By Dick Brogden
In missions, ministry, marriage, and life we will deal with disappointment in others and in ourselves. Here are some ways we can deal with the inevitable disappointment that arises from being fallen humans living and working with fallen humans:
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
There is only One who never fails. Parents, friends, children, colleagues, leaders, disciples, mentors, heroes, etc., will eventually fail you. Only Jesus is enduringly faithful and ever available. All others stumble or leave. Discouragement, in effect, is a transfer of our eyes and thoughts away from the perfect One to the imperfect ones.
The devil constantly tries to manipulate our disappointment with one another into broader disillusionment. Relational hurts quickly snowball into grievances against the team, the body of Christ, the church, the denomination, the missions agency, or the ultimate aim of the devil’s messing with us: disappointment with God.
When we are disappointed in ourselves or others, the first thing we need to do is keep our eyes on Jesus. Jesus never fails.
Keep your mind on Scripture.
When we are dealing with disappointment, we need to read more Scripture, not less. The tendency is to fill our head with grievances (real or imagined), and we lay awake at night replaying conversations and interactions, building angst not calm. What we need to do is read the Bible (often out loud). We need to stand on the promises of God. We need to shift our thoughts away from fixating on relational difficulties—which are passing—fixating on the timeless truths of God’s character as revealed in the Word. Focusing on the macro-workings of God in history and the world helps in dealing with the disappointments of our micro-experience. The big picture is not about us and what is going on with us; the big picture is about God and what He is doing across time and space. Rather than navel gazing, Scripture helps us lift our eyes to the eternal One.
When our eyes are on God’s global glory, we do not fixate on the bumps and bruises inevitable in daily life (often from friends and colleagues). When you play a game of rugby, you have to absorb some hits, some from well-meaning teammates who inadvertently crash into you or who, in truth, sometimes intentionally squash you in order to push back the enemy. Sometimes their cleats must accidentally or unfortunately rake your back to hold ground against the opposition. In such times, to stop playing the game in a huff in order to concentrate on your hurts is counterproductive to the overall goal of the team. You absorb the pain, seeing it for its minor status in the big scheme of things, and you play on with eyes fixed on the prize. Even so, we deal with disappointment by getting over ourselves and our minor complaints and by concentrating on what God is doing in all the earth. Focus on who God is as Scripture reveals Him, not on your petty injuries. And if indeed your injuries are so debilitating that you have to step off the field for a season, stand on the sidelines and cheer.
Keep asking to be filled with the Spirit.
When we are disappointed, our spirits are swimming in a multitude of emotions and essences—anger, hurt, loneliness, frustration, impatience, selfishness, carnality, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and fatigue. All of these are in us as well as others. We need to be intentional that the overriding spirit of what we do and say, think and react, is not ours but the Spirit of God. When disappointed, we need to avoid the imprecatory psalms (“Break their teeth in their mouth, O God!”) and focus on the Spirit of Jesus (“Father, forgive them. Forgive me. We do not know what we do.”). When dealing with disappointment, we should repeatedly pray: “Father, fill me anew and afresh with your Spirit. Control my emotions and my tongue. Speak through me. Let me represent Your heart and Your Spirit, not a spirit of the world, the flesh, or the devil.”
Keep praying the mercy prayer.
The mercy prayer is not a formula or a magic spell to be repeated mindlessly. It is a prayer that enters into the viewpoint of Jesus for the other. In essence the prayer is:
Lord, fill the one I am thinking of (disappointed in) with FLOODS of Your fulfilling mercy. Meet their every need as You see it, not as I see it. Draw them to Yourself, make Jesus real to them, and fill them with Your Holy Spirit.
The essence of the prayer, not the strict repetition of it, is the critical thing. As we pray mercy on the others, two things usually happen, one of them always happens (if we have prayed in good faith and prayed through until victory). What always happens is that our heart softens and changes toward the other. What usually or often happens is that they sense our compassionate heart towards them and their heart softens towards us. This mutual softening paves the way for understanding, reconciliation, and restoration.
When we keep forgiving and blessing others, especially those who have hurt us, God forgives, blesses, and restores us. Job 42:10 reminds us that God restores our losses when we pray for our friends, even the friends who gave bad counsel, made bad decisions, accused us falsely, or said hurtful things.
Keep your eyes on the lost.
When missionaries, ministers, married couples, and Christians fight, the lost always suffer. Any energy spent in fighting each other is energy taken away from fighting for lost souls. When we fight each other, the devil pulls up a chair, cackles in glee, and enjoys the fireworks. He is delighted because behind his back and ours—who are so consumed with petty annoyances—the lost are perishing and going to hell.
Don’t let disappointment distract you from your primary calling of making disciples. There are so many organizational, structural, leadership, philosophy, vision, position, authority, etc. issues that we can disagree over. Let us be diligent that nothing will distract us from widely sowing the gospel, discipling the found, planting churches among the unreached, training up indigenous leaders, and focusing on the harvest. If the harvesting sickle of your neighbor swings so close it scratches your pride, don’t stop swinging your sickle to sulk or shout and don’t start swinging your sickle at him or her. Just take three steps sideways and focus on the grain to be harvested in front of you. There is enough harvest spoiling in the field to attend to. Let’s keep our eyes on the lost.
