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Disappointment occurs when experience falls short of our expectation.
Jim Bridgewater had every expectation of depositing a paper bag full of cash at his local bank. But when he pulled up to the drive-through window, instead of picking up the bag of money laying next to him on the seat, he picked up a bag of grass; and I’m not talking fescue or bluegrass. The teller discovered 2.5 grams and 3 hand rolled joints and called the police. Bridgewater was still waiting for his receipt when the cops showed up. And disappointment began to set in as Jim’s experience fell far short of his expectation.
All of us have experienced disappointment at some time in our lives. And the truth is that for many of us, the scars we carry on our souls are there because we’ve been deeply disappointed; by other people and sometimes even by God.
The Bible is chock full of people who experienced disappointment, even disappointment in God. Beyond the person who penned the 13th Psalm, listen to these:
Psalm 6: 3-6: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me, save me because of your unfailing love.”
Psalm 10:1-2: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide
yourselfin times of trouble?”
Psalm 44:24: “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
Psalm 89:46: “How long, Lord? Will you hide
Lam 5:20: “Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?”
Habakkuk 1:1-4: “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Paul in Galatians 1:6 writes: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.”
I want to begin by mentioning three general principles of disappointment and relating them to disappointment in God. These three general principles can be found in any good Social Psychology text, and can be illustrated by everyday occurrences in life as well as from the Bible.
Three general principles about disappointment:
- Disappointment that occurs in relationships is the most painful kind of disappointment we experience.
I was disappointed last week when I came down with a cold. But that kind of disappointment is nothing when compared to the kind of pain experienced when someone close to us lets us down for any reason. Peter was probably disappointed when he went on an all-night fishing excursion, only to come home empty-handed. But that was nothing compared to the disappointment he experienced watching Jesus suffer and die. For disappointment that occurs in relationships is the most painful kind of disappointment we experience.
- The greater the potential for intimacy in any relationship, the greater the potential for painful disappointment in that relationship.
Relationships with bank tellers aren’t very deep; usually only meet once a week, talk over a speaker, they sit on their side of the glass/you sit on yours, never touch; rather pass things back and forth through a vacuum tube. Don’t have great expectations; not subject to much disappointment.
However, the relationship with a spouse has a great potential for intimacy. For example, there are very high expectations for what a marriage should be, therefore, there is a great potential for the pain of disappointment when those expectations go unmet.
- There often seems to be a pattern we follow when we are disappointed.
First, we are surprised and usually respond by trying harder. For example, one expectation we have for friendships is that friends tell us the truth. And the first time we discover they did not, we are surprised. And usually, we respond by trying harder to maintain the relationship. We try harder to believe in them, or we try harder to communicate better or to create a climate of trust where they’ll feel safe to tell the truth.
But if over time, our trust in that person continues to erode because of one lie after another, surprise inevitably turns to skepticism, and efforts to try harder get replaced by serious doubt. Now whenever that person speaks, we’ll wonder whether they are being honest with us.
And if that pattern continues for very long, we’ll slide from surprise to skepticism to the third stage of disappointment: cynicism. When we are surprised, we try harder; when we become skeptical, we doubt; when we become cynical, we become hardened. “I’m no longer going to get on this ride with you because I can no longer take the deceit.” And over time, the relationship crumbles.
Now obviously, these three principles of disappointment can be applied to God.
For true Christianity is not a set of truth propositions, moral maxims or creeds, but rather Biblical Christianity claims to be first and foremost a relationship between us and God, through faith in the person of Jesus. If Christianity was just a set of truths, a formula like E=MC2, it would not be so ripe for disappointment. But because more than anything else, it is built upon a relationship with God, there is potential for great disappointment.
Because of all the above, while it may be difficult to admit, many of us struggle with disappointment in God. When pain and suffering invade, we who have a relationship with God, are compelled to seek God’s intervention as a source of divine rescue. When our expectations of God’s intervention are not meant, we experience discouragement and sometimes deep disappointment. It can be frustrating, even devastating to our faith when we: face financial ruin, while the greedy and unscrupulous appear to prosper, or see a deep relationship dissolve in divorce, or watch a loved one suffer horribly.
When God somehow fails to meet our expectations, disappointment inevitably follows. At first, we are surprised so we try harder. Our worship attendance increases, we read the Bible more, we pray more. But if over time, we see no response on God’s part, surprise turns to skepticism. And efforts to try harder get replaced by serious doubt: “Maybe God doesn’t answer prayer, at least He’s not answering mine.” And if that pattern continues for very long, if we are not careful we can slide from surprise to skepticism to the third stage of disappointment; cynicism. When we are surprised we try harder, when we become skeptical we doubt, when we become cynical, we become hardened. “God, I’m no longer going to get on this ride with you, because I can no longer take your apparent lack of care for me.” Over time, if we don’t take some steps to remedy the situation the relationship can sour and crumble.
