Have you ever been optimistic about something, and then it all turned sour, far more sour that you ever dreamed it could. You stepped out in faith, and the bottom fell out. When it did, your faith was replaced by disappointment and deep despair.
You might be walking in the middle of such an experience right now. If so, I invite you to consider how the apostle Paul dealt with disappointment. By the time he wrote his second letter to Timothy, he was an old man. He wrote from the damp darkness of a Roman dungeon. He was lonely. Because Paul is one of the great men of the Bible, we imagine him to be immune to the feelings and emotions that ebb and flow inside of us. But Paul was just like us! On the day he wrote this letter, discouragement and disappointment overwhelmed his heart.
How bad was it for Paul? His execution appeared imminent. At a time when he longed to be surrounded with Christian friends, when he needed to draw strength from their prayers and encouragement, he felt alone—and to a degree, outright abandoned. He invested everything, risking his own life to bring the gospel to these people—and what thanks did he get? While some of his companions were sent out by his own hand, others just flat out left! They left Paul at the mercy of Rome. During his first appearance before the Roman officials, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:16… “At my first defense, no one supported me, but all deserted me.”
The bottom fell out. What happens to you emotionally and spiritually when the bottom falls out? All of us pass through times of personal disappointment. I want to show you four ways Paul handled this period of overwhelming disappointment in his life.
First, Paul didn’t allow himself to be bitter toward those who refused to stand with him.
His forgiving spirit is evident in verse 16: He prays, “may it not be counted against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16b He wanted God to deal mercifully with them. He was betrayed, but he wasn’t bitter. Bitterness compounds disappointment. If people were involved in causing your disappointment, if a friend or family member let you down, try to meet that disappointment with a forgiving spirit.
Paul displayed mercy toward those who let him down. Mercy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to place His mercy in your heart so you can deal mercifully with others. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15
Like Paul, don’t allow yourself to be bitter toward those who refuse to stand with you.
Second, Paul experienced and acknowledged the Lord’s Presence amidst his disappointment.
16At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me… 2 Timothy 4:16-17
Where is the Lord in the middle of your disappointment? Didn’t He promise never to leave you or forsake you? Didn’t He say, “Lo, I am with you always… even to the end of the world.” Doesn’t that remain true when it seems like it’s the end of the world in your own life?
Paul’s voyage to Rome evidenced a pattern of difficulty and disappointment. Now his experience in Rome was turning out the same way. However, in the midst of every disappointment, Paul bore witness to the comfort of God’s presence. No one else stood with Paul, but the Lord stood with him and strengthened him. Things didn’t turn out like Paul planned, but God’s comforting presence gave him confidence God was still in control.
I don’t know the depth of personal disappointment in your life. However I know this, the Lord is with you in the face of your disappointment—and His purpose still stands.
Third, Paul didn’t allow disappointment to divert him from God’s purpose.
Paul’s experience reveals that God’s purpose prevails in spite of our disappointment. As a matter of fact, if we will trust God, look for God, and walk with God in the middle of our disappointment, we will find that that our disappointment becomes a platform for God’s purpose.
How did God use Paul’s disappointment for His glory? Apparently, it was in God’s purpose that Paul, as a prisoner, give a defense of his faith before the emperor. But that was only a small part of that purpose. Listen to Paul’s statement of God’s purpose: “…so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” 2 Timothy 4:17b
Through this letter from prison, God’s purpose continues to be accomplished, not only in spite of Paul’s disappointment, but in many ways because of it. Paul elevated God’s purpose as more important than his own disappointment. In fact, during one stint in prison in Rome, Paul wrote to the Philippians: My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that in my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole governor’s palace guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Philippians 1:12-14
Are you willing to trust your disappointment to the providence of God? Are you willing to express your faith in the midst of it, to live out your faith in spite of it, and to allow God’s glory to shine from the darkness of it?
Your disappointment can become a platform for pointing others toward Christ.
Finally, Paul’s present disappointment didn’t keep Paul from looking forward to future victory.
His testimony to Timothy is as follows: 17But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:17-18
Paul reflected on his disappointment. He expressed his faith in the midst of it. He allowed God to shine from the darkness of it. He looked for God in spite of it. Are you looking for God in your disappointment? Are you listening to His voice, or is the only voice you hear the voice of your disappointment.
Is disappointment difficult? Yes it is difficult! Is it discouraging? Yes, it is discouraging! But disappointment is also a place of deliverance! The light of God’s presence is never so great as when it shines in the darkness of your circumstances. In Paul’s disappointment, he also experienced God’s deliverance. He said, “It didn’t kill me. I didn’t die. The lion opened his mouth and licked his lips, but I was delivered.”
God always has a deliverance for us in our disappointment. But if we focus only on our disappointment, that is all we will ever experience. In the midst of disappointment, we need to look for God. You have a choice in your disappointment. You can put yourself in a position to be bitter, and that bitterness will flavor your whole life. Or else, you can put yourself in a position to be blessed. You must stand in that place by faith and not sight. Express your hope in God in spite of your disappointment. Look for God in the midst of it. Allow God to shine from the darkness of it. Choose to rejoice over even the smallest hint of deliverance!
All Scripture comes from the NASB® www.lockman.org
Photo by Pablo Varela