Expectation vs. Expectancy

Far more than a handful of letters separate expectation from expectancy.

While expectations pin God to the small corners of our understanding, expectancy invites wonder and awe, leaving room for God whose ways are higher than our ways just as the heavens are higher than the earth.

An expectant heart is confident that God will show up but leaves space for God to do so as He pleases, as seems best to Him. Expectancy demands God’s power and presence while recognizing that He can and will manifest them in a myriad of ways, often in ways we would never expect.

I learned the difference a few letters can make the hard way during a deeply disappointing season post-college; however, hiking this week with my toddler, I learned it anew.

Setting out with dear friends, a handful of snacks and our trusty California bird brochure  (yes, we are those people), we began our morning adventure.  Somewhere in the ten minutes from the driveway to the regional park, Phin set his expectations for the morning on a beautifully-colored woodpecker. With the singular focus of a determined toddler, he kept saying, “I see dis one.” A noble cause, no doubt, but one that made him miss the score of other birds flying and flitting about as we hiked.

As I watched him point stubbornly over and over to the chosen woodpecker amidst the hundred other brightly colored birds on his foldout pamphlet, I saw myself in him.


How often I walk around with my finger and my heart set on a certain path or way or gift, demanding that the Lord give me “dis one,” while simultaneously missing the countless other ways of His presence and appearing.

Though only a few letters apart, a life full of expectation is a world apart from an expectant life.

A heart full of expectations demands a certain way. As opposed to the openness of expectancy, expectations remain narrow-minded, setting the scene for experiences of  deep disappointment. Expectations are like the overly-singular search for the one woodpecker, demanding, “I want dis one, Lord.” When we demand that the Lord being us a husband before we are thirty or that our children get into a certain school, we are pointing at woodpeckers. When we narrowly expect our family to come to faith on our convenient time table or that our ministry grows by a certain number in a certain time frame, we are pinning God to our expectations.

Eyes of expectation myopically move searching for the woodpecker, while eyes of expectancy are lifted, searching, spying the swallows and sparrows flitting through life’s field.


An expectant life is one marked by deep faith in God. The writer of Hebrews beautifully defines this faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see…And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:1-3 & 6.

A person of faith holds strongly to two strong guide wires as he or she walks through life: God exists and God is trustworthy. The cross of Christ is the centerpiece of this trust.

He would did not spare his own Son, but gave him up freely for us all – how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32. 

Rather than coming to God with a list of demands, faith comes to God with expectancy. Faith says, “A God whose Son suffered in our stead, is good and trustworthy; therefore, whatever He gives or however He chooses to respond to my prayers and desires, I will receive.”

I love the God-centered expectancy that the prophet Isaiah expresses in his song of praise in Isaiah 26:8-9.

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night, in the morning my spirit longs for you.

The tenor of Isaiah’s longing is for God Himself to show up on the present scene of his life and the life of the nation of Israel whom he served. He doesn’t mention specifics expectations or demand that God show up in a particular way. He doesn’t say, “If you loved us, God, you would bring your people home from exile right now” or “If you want me to serve you as a prophet, then make the people listen and obey.” Rather, Isaiah has an open longing for God to do what God must do to make His name and renown known. I am certain Isaiah had desires and suggestions for ways that God might accomplish this end, but when He pleads with God, He does not make those expectations the centerpiece.

By His grace, may we become expectant children, with eyes open to the myriad of ways He will show up today, tomorrow and next week. There are so many birds to see; we waste our joy and His glory by obsessing over one woodpecker.


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