rev-dr-walter-t-richardson_web.jpgI just completed my 21st year as an adjunct professor of religion at St. Thomas University. Several of my students have done well and have stayed in contact with me to provide updates on their professional exploits.

With very few exceptions, I’ve been able to notice the better students from the first day of class. But none stood out like Ernie.

I noticed that Ernie had more questions than the others, that he performed very well on quizzes and exams, that he participated more enthusiastically, he never missed a day of class or was ever late on an assignment. So, as a freshman he became a star student in my World Religions class. Not surprisingly, he received an “A” in that course.

I never saw Ernie again for the next semester or for the next three years- -that is, until this past Saturday at St. Thomas’ Spring Commencement.

I was rushing into the center where the graduation was taking place, having preached at a funeral, and had secretly entered into the faculty robing area, when Ernie spotted me and asked to speak to me. He was robed and decorated with cordsof every color, representing his academic prow-ess as a student.

He was graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

He said to me, “Dr. Richardson, I was hoping to see you today, just to thank you and let you know that you changed my life.”

I asked him how I had done so, not knowing what to expect from him in response, especially since he had this very serious look on his face.

He said, “I’ve been given a full ride [scholarship] and a stipend to attend Harvard Divinity School.” I was floored. He further explained to me that his goal as a freshman had been to become a psychologist but, because of my class and the interactions he had had with me as his professor and my expectations of him as a student, he changed his major and his mind and decided to pursue further studies in religion. That student, Ernesto Fernandez, made my day.

That conversation and experience caused me to reflect on a very positive and affirming scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

There is an interesting phenomenon in learning environments.  Students tend to perform at their teachers’ level of expectation.  If little Johnny is thought by his teacher to be smart, he performs well. If he is expected to be slow and lazy, he performs poorly.  This phenomenon is known by social scientists as the self-fulfilling prophecy effect.  Not only does this work between teacher and student, it also works from parent to child, and employer to employee.

So, you say that you are a disciple and student of Christ, a child of God, your Father, a servant of Jesus Christ, your Lord. He has great expectations of you. Not only does he have the expectation that your life will turn out well but he has already made plans to assist you in achieving the good life. It matters very little what people think you are and may become, compared to what God thinks.

Whose prophecy are you fulfilling, people’s or God’s? God has great expectations of you. He sees you as a prosperous, promising, prominent, and productive creature with a hopeful future. Will you live up to His expectations?