This article is not about marriage. It is about our expectations in life. Although in part written from the perspective of two young people baptised into Christ and deeply in love who enter into marriage with all the anticipations this brings, the principles set out below apply equally to an individual disciple’s expectations of life in general, personally or ecclesially. God uses the anvil of life to shape His servants by means that we cannot anticipate and would rarely choose. Although the sequence of our life may not pan out as we would wish, God has given absolute assurance that He is active in our lives—“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32)

Weddings are a time of joy, of expectations of a future life of happiness and fulfil ment. With smiles and glowing faces a young man and a young woman set out together on their lifelong journey. What expectations are in their mind and hearts? How realistic are their expectations? Will they be fulfilled?

“For richer, for poorer”—a familiar phrase the world over. We usually associate these words with the marriage ceremony, part of the expression of devotion and vow of constancy of each party to the other. The present is so full of love and happiness that surely no downturn in fortunes, no storm of life could cause shipwreck of this wonderful union publicly and confidently declared, God being called upon to witness.

With their vows freshly made, they set off together for a period of seclusion and adjustment. With a well planned honeymoon rarely is this period anything other than a time of happiness and fulfilment— spiritually and physically.

If we were permitted to look into the marriage three months later—two years—ten years further on, how contented is our young couple as they journey through life together? What effects has time had on each of them in forging them to a closer copy of the character of Christ? Have the unseen events of life ‘conspired’ to frustrate even the most realistic of their expectations? And in this event, how will each of those virile, fresh young spirits cope with changes in life’s circumstances—whether it be a major life event, or simply a change in housing or employment?

Origins of Expectations

Early life experiences and observation of adult behaviour form and forge those attitudes and expectations which each partner brings to a marriage.

If the environment we grew up in was safe and secure, we may well imagine that our future will follow a similar course. Whatever the case may have been, we have come through childhood with a broad brush picture of what to expect from life and step forward into maturity and marriage, just as we did into discipleship, full of resolve that the glow of our happiness will not be dimmed. And rightly so.

But it is not only childhood memories and perceptions which lay the groundplan of our expectations. We are very much affected by those around us, within as well as without the ecclesia. For example, in a society where women have clamoured for equality with men, wives have come to expect husbands ‘take their turn’ in duties which used to be seen as the woman’s role. Being disciples first, we must look to the Scriptures and build our own image on what God has revealed.

Each person in a marriage brings a ‘basket’ of hopes and aspirations which involve not only his own view of life but also what he anticipates of his spouse. A bride “in Christ” has expectations of herself as a wife and no doubt as a mother. She also has expectations of the attitudes and behaviour of her groom as a husband and potential father.

If we could take our groom’s thoughts and paint them on the imaginary canvas of life’s expectations, how well would they fit and interlock with those of his bride?

Realistic Expectations in Marriage

Sensible people embrace a realistic approach to life. To love God and His Word as deeply as you do is a proper expectation of one’s spouse. It would be folly to enter into a marriage if it were otherwise. Spiritual bonding requires that two people who fear Yahweh and esteem His Name “speak often one to another” of those very things they hold dear. Regular and daily recourse to prayer and to the Word is essential to keep our focus on the noblest expectations we have of future glory. Primarily we are disciples and marriage should enhance our walk in Christ.

Other realistic expectations may be that:

• Employment will be adequate to provide life’s needs

  • Your marriage will remain intact through to maturity and old age—or until the coming of our Lord
  • Your husband will love you and gently care for you
  • Your wife will always be faithful and devoted
  • You will have children and the pleasure of bringing them up in the Truth.

These and other ‘dreams’ are reasonable to anticipate and will have been explored by the couple in their courting days, that precious time when they first begin to understand each other. It is the time to discover and discuss expectations—and none is so small that it can be overlooked, no feeling too inconsequential to ignore. Between close associates there is openness. “I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:14).

Reality… and Unreality

Our happy couple beaming with the joy of life before them will settle into the routine of normal life. Employment, family, household, ecclesial responsibilities all have their right place. Each of these aspects of life has its own ‘demands’ on time and energy—“render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).

Yet in many ways we live in an ‘unreal’ world— perhaps, as well, an unreasonable world. It is a cruel world that presents visions which are illusory and creates expectations which are hard to fulfil. Our young couple may expect to afford to be able to start married life with all the resources their parents possess—accumulated over many years. This is an unrealistic expectation.

Extended and irregular working hours are becoming more common. It is unrealistic to anticipate the predictable hours of the past. It is unrealistic to expect that you will always have money to meet your perceived needs/ wants. Nevertheless at the end of a hard life the psalmist confidently affirmed, “I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (37:25).

Godliness With Contentment

The world is bent on persuading us that only by purchasing this product or indulging in that activity can we be happy and successful. The need for more money can become obsessive with us, for the world is doing its best to convince us that money provides the key to fulfilment of all our desires. This philosophy is thrust upon us every day and we can easily begin to believe it… until we turn to our daily readings. There we are always reminded of our Father’s constancy—“no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psa 84:11). We must get our priorities right—“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).