A week ago Sunday, I was leading our morning-prayer time.
And I prefaced that prayer time by thanking you for praying for my sister because she had been sober for almost a year and called me the previous Wednesday to tell me how much she appreciated Gail and I for praying for her and helping her. And how earlier that day, as she had read her devotion she felt a shivery feeling pass through her body and she felt like God touched her. Little did I know that while I was speaking to you, my sister had been drinking since the Friday before. When you pray for someone for so long and then your prayer for help turns into a prayer of thanksgiving because God did help, only to see that answered prayer vaporize, it can be very disappointing. And it can lead to all kinds of doubts: Did God really answer that prayer? If He did, why did He allow her to relapse? Or maybe God wasn’t involved in the first place.
But wait a minute, remember we began this talk with a statement: ‘disappointment occurs when our experience falls short of our expectation.’
So perhaps the beginning of a solution to the problem of being disappointed with God is to examine what our expectations are of God. Have you ever thought about that? I want to encourage you to write down your expectations of God. And then I invite you to e-mail me your expectations and I will incorporate them into the framework of this sermon series. In this way, I hope to be able to offer some Biblical counsel that I hope and pray will help you mend fences between you and God and thereby bring some peace back into your life.
Speaking of counsel, I would like to conclude today by offering some pastoral counsel. For how you heard and are processing this message depends on where you lie on the continuum of disappointment. On one side are those of you who are not disappointed with God and on the other, are those of you who are, in some sense, disappointed in God.
Of those who are NOT disappointed with God there are three groups:
The first group contains those of you who have no expectations of God. You have become a Christian by faith in what Jesus did for you on the cross. You are grateful for your salvation and look forward to eternal life someday. But other than that, you don’t really expect a whole lot from God.
The second group contains those who have a fairly new relationship with God. Your relationship with Christ still has a freshness about it, your experience is not only matching your expectation, it’s exceeding it! Your new life in Christ is beyond your wildest dreams; you’re on cloud nine! My word to you is enjoy it; enjoy it my friend, while you can.
Then there’s the third group of people who are not disappointed because you are denying your disappointment. Some of us have been brought up to believe that you don’t question the Almighty! We; therefore, have expectations of ourselves that we never question, we never doubt. We play the role of a Christian who wants to appear to others as having it all together, that everything’s fine, and we would never question God. And we throw around phrases like ‘God knows what He’s doing, and “So I’m okay with whatever, after all the Bible tells me, God will never give me anything beyond what I can handle, so you see I am handling this.’
If that’s you, my counsel is don’t hide your doubt, your hurt, don’t bury your anger and the questions that linger. It’s not spiritually healthy. God knows our hearts! So why not admit to God what He already knows; that you are deeply disappointed, perhaps even angry with Him. For it is only after you confess your disappointment can you begin the healing process that will restore your relationship with Him.
Now on the disappointed side there are also three groups of people we’ve already mentioned: the surprised, the skeptical and the cynical.
It’s probably true that there are no cynical people here, but even if there are, I’m not sure I have a word for you. I don’t think a word would do any good at this time. If I thought it would, I would stand here all day and talk. But if you are hardened, I don’t think I could say anything that would help you. My prayer is that in time you will open your heart back up to God.
To the skeptical, who are wrestling with doubt, don’t despise your doubt. Doubt is a very important developmental stage in Christian faith. Where there is no room for doubt, there’s no room for faith to grow. Embrace your doubt, work through it by either engaging God’s word on the subject or talking with a trusted friend who can provide you with some Biblical counsel.
To the surprised, to those who are just discovering for the first time that your experience is falling short of your expectation of God. My word to you is, don’t be surprised. Rather, be encouraged to know that all your Biblical heroes of the faith have experienced disappointment at one time or another. Abraham, Moses, David, Job, the 12 disciples; the Apostle Paul; all of them faced disappointment in God. Think of what the disciples went through as they watched their Master suffer and die a criminal’s death on the cross. Think of even Jesus Himself, of when He hung upon the cross how when God seemed most distant Jesus cried out of His pain and anguish, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?” If you are surprised, don’t be.
Finally, to those of you have been deeply disappointed with life and you’ve never met Christ, my word to you is, ‘Come.’ Come to the One who endured the loneliness of the cross so that we would always have a friend in Him who would never leave us. Come to the One who experienced death on the cross so that through our faith in Him, our sin could be forgiven. Come to the One who was raised from the dead so that we too could experience life everlasting. If you’ve never bowed your knee to Christ, ‘Come’ to the only One who will satisfy all your longings by filling the hole in your heart with His love.