Despite how long you have been a Christian, there are times when disappointment strikes, and suddenly we wonder if God really cares. So many factors play into our daily lives. There are so many expectations, desires, hopes and dreams we entertain.
To each of us these desires are important, and we pray that God will grant us the desires of our heart. But what about when God chooses not to fulfill these desires? What about when God’s plan is so very different from what we envisioned? How do we deal with the disappointment?
How can we continue to be faithful followers of Christ during those dark moments when we might feel that God has not provided for us what we need?
No Immunity to Disappointment
At first thought, you might be tempted to say, “Well, a real Christian wouldn’t even feel that way. A real Christian never doubts God’s love for them. A real Christian is never disappointed in what God deals to them.”
The truth is that even the strongest Christians can find themselves in this mindset. Being a Christian does not make you immune to the emotion of disappointment. In 1 Kings 19:4 even the great prophet Elijah found himself disappointed. Elijah had obeyed God even in the face of some of the most dangerous situations. He had put his life on the line more than once as he stood against wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.
Although there had been threats on Elijah’s life before, the threat in 1 Kings 19 seems to have been the one thing that put Elijah over the edge. In verse 4 we see Elijah’s response to this ongoing stress and disappointment.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.1 Kings 19:4
Here we see one of God’s greatest servant’s disappointed. What has brought him to this point? He is convinced that God does not care. He believes that God has abandoned him. This mindset has pushed him into a state of disappointment, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
By verse 9, God has strengthened Elijah to continue on with his ministry. But this passage is a great example to the rest of us that even the strongest Christians can find themselves in a severe state of disappointment. This disappointment can lead us to the worst kind of attitudes and depression.
How can we avoid getting to this state of mind? What can we do if we find ourselves heading this way? The answer to these questions can be found in the story of the three Hebrew children in Daniel 3. This story is a beautiful example of servants of God, facing serious disappointment, and keeping the right state of mind through the fire, literally.
The Three Hebrew Children
We are introduced to the three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were taken captive by the Babylonians. They were removed from their homeland, taken to Babylon, and basically kept as slaves. The three Hebrew children were treated better than other captives, because they were well-educated. They were considered wise people among the Hebrews. King Nebuchadnezzar had made it a hobby to collect wise people from the different kingdoms that he overthrew. Although these individuals would have been well fed and cared for in Babylon, they were still slaves non the less.
The three Hebrew children grew in favor in the kingdom and were soon appointed as rulers of provinces. At first glance this situation doesn’t sound too bad. However, in Daniel 3 we can see the disadvantage that the three Hebrew children were really at in Babylon.
The king had commanded that everyone will worship his gods. In Daniel chapter 3 a new god had been erected, and the command had gone out that everyone would worship it daily. This was obviously a problem for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refused and soon found themselves in trouble. Enemies of the three Hebrew children made sure the king knew that his commands were not being obeyed.
12 There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?Daniel 3: 12-15
The three Hebrew children had been obeying God. They were obeying God even in the face of great adversity. What were they receiving in return? More punishment. It is very easy to see how they might have let their hearts run away with disappointment. They did not, however. In fact, their answer to the king shows us exactly how we should respond to disappointment in our own lives.
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.Daniel 3: 16-18
Let’s take a closer look at disappointment in our own lives and how the three Hebrew children can teach us to better handle that disappointment.
The Odds Are Stacked Against Us
This is a world of disappointment. This is a world full of sin and pain because of the fall of Adam. For this reason disappointment will always be a part of our life. It is vital, as a Christian that we understand we are not excused from this.
There are many Christians who are under the impression they should get a free pass on disappointment. I daresay that there are even Christians who try to portray to others that life as a Christian is a life free of disappointment. Both of these mindsets are wrong. It is wrong to think that you will not face disappointment, and it is wrong to try and make others think that if they become Christians they will be free of disappointment.
Expectations are Everything
Our own expectations will have a huge affect on our perception of our lives. When our expectations are unrealistic, it becomes very easy to get disappointed. Once we are disappointed we want to point a finger of blame somewhere. Often times that finger of blame falls on God Himself.
God is not in the wrong, but rather our expectations are in the wrong. When we feel the slippery lies of disappointment creeping in on us, we should first ask ourselves if our own expectations are correct. Shifting expectations can have a huge change on your attitude.
Notice that the three Hebrew children had the correct expectation. They did not seem surprised when they were brought before the king. In fact they said, “We are not careful to answer you.” This means that they were not worried. They were not worried because they had already been expecting that eventually they would face the question of false idol worship in this foreign land.
Babylon was filled with idol worship. There was no way they would be able to live here without eventually dealing with this. They had realistic expectations.
Keeping your expectations realistic can help tremendously with averting disappointment.
Understanding God’s Promises
Beyond expectations, it is also crucial to understand God’s promises correctly. The three Hebrew children understood God’s promises correctly. Notice in Daniel 3 how they state God’s promises.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.Daniel 3:17
The wording here is important, because it shows us something interesting about the attitude of the three Hebrew children. They did not say that God would deliver them. Rather they said that God is able to deliver them. God had not appeared to the three Hebrew children telling them that he would absolutely deliver them. They did not attribute to God promises which He had not made. They simply told the king that God is able to deliver them if He so chooses.
