A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

I’m a fairly down to earth guy. Blue jeans, untucked shirt, no expensive hobbies, no designer clothes… Just a regular guy. But a recent experience surprised me regarding my sense of unrealistic expectations.

On a business trip, I was assigned first class plane tickets. At that time of year, they were actually cheaper than coach seats as there were more vacationers than business travelers. So, the airline discounted the first-class section to fill up the plane.

My first flight was amazing. It was on an Airbus 330 with my own separate lazy-boy type reclining sleeper seat. Man, that was simply incredible. I remember wishing the pilot would slow down instead of trying to make up time in flight!

After my business meetings, it came time for my return flight. All day, I daydreamed about my special seat and cozy flight. Then I boarded and realized the plane was an Airbus 321. This plane only had the typical first-class seats—and I was disappointed.

Did you hear that? I was disappointed with my first-class seat. Forgetting that 99.99% of the time I fly coach, I was unhappy with first class because my seat was not as fancy as my previous flight.

That is pretty unbelievable for a down to earth guy, right? But it showed me how fickle my gratitude could be. It also revealed the slippery slope of unrealistic expectations.

Having Expectations is Natural

Now, having expectations is not a bad thing. We all have certain expectations in our employment, the purchases we make, our relationships—basically every aspect of life involves a certain level of expectations. However, when they exceed reality, that is when disappointment sets in.

For example, if I set my heart on a promotion at work, I create certain expectations around it. If I work hard, position myself appropriately, and meet all the requirements, it is natural to presume I have a great shot at it. However, should I buy a new car in anticipation of a promotional raise, my expectations have exceeded the reality.

As another example, if a lady swoons every time a certain guy walks by, and is interested in him romantically, it is natural to have certain expectations that the interest might be mutual. However, if she sets her sights on him as her own and buys the wedding dress, all while overlooking spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical incompatibilities, she is setting herself up to fail. Her unrealistic expectations do not consider his freewill choice, preference, or attraction, etc. Then, when romantic feelings are not reciprocated, disappointment rings the doorbell of her heart.

Gratitude with God’s Sovereign Orchestration

What we often overlook is God’s sovereign coordination. Romans 8:28 tells us He works all things together for our good and His purpose. But the preceding verse explains that all things work “according to the will of God.” That means events, activities, behaviors, and decisions all weave together within God’s orchestration.

What we think is best may not God’s best. Our hearts’ desires may not be what God intends. What we expect may not be what God has sovereignly orchestrated. A specific job or promotion may not be what God wants for you. That sultry woman or handsome hunk may not be God’s best choice for you. A particular home, car, or whatever may not be what God wants you to have. Expectations take on new meaning when we approach life from God’s perspective, direction, and orchestration.

Yes, we will continue to have expectations and frequently experience disappointments. But when we come to the place of trusting God with all outcomes, we may say as Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). As Job learned, God gives and takes away as He pleases (Job 1:21). Our responses and attitudes reflect our expectations.

We find true and lasting inner joy, contentment, and fulfillment only by gratefully accepting and living in God’s divine appointments. When we seek and trust His leading, instead of relying on our own understanding and desires, we discover the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations.

Grateful hearts are never disappointed with God’s provision—even if the first-class seat does not fully recline.

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