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What are your expectations of Starbucks?  

Back in December 2015, a news item grabbed this headline: “Christians Livid After Starbucks Releases Unusual ‘Holiday’ Cups.”

The ‘problem’ was that  year’s seasonal edition of the Starbucks festive red cardboard coffee cups omitted the word “Christmas.” [1] 

Are we supposed to be ‘livid’ because Starbucks is not meeting Christian expectations? How did we come to expect Starbucks to acknowledge, even promote, Christmas (and therefore Christianity) to its coffee-consuming clientele? 

False expectations cause disappointment in Starbucks, as well as any other modern business or institution. God expects that the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ and his kingdom be proclaimed by the lives and lips of his people, not cardboard coffee cups. 

Have we constructed false expectations not only of Starbucks but also of God? 

I propose that if we experience disappointment with God, it is because we have warped expectations of God. 

How do we unmask misleading expectations about God and recover true expectations? 

The answer will directly impact experiencing the one true God revealed as Jesus Christ. 

Expectations conceived and born

Our expectations come from somewhere. Culture plays a large part in our conception of expectations. 

You’ve heard the American triad: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The parallel Canadian trio is “peace, order, and good government.” 

Add to these triads the pronouncements of religious celebrities, spiritual self-help books, scientific discoveries, and strong military powers, and we have expectations galore. To a large extent, these expectations reflect our culture. 

In turn, our culture shapes much of what we expect of God. Expectations that God provide you with good health, all you need financially (and a bit more), freedom to do and go where you want in complete safety and security, and happiness— lots and lots of happiness.

Culture shapes a lot of what we expect of God. It should not be so. Our expectations of God need to be tested. 

Some expectations about God

God gets a bad rap from most of us. We may not say it out loud, but we think it— and it shows.

On the one hand, God doesn’t do what we expect him to do; on the other, we blame him for things he didn’t do. Here are a few examples: 

Accusation 1: God allows suffering.

A rabbi wrote a popular book on this issue a few years ago. He expected that if God were good and powerful enough, he would eradicate suffering without delay. Suffering has not been eliminated. Therefore, he argued, either God isn’t good, or he isn’t powerful enough.

Don’t get me wrong— this is an important topic, and I’m limited in my understanding of it. But could the dynamics of suffering be quite different and more complex than the rabbi’s simplistic formula? 

A Sri Lankan theologian, Ajith Fernando, knows something about pain and suffering. In The Call to Joy and Pain, he writes:

one of the most serious theological blind spots in the Western church is a defective understanding of suffering.

Be assured of this: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

Do your expectations of God and suffering align with the reality that God is love? This reality leads our expectations to a different place— one in which we can know that the God who has suffered is present with us in our suffering. 

Accusation 2: God doesn’t care; he’s distant

This accusation might be triggered by the expectation that God should always provide what we ask. We do everything we think we need to do to get God to act. But God doesn’t come through. What a disappointment he is. 

This position may also be based on the idea that God is like a watchmaker who wound up Creation and walked away. That popular view is expressed by the Bette Midler song: “God is watching us from a distance.” There is no expectation that God will care— we already know he is disappointingly absent. 

Yet consider this:

Who would have expected God to be so vitally present among us that he became a human (incarnation), he died (crucifixion), and he returned to life (resurrection)? 

Are your expectations of God aligned with the historical and biblical record of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done?  

Accusation 3: God doesn’t speak to me

You may not hear a voice or feel a push, a pull, or a prod— nevertheless, God does speak.

What is it you expect to hear? How do you expect to hear it?

As you listen to the holy and ancient text of the Bible, you step into God’s ‘Story.’ There, you can hear and see God at work in the background and, on occasion, in the foreground. 

Among the final written words of the apostle Paul are (2 Timothy 3:16-17): 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped to every good work.

 Are your expectations of God aligned with the Scriptures? 

Reality check

We each need a ‘reality check’ for our expectations of God.

How do we do that? 

You’ll remember the three-fold test for determining whether what you are hearing is authentically from God (Click here for “Is that you God?”). The same test assesses whether your expectations of God are authentic.

Ask whether your expectations of God are aligned with the following:

1.         the Bible; 

2.         the person and work of Jesus Christ; and, 

3.         God’s character of love.  

Do some of your expectations of God need to change or be adjusted? 

In the next post, I want to explore ways God is present in your life.

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FORWARD TO the next post in this series

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[1] See photo credit for the article referenced.

Photo credit: November 5, 2015 article by Raheem Kassam titled “War on Christmas: Starbucks Red Cups are Emblematic of the Christian Culture Cleansing of the West” (

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