We all encounter disappointment. It is an unavoidable reality in the fallen world. We can look forward to a time when nothing will disappoint. In the meantime, we have to make do with the world we live. We encounter disappointment in various ways. People disappoint. Circumstances disappoint. Our sins, poor decisions, and mishaps disappoint. Disappointment can dangerously lead to despair and depression. It is critical to handle disappointment from a biblical perspective.
Here are 3 lessons for handling disappointment. These lessons are learned from a disappointing experience of Paul’s found in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. Paul wrote these epistles from where? Jail, hence, they are the prison epistles. I got to visit the county jail for chaplaincy with a friend once. Let me tell you. Jail is a pretty disappointing circumstance. Let’s look at 3 lessons learned from these epistles to discover how Paul responded to his disappointing circumstance.
1. Go to the Lord!
The first lesson for handling disappointment is to pray. Obviously, we will be inclined to pray on our own behalf, but try also to pray on others behalf. You are not the only one experiencing disappointment. There are others, too. Remember them in your prayers. Look at Philippians 1. Prayer is the predominant matter in this passage.
Remarkably, Paul focuses his prayer on the Philippians. You’ll find this to be the case in Ephesians and Colossians as well. In spite of his disappointing circumstance, he consistently goes to the Lord on other’s behalf. He says, “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Paul clearly uses his imprisonment to be prayerful — for others! He demonstrates such maturity.
He also enlists other’s for prayer. In Ephesians 6 he appeals for the Ephesians to pray for his boldness to proclaim the gospel during his imprisonment. In Colossians 4 he also request prayer for similar reasons. When you receive disappointing news or find yourself in a disappointing circumstance, be swift to go to the Lord in prayer and enlist others to pray with you.
2. Trust God’s Providence!
We learn from these epistles that Paul trusts God’s providence over his disappointing circumstance. His path was to proclaim the gospel to the known world. His goal — to traverse the Roman roads and bring that gospel message to every city. Yet, imprisonment really blockades that game plan.
However, Paul knew God had a plan. He trusted the Lord’s providence over every single moment of his life, including his disappointing circumstances. Read Ephesians 3.7-13 and be wowed by Paul’s trust in God’s providence.
Here’s a synopsis of this paragraph highlighting Paul’s trust in God’s providence:
Paul is a minister of the gospel by God’s grace. He empowers Paul to minster. Paul was commissioned to make the gospel plan known, which was a mystery from hidden ages. Paul was confident that the Church would accomplish its task to make the manifold wisdom of God known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is God’s eternal purpose.
Paul believed this in spite of his imprisonment. He knew that God had an eternal plan for these moments in jail. What did he do? He sent out the gospel message to circulate through his letters. These letters were read in various cities as they traveled to their ultimate destination. Now we read these letters and experience their divinely inspired encouragement today.
We must trust God’s providence not only in disappointment, but we must trust God to deliver us from disappointment. Paul said in Philippians 2.23-24, “I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.” From history and scripture, we know that Paul was freed and went on in his missionary journeys.
3. Capitalize on Your Disappointing Circumstance!
As Paul continued to go to the Lord in the face of his disappointing circumstance, he appealed to the Colossians in Colossians 4.2-4, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” Paul, meant to take his imprisonment as an opportunity for gospel ministry. He was not going to languish in the disappointment of being barred from furthering the gospel on the Roman roads. He would further the gospel to those whom he had access.
He would do this with boldness and conviction. Ephesians 6.19-20 say, “and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Ask yourself in the midst of disappointing circumstances, “Who is watching?” Everyone’s watching how you handle the circumstance. They are curious about what you will do, especially it they know you follow Christ. Give them reason to marvel at God and His providence. Proclaim the mystery of God’s providence over every circumstance by going to the Lord and bring your sphere of influence to Him as well. Paul saw his disappointing circumstance as a platform for bringing the gospel to many, whether it be rulers or prison guards.
This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is published here with his permission.
Joey Cochran (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) follows Christ, is the husband of Kendall, and the father of Chloe, Asher, and Adalie. He is the pastor of middle school discipleship and communication at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois and a PhD student in Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.