By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit….’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.”—Acts 2:38,41-43
Once again, it is a new year, a time of listing the things we will resolve to do in the coming months. Some of these resolutions will be new, but much of the list contains “carryovers” from years gone by. Maybe the one resolution to make sure is on your list is to live beyond expectations.
What is it to live beyond expectations? Nelson Mandela described this shift in perspective in this way: “In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education…. But internal factors may be more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men—qualities within the reach of every human soul.”
We interact with others on a daily basis, and each of these groups of family, friends, colleagues, service providers or neighbors experience who we are in a unique way, just as we experience part of who they are. Too often, we identify who we are supposed to be based on the expectations of others rather than on internal factors. To live beyond expectations, however, is to never allow someone else’s opinion of you to become your reality.
The parable of the three bricklayers is rooted in an authentic story. It is said that one day in 1671, Christopher Wren, a famous architect, observed three bricklayers on a scaffold. The first was crouched, another was half-standing and the third was standing tall. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” When asked the same question, the second bricklayer replied, “I’m building a wall.” And the third bricklayer, the most productive of the three, answered in this way, “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty.”
All three were assigned the same task, yet each approached it from a different perspective. The third bricklayer recognized his role as part of the bigger picture. He was not limited to only what he could see. This third bricklayer had the ability to dream beyond the current reality.
The ability to dream unleashes innovation. When you begin to dream, new ideas flow and the impossible becomes possible. Your eyes open to the big picture that God is transforming the world, and you begin dreaming of how to participate in this transformation, standing in awe of the wonders and signs that you now see, just as the first-century disciples did.
As followers of Jesus, we are each invited to participate in the transforming work that God is doing in the world. It is up to each of us to make the effort of shifting our perspective so that we recognize this opportunity to live beyond expectations in all that we say and do. Nelson Mandela embodied the importance of this effort to make the mental shift. Naming his reality following decades of imprisonment, Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Set yourself free from bondage to the past. Treat others how you want to be treated. It is not only what you do, but also how you do it that matters. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, claiming your identity in Christ alone so that you can begin living beyond expectations, ready to answer with confidence when asked, “What are you doing?”