Keep doing your job.
It is very, very rare that disappointment restricts us from the assignment in front of us. Yes, it can slow things down, but hardly ever does disappointment stop us from fulfilling our assignment. Keep focusing on what you can control. Put your primary energy into the task you have been given. Let the things that concern or irritate you be marginal to your attention and emotional energy. Let your influence be unforced and natural and flow from the working model to which you diligently apply yourself. When disappointed, don’t divert energy from your assignment. Focus down on your job and let some of these other issues be addressed by God, time, and the maturation of all involved.
Time is always on the side of the right. If you are in the right, you probably are not going to prove it by arguing or protesting. Time will prove it by the fruit of the decision, whether good or bad. There are very few hills to die on, and most ministries can recover from the effects of bad decisions if they are judgment calls, not moral rebellions. If you are not the authority, submit and trust the Lord and time to work it out. Outlast and outlive your critics. I do not mean in a manipulative way, I mean in a faithful endurance. Do your job and the verification will be in the fruit of your ministry. It is of course possible that others will be proved right (and you wrong) in the course of time. If that happens, be humble enough to admit it. It happens to all of us!
Keep perspective on how many joyful relationships you currently have.
When we are disappointed with someone who is near, we tend to let that disappointment consume our emotions and thinking. In that fixation we do a disservice to the many other relationships around us that are either fulfilling or need our emotional investment. As the old hymn says “we are to count our blessings,” but in our hurt we prefer to count our curses (which is how we view the ones who have disappointed us). Don’t let one person or one situation dominate your internal reflection or external action. Remember the many others around you that bring great joy into your life and/or need your positive input into their lives. At any given time, there are more life-giving relationships around us than life-taking. We just have to let the life-taking relationships dominate. That is on us. We must determine to give attention to the numerous joyful relationships around us.
Here, too, the devil loves to cloud our thinking. When we have a major or ongoing relational disappointment, the enemy puts his slimy finger into that hurt and presses. He begins to hum: “Nobody likes me. Everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms.” If we are not vigilant to rebuke that lie, we start humming it with him. The next sinister whisper in our ear is: “I alone of all the prophets of God am the only one left.” We start thinking that no one understands, no one endures what we endure, no one appreciates us or our difficulty, and everyone else has it better than we do. We take on a deluded martyr mentality. This, too, is self-deception and self-pity. There is always someone who has it worse than we do, and our bad is not as bad as we make it out in our own mind. We need to take a deep breath, step back, and start praising God for all the wonderful people and opportunities in our life.
Keep your own frailties in mind.
When we are disappointed with others or going through a season of disappointment, we need to get up every morning, look in the mirror, and say: “I could be wrong today.” I do not mean we live in a crisis of self-confidence. I do mean we live humbly and recognize that we, too, are fallen. We, too, disappoint others. We, too, make and are making mistakes. We do not have a corner on righteousness, wisdom, or clear thinking. Charles Spurgeon said (my paraphrase): “However bad others think of you, be encouraged that you are probably much, much worse.” When you are disappointed in others, leaven that with the sober realization that they are probably a little bit disappointed in you and they probably have good reason to be.
Keep believing the best.
In disappointment we need to retain our loyalties to those we work with and love. Trust is both earned and conferred; it is then both lost and withdrawn. We need to be very slow to remove trust. We need to continue to believe the best and assign the best possible meaning to every word, email, phone call, conversation, and communication. When we are disappointed, we tend to default to the worst possible meaning or motive of the other. We build a case in our mind by interpreting their words and actions in the worst possible way. We all are neither as good as we are made out to be (in the new, fresh, good times), nor are we as bad as we are made out to be (in the tense, long-term, tough times). Disappointment tends to make us vilify others. This is especially true if we have lionized someone or placed them on the pedestal. The higher in our esteem we place others, the more painful it is when they fall off that pedestal, or frankly when we throw them off. In the tough times, we need to keep believing the best about others.
Critical to believing the best is the pursuance of Matthew 18 principles of conflict resolution. When disappointed, a huge and common error is to start talking about someone rather than talking to them. Keep taking your concerns to the person that disappoints you. Follow the recourse given in Matthew 18 if that dialogue breaks down. Follow the golden rule and treat others as you would want to be treated. In disappointment with others, keep believing the best about them.
Keep dying to self.
The reality is that we can’t self-crucify. It is physically and spiritually impossible. God hands the hammer to those who are near, which is part of the indignity. When we are disappointed in others, it is part of the dying-to-self process. Don’t wiggle off the cross. Don’t grab the hammer and start smiting the ones God has appointed to crucify you. There are probably forces and purposes at play far larger than the specific decision or circumstance. The Lord of Glory is hammering you into His image. Grin and bear it. Keep dying to self.
Keep your eyes on the eastern sky.
One day Jesus will come. Soon and very soon. What seems like a prison is only a phase. You will get through it. If you try to escape it, you will be sorely disappointed, as half the problem in this disappointment is your own flesh. You can’t escape your flesh until Jesus comes. And on that day, that glorious day, in a moment, in a twinkling WE SHALL BE CHANGED! Oh, thank you, Jesus. On that day, all disappointment will both be healed and cease. On that day we will never again be disappointed. We look forward to that day with joy.