Have you been disappointed by something yet today?
If not, just wait. It’s coming. Because it happens most everyday. We make our plans, with the best of intentions, and then things don’t wind up going the way we think they should. Granted, some of these disappointments are bigger than others, but imagine with me for a second that the disappointment you face today is something big. Maybe it’s a project you have put your heart and sweat into that is not yielding the results you wanted. Maybe you poured your soul into a Bible study or a sermon and only were met with blank stares. Maybe you bent over backward to create a special experience for your spouse or child and they were only mildly enthusiastic. And you find yourself disappointed.
It’s easy to see why. In your mind, like mine, what you did is good. It’s worthwhile. It was certainly difficult. And the results do not, in your opinion, match the quality of the effort.
What do you do? Cry? Complain? Give up? Here’s what Paul the apostle did:
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them (Acts 16:6-10).
Paul was visiting the churches he planted on his first mission, and all was going well. Very well. The churches were encouraged and grew in numbers. So they set out again with the intent to head into Asia, but as the text tells us, they were prevented from doing so by the Holy Spirit. Okay – not such a big deal. Disappointing I’m sure, but the world is a big place and lots of people needed to hear the gospel, and the Lord had other plans. So they set out once again with the intent to go to Bithynia probably to preach in the big cities like Nicomedia, Nicea, and Byzantium. And they were stopped again.
Again? Maybe a tinge more disappointment this time, but still, nothing to get down about. The missionary group set out once again through the backwoods country of Mysia down to Troas. That’s when Paul had the dream. And finally, a moment of absolute clarity:
During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them (Acts 16:9-10).
Surely this was a message from the Lord. A clear direction after two false starts. Go to Macedonia and help the lost who were there. So they readied themselves for the journey with all the confidence in the world they were at last going the right way to do the right thing. The text continues to tell us that their journey from Troas to Philippi was an easy one. A journey like that might ordinarily take 5 or more days, but Acts tells us they made it in 2 no doubt because of good weather.
So far so good – they have a clear vision. A clear mission. And even sunny skies to bolster their spirits. In Philippi Paul shares the gospel with Lydia and her family and all are converted and baptized. The missionary party must have been riding high, and then it all unraveled.
Acts 16:16 tells us the story of a slave girl in Philippi who could predict the future. Paul cast the spirit out of her, rendering her unable to make those predictions which had made her owners so much money. Enraged, those slave-owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local authorities. An impromptu lynch mob formed and the two missionaries were stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison.
Let’s review now. There was a clear mandate. There was a clear vision. There was a pure motive. And the results from all the travel, the faithfulness, and the effort was being locked into stocks. This is the kind of disappointment I have never faced, and it makes the way Paul and Silas responded all the more remarkable:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…” (Acts 16:25).
How can that be? That this was the reaction to such disappointment? Perhaps the reaction stems from something deep within that usually escapes me when I find myself in a posture of complaint and despondency at the results I see in front of me. I would propose that for people like us, who often find themselves casting their gaze heavenward in pleading fashion, asking why the results are meager when the effort was so great, that disappointment is actually an opportunity to be reminded of two things, one about God, and one about ourselves.
1. God is far wiser than I think He is.
I am more likely to be the person in this story who never made it to Philippi, but instead threw up his hands at the first redirection. But when I find myself disappointed, it’s an opportunity to be reminded that God is far wiser than I am. Just because the results aren’t what I expected or wanted, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It only means that God, in His wisdom, has plans that are far more wide-reaching and encompassing than I can conceive. Which leads to the second reminder when we are disappointed:
2. I am far more short-sighted than I think I am.
If I had a nickel for every opportunity in my life that I thought everything was contingent upon, then I’d have a lot of nickels. I can think back as far as playing Little League when I thought that the results of one at-bat would determine the future of the known world. I’ve prayed for a certain set of results countless times since then – in sermons, in books, in work developments, in family life. Each time I’ve been disappointed, I can look back and see that my prayer for those results was less a result of desiring God’s will and His glory than it was a result of my own short-sightedness. I was suffering from tunnel blindness, focusing only on what was directly in front of me in the moment.
When you are disappointed today, and you likely will be, perhaps it’s an opportunity for you to cast your eyes toward heaven not in complaint, but in worship of a God who is far wiser than you and in confession of your own short-sightedness. If we can do that, then we will find ourselves accepting the specific kind of daily bread the Lord has chosen to give to us on a given day, no matter what it might taste like in the moment. For we recognize that though it might not be delicious in the moment, it is indeed the best thing for us.