Often times a source of disappointment in our life is when we attribute to God promises which He may not have actually made to us. It is very easy to confuse our own desires with God’s promises. We must be very careful with promises that we claim. Did God promise this to us specifically? Claiming a promise incorrectly, can lead to disappointment. God is able to do anything, but that does necessarily mean that is what He will choose to do.
Submitting to Sovereignty
Of all of the lessons we can learn from the three Hebrew children, this is probably one of the most important. This lesson is summed up in three little words found in verse 18.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.Daniel 3:17-18
Do you see it? Do you see the three little words which hold the secret the three Hebrew children understood? The three little words are, “But if not.” In verse 17 the Hebrews explain to the king what their God is capable of. But in verse 18 they reveal the secret to the happy Christian life. That secret is submitting to the sovereignty of God even when it goes against everything that our human mind tells us should happen.
The Hebrews knew that God could deliver them, but they did not know if this was what God would choose to do. It did not matter, though. They had committed to stay faithful even if God did not choose to deliver them.
This submission to sovereignty is the most important way to avoid disappointment in your Christian life. When you are submitted to God’s sovereignty then God cannot do you wrong. You are open to whatever God chooses. You are not locked in on your desires, but rather you are open to the ever expanding will of God. You are waiting to see what God will do, and you are, moment by moment, submitting to what God is bringing your way.
This secret is the reason the three Hebrew children could confidently go before the king. If God delivered them, it was good. If God did not deliver them, it was good. Their only job was to do the next right thing. That next right thing was to no worship the false God.
When we remember our job, do the next right thing, our lives open up the amazing possibilities of God’s miracles.
The Hebrews were not necessarily delivered from being thrown into the firey furnace. They were bound and thrown in. But, as we know this was not the end of the story.
Sometimes Disappointment Is the Point
In Daniel 3 we see what the real point of God’s purpose was for the Hebrews in this story.
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 22 Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Our Christian lives are often like looking through a lens that is zoomed in very closely on one point. Zoomed in, we can only see the details of that one point. A petal of a flower perhaps. We can see all of the details of the petal. Zoomed in at the point we see mostly strange details that do not make much sense. We can see color, patterns, perhaps imperfections. We might see specks of dirt or dust on the petal. At this vantage point, we do not see a thing of beauty. We do not really know what we see. Our perspective is limited.
Zoom that same lens out to take in the full picture, and suddenly our perspective changes. We now see a beautiful rose, in the midst of a lovely garden. Perhaps there is a fountain in the garden, a cozy bench where we might read a book and enjoy ourselves. The picture has change dramatically, because now we see the big picture.
This is how every day of our life is. Now, we cannot see the big picture. The tiny piece of the picture that we can see could look confusing and disappointing.
God, though, can see the big picture. God only knows the point of our disappointment, but there is a point.
In the story of the three Hebrew children, the point was so that something miraculous could be shown to the wicked king of Babylon.
26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. 27 And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.Daniel 3:26-30
If God had delivered the three Hebrew children earlier in the story, perhaps by just making the king change his mind, there would have been no way to make such a big impact on the king and the entire country of Babylon. God did not choose to reveal to the Hebrews why He was putting them in the fire. God did not tell them before hand the purpose of their disappointment. It did not matter, though.
The Hebrews committed to staying faithful. They committed to obeying God even if God did not explain Himself. The result was that a wicked heathen king announced God as the true God, and commanded his subjects to worship the true God. This far surpassed anything the Hebrews could have imagined.
Now think of this as it applies to your own life. Your disappointments are only a tiny sliver of the big picture. Your vision is zoomed in on that one detail, just like the flower petal we discussed earlier. If you could zoom out, and see from God’s perspective, you would see the entire beautiful picture that is God’s plan for your life.
We cannot see from God’s perspective, but what we can do is trust. We can faithfully trust that God knows what He is doing in our lives.
When this feels hard, there are verses we can claim to help us.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9
Verses such as these can help us keep the right perspective on God’s plans, even when we cannot understand everything that is happening to us.
Disappointment is part of the package of living here on this earth. No one is immune. Being a great servant of God will not even protect us from the inevitability of disappointment. There are steps, though, that can help us keep disappointment at a minimum and keep us from being consumed by our disappointment.
Keeping our expectations realistic is one step we can take. In addition to this we must remember to submit to God’s sovereignty. Only God knows His plans for us. In many situations, the disappointment is the point, because God is trying to teach us something He could have never taught us another way. Sometimes, the disappointment is not even about us. Rather God is using this disappointment so that He can show something to others. Just like God revealed something about Himself to King Nebuchadnezzar through the trial of the Hebrew children, perhaps God is wanting to help someone else through your disappointment.
When we faithfully trust that our good God knows exactly what He is doing through our disappointments, we can live a more happy contented Christian life.