A world that doesn't keep score, gives awards for even marginal performance, and lowers the bar on personal standards is a world trying to avoid disappointment. Evidently there's a connection between expectations and the emotional injury of not acheiving them. As a result educators, psychologists, sociologists, and even church people are in a tug-of-war between those would enforce strong standards and those who would lower them. There was a time recently when a scoreless t-ball game was viewed as a positive self-esteem builder in the pre-school group. Now a scoreless game where everyone plays and bats is thought to rob young children of ambition and drive. And, this same social dichotomy comes to church every Sunday too.
So, there are optimists and pessimists, type A's and not, extroverts and introverts, personality traits, strengths, and many diverse lens through which we humans view life. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and variety is the spice that our Creator laced into everything. Believers are the salt and light in this odd mix of humanity. Using a broad brush, we're invited to a new world of very high expectations. We're not legalists and don't usually check through a list of do's and don't's every day to determine our standing before God. At the same tme, there are standards of obedience and high expectations regarding our own personal behaviors, the functioning of the church, fulfillment of mission, and other measures of our calling. Paul often wrote about "...walking worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1), or "...I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Chrsit Jesus" (Philippians 3:14), or about the constant struggle of playing to God rather than to men (Galatians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians. 2:4). Scripture does establish high expectations for his people. It is one of the basic tensions of being his new creation in this fallen world.
The question is: How can we serve him passionately, eager for mission, prepared for every good work, living according to his supernatural provision, seeking his Kingdom first and foremost in life, and not be disappointed all the time because we can't get there? It is, of course, a trick question. We can't get there by our own devices and won't reach the promised state of spiritual maturity in this life. Get real. Scripture always portrays our journey as reaching, striving, running the race, seeking him, straining, and hundreds of other references to incorporating the character of Christ into our miserable condition. But, there are human limits, boundaries around our ability and even strongest, noble motivations. You know, the spirit is willing but the body is weak.
There's some padding around that truth to break our fall somewhat, to keep disappointment from stealing our joy or marginalizing our witness. It is the trick part of the aforementioned question. You see, what's impossible for me is possible with God (see Matthew 19:26, and others). My performance and accomplishments are always conditioned by a certain level of incompetence, expectations above my pay grade, and the potential to be disappointed by human achievement, my own at the top of the list most of the time. His provision and performance over me is total, however. He has given us all we need for life and godliness
(2 Peter 1:3), promised to provide all of our needs according to his riches (Philippians 4:19), and hundreds of other promises to offset our the earthen vessels thing.
How is it possible, then, to grow spiritually, serve, worship, love, pray, lead, and minister without being constantly dragged down by the weight of disappointment?
(1) Remember that God's favor isn't conditioned on our performance. Get real! We do live in a work oriented culture where value is often measured by accomplishment and the fruit thereof. Personal significance so often translates to production, what we bring to the enterprise regarding results. Not so, however, in the economy of heaven. It's about grace and him. We must keep it that way.
(2) Be constantly aware of the human condition. This doesn't translate to negativity, a growling attitude, or pessimism. Every leader, regardless of the venue, should know his or her strengths, spiritual gifts, skill set, and all of the reverse, what we cannot do. The truth about ourselves will add layers of reality to what we attempt to accomplish. When my reach exceeds my grasp there is usually the accompanying sense of failure. Knowing what we can and cannot do provides a little honesty to the challenges and hopefully conditions us for the results.
(3) Aim high. Everybody has a take on leadership these days, and I have mine too. Leaders must set a high bar in personal conduct and Kingdom mission, and expect no less from those they are leading. So, don't lower standards or goals or objectives just to make people feel better about themselves or you. Jesus' teaching about seeking the Kingdom and it's righteousness didn't point them to plan B or C or any escape hatches. He isntructed them to seek the Kingdom first. So, he aimed them high.
(4) Be encouraging when people miss the mark. Yes, there's accountabiity, church discipline, all the stages of training, the need for results, and the assurance that we don't keep makaing the same mistakes all over again. Scripture is very clear about rebuking one another, confronting error, speaking the truth in love, and dealing with failure. Encouragment isn't merely a pat on the back anyway, or cheerleading on the sidelines. It is to refresh courage in people, to tap their inner drive, and aim them toward Kingdom honoring goals.
(5) Be realistic when setting goals and determining courses. People of faith should express their faith in their pursuits so that humans can't take credit when we succeed. So, as mentioned in #3 above, we always want to aim high, but not be in such a way that people are magnified rather than God.
As a preacher I usually invested a good bit of time and energy preparing sermons. Usually I'd take a Tuesday every month to plot the next six months, and then finalize the upcoming month. Most of us know the the disappointment of pouring our life and soul into a message, expecting the aisles to fill during the invitation, and people to lavish praise on us at the door. The greatest dejection I ever had as a young preacher was when the sermon fell flat. I'd brood all afternoon, have a littel pity party, and play woe is me for a while.
Then Ecclesiastes 3:14 landed on me. It is one of the five promises that guided thirty five years of pastoral ministry and preaching. Solomon wrote, "I know that all that God does will last forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him". This made me know that disappointment with a sermon was misplaced thinking. Whether or not it touched people was determined not by their response to me, but how they stood in awe of him.
it was a thrilling and liberating lesson, and helped me handle disappointment.