Dealing with Disappointment

Dealing with Disappointment

Apr 22, 2018

Preacher: Jason Wolin

Category: Christian Living, Trials


Well today many of the men in our church are gone at men's retreat and I wanted to preach a message that of course is for everyone but has special application to women.

And I asked the women's ministry team what would be a good topic in this regard. Give me a sermon title. And they did. So here it is, "Dealing with Disappointment." This is perfect, because experiencing disappointment is universal and we will all benefit from thinking about this but this is an especially good topic for the women among us because there are unique pressures as a single lady or a single mom or a working woman or a wife or mother that lend themselves to very real disappointment. So we want to look at what God says about disappointment and how to respond to it.

What is it?

First of all, let's define it. Disappointment, if you distill it into an equation is reality over expectations.

If you get one dollar but expected 100, you will be disappointed. Reality over expectations. That's disappointment. The larger the spread between those two values the more the disappointment.

Now just to round out the definition. Satisfaction is when reality equals the expectation and elation would be when the reality exceeds the expectation.

Now I think it's fair to add another variable here and that is love.

The more you love something the greater the disappointment will be if you do not acquire that thing you love. It's one thing to be disappointed that the weather wasn't what you hoped. It's another thing to be disappointed that your children walked away from the Lord. In both cases the spread between reality and expectations was high but the disappointment is felt much more severely because you love your kids way more than the weather.

So that's what disappointment is. It's a universally horrible feeling that we experience when reality doesn't match expectations. The Proverbs speak to just how terrible this feeling is and where it can lead.

Disappointment is this sorrow of heart that crushes the spirit.

Man, nothing is more discouraging to me as a pastor than to see someone whose spirit has been truly crushed. This is where disappointment leads. The spark is gone from the eye. Something in life has so deflated them, so defeated them, they have lost the will to try any longer. Whatever that thing that gave them vitality has been sapped out of the soul. This is where unchecked disappointment leads. Disappointment is an emotional wedge that Satan will use to put lies into your mind that starts a progression.

Disappointment if left unchecked will lead to discouragement which can lead to disillusionment which can lead to depression which can lead to total defeat. Defeat is when you have absolutely surrendered to the lie that God does not want your good. And if God is not for you but instead is against you then what can I possibly do to reverse that? That is the lie that is believed by the person in defeat.

So disappointment needs to be seen as this emotional wedge - it's the tip of the spear - that opens up your soul and makes you susceptible to believing a lie. Do you see how important it is to deal with the tip of this wedge before you end up in depression and defeat? So how do we deal with these very real feelings?

It's easy to think that the problem with disappointment is simply setting too high of expectations. Or to say it another way, the solution to disappointment is lowering expectations. Now to be sure, sometimes this is what needs to change. For example, you can see a person who is just so crushed and disappointed because they went to a women's event and they were going expecting to make an amazing friend and yet nobody reached out to them and invited them to coffee. And it's easy to look at that person and you just want to say, "Man, your expectations are just too high. There's nothing wrong with wanting a friend. Pray about that. But realize, people are busy. It takes time. People have fears just like you have fears. People don't open up immediately. Life after college is not the same as life in college. You have to be patient. You're probably going to have to put in some effort and not expect that people are going to come to you right away." And in this case the cause of the disappointment might be setting expectations a bit too high.

But listen, the solution to happiness is not become Eore. Just assume your life is going to be terrible in every possible way. I'll probably wake up with cancer and I'll probably go to work and be maligned and mocked by all my friends and when I come home my house will probably be burned to the ground.

Well, that's one way to avoid disappointment but did you achieve happiness?

Certainly we don't want to set unrealistically high expectations. That's a recipe for disappointment. But setting artificially low expectations isn't good either. So is the goal to then set statistically normal expectations and hope for the best. Most people don't have an amazing marriage but it's not like it's going to be torture either so I'll set my expectations that my marriage will just be tolerable. Is that the solution?

That doesn't seem to work. And the problem becomes increasingly complicated when we talk about what I think is the most difficult kind of disappointment - that kind of disappointment that is a result of wanting good things.

