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“But he answered his father, `Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.'” Luke 15:29 (NIV)

Disappointment in life normally comes from not getting what we expected.

A friend a few years my senior used to say often with tongue in cheek, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he will not be disappointed!” Unfortunately, we in the developed world have many expectations and when they go unmet we are left with disappointment and frustration.

At this stage of my life I have begun to realize that many of my aspirations of where I thought I would be at my age will not materialize, at least  not in the short term.  I often live with more disappointment than I’m willing to admit.

In the classic tale of the prodigal son Jesus told in Luke chapter 15 it is interesting to note the contrast between the two brothers in the story. As we know, the younger son  expected his inheritance early and upon receiving it, squandered it. But in doing so, he found the reality that a better life was to be had back in his father’s house. 

When the younger son returned home he received a very unexpected welcome – his waiting father ran to meet him and threw an extravagant celebration in his honor.

We usually don’t focus on the older brother who stayed home and saw himself as “slaving” for his father.  His life was full of disappointment because he must have felt that his commitment to keeping the rules would reap rewards down the line. Discipline and duty would surely gain him an advantage over his foolish, rebellious younger brother.

It is easy for some of us, yours truly included, to live life that way. We keep to a performance regimen so Dad will be proud of us. Maybe He will notice our exceptional behavior and give us whatever we want – when we want it. Unfortunately, we end up disappointed with that orientation toward life.

In recent years I’m learning much more about the way God designed us to live in relationship with Him by focusing on the process, or the daily walk with Him, rather than living with high expectations of what might result from my peak performance. It’s the difference between learning to enjoy the process as opposed to focusing merely on results.

Think of a skill or hobby that you really enjoy. It could be anything from learning a musical instrument to playing a sport or developing a new skill. It doesn’t take much to motivate you when you enjoy the process of learning even when you don’t see immediate results. The moment you switch over to focusing on the results the process becomes more laborious. Often the harder we try to do something the more ineffective we become.

A better quality of life emerges when we live a life of faith in God and let our expectations rest with Him. Accepting the results that come our way with a grateful heart may reap greater benefits in the long run than anxiously focusing on the results that seem beyond our grasp.

The words of the older brother in the story reveal that he expected  a certain level of attention from his father as a result of his good behavior. When the younger brother expected rejection and was willing to be put on the level of a servant, the father not only ran toward him but reinstated him in the family.

The broader implication is that we can expect our Heavenly Father to rejoice in us, to desire a relationship with us, to demonstrate love and generosity to us, to rejoice whenever we move toward Him.  Maybe, when we experience disappointment it’s because we are focused on the wrong expectations.

Perhaps the lesson that we need to hear is that duty and discipline when launched from the wrong motives will never win any credibility before a loving God who cares deeply for us and desires us to enjoy our relationship with Him. Moving in His direction will always reap unexpected benefits.

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