The apostle speaks very strongly indeed about this very danger of wanting to “get rich”—“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction… O man of God, flee these things” (1 Tim 6:9 nasb, 11). Let your way of life, he says, “be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5).

What then of our expectations? We need to “set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2), for we are always straining toward what is ahead—the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13,14).

Since this is the case we should have only meagre expectations of the material things of life, counting them as nothing more than refuse, something we are prepared to do without, that we might “win Christ” (v8).

Men and Women of Inspiration

Most disciples set out into adult life with cheerful optimism. We have the greatest treasure in our vessels and a loving Father in heaven. With Him as our guide we can satisfy many of our personal desires. Yet though He never fails to superintend our every moment, He allows some events to happen which seem to thwart our way—though in reality they are shaping us for His eternal purpose.

What a wonderful illustration we have in the life of Abraham and Sarah. Cognisant of the great honour bestowed upon them by the living God, they waited for the fulfilment of that which He had richly promised, a longed for son. Many years they waited, in faith, yet at times anxious and uncertain as they tried to figure out how they should act. When they did act, at Sarah’s request, the result brought heartache of a different kind. The tension created in the household could have—with lesser people—split the marriage. They never saw that as an option. Instead their faith increased and they learned that with God nothing is impossible (Gen 18:14).

Then there was that lovely young lad Joseph, favoured by God with promise of promotion above his fellows. He was only 17 when, despite his godfearing ways, he suddenly lost everything he valued in life—his home and dear father (he had already suffered early the blow of his mother’s death) and his liberty. Things only got worse for some time; in fact for thirteen years he endured the humiliation of slavery and of imprisonment. The record clearly shows that in all this time Joseph never gave up confidence in God’s faithfulness to carry out what He had foretold in dreams.

And what of Naomi. Life had dealt her many bitter blows. In the end she turned back to the One alone in whom she could trust and received far more than she anticipated for her trust in Him (Ruth 4:14–16).

Nor did life bring for Hannah the expected blessing of motherhood. Added to this daily anguish was the relentless taunting of Peninnah. Yet Hannah was not soured by the adverse circumstances of life. Nor did she turn against her husband and reproach him (as Rachel in the bitterness of her barrenness once reproached Jacob). Her great respect for the honour of God’s name exceeded her overwhelming desire for a child. Her ceaseless prayer became directed towards what she desired to give to Him that He might be honoured (1 Sam 1:11). She was not to know that God would reward her generous and faithful spirit with sons and daughters.

What also of David, who must often have recalled his happy and secure childhood among the hills of Bethlehem, as he grappled with the envy and malice of ungodly men; who bore the scorn of a wife who lacked understanding; and later endured the depths of shame that came from terrible sin that he acknowledged showed his own lack of understanding (Prov 6:32–35); and bore the public exposure and the ongoing consequences while never relinquishing his faith and trust in God. Though a godly man fall, he said, “he shall not be utterly cast down: for Yahweh upholdeth him with his hand” (Psa 37:24). His many psalms reveal his confidence in the faithfulness of the God whom he had learned to trust in when he was young and all was well.

These and many more, who though remote from us in time were real men and women, with aspirations and hopes just like ours, are inspiration for us in how we should respond to the vicissitudes of life. It is to the Word of God that we must always turn, both for guidance and for encouragement, so that we may keep in focus the reality and purpose of life in Christ. “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh” (Lam 3:26).

Expectations of Life in Christ

God has told us what He has in mind for us: “plans of welfare and not of calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11 Roth). He has given us “a sure hope” which is very real and far surpasses any aspirations we may have. He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us “exceeding great and precious promises”. Without any doubt we know that He will keep His part until the end, for “he is faithful that promised” (Heb 10:23).

Having begun our life in Christ believing these things, we must go on believing, for He wants to see us enduring to the end. As the proverb tells us, “thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (27:1; Jas 4:13–15), so we must be prepared to accept the unexpected and not faint. “Always pray and not faint”, is the Lord’s command (Luke 18:1).

We are being prepared for a life of glory. Daily ups and downs are common to us all and joys are not unattended by sorrows. The psalmist had the right perspective: “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights” (119:143). There is a purpose in all the good and the evil that comes upon us, as faithful Job acknowledged: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).

Our Father loves us. We are His “dear children” (Eph 5:1). Building on this privileged relationship, the apostle gives us great encouragement: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye illegitimate, and not sons” (Heb 12:8).

Being forged into the divine image by the pressures of life is a process and requires time for its completion (see Elpis Israel pp 135–142). Family problems are not solved by being “in Christ”. At times they are exacerbated—“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” (Matt 10:35). Yet God has provided us in Christ with the means to rise above every downturn, to get through and beyond every calamity. “For he hath said, I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.”

Our Earnest Expectation

In monumental words, Paul shared his inward feelings in confessing, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18). Here is encouragement for all. Life is not always smooth, but “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (v28). God is interested in our ultimate “good” and foreknows that in the aggregate the experiences of our life will have shaped us to “share his holiness” (Heb 12:10 nasb). Though the process may not always be pleasant in itself, at times quite painful, what more could we desire than “the harvest of righteousness and peace” that it will yield.