  • God I always expected that I would be able to have kids. Isn't that something you want for me? Isn't that a good desire you placed in my heart? Why is this so hard? I want kids so badly and yet we can't have kids or we keep having miscarriages. And to kind of rub it in, we get these people asking ridiculously hurtful questions like, "So I notice you don't have kids. So when are you guys going to have kids?" This isn't what I expected.
  • God I want to have a great marriage and yet my husband is so passive. It's like he doesn't even care. He never engages me. He's off in his own world. I expected to have a better marriage than this. Don't you want me to have a good marriage. This isn't what I expected.
  • God I always expected that by the time I was 25 I'd be married. Well, I'm past that now and I have no prospects. I'm struggling with disappointment with how my life is turning out.
  • God I always expected that I'd live a relatively healthy life. I assumed I'd have normal health struggles but I never expected it would be this dominating and this debilitating. Don't you want me to be healthy? This is not what I expected.
  • God when I was younger I wanted to do great things for you. I had visions of being a missionary and selling my life out for you on the field and now I'm just a mom stuck in a suburban neighborhood stuck changing diapers and cooking and driving my kids around. This isn't what I envisioned?

You know what I'm talking about. Why is my life this way? Why won't you answer this prayer? Why won't you change this situation? Why won't you change this person's heart? It's the setting in of disappointment that leads to really unhealthy places.

So what do we do with these feelings? Is this problem a result of improperly set expectations? What should our expectations in these areas be? High? Low? Medium?

It's actually none of these.

The Bible's answer to this question works in a totally different direction. It reaches beyond the expectations. The Bible makes you ask a question about your expectations. The Bible is less concerned about the level of your expectations and more concerned about the roll those expectations play in your pursuit of satisfaction?

You see, it's often the case that really high expectations are connected with a very strong belief that the fulfillment of that expectation is a prerequisite for happiness. Until I get this thing, I can't be happy. And it's all very subconscious.

  • You were athletic and that provided you with a lot of satisfaction and so you just assume that your kids are going to be. Where did that high expectations come from? God wants you to assess the roll of that expectation in your pursuit of happiness. WHat if your kids aren't athletic like you or smart like you or musical like you or popular like you?

And while it's fine to want these things, it's not fine to think that you need these things to be happy. You see we are all like Christian on a journey to the celestial city. And God wants us to view all the circumstances, all the people in our lives, all the the things that happen to us as means to that end. And some of those things will be easy and some of them will be hard but they are all part of the path that lead to the goal. Some might be disappointing and some might be encouraging, but they are all part of the process of achieving the goal. They are all working toward the same end.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let's say you go down to the Saturday market to sell your homemade jams. And you've put all sort of effort into the labels and packaging. And you make 100 jars and you've got really good feedback on your jams and you expect to sell out. And at the last minute you decide to bake a few dozen cookies to fill up the table so there's not so much empty space but you're not really planning on selling all that many or focusing on them in any sort of way. So you go to the market and it turns out that nobody cares about your jams but you sell out of your cookies in the first hour. Everyone loves your cookies. So pretty soon you stop making jam and you now become the cookie lady. You would never in a million years have guessed that you'd be a cookie lady, but man it's really working.

Now in that case, your expectations were totally upended. And maybe there is some genuine disappointment that all that effort you put into the jams didn't pan out the way you thought, but that wedge of disappointment can't penetrate. It can't progress to discouragement and depression and disillusionment and defeat. Why? Because even though it wasn't the path you thought would take you to the destination you still reached the destination, you still have a successful Saturday market.

It's kind of like taking a trip. Taking a wrong turn is discouraging but not defeating. If it takes longer to get to your destination than you had planned, it's discouraging but defeating. If your vehicle breaks down, that's not what you expected, but it doesn't depress you or defeat you. It will just take a bit longer. You just get back onto the right road and you set your mind on the goal.

And that's exactly how God wants us to think about the disappointments in our life. The destination is our ballast. The destination allows you to maintain perspective. Focusing on the destination, focusing on the hope, focusing on that thing that can't change and can't be taken away from us really stabilizes our emotions when things are going crazy. We need to focus on the destination and submit the journey.

Here's why this is so critical.

We are talking here about overcoming discouragement. And Moses helps us avoid a really common error. There's a huge trap when it comes to overcoming discouragement. What is it? You want to know the biggest danger in talking about overcoming discouragement? It's thinking you've fixed the problem if you are no longer discouraged.

You see, you haven't really overcome discouragement until you overcome the world. Being crushed by discouragement is just a symptom that you haven't overcome the world. But its so easy, so incredibly easy to think that by fixing the situational circumstances that cause discouragement, I've fixed the problem. You can fix all the situations in your life that are causing discouragement and be just as enslaved to this world. No, it's just masking the symptoms. It's taking away the stressers that reveal the problem.

