Does God owe you anything? Should you expect certain “things” out of life? The Declaration of Independence proclaims that some of the “unalienable rights” God has granted to humanity are “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I think many of us here in America have interpreted that phrase to mean that we will receive comfort, safety and self-actualization. In short, many of us think we deserve “the good life,” a life full of fun and pleasure and enjoyment.
This attitude starkly struck me the other night when I turned on the television and found the movie “Bruce Almighty,” which I had not seen in while. In the movie, Buffalo TV reporter Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is angry when he is passed over for the anchor job at his station. In one scene he embarks on a bitter diatribe blaming God for his problems while his girlfriend Grace Connelly, (Jennifer Aniston) attempts to comfort him:
Grace: You know that everything happens for a reason.
Bruce: See, that I don’t need. That is a cliché. That is not helpful to me. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”… I have no bird, I have no bush. God has taken my bird and my bush.
Grace: “Oh, I see. So, so, God is picking on you, is that what you’re saying?”
Bruce: “No, He’s ignoring me completely…”
Grace: “All right. You know? Enough. All right. Will you stop being such a martyr?”
Bruce: “I am not being a martyr. I’m a victim. God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if he wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm!”
After I watched that scene, I wondered how many of us (myself included) oftentimes think like Bruce: we blame God when life does not meet our dreams, hopes, and expectations. But maybe God is not the problem… we are the problem! We believe that we deserve the best life has to offer without pain or hardship. Now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think that way!” But how often when you faced trials, difficulties, or even persecution, have you asked yourself the question “Why me?” “Why is this happening to me?” “It’s not fair!”
If we are disappointed at all in life, perhaps we are expecting and seeking after the wrong things. Recently I was personally challenged when I preached a message series on the life of Daniel. Daniel did all the right things: he obeyed the Old Testament commands and remained pure and loyal to God in spite of the pressures of living and working in a foreign land he had been forcibly deported to. Yet Daniel’s life kept repeating a cycle: His faith would be tested by a crisis involving possible physical harm or death; he would honor God and risk his life by doing the right thing; then he would be promoted by the king to a higher position of authority and prominence; soon after he would face a greater, more dangerous trial then he had previously. For someone as faithful and gifted as Daniel, he did not experience the “success” we might imagine he should. But Daniel’s life was not about his own comfort, safety, and self-actualization. It was not about getting a better job and a bigger house. He wanted to serve God and make a difference in the world.
The same is true of all the great people in the Bible: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Jeremiah, Mary (the mother of Jesus), and the Apostle Paul, just to name a few. These people loved and served God, but experienced hardships, persecution, and suffering. Were they doing something wrong? One of my favorite authors, Erwin McManus puts it this way: “…God calls us to give our lives for something greater than ourselves. The path is thick with mystery, danger, and the unknown…”.
So indeed, your expectations can be dangerous. If you believe the meaning of life can be boiled down to the possession of freedom and happiness, you might need to adjust your mindset. Perhaps God wants you to join him on a great adventure, in which you risk and sacrifice your life towards a greater purpose. And therein, you will discover true liberty and fulfillment. I can’t imagine a better way to live!