He was the equivalent of a rising district attorney. The kind of attorney that not only wins his cases but goes after the untouchable. Unflappable and invigorated by a challenge, he never backed down from a fight. His peers admired him. His mentors applauded him. Educated at the best universities and destined for success. He never failed to meet expectations, in fact, he always exceeded them. Then it happened one day on the road to Damascus. He was blinded and his very enemy showed up to change his path. … and he lived happily ever after.
That’s not how the story actually goes. Saul was destined for success as a Jewish pharisee. He was one of the most zealous persecutors of Christians. He had high aspirations. When he’s converted those aspirations didn’t disappear they were just redirected. I think it’s easy to miss the level of the grandeur of Paul’s mission, miss the type of person he was and miss how his expectations were probably never met.
Paul converts and is tasked with a different mission of grand propositions. Paul is one of those characters that I just love. I imagine he was direct and to the point. I imagine, like me, he got even more amped up when someone said he couldn’t do something. If he’s anything like myself and many other business owners I know, he had a plan and charged after it. Originally his plan was to eradicate “the Way.” After meeting Jesus his plan was to make Jesus known to the world and scripture backs this up.
This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
That’s probably how I’d have heard that. As in, “I’m the chosen one.” Let’s forget the part about the suffering.
The Bible is full of failed expectations. Whether it’s Joseph having a dream of his family essentially worshipping him and him being sold into slavery, or Jesus follower’s thinking that he’s a warrior King set to free them from Roman oppression, there are a lot of unmet expectations in the Bible. Paul is no different. His ministry starts off with the miraculous and doing many great things. From “pastor” to evangelist Paul was a force for good. Except that’s only a glimmer of the real story.
We all have dreams of how things are supposed to play out. God’s plans are higher than ours, we’ve been told. However, when your facing bankruptcy on your business or you fail to get that promotion you probably wonder what God is doing. Surely, this is the moment He fell asleep. Worse yet, you likely blame yourself. What sin caused you to miss the blessing? Was it because you check facebook at work when you should be working? Radio host, Dave Ramsey calls this “stealing.” What are you supposed to do?
Paul’s mission was to bring the gospel to the world. In order to fulfill his mission, Paul knew he had to get to Rome. The center of the world at that time, if Paul could get there and convince the leaders of Rome to follow the way, the entire world would follow suit. Rome had the infrastructure and the systems in place to propagate the message. While the story plays itself out in the Bible, I have to imagine that this isn’t exactly how he planned it. If Paul was anything like me, he might have dreamed he would make a triumphant entry into Rome.
Can you imagine the number of times he prayed and shared his dreams with God? Surely, his vision and God’s vision were in alignment. After all, Paul was doing this for God, right. I think the biggest problem we face as Christians are failed expectations. I think our vision of God’s will and how it plays out often confuses us. Often we want to be in the “will of God” in the context of our dreams.
Paul Is Familiar With Failed Expectations
- Had to flee for safety in a basket through a hole in the wall
- Had to flee for safety on other occasions
- Imprisoned for casting out a demon
- Stone and left for dead
- Gets arrested in the temple causes a riot
- Chained to a Roman soldier
- Imprisoned in Rome
- Under house arrest for 2 years
- Imprisoned again
What To Do With Failed Expectations?
You can read this list and see several opportunities for Paul to cry out, “why me?” Why did you not intervene? Like our lives, God intervened for Paul when He had to but not when He didn’t. So the chains fell off when Paul and Silas were imprisoned but not while he was in Rome. Be careful who your heroes are. You see the success, in this case, you see Paul’s miraculous power through Christ to spread the gospel, to heal the sick, even to raise the dead. It’s like we’re following him on social media and only seeing the good part of his life. What we miss is the wasted time in a jail cell, the missed opportunities tied up to a soldier, a life ended abruptly when he was killed.
In a message called “Anxious For Nothing,” Craig Groeschel points out that when you feel anxious, it’s the signal to pray. When you feel anxious it’s time to praise God for who He is, not for what He can do. When you have a dream but life isn’t playing out the way that you had hoped, it’s time to pray and praise and trust that even if this wasn’t part of God’s design for you that He can turn it for good.
So what do you do when the dreams you had failed to meet your expectation? Take Paul’s advice, he’s someone who knows what it’s like to have failed expectations