“This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” —Romans 5:5 CSB
Disappointment is par for the course on this side of heaven, even in ministry.
Every pastor knows disappointment.
- Sermons and teaching don’t land as we hope.
- Growth strategies and initiatives are hard to craft and then flounder in effectiveness.
- Offerings and attendance fade.
- Relationships with fellow staff members, our best leaders, or with church members become strained or broken, sometimes over things that seem trivial.
Because pastors are people and therefore sinners, we have our own personal disappointments to deal with.
We battle with temptation and sin, including our favorite “besetting” ones (Hebrews 12:1). We struggle as all people do with marriage and family issues, friendships, health and financial issues—the full gamut of life.
Additionally, because we are shepherds of souls growing in the likeness of Christ, we take up and shoulder the pains and disappointments of others. That’s what shepherds do with and for the sinners becoming saints they are charged to oversee.
When you’re a pastor, you have a front-row seat to the parade of pain that is life on earth. This is all part of the “fellowship of Christ’s sufferings” that Paul spoke of in Philippians 3:10. It would be great to avoid the mosaic of disappointments, but then we would not be authentic.
3 expectations that set pastors up for disappointment
Disappointment grows in correlation with expectations.
At least three kinds of expectations can set us up for more disappointment than we realize.
Some expectations are unknown to us until we enter a relationship. Once we start a relationship with a person, church, piece of technology, or coffee shop, expectations begin to surface that we were unaware of before the relationship began. We develop expectations very quickly once a relationship of any kind becomes possible.
Second, we have unspoken expectations. This is true in romance, as we parent, in friendship, and in church relationships. We think others should just “know” what we want and the best ways to relate to us. We get frustrated that people can’t anticipate our hopes and desires. Our expectations always seem normal, obvious, and reasonable to us. We forget that only God can read our minds and hearts.
Last, some of our expectations are simply evil. We are fallen, grossly selfish beings at times. It’s astounding the levels of harm we do to each other on a personal level and on a global scale if given the opportunity. Think Russia attacking Ukraine or sex trafficking. James 4:1–5 could not be truer of us.
The best answer to a grumpy spirit
Earlier this week, I was out of sorts, meaning I felt flooded by waves of disappointment, from the trivial to what felt like Titanic-sized issues. I wanted to scream or hit something or both. I wanted to walk or run away. I opted for banging a few golf balls at the driving range, one for each disappointment I was ruminating on. (I’m great at ruminating.)
That turned disappointing too because I was hitting into a strong south wind.
Why can’t my driving range face north or east? The wind rarely blows from the east around here!
When my wife got home from work she asked about my day, as she always does. She could tell I was grumpy, so I decided to let her in. I quickly rattled off eight to twelve things that were eating at my mind, body, and soul.
She listened with her steady-minded compassion.
It was good just to bring it all into the light. It really can be true that a grief shared is grief halved. That’s one of the blessings of loving relationships in church fellowship, friendships, family, or marriage.
In talking with her that evening, part of what came to light was my fatigue. I’d just finished one of those ministry sprints that covered two to three weeks. I didn’t realize initially how drained I was. I was thankful for God’s insight into that part of it.
I also believe that coincidence is God working and choosing to be anonymous. I think gratitude is the best answer to a grumpy spirit. I also think gratitude is a spiritual discipline that tracks in our prayer practices. I’ve never met anyone who feels fully confident and satisfied with their experience of prayer. It’s a relationship art form similar to golf: we pursue but never perfect.
An appointment with gratitude
Several years ago, a friend put me onto John Baillie’s small book, A Diary of Private Prayer. It has short morning and evening prayers. I haven’t been good about using the evening readings, but that is a goal for this year. On my grumpy day, struggling to be grateful, I ran into these words from Baillie that became a catalytic and comforting encounter with God.
O Creator of all things, I lift my heart in gratitude to you for the happiness I have found today:
For the sheer joy of living;
For the sights and sounds around me;
For the sweet peace of the country and the bustle of the town;p
For friendship and good company;
For work to do and the skill and strength to do it;
For a time to rest and play and for health and a glad heart to enjoy it.
I started laughing as I read the words to my bride.
Baillie goes on for two more paragraphs that served to reset my hope to be forward-focused. These hopeful lines stood out:
Yet let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay. Let me always remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on earth.
Thank you, Lord, that you have set eternity so firmly in my heart that no earthly thing can ever fully satisfy me.
Words of hope
The Bible talks a lot about disappointment without often using the word in translations like the CSB. The one time that stands out to me is Romans 5:5, about hope not being disappointed because it is grounded in God’s love expressed in Christ’s sacrifice for us. Unsurprisingly, our hope can be strong, especially in the midst of trials and disappointments because nothing is impossible with God.
Read these hope-packed words again:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:1–6).
So here are a few bullets to remember:
- Disappointment is common to all of us. Sometimes it feels like we’re drowning in it. Call it out for what it is.
- Share your struggle with one or a few close friends. Jesus and Paul asked for prayer. Can we do any less?
- Look for multiple factors and unusual circumstances. Physical, relational, or mental fatigue makes everything look worse than it is. Ask God to help you not catastrophize.
- Feed and lean on Scripture. Don’t just hear it or read it. Ponder it. Replace ruminating on disappointments with meditation on God’s truth.
As the season of Lent unfolds where we anticipate the darkness of his cross for our sin and his victory for our salvation, ask God to renew and revive your hope to the point that it becomes contagious to all you intersect with (1 Peter 3:14 CSB).