Life often disappoints.
A young man enters the ministry eager to love people, change lives, and build God’s kingdom. In a few short years, however, he grows weary of the unspectacular growth, the conflicts, and the setbacks. He begins to doubt his calling and considers leaving the ministry.
A hopeful bride looks longingly into the eyes of her husband-to-be, enthusiastically saying, “I do,” eager to start a new life and a new family with the man of her dreams. In just a few short years, however, the joy of that relationship fades and her love for her husband diminishes. She feels lonely, frustrated, and unfulfilled.
A faithful leader—at the height of his influence in the church and in society—is diagnosed with a disease he likely will not recover from. Suddenly all his plans and aspirations are placed on hold.
Responding to Life’s Disappointments
How do Christians respond to life’s disappointments?
Actually, the Scriptures say quite a bit about difficult circumstances and our responses to them. And the Bible contains many examples of faithful servants who persevered in the midst of hardship. Elisha is one of them.
“Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died” (2 Kings 13:14). That’s all the Bible says about the prophet’s condition, but it makes me wonder. If I had been in Elisha’s place, would I have been disappointed? Would I have resented my illness? Would I have felt cheated? After all, Elisha watched his mentor, Elijah, leave the world in spectacular fashion, spiraling heavenward in a whirlwind complete with chariot and horses of fire. Since God did such a thing for his predecessor, would Elisha, in the back of his mind, have hoped that something similar lay in store for him?
Whatever thoughts he may have wrestled with, Elisha seems to have taken his illness—and his suffering—in stride, serving God faithfully to the end (see 2 Kings 13:14-20). We have no indication that Elisha complained about his illness. Neither does he appear to have retreated in seclusion out of disappointment or despair. Instead we find him faithfully carrying out his prophetic duties in the midst of his suffering.
Resting in God’s Care
Francis Schaeffer was one of the great Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. His writings continue to challenge Christians throughout the world. In Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer (Crossway Books, 1985), editor Lane T. Dennis included this note from Schaefer to a friend in 1984, two years before Schaeffer’s death from lymphoma.
When I just found I had lymphoma, the doctors said I was extremely ill. Six months later they said they could find no evidence of cancer in my body anywhere. . . . I felt I may have been healed, but I was not dogmatic about it. And then a year later it was quite clear that I was not healed. . . . Thus my own case is clear. I have not been cured of my cancer. And yet in the three and a half years since I have had lymphoma, by the grace of God I have been able to do as much work as I have ever done in my life. I am utterly convinced, from the letters I receive, that the fact that Francis Schaeffer has not been ‘cured’ and yet is pressing on in the work has been a greater encouragement and blessing to hundreds than if I had been ‘cured.’ If I could wave a wand and be rid of my cancer, of course I would; and I believe the Lord could heal me. On the other hand, I am perfectly willing to allow Him to be the judge in these matters. . . . I can honestly say that I rest in His hands with quietness and would not change the matter from this.
We shouldn’t expect every suffering believer to be a tower of strength. But these examples can speak words of hope to the servant in a disappointing ministry, the mate in a disappointing marriage, and the leader with a disappointing diagnosis. They can encourage them to remain faithful in the midst of frustration. To do what honors God with whatever strength he provides, so that in the end they will be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).