Dealing with Disappointment God's Way
The Christian life can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride when strong hope and faith collide with an unexpected reality. When our prayers aren't answered as we desired and our dreams become shattered, disappointment is the natural result.
If you're a Christian, you're well-acquainted with disappointment. All of us, whether new Christians or lifelong believers, battle feelings of disappointment when life goes wrong. Deep down, we think that following Christ should give us special immunity against trouble. We're like Peter, who tried to remind Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you." (Mark 10:28).
As we’re each struggling with our own private setbacks, godless people seem to be thriving. We wonder why they’re doing so well and we’re not. We fight our way through loss and disappointment and wonder what’s going on.
Disappointment comes in all sizes, doesn't it? Any time our hopes are not realised or our expectations or desires are not fulfilled, we feel disappointed. Disappointment can be a passing emotion over a temporary loss, or it may strike powerfully when something permanently changes our lives. A major disappointment can remain within us all the time, shadowing our reactions to everything.
We all experience disappointment for different reasons. In itself, feeling disappointed is not a sin. How we handle it is the crucial issue. Disappointment is so common to humanity that it was difficult to choose which biblical characters to best illustrate it. The Bible is full of disappointed people!
Think of the years of disappointment experienced by Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Month after month, year after year, they saw the evidence of their childlessness. Job and Joseph had good reason to be disappointed, too, both in people and in God. Elijah the prophet expected the great evidence of God's power on Mount Carmel would bring revival. Instead, it only put a price on his head. He was so disappointed he asked to die.
One promise that’s helped me over the years is Psalm 34:10, “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” This promise is for those who seek the Lord, those who are saved by faith in Christ and who are seeking to know him more.
“Those who seek God will lack no good thing. If something is good, God will give it to you.”
God promises that those who seek him will lack no good thing. Which means, if something is good, God will give it to you.
After many years of hurts and frustration, I finally realised that the question I should ask God isn't "Why, Lord?" but rather, "What now, Lord?"
Asking “What now, Lord?” instead of “Why, Lord?” is a hard lesson to learn. It's hard to ask the right question when you’re feeling disappointed. It's hard to ask when your heart is breaking. It's hard to ask “What now?” when your dreams have been shattered.
But your life will begin to change when you start asking God, "What would you have me do now, Lord?" Oh sure, you’ll still feel angry or disheartened by disappointments, but you’ll also discover that God is eager to show you what he wants you to do next. Not only that, but he’ll equip you with everything you need to do it.
In the face of trouble, our natural tendency is not to ask the right question. Our natural tendency is to complain. Unfortunately, griping to other people rarely helps solve our problems. Instead, it tends to drive people away. Nobody wants to hang around a person who has a self-pitying, pessimistic outlook on life.
But we can't just let it go. We need to pour our heart out to someone. Disappointment is too heavy a burden to bear. If we let disappointments pile up, they lead to discouragement. Too much discouragement leads to despair. God doesn’t want that for us. In his grace, God asks us to take our heartaches to him.
If another Christian tells you that it's wrong to gripe to God, just send that person to the Psalms. Many of them, like Psalms 31, 102 and 109, are poetic accounts of hurts and grievances. God listens. He'd rather have us empty our heart to him than keep that bitterness inside. He is not offended by our discontent.
Complaining to God is wise because he's capable of doing something about it, while our friends and relations may not be. God has the power to change us, our situation, or both. He knows all the facts and he knows the future. He knows exactly what needs to be done.
When we pour out our hurt to God and find the courage to ask him, "What do you want me to do now Lord?" we can expect him to answer. He will communicate through another person, our circumstances, instructions from him (very rarely), or through his Word, the Bible.
The Bible is such an important guidebook that we should immerse ourselves in it regularly. It's called the Living Word of God because its truths are constant yet they apply to our changing situations. You can read the same passage at different times in your life and get a different answer, a relevant answer from it every time. That is God speaking through his Word.
Seeking God's answer to "What now?" helps us grow in faith. Through experience, we learn that God is trustworthy. He can take our disappointments and work them for our good. When that happens, we come to the staggering conclusion that the all-powerful God of the universe is on our side.
No matter how painful your disappointment may be, God's answer to your question of "What now, Lord?" always begins with this simple command: "Trust me. Trust me."
Disappointment and failure build character and patience, when allowed to do so. They can teach you to win and lose with grace, an increasingly lost art these days. Romans 5:3-4 says it like this: "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character . . . " Inner spiritual strength, the kind resulting from sincere faith in God, helps cultivate that attitude.
Teenage Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a 1,500 pound shark. Her upbeat response startled observers. "This was God's plan for my life," said Hamilton, "and I'm going to go with it." Three months after the mishap, she was back surfing competitively—she regarded her tragedy as an opportunity to inspire others with God's care.
Disappointment is the first seed of doubt that intrudes on our faith. Disappointment sounds so harmless, but it's the tip of a wedge that will stop our spiritual growth and make us bitter and defeated. Think of disappointment as a test permitted by God to see if you'll continue trusting Him, obeying Him, and believing that He is good.
We will all face disappointment many times in our life. We were never promised everything we want or an easy life. We live in a broken world and that is not possible. In fact, Psalms tells us “the righteous person may have many troubles” (Psalm 34:19).
However, you can rest assured that even though you didn’t get what you wanted, God is with you and will never forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). In fact, He will still use that disappointing situation for your good (Romans 8:28).
Disappointment with God - Philip Yancey
The Surprising Grace of Disappointment - John Koessler
When God Disappoints: Lessons from Jonah - Ken Hathcoat
How to Get Past Disappointment: Finding Hope - Michelle Hammond