I recently had an opportunity that looked promising. The more I explored it, the more I saw how it fit with desires I’ve held for a while, and although I knew I would have much to learn and was a little intimidated by the prospect that it could become a reality, I was eager to pursue it. As things progressed over the course of several weeks, I desired more and more to see this opportunity come into fruition. It would bring monumental change, leaving no area of my life unaffected, so I constantly prayed that God would incline my heart in the direction he would have me to go, make my path straight and my footsteps firm, and clearly affirm his will for the situation. The more I prayed, the more I desired to see this change happen. Then it abruptly came to a close. I’m thankful God gave a clear answer, but it was not the answer I wanted. I was deeply disappointed, and I grieved.
Disappointment – it’s like losing something we never really had. Sometimes another person’s sin or our own complicates matters and increases the pain. Sometimes it’s just God’s divine will to deny our requests for purposes he may or may not reveal to us. This scenario has played out multiple times in different areas of my life in the last few years. By God’s grace, I’ve grown more careful about seeking his will and placing my hopes in Christ alone rather than the opportunity at hand. Nonetheless, I still feel the heartbreak of a hope deferred…again.
After a disappointment, I usually go to God with questions: Are my desires wrong or have you given them to me? Am I going about this in the wrong way? Would this not have honored you? What could I have done differently? How will I know when you’re saying “yes”? Asking God to search my heart is a good thing, but I must be guarded because disappointments, especially when they multiply, can expose me to dangerous temptations, such as bitterness, self-pity, and despair. Like Eve, I could cave in to the Serpent’s hiss, “Did God really say…?” and begin to question God’s goodness and love, doubt his wisdom and promises, believe he’s holding out on me, and rebel against his authority.
So what do we do when God gives an answer that we didn’t want? We can imitate Jonah, whom I once heard described as “the whiny-baby-poo-poo prophet,” and try to make our own way around God’s direction, but I wouldn’t advise it. It didn’t turn out very well for Jonah, with the whale vomit and all that. This kind of rebellion only drives us further away from God. I think we find a better example in Mary and Martha of Bethany. In John 11, a messenger comes to Jesus to inform him that Lazarus, the women’s brother, is on the verge of death, and Jesus intentionally waits to go to him. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has been in his grave four days. His sisters go to Jesus separately, but they both say the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus encourages Martha to trust him, and he weeps with Mary. You know the rest of the story. At Jesus’ command, Lazarus pops out of the grave fully revived.
Here’s how this passage is helping me deal with this latest disappointment. First, Jesus not only knows the situation, he also intends for it to happen this way. He deliberately waited for Lazarus to die rather than heal him (v. 6), and he brought my opportunity to an end. Second, he could have brought about the results I desired but in his infinite wisdom and love, he did not. As Mary and Martha acknowledged, he had the power to spare them this grief, but they go to him in faith, not anger (vv. 21-22, 32). Third, I must trust him. Mary and Martha clearly did not anticipate seeing their brother come strolling out of his grave that day, but in their anguish and confusion, they still trusted Jesus to be the good, compassionate, loving Savior he is, even when they couldn’t see what good could come of their situation (vv. 27, 32). Fourth, this disappointment is for my growth in holiness. Jesus taught Martha to trust him as the resurrection and the life, and this was before she had any visible proof of his power to raise the dead (vv. 25-26). He wanted her to trust him at his word. Fifth, Jesus is sympathetic to my heartache. These women had a God-honoring desire to see their brother healed, and when Jesus said no to their request, they grieved. They weren’t wallowing in self-pity but truly grieving a loss, and Jesus had compassion and wept with them (vv. 33-35). Finally, this is for his glory, and I should praise him for it. Just before he called Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus stated that this happened so the people would know he was sent by God (v. 42). Later on, Mary offers a beautiful expression of her gratitude in bathing the Lord’s feet with costly perfume and drying them with her hair (John 12.1-8). Just think how the sisters’ experience must have prepared them for Jesus’ own death and resurrection!
While I don’t expect the Lord to resurrect my lost opportunity as he did Lazarus (although he could), I trust that he’s orchestrating it for my growth and to display his power in my life. I know these desires are for temporary things and none of them will ultimately fulfill me because they were never designed for that. Yet I also know that God delights in giving good things to his children (Matt. 7.7-11), and in their proper place, they point me to him who does ultimately fulfill. I have no doubt that God is using these disappointments for my sanctification. They are light, momentary afflictions that are preparing me for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4. 17).