Expect the Best
By David Feddes
“Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
Has a mysterious prowler been stalking you lately? You catch glimpses of him on the news, you sense him lurking in your neighborhood, and then one day he breaks into your home and attacks you personally. This is no ordinary prowler. He is a giant, and yet he moves in total silence and attacks without a sound. No lock or security system can keep him away. When he grabs you, you lose all hope of escaping, you have no strength to fight back, you don’t see any way that things can turn out okay. You might as well give up and give in. The giant’s name is Despair, and if you’re in his grip too long, he will paralyze you or strangle the life out of you.
Expecting the Worst
Some time ago I talked on the phone with a woman. The giant Despair had invaded her home and was attacking her even as we spoke. She and her husband had been married for decades, but their marriage had problems, and they were just about to the point of giving up. Neither of them wanted to throw away all those years together, but the woman didn’t see much hope that things would ever get better.
She asked me, “Do you think there’s any chance for us? Can a marriage this mixed up possibly survive?” I replied, “Of course. Anything is possible.” We talked about them going to a marriage counselor. “My husband says he’s willing to go, and so am I,” she said, but then she asked, “Do you think it’s any use? Can a marriage in this much trouble possibly survive?” I said, “Yes. Anything is possible.” “Have you ever heard of a marriage this bad that survived and got better?” “Yes, I have.” And so it went. All through our conversation, she kept asking, “Do you think it’s even worth trying? Do you think it’s really possible?” And I kept saying over and over, “Yes, it’s possible. Anything is possible. With God all things are possible.”
Despair can paralyze you. It can immobilize you and keep you from trying to get the help you need to improve your life, and despair can also keep you from taking action to help others.
You start out with high ideals and a desire to make the world better, but then despair stalks and paralyzes you. You go into teaching, hoping to make a difference in kids’ lives, but you don’t see much change, and after awhile you get so tired and discouraged that you stop trying to be creative, you stop trying to get close to kids, and you just go through the motions to get your paycheck.
Or you try to make a difference in the political arena, but your efforts keep going down to defeat, and after a while you give up. You stop writing the offices of government officials, you stop being politically active, you may even stay away from the polls and not bother voting at all.
Or you try to improve conditions in your neighborhood, but the gangs keep moving in, the businesses keep moving out, the crime keeps going up, and all your efforts seem like a waste. Why keep trying? Why not just keep your head low and do your best not to get yourself hurt, or better yet, get out of the neighborhood entirely, if you can.
Maybe you want to do something to help the homeless in this country or the hungry in other countries, but there are so many, and there seem to be more every time you look. Every time you turn on the television, there seems to be another disaster, another famine, another group of refugees fleeing their homeland. It grieves you to see these tragedies, but after a while, it all gets so overwhelming that you’re tempted just to ignore it. You can’t change the world, so why not forget about it and get on with making yourself comfortable?
Those are just a few of the ways that the despair can paralyze you. Despair makes you expect the worst. The world will never be any better. Your relationships will never be any better. You look forward to nothing but “the same old same old.” You stop believing in a better future, you stop thinking things can ever be different, and you stop trying.
Everything is Possible
Has this giant Despair been stalking you lately? If so, I have good news for you. You don’t have to expect the worst. Expect the best! You may not see how you can find your way out of a mess you’re in; you may not see how your efforts can make any difference in the world around you—but if you’ll stop looking at yourself long enough to look at God, your entire outlook will change.
Listen to some of the things Jesus says in the Bible: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). “I tell you the truth,” says Jesus, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). What’s possible? Everything is possible!
In Mark 9 the Bible describes the situation where Jesus said that. A boy was possessed by an evil spirit, a demon. This spirit made the boy unable to talk and often threw him into seizures and convulsions. The boy’s father took him to Jesus’ disciples and asked them to help. They tried, but they couldn’t heal the boy or free him from the demon. Some religious teachers saw all this and made some remarks which the disciples didn’t appreciate. The disciples soon got into an argument with these teachers. Meanwhile, the man and his son were left standing.
Sound familiar? Those of us who claim to follow Jesus sometimes like to argue and bicker with those who disagree with us, and meanwhile, we’re no help to people in desperate need. Too often our religion is not one of divine power to help others, but of quarrelsome words to prove we’re right. We sometimes think our greatest need is a better argument to straighten out people who disagree with us, when what we really need is the power of God to help people who are desperate.
