Dr. John Haggai was the founder of Haggai International, one of the most effective global leadership ministries in Christian history. He was a brilliant leader, expositor, and writer. He was also a personal mentor to me when I pastored the church he and his wife attended in Atlanta.
During one of our lunches, he asked me about my recent travels. He then gave me a simple suggestion I have not forgotten: as soon as you finish a trip, plan the next one. Always have something you’re looking forward to. On the hard days, you can remember that good days are coming.
Dr. Haggai’s advice applies to more than our calendars.
The joy of waiting
The New York Times headlined recently, “To Enjoy Life More, Embrace Anticipation.” The article quotes psychologist Simon A. Rego, who has written extensively on the effect of anticipation on mood and states, “Imagining good things ahead of us makes us feel better in the current moment. It can increase motivation, optimism and patience, and decrease irritability.”
The article advises us to “get excited about a lot of little things,” to daydream about the future and then set goals that will motivate our progress, and to incentivize ourselves by anticipating positive experiences to come.
Another story, this one from MIT, aligns with the Times article. This study explains one way your brain learns from surprises. It reports that your locus coeruleus, a structure deep in your brain, releases a burst of noradrenaline in response to surprising outcomes. This action causes you to pay closer attention to such events, which is “important for survival and for brain state regulation.”
The study disclosed a second effect as well: your brain produces bursts of noradrenaline when you receive an unexpected reward.
When we’ll wait no more
I have found the significance of anticipation to transcend both chronology and psychology. On my hard days, it helps not only to have something on the calendar to anticipate but to remember that day when there will be no more calendars, that day when there will be no more surprises, that day when I will gather with the body of Christ in a timeless community of worship and glory.
One of my favorite texts in Scripture is John’s vision in Revelation 7: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen’” (vv. 9–12).
I had a college professor who claimed he could summarize the book of Revelation in two words: “We win!”
The next time you need encouragement, remember how the story ends.
And thank God that it is your story.