Overcoming the world means not being discouraged by the hard times but also not being overly elated by the good times. If that sounds like I'm trying to make you into an emotional cyborg, you are wrong. If you think I'm trying to squash emotions, your wrong. That's not it at all. It's actually the opposite.

Jesus makes this point so masterfully in Luke 10. Do you remember when Jesus sends out his disciples into the world to preach and he gives them power to do amazing things. And the disciples come back and they are on cloud nine. They are just absolutely tripping with excitement.

Believe it or not, the disciples in this passage have the same problem that you or I have when we are disappointed and discouraged. It seems to crazy that they could even be related because the outward response is so different. But pay attention - Jesus doesn't see their excitement as a good thing. Jesus sees their excitement as evidence that they haven't yet overcome the world. Do you remember what Jesus said to them?

You see Jesus wants them to have emotion, he wants them to rejoice, he just wants them to have properly placed emotion and properly placed rejoicing. Don't rejoice in your abilities. Don't rejoice in your circumstances. Don't mourn you loss of abilities. Don't mourn your circumstances. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.

What is Jesus saying? The demons are subject to you this week, but what about next week? You healed someone this week, but you won't always be able to heal. Eventually they will die. Then what? Do you see what he is saying? If you make life about trying to live on the high points, you are setting yourself up for severe disappointment, because life will let you down. If you make your life about the absence of problems, if you say that I can only be happy if these situational things are in place, well then, prepare yourself to be unhappy. You might have moments of excitement. You might have moments that thrill you but you will be let down. Guaranteed.

Now I don't know of anywhere in the Bible that does a better job of explaining this concept than the life of Moses and particularly the summary of the life of Moses in Hebrews chapter 11. And so I want you to turn there for Moment. Someday I really want to do a life of Moses study because there is so much in the man Moses. But for our purposes today we are going to focus on the point Hebrews 11 makes from his life.

The Man Moses

Now Hebrews chapter 11 is this chapter we call the hall of faith because in it we see this portrait of what faith can accomplish in the lives of God's people.

And Moses is among those listed. In fact, he gets a bigger chunk of Hebrews 11 than any other character and rightly so because Moses gets a bigger chunk of the OT than any other character. Moses is a pretty big deal. And here's why Moses is such a helpful character for our discussion today. Listen closely here.

The reason I love the life of Moses so much is that he has these incredible highs and incredible lows. I can't think of a man in the Bible that experienced more extreme highs and more extreme lows than Moses. He experienced the absolute extremes in every possible way. He experienced situations that would not just discourage you but depress and defeat you. He experienced thrills so high that the average persons adrenal gland would fail. And yet he is not controlled by these circumstances.

Hebrews 11 tells us how he was able to maintain composure. Now to really appreciate what Hebrews 11 says, we need to think just for a moment about the particulars of his life - really imagine some of these highs and lows in his life.

So retrace the life of Moment with me. For starters Moses experienced one of the most dramatic lifestyle shifts anyone can experience. Moses life of course begins during this decree from Pharaoh that all baby boys in Israel are to be slaughtered. And so Moses' parents, fearing that he will be put to death, is put into a basket and he is discovered by Pharaoh's daughter and she raises him.

Now on a purely academic level, a lot of work has been done to try to figure out who this lady is that draws Moses out of the water. And it's very likely that this woman mentioned here is queen Hatshepsut of the 18th dynasty of Egypt.

And the reason this is interesting is that we actually know a lot about Queen Hatshepsut. She was very, very powerful. To say that Moses would have grown up with privilege is a serious understatement. To give you some idea of the kind of lifestyle Moses would have enjoyed, here's a picture of queen Hatshepsut's palace.

So you can go here today and see all this. Now the identification of the exact queen is not critical. But this helps you get the point doesn't it? Moses had absolute premium access to all that Egypt had to offer. He is 40 years old. He's at the peak of his usefulness in society.

He goes from being treated as royalty, treated with absolute respect, without having to lift his finger to do an ounce of menial work, having everyone obey every word he says because he sits in a position of unbelievable power.... he goes from that to tending sheep in the wilderness which is the most despised possible occupation according to Egyptologists. You could not pick a more dishonoring, loathsome, scorn-inducing job than herding sheep. That would be like going from a CEO of a fortune 50 company to a minimum wage burger flipper.

