, then you are not pursuing excellence. If there is some aspect of life that you have decided will always be this way even though you have never put forth the kind of effort that really changes things, then you are not pursuing excellence.[ix] And that does not please God because it shows a lack of faith.
Remember, in Philippians 4:13, Paul exclaims, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The world says we can’t. But God says, "Oh yes, you can!" Jesus calmed a stormy sea, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind, and brought the dead back to life. Jesus could do such things because God was at work in him (John 14:10). But Jesus says in John 14:12 that everyone who believes in him will do even greater things than he has.
Now, I don’t know if David did GREATER things that Jesus, but David did great things. He certainly did far greater things than anyone expected of him.
David was the 8th son of a small town farmer named Jesse. The family was loyal to Saul, the king of Israel. In fact, three of David’s older brothers were already serving in Saul’s army, but David was too young for that. He was still a boy. He worked out in the fields, taking care of his father’s sheep. Sometimes, David was also called upon to play music to soothe King Saul when he was having one of his “episodes.” One day, Jesse called David and instructed him to deliver food and supplies to his brothers on the battle front. David goes, leaves the provisions with the baggage handler and runs out to greet his brothers on the battle field.
For 40 days, Israel and the Philistines have faced off against one another. These are two great powers who have repeatedly vied for dominance in the land. Both have had victories and defeats. At one point, years ago, back before Saul was king, the Philistines had captured the ark of God! But they learned, just as Israel had, that no one can manipulate God. Either you serve God, or you don’t. Those who do, find favor with God. Those who do not … suffer.
It didn’t take long for the Philistines to give up the ark. And Israel had finally wised up. They had turned away from the foreign gods they had been serving, and they turned back to the God of the ark, the God of their ancestors, the God who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. And, once more, God had intervened to protect Israel from attack. The Philistines were driven out, and all of the territory that Israel had lost was returned to them. For as long as Samuel served as judge of Israel, the hand of God was against the Philistines. But things had not gone so smoothly after Saul was anointed king of Israel. Ever since then, there had been hard fighting between the two.
And now they are at it again. They have faced off in the valley of Elah. But this time, the Philistines have a mighty warrior on their side. A champion named Goliath. He stands almost 7 feet tall, and he is strong enough to bear the weight of a full suit of armor. His coat alone would have weighed 126 pounds. This man is a powerful force, and he knows it. “Why are you lining up to fight? Am I not a Philistine? And you are servants of Saul. Tell you what. Choose someone to represent you. Send him out here to fight me. If he wins, then we will be your servants. But if I win, you will serve us.”
For 40 days, Goliath taunted Saul and his army. All that bragging did just what Goliath intended. Saul and his entire army were intimidated. They were afraid. They were very much afraid. But the shepherd boy was not.
When he arrives with the provisions for his brothers, David hears Goliath’s taunts, and he says, “Who is this guy? Who does he think he is? Does he honestly believe that one uncircumcised Philistine can stand up to the armies of the living God?”
“Don’t be afraid,” David tells Saul. “I will go fight the Philistine.”
And Saul tells him, “You can’t do that. You are just a boy!”
Low expectations. Saul had very low expectations. He did not believe there was any way possible that this young, untrained boy. A musician, no less! There was just no way this child could defeat a massive, fully equipped, trained and seasoned warrior. But, see, that’s the problem. Saul was looking for a person he could trust. David was trusting God.
David knew that the Lord had been with him out in those fields when he was taking care of the sheep. Whenever a bear or a lion had attacked the flock, David had taken it down. But he knew that it was God who had given him the power to do it, and David had faith that God would save him now. “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” Now that is faith!
In fact, David had so much faith in God that he refused to wear the body armor of a soldier. He didn’t even carry a sword. All he needed were his shepherd’s staff, five rocks, and a slingshot. “The battle is the Lord’s,” David said. God will give us the victory. And that is exactly what God did.
David exceeded everyone’s expectations. Because he trusted God. He had faith in God. He had faith that God could and would work through him. David had faith that God could and would do miraculous things through him. And God did.
God can also do miraculous things through us. I don’t know what giants you are facing today, but I know there are a lot of giants out there in the world. Maybe you are facing a giant called cancer or depression or anxiety. Maybe the giant you are facing is debt or loneliness or bullying. Maybe the giant standing in your way is bigotry or injustice or drug abuse. I don’t care how big that giant is, stand up to it. Exceed expectations. Have faith. Remember: the battle is the Lord’s.
[i] Alex and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2008. 36.
[ii] Harris, 90.
[iii] Harris, 91.
[iv] Harris, 91.
[v] “5 Signs Complacency is Killing Ministry.” Published by ShareFaith magazine at www.sharefaith.com/blog/2012/12/5-signs-complacency-killing-ministry. Downloaded September 9, 2016.
[vi] Harris, 92.
[vii] Harris, 93.
[viii] Harris, 93.
[ix] Harris, 101-102.