When was the last time you hoped for something and didn’t get it? All of us know what it is to face disappointments in life. It hurts when things don’t work out the way we thought they would.
Disappointment sours our stomaches, flutters our hearts, and pricks our minds. Some people can recover quickly from undesired outcomes, but others find themselves tempted to bitterness, anger, and despair as a result.
I was recently reminded how tempting it is to let dashed hopes dominate my countenance. But once the initial shockwaves settled, I turned to God in prayer and thanked him for leading me to a moment where my hopes and his providence collided.
I recognized the opportunity for what it was: a chance to experience the bite of disappointment without my foundations being shaken. I already knew how to leap with joy through an opened door—now was the time to gratefully stare at a closed one.
Disappointment had struck. The decision was made. The door was closed and the time for testing fell upon me: would I worship the prospective gift or the providential Giver? Sometimes God uses the disappointments in our lives as divinely appointed inspections of our spiritual allegiance.
God’s Answers Weigh Our Spirits
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.” Proverbs 16:1-2
Proverbs 16:1-2 helps us understand the humility required for handling disappointment well. It explains that while we have plans and presumptions about what lies ahead, the final answer is always wrapped in God’s wise sovereignty.
The verses also confirm that God will use disappointment to expose potential idolatry in our hearts. We may believe our hopeful expectations are pure in motivation, but the true test of such piety lies in how we respond when our desired outcomes become frustrated. If we wrongly entangle temporal desires into our eternal identity in Christ, we’ll find ourselves wrecked by every broken dream and flustered goal.
How we respond to disappointment reveals what we really trust and treasure. But there is a path forward for the dejected heart, and it involves trusting the protection and the promise of God’s providence.
Providence is Protection with Promise
Because we have a tendency to idolize created things more than the Creator, good desires can sometimes become bad for us. Thus God’s providence shields us with his protection and comforts us with his promises. As the 17th-century puritan John Flavel once wrote, “Providence has ordered that condition for you which is really best for your eternal good. If you had more of the world than you have, your heads and hearts might not be able to manage it to your advantage.”
While we only see life in pixels, the Lord sees the eternal picture. He knows us intimately and calculates what’s really best for our eternal good. God doesn’t promise to always give us what we want, but he does promise to give us what will offer a long-term spiritual advantage.
We can learn to respond well to disappointment when we ground ourselves in God’s gracious love, secured for us by the blood of Christ. The Lord keeps his promises for the sake of his name, but he also protects the souls of those he loves for the sake of his Son. If we are in Christ, we know we shall ever be guarded by eternal love. Closed doors are protections of providence, however disappointing they may be. God’s love keeps us from that which will not serve his higher purposes:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
On this much-beloved verse, Charles Spurgeon once preached, “God is working with a motive. All things are working together for one objective, the good of those who love God. We see only the beginning; God saw the end from the beginning…He knows every letter of the Book of Providence; He sees not only what He is doing, but what will come of what He is doing.”
Dancing in the Face of Disappointment
Learning to dance in the face of disappointment is a tangible reality for the follower of Christ. Time and time again, the Scriptures exhort us to trust God’s ways with our times because his methods are righteous and his wisdom is impeccable. Disappointments will sting, but they needn’t slay. We can preach to our upsets and praise God that he only approves what will ultimately yield profitable fruit in our lives.
That which we fail to receive in this life must not be required for our enjoyment in God. If it was, we would have been granted it. Providence assures we get only what is necessary to abound and abide in Christ, nothing more and nothing less. Protection soothes our fears, quieting the notion that God is wrongly withholding something good from us. And promise ensures every desire, longing, and hope worth having will be more than satisfied when we cross the threshold into eternal paradise.
Disappointment weighs our spirits, but it doesn’t have to crush them. In Christ, we can dance with gratitude before a divinely closed door because we know it’s evidence—not an absence—of God’s love for his dearly adopted. As the famed hymn God Moves in Mysterious Ways consoles:
God’s purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower.
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Christine is the host of “The Hope + Help Project” podcast and a guest contributor at DesiringGod.org. She writes frequently at her blog as well as other Christian platforms.