The disciples were embroiled in argument with their opponents when Jesus walked up and asked what they were arguing about. Before any of them could say a word, the desperate man spoke up and explained the situation. He described his son’s problem and added,
“I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
It’s no wonder this father had a hard time expecting anything good to happen. His son had been this way as long as he could remember. Why expect anything to change? The spirit gripping the boy was mysterious and powerful, it seemed nothing could dislodge it, and when the man went to some followers of the great healer from Nazareth, they were no help at all. The best they could do was ignore him and have an argument with somebody else. No wonder the man had a hard time expecting the best. So he wearily said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’”? said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” The question wasn’t whether Jesus was able, but whether the man would believe.
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus then drove out the evil spirit, and gave the boy to his father, healthy and normal. Later, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:14-30)
If you depend only on your own power, and if you look only at the circumstances around you, you’ll eventually reach a point where you fail completely, where you lose hope, where you no longer expect the best. That’s when you need to focus on Jesus and on the power of God.
The father of the demon-possessed boy had to look beyond the power of the demon, beyond past disappointments, beyond all the discouraging factors in the situation, and realize that because of who Jesus is, “all things are possible for him who believes.” The disciples had to realize that their failure and their getting bogged down in arguments came from relying on themselves, when they should have been praying and relying on God.
I remember a conversation with a man who had a huge problem. For many years he had been involved with the occult and the dark power of demons. It had all started with an interest in Wicca, a religion of nature worship and a cheerful, appealing view of witchcraft. But his involvement in witchcraft had grown deeper and darker year after year, until he found himself enslaved to powers he had never dared to imagine. When he spoke to me, he desperately wanted to be free, but he had a hard time believing it could ever happen. “Do you think it’s possible God could ever forgive me?” he asked. “Do you think it’s possible for me ever to recover from the damage that’s been done to my soul?” I kept telling him over and over that the blood of Jesus makes it possible for God to forgive even someone who had entangled himself in the work of demons and that the power of Christ is great enough to set anyone free. In fact, the power of Christ compared to demons is like an elephant compared to an ant. That’s why anyone who believes in Christ can expect the best.
Before you can expect the best, you must focus on the Lord and his power, not the size of the challenge or on the resources you have. This is true in escaping our own personal problems and having a brighter future, and it’s also true when we’re trying to deal with the needs of others.
One day Jesus was preaching to a crowd of over five thousand people, and it was getting late. The people were getting hungry, so Jesus told his disciples to give them something to eat. The disciples look at their resources and decide it was no use even trying to feed a crowd that size. “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” But Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.” Then he proceeded to feed the entire crowd, and there are leftovers besides (Matthew 14:13-21).
To expect the best, you and I need to stop thinking only of the immensity of the challenge or the smallness of our resources, and we need to start focusing on God. Today we still face the huge task of helping countless hungry people, and like the disciples we’re tempted to say there’s not much we can do for them. We’re tempted just to despair and do nothing. But when we focus again on the power of God, and how Jesus can turn small beginnings into something great, how he can turn a family lunch into a feast for a multitude, then we can offer what little we have, and trust Jesus to take care of the results.
Focus on Jesus and his power—that’s the key to expecting the best and accomplishing the impossible. Maybe you know the story of when Jesus’ disciples were out in a boat, and Jesus came to them walking on the water. Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus. He did fine for a few steps, but then he suddenly noticed how stormy it was, and he got scared and started to sink. Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31) As long as Peter focused on Jesus, he was okay, but the moment he paid more attention to his circumstances than to Jesus, he chickened out and started to sink.
That can easily happen to you and me. We look at all the difficulties and challenges we’re facing, and it suddenly seems impossible to go on. It can happen in a marriage, in a friendship, in a parent-child relationship, in an goal you’ve been pursuing. You start out okay, but somewhere along the line, you see all the problems and impossibilities in your situation, and you start to sink. But even then it’s not too late. Whatever storms and waves are threatening you, Jesus is greater than all of them. So don’t give up hope. Instead, stop looking only at the storm, start looking at Jesus again, and, like Peter, cry out, “Lord, save me!” Expect Jesus to carry you through.
