Friday, October 29, 2010

Dealing with Disappointment

Text: Jer 14: 3-4
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 29 Oct 2010

“The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.” (Jer 14:3-4)

MAIN POINT: If there is one thing definite in life, it is the presence of disappointments. Disappointments can come in many different ways. Disappointment is like rainfall. Sometimes they are heavy. Other times light. Yet it is because God is Sovereign, that after the rains are gone, He brings out the sun and brandishes a dazzling rainbow of hope.

“Go get some water!” says the master. Two servants took two pails each, and walk to the wells a few meters outside the house. They fling down their old trusted pails. They heave. They pull. They hear no sound. There is no familiar splashing sound of water. The wells are dry. Soon, their disappointment will spread from the empty well to the household they live in. Drought is a terrible thing to experience. The servants can only bring back the bad news.

“Master, there is no more water in the wells!”

Disappointment. Despair. Distress. Ashamed.

The word ‘humiliated’ is a strong indictment on how the servants feel when they fail to complete the task set out for them by their master. When something one expects fails to materialize, the natural response will be one of disappointment. How should we respond to disappointments? In a nutshell, we need to first see ‘disappointments’ from God’s perspective.

A) God’s Disappointment in Judah
Israel gets a yucky taste of what it means to live without the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah gives 12 prophecies that are against the nation of Judah. Jeremiah 14 marks the sixth such prophecy, which is regarding the horrors of being judged. In a way, the people of Judah gets to experience what they themselves know will happen, when they choose to walk away from the LORD. One of the effects of this judgment is discouragement. Simply put, some disappointments are due to self-inflicted acts, like the case of Judah disobeying God. They suffer the consequences.

Lest we go away with the feeling that God is that merciless Judge that easily dispenses punishment, it is important to know that God disciplines his children with sorrow in His heart. We cannot read the prophets and then conclude God is a cruel task master. Sometimes, erroneous theology like that can lead us astray. Such disappointment does not mean God rejects his people. It simply means God is meting out certain promised consequences, but still keeping a watchful eye to care for them.

When a person is suffering, it is common to start pointing blame at something or someone. There are occasions where the person in pain starts to bring in sins and wickedness committed in the past, and say that God is punishing him. Be careful not to let this false teaching take root. Otherwise, the end result will be bitterness and despair. No! There is a difference between punishment and discipline. Punishments weigh people down. Discipline lifts them up from their waywardness. Punishments put one down. Discipline holds one up. The LORD disciplines the ones He love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’S discipline and do not resent his rebuke,” (Prov 3:11)

In Jeremiah, the ills that Judah faces are largely self-inflicted. The heart of God is not happy, but sorrowful. Yet, in this disappointment that the people of God encounters, God is preparing for a new hope.

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” (Jer 31:20)

B) Disappointments from Self-Inflicted Acts
Without a doubt, many of our modern encounters with disappointment and discouragement are self-inflicted. Like Adam and Eve who disobeyed, we too have our share of disobedience. We tell lies. We speak to one another with half-truths or failing to communicate in order to protect ourselves. We glory when credits are suddenly given to us by mistake. We complain when our good actions fail to be recognized or acknowledged. Even within our Church communities, we desire to help others on the basis of OUR convenience rather than their need. Love to many people is not love until we see a tangible benefit.

Jeremiah prophesies:

This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you, because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods. I will pull up your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen - …” (Jer 13:25-26)

For all my professed desire to be holy before God, I find myself making inappropriate comments from time to time. I remember a time when I was zealous about preaching the gospel to my colleagues. One colleague I met happens to be a friend from school many years ago. We become good friends almost instantly. When she becomes hesitant about coming back to God, or to return to Church, I become a little overwhelming on her. I said things that do not reflect a Christ-like attitude. I pounce on her weakness by prescribing a form of religion that works for me, but not for her. In a nutshell, I was purely and simply insensitive. She abruptly cuts off all contact with me, and to this day, I live with the uncertainty and regret that I may have unwittingly stumbled a sister in Christ. The ‘god’ I follow then, is perhaps a ‘god’ of religiously conquering weak hearts. I seem to be doing ‘gospel-pushing’ rather than demonstrating Christ-like love. For all its goodness, the gospel needs to be communicated sensitively and thoughtfully. I learn that we can sin against God, by doing selfish things in the name of God. Personally, I am disappointed with myself. Self-inflicted acts can lead to deep disappointment.