Do you think that was a little discouraging to Moses. Do you think he said to himself in the many years wandering through sticks and thorns, this is not how I pictured my life turning out. God, why am I out here in the wilderness? Now let's continue to think about the extremes he experienced.

HIGH - God appears to him in a bush that doesn't burn. I don't why people call it the burning bush. They should call it the non-burning bush. Anyway, think about that. That's amazing. Has that ever happened to you or anyone you know? Then, God tells him that he's going to be given miracle working powers. He performs miracles before the people and he's literally like a God to them. He can do these amazing works. At the end of Exodus 4 when Moses gets done performing his miracles before the Israelites the text says, the people bowed in worship. That must have been a high.

LOW - But then the very next chapter, Moses goes in and asks Pharaoh to release the people and Pharaoh's magicians can do all the same miracles. Bet he wasn't expecting that. And if that wasn't bad enough, Pharaoh gets mad and punishes the Israelites. And the Hebrews go to Moses and say, "Man you made a stink in Pharaoh's eyes. May God curse you, you idiot." How discouraging would that be?

And then back and forth they go, they think Pharaoh's going to let them go, they get all excited, then nope, he changes his mind. Again and again.

HIGH - But then finally he does let them go and they are free and they pilliage the Egyptians and the plan worked and finally they have escaped! They are free. God delivered them. What an exhilarating moment! And they stream out into the desert, but then they turn around and their stomachs sink.

LOW - But then they see the dust cloud coming and they are doomed. They turn to Moses and curse him again.

HIGH - But then you have this high among highs. HIGH of the RED sea opening.

LOW - 3 Days later they are grumbling

HIGH - MT Sinai LOW - Comes down the Mountain and the people are having a feast

Think of all things Moses saw. Rebellion of Korah where the ground literally opens up and swallows people alive, water out of the rock, quail three feet high, manna, serpents who go through the camp and bite the people.

All these highs and lows. And Moses' Life actually ends on a low. All of this life of yours. You started leading this people out of Egypt when you were 80 and now your 120 and you are on the brink of the promise land but I'm not going to allow you to enter. Why? Because you did not honor me in the site of the people.

Now, the point of all this is for you to feel the roller-coaster? Do you think Moses struggled with disappointment? We don't have to guess. We know he did. It's recorded for us.

Now to be sure, Moses undoubtedly struggled through all of this. To be sure. But that emotional wedge could not penetrate because he had a ballast. He had something to help give him perspective in the midst of the discouragement but also in the midst of the excitement.

We get this divine summary of his life in Hebrews 11 of what he was thinking about, what gave him stability such that this emotional wedge we talked about earlier didn't work its way into his life. What stabilized Moses such that disappointment didn't lead to discouragement and depression and defeat.

Do you see what sustained him? It was the reward. He was looking to the reward. This is particularly interesting wording given Moses' background in Egypt. This verse uses the imagery of comparing. You have all the wealth of Egypt and you have the reproaches of Christ. Which is more valuable?

You may have seen this famous picture of Egypt on final judgment day where the gatekeeper takes your heart and he weighs it on one end of the scale and there is a feather on the other. And you get access into the afterlife if your heart is lighter than the feather.

I can't help but wonder if Moses pulled up that painting in his mind and thought, "all the treasures of Egypt, the pyramids, the sphinx, the treasure of Luxor, gold, servants, sex, respect, power" vs. "reproaches of Christ."

Which has more value.? Which has more weight? Which is worth more? Because I want what is worth the most. I don’t want to settle for tiny insignificant cheap treasure. I want vast treasure. What should I choose? The reproaches of Christ!

Now if that is believed, you can endure anything. Sure I might have to suffer a bit along the way and deal with the annoyances of grumbling and the annoyances of temporal disappointment but man, just look what awaits.


Now I want to get really practical here. What does this mean in real life to overcome discouragement or overcome disappointment by looking to the reward?

Here's three applications for you.

When we look to the reward it fundamentally shifts the way we look at every event that comes our way. This unmet expectation, this disappointment that intersects my life is not a lost chance at fulfillment, it's an opportunity to conform me into the shape of the person I need to be in order to be fulfilled.

You see, sin ruins us in many ways, but one of the main ways it ruins us is by changing even our ability to be fulfilled. It alters our shape such that even if the water is flowing we can't capture it. And it is often times the unmet expectations that God uses to reshape us.