Expect the best. Expect God’s power to give you victory over any evil you face. Expect this because God’s power is unlimited—nothing is impossible for God. And expect this because the deepest truth about the universe is that it has a happy ending, and you can be part of that happy ending if you belong to Christ. When you trust Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, you can expect the best, because the best is going to happen. You’re not just wishing or fantasizing. You’re being realistic. You can be sure that your life has a happy ending, and that the world itself has a happy ending.
The giant Despair tries to convince you that it’s no use, that it’s all over. You don’t have much of a future, the world doesn’t have much of a future, and so you’d better just get used to it. But God is bigger than any giant. The gospel of Jesus Christ declares that no matter how dark your situation, you have a future, a great and glorious future. And no matter how troubled the world is, the day is coming when the world will be made new. God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). And because that is true, God’s message to you and me is this: Be not afraid. Trust in Jesus. Expect the best. And never give up. Never, never, never give up.
Never give up on your own life. You may be facing some tough problems, some terrible struggles. But don’t give up. God is greater than your troubles. Expect the best. Scripture says, “The prospect of the righteous is joy” (Proverbs 10:28). The Bible also says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you belong to Jesus, God has a wonderful plan for you, and he will work all things for your good.
What does this mean in your day-to-day life? Often it means that God will solve a problem or heal an illness or restore a relationship in a surprising and miraculous way. Just when you see no hope for changing the situation on your own, you look to God and cry out to him and trust him to help you, and you get a direct and astonishing answer to your prayers. The God of the Bible is alive and well, and he still answers prayer in very specific and startling ways.
But what if he doesn’t? Sometimes God doesn’t give you the answer you’re looking for. What then? Well, expect the best anyway. Expect that no matter what disappointments come your way, God will bring you through to share in his ultimate blessings. Even if you don’t get over a sickness or handicap, even if your spouse refuses to love you and divorces you instead, even if you fail at something and your finances collapse, don’t give up. Expect the best.
Don’t let the giant Despair convince you that you’re finished and your life is over. As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over”—and it ain’t over. You’re still a child of God, your life is in his hands, and he is going to pick you up and carry you through. Your life is worth living as long as you have God and he has you. And in his own time and in his own way, he will bring you to the splendid destiny he has in mind for you. The Bible says, “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Psalm 34:19). In another place God says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).
Not even death itself can drive you to despair. Some of you may have life-threatening illnesses, and unless you get a miracle soon, you will die. But even death is not the end. You can still expect the best. Jesus conquered death, he rose from the grave, and he promises a new resurrection body for every one of his people. The God who delivers you from many troubles, who lifts you up again and again when you fall, will deliver you from death itself and lift you up into everlasting life. If that seems farfetched, even impossible, listen again to Jesus: “With God all things are possible. Everything is possible for him who believes.” To people who didn’t believe in resurrection, Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). But if you do know the Scriptures, and if you do know the power of God, then you know that your destiny is resurrection. So even if you’re dying, you can expect the best.
Never give up on your own life. Never. And never give up on the future of this world and its people. Expect the best for yourself, and expect the best for the whole creation. Never give up trying to make a difference, because someday the world will be different. Don’t let past disappointments discourage you and paralyze you. Let the future control your outlook, not the past. A day is coming when there will be no disease, no hunger, no war, no hatred, no tears. So no matter how overwhelming these things can seem at times, you can keep right on trying to overcome them with the power of love, because you already know that love is going to have the final word. God’s creation will indeed have a happy ending, and you can have a part in God’s plan to bring that about.
The Bible says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). With this kind of faith, the heroes of the Bible were able to face impossible odds, do great miracles, and win great victories over the power of evil. And even those who didn’t enjoy success in their lifetime but instead were persecuted and killed—even these people never gave up on God or on his ideals or on the future he had promised. Even their suffering played a part in carrying out God’s plan. Faith gives you the power to endure the worst and still expect the best.
When you expect the best, you expect the triumph of love. Through Jesus Christ God’s love is the ultimate future of his people, the ultimate future of this creation—and when you know that, the future takes hold of the present and transforms it. Someone has said, “Hope is the ability to listen to the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to it in the present.” Are you listening to the music of God’s future? Are you dancing to it right now?
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.