C) Disappointments Arising from a Sick Society
Other disappointments are not within our control. I read a news report recently about a father who rapes his daughter so that he can ‘save’ her from the clutches of evil men. That shows how sick society can be. Such hideous acts of violence on helpless innocent victims turns me off. It angers me. I feel sick.

The society that we live can give us some nasty disappointments when we least expect. A sudden tax rise; an unfortunate accident not of our doing; a rude encounter. Several years ago, I was rudely awakened one early morning to see two policemen at my door. They had bad news. That weekend, six vehicles were torched. My car was one of them.

I recall the lump in my throat. I choke. I struggle as disgust; despair, and distress mingle together to wreak a heavy disappointment inside me. That day, everything seems gloomy. My emotions are shrouded in a terrible state that wants the arsonist arrested and jailed. Even the Police prove to be most unhelpful, as far as catching the culprit is concerned. They have other ‘higher’ priority than a match-happy fire-starter. Moreover, I am a ‘nobody’ in their who’s who list of VIPs. My disappointment soon leaps like a flea, from the burnt car to the unhelpful police force; from the constables to the impatient traffic users on the roads; allowing the disappointments outside to grow roots inside my heart. I begin to ask the three questions Philip Yancey poses:

Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God withdrawn?” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p48)
It is when we learn to pause, we start to see. Through disappointments, we learn to not to pin our hopes on non-living things, but to anchor our hope in the living God.

D) Dealing with Disappointment
There is hope. Hopeful people pray. In our helplessness over disappointments, we can remind ourselves to focus on the Giver of hope. This is what Oswald Chambers speaks of prayer.

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” (Oswald Chambers)

Indeed, prayer is not staring at the mountain of difficulties but in gazing at the face of God. The former locks us into a prison of helplessness. The latter liberates us to seek God for Who He is. Paul exhorts Timothy even as he grapples with false teachers in the Ephesus Church:

"For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." (1 Tim 4:10)

Indeed, prayer substitutes our disappointments of life, with hope in God. Prayer is not staring and getting bogged down by the mountain of challenges set before us. It is in gazing at the sight of God, and following the path set by Jesus. Disappointments like rain will come sooner or later. Sometimes they come pouring like cats and dogs. Other times they drizzle and skim off our backs, like water droplets sliding down a turtle’s shell. The key is to be prepared and to pray.

I have been dealing with disappointments in this article, because it is such a common occurrence in our lives. It can come through silly self-inflicted acts or mistakes on our part. It can also come through events that are way beyond our control. Even in Christian ministry, we can be disappointed when expectations (both yours, mine, and others) are not met. Sometimes disappointment comes as a result of sin. Other times, it comes simply because we live in a fallen world. If there is one guarantee I can give, it is this. It is not a matter of why but a question of WHEN we will be disappointed. Let the following encourage you, my readers.

On a sunny day, take a small coin say a quarter. If we compare the coin with the sun, one is only a few millimeters in diameter, while the other is in thousands, perhaps millions of miles. We can choose to bring the coin so close to our eye that it blocks out the sun completely. Or we can put the coin at a distance and recognize that it is utterly insignificant compared to the sun.

This is what faith is all about. Faith is putting our despairs in their proper perspectives by focusing our hope in God. In prayer, we look away from our disappointments that may accumulate over time. Instead, we look to God, to fix our perspectives. Let not the coins of disappointment blot our eyes from seeing the Son of God, who came, who died and who has been raised. Christ has risen and He promises to raise His children up with Him. That is his promise. Disappointments may come, but the day will come when the LORD will erase all disappointments forever.

Yes. Sometimes we may feel like there is no more water in our wells. We may feel like we are punished. However, the God we worship is One who disciplines rather than punishes. The God who will one day fill the wells that will overflow with living waters.

Thought: Let not the disappointments in life blot out our hope in God.

One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” (Henry Ward Beecher)


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