To use a training analogy, your coach knows what you need. If he puts you through uncomfortable drills it's because you need it. If you come to practice expecting it to be easy and instead you get worked over, don't resent that unmet expectation, allow it shape you!

“When bad things happen, when difficulties come upon us, when disappointments happen, real disappointments some of you are facing right now, it's pretty rare for us to say, “What an opportunity for me to become the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, my loved ones always wanted me to be, and God wants me to be.”

We don't normally think that way which is why we are talking about it and suggesting it! I actually need a to be a person whose heart is in a different shape to really be fulfilled. I'm going to allow the Lord to shape me through this unmet expectation.

Often our disappointment betrays a belief that we possess of where we think happiness is to be found.

You see if you expect that situations or people are what you need to satisfy then you will have soul-crushing disappointment because they can't. When you are young you will look forward and think, if only I had money, if only my kids were grown, then I'd be happy. And then sometime down the road you will realize you got all that. You got money and your kids are out to the house but your health and vitality was taken away from you. What was it again I wanted to do when my kids were out of the house and I had money? I can't remember. If only I had my health and my kids.

If you run around thinking that the only way I can be fulfilled is to make sure my kids turn out. And so you rush them around to try and develop their musical gifts or their academic gifts or their athletic gifts and your scrambling trying to make all this stuff happen, think about what you are doing. Your setting yourself up for deep disappointment.

It's revealing something to you. Listen to those disappointments. Perhaps you are trying to find fulfillment in the wrong places. What if all of your kids walk away from the Lord? That would be very disappointing. But does that mean that you cannot find joy and can never be fulfilled?

Think of how miserable Moses would be if he was thinking in terms of "if only"

  • if only the children of Israel would stop complaining
  • if only they would stop grumbling and being so stiff-necked.
  • if only they would have had faith. Now we have to wander around in the desert for 40 years
  • if only I could just have a permanent home in the promise land. But instead I have to wander around in a tent
  • if only these people were more self-sufficient. I'm always trying to fix their problems.

What if your kids end up like Moses' kids. What if they don't make it into the right schools or don't get good grades or don't become athletes or musicians? What if you get sick? What if you loose your mental sharpness?

Here's what I think God is saying, repent of that. You don't need to repent of the expectation itself but of the belief that the realized expectation will bring you ultimate fulfillment.

The goal is to expect the destination and submit the journey.

This is not a mental trick word trick. Here's why this is revolutionary in managing disappointment. Because it allows us to expect, actually expect tremendous joy, overflowing satisfaction, extraordinary contentment while being open to how and when God will provide that. One of the absolute keys to growing as a Christian is to expect that you will be more satisfied in God if you do what he says. But how specifically that will happen is admittedly mysterious. The Bible's equation for joy and happiness and contentment is very counterintuitive and difficult to anticipate so you have to be open to how God is going to accomplish it but be very firm, rigid, stubborn, dogmatic that he will.

I don't expect that I will have kids or not have kids. To expect in that area would be presumptuous. But here's what you do expect. I expect that whether I have 1 kid, 10 kids or 0 that God will use this as a tool to sanctify me, and it will be a platform out of which I can bring him glory such that I will be more happy in him.

You see we don't know what it is good for us. Can you just confess that today? I don't know what I need, but God does and if something hard comes your way, something you don't expect, then your instinct response should be, this must be what God thinks I need.

This passage is saying, you have your plans and you know how things ought to work, but you don’t know. You say, “This is going to happen. That’s going to happen.” But you don’t know. You ought to say, “Well, if it’s the Lord’s will.”

What does that mean? When things go wrong, we get angry or depressed or frustrated or discouraged and we think we can't help it. But those feelings come from somewhere. You want to know where they come from? From this assumed omniscience - I know what is best for me. In your heart you are saying, this circumstance is so horribel. Wait a second, Why?

Well because things are turning out the way I expected.

Oh, you know? You know that these things must be in place for you to be fulfilled. How do you know? This passage says very clearly you don’t know. You’re upset, but you don’t know. Lay down the burden of thinking you know more than God. It’s such a relief. All the freaking out we experience in life is coming from our certainty that we know. We don’t know. Be humble. It’s a deliberate act of humility.

medieval concept of we submit to the world vs we control the world.

Closing Invitation

Newcomer lunch. Everyone is invited. What do yo