Dealing With Disappointment

May 16, 2004 | Brian Bill

Hi, my name is Simon Peter.  You’ve probably heard of some of my most embarrassing moments.  It would take me all day to tell you about how my mouth has messed me up, and about how I let Jesus down, as well as the other disciples.  Today I want to tell you about a fishing trip that took place after the Resurrection.  My buddy John wrote about it in some detail – you can follow along if you’d like in John 21:1-14.  

Jesus told us to go to Galilee, where He would meet with us (Matthew 26:32).  It was amazing how Jesus would appear briefly and then go away.  He first made Himself known to Mary Magdalene and the other women, but we didn’t really believe their report.  He then appeared to me and then revealed Himself to two disciples as they walked to Emmaus.  I’ll never forget that day; I only wish He would have stayed longer because I still felt so bad about my failure.  On Easter Sunday night, Jesus came through locked doors and proclaimed peace to us.  One week later, when Thomas was present, He visited with us again.  But then Jesus was gone.  As I think back, it was almost as if He was weaning us from His presence.

As we headed to Galilee, I was pretty down in the dumps.  The other disciples couldn’t believe how quiet I was.  I was disappointed in myself and frankly felt like giving up.  When I saw the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee, my heart starting racing as I remembered how successful I had been as a professional fisherman.  I even had hired men working for me.  The smell of the water and the sound of the waves did something to me.  Since I wasn’t any good at this “disciple” thing, maybe I could go back and just catch fish again.  I announced to the six others that I was going fishing.  They could tell from my tone of voice and the words I used that I was ready to retire as a follower of Christ.  Part of me just wanted to relax, but another part of me felt rebellious.  I was surprised when they all said they would join me.  I guess I still felt like they wouldn’t want to be around me because of what I had done.

 At first I was pretty pumped up to fish but the feelings faded quickly.  I had forgotten how hard it was to hurl the nets into the sea and then drag them back into the boat.  It all seemed monotonous, especially since we got skunked.  We had worked all night and didn’t even catch a pan fish!  This made me feel even more discouraged as the empty nets were a metaphor of my life at that moment.

As the sun was beginning to come up, we saw someone standing on the shore, but we had no idea who it was.  He then called out to us, in a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  This was disarming for two reasons.  First, fishermen never like to admit that they’ve not caught anything.  Second, this man used a term that literally meant, “children.”  I had heard that before.  When we told Him we had not caught a thing, he told us to throw our nets on the other side of the boat and we’d find some fish.  We decided to listen to him, and when we did, we couldn’t even pull in the nets because they were so full!

As we strained at the nets, my mind went back three years earlier to a very similar scene. I had déjà vu, all over again.  After fishing all night and catching nothing, Jesus used my boat as a pulpit – it certainly wasn’t good for much else.  When he was done teaching, He told us to go back out in the boat and drop our nets in deeper water.  What does a carpenter know about fishing?  I lot more than me, actually.  We caught so many fish that we had to ask for help because the nets began to break.  When I realized what had happened I was so overwhelmed by my sinfulness in the presence of holiness that I asked Jesus to depart from me.  Jesus told me not to be afraid and commissioned me to catch men.  I pulled my boat up on shore, left everything and followed Him.  And now I was back in that same boat…

 John put into words what I was beginning to formulate in my mind: “It’s the Lord!”  That’s all I needed to hear.  I put my outer garment back on and jumped into the water, and started swimming to shore.  Being in the water reminded me of the time Jesus allowed me to walk on the waves.  This time I was making waves as I yelled and screamed and thrashed around.  When my feet hit the shore, I raced over to Jesus and saw that He was cooking breakfast for us, over a charcoal fire.  And then my mind filled with failure again as the fire reminded me of how I was warming myself right before I denied Jesus three times.  Just then Jesus shouted out, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught!”  I raced back to the water and helped drag the net ashore.  It was full of fish, 153 in all (you know how fishermen like to count their catches). 

Jesus then invited us to have breakfast but we were all so astonished that we didn’t even ask if it was Him.  We didn’t have to because we knew it was the Lord.  Jesus served us fish and bread, and in so doing invited us back into fellowship with Him, and setting the table for my personal restoration, which we’ll look at in greater detail next Sunday.  He was sautéing fish; but for me He was serving forgiveness. 

Disappointments are His Appointments

God allows disappointments to come into our lives.  In fact, we could say that disappointments are His appointments because He has some things He wants us to learn through the lean times.  Before Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples, they are dogged by discouragement.  Many of us feel that way this morning as recent events have rocked us.  At least three elements make this a pervasive problem.

  • It’s universal.  All of us are predisposed to discouragement.  Everyone you have ever known has been discouraged at one time or another.  Billy Graham once said, “I have my moments of deep discouragement.  I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,” or ‘Help me.’”
  • It’s recurring.  Being discouraged once does not give you immunity to the disease.  It can happen over and over again.  In fact, you can even be down by the fact that you are discouraged a lot. 
  • It’s highly contagious.  Discouragement spreads by even casual contact.  People can become disheartened because you are discouraged.  You can be bummed out because other people are downcast.  

I see seven ways to deal with disappointment from our text for today.

1. Don’t bail when we’re bummed out.

When Peter was feeling blue, he wanted to go back and do those things that he used to do.  But when he did, he found that it didn’t work.  I wonder if some of you are tempted to do the same thing.  Perhaps you’re going through a hard time right now and you just want to chuck this whole Christianity thing.  Maybe you feel like people have let you down so you just want to get away from everything.  Peter discovered the hard way that we can’t go back, but we can get through it.  Several years later, he wrote in 1 Peter 5:10“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”  As Rick Warren states, “You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.”

In fact, if you’re a Christian, God won’t let you find satisfaction in those things you once did because He loves you too much to see you stray.  God posed a question through the prophet Jeremiah to His people, when they were considering going back to the life they once had: “Why do you go about so much, changing your ways?  You will be disappointed by Egypt as you were by Assyria.  You will also leave that place with your hands on your head, for the LORD has rejected those you trust; you will not be helped by them” (Jeremiah 2:36-37).

 Clyde Billingsley asks two probing questions: “How much discouragement can you take for God?  What would it take for you to quit your service to the Lord?”  Are you close to giving up?  With all that God has done for you, don’t bail on Him or His church.  Keep serving Him faithfully no matter what happens.

2. We can do nothing apart from Christ. 

It’s fascinating to me that there were at least three professional fishermen in the boat that night.  They knew how to fish but they didn’t even catch one little perch.  Verse 3puts the emphasis on the word “that,” so it would read: “But that night they caught nothing.”  To not catch anything was very unusual and no doubt led to a deeper level of disappointment and discouragement among the disciples.  After all, they had decided to go fishing to get rid of the blahs.  But Jesus was teaching them the truth of what He had said earlier in John 15:5“…apart from me you can do nothing.”  

They couldn’t rely on their experience or their expertise to accomplish anything.  They, like us, needed to reaffirm the truth of Zechariah 4:6“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.” It’s so easy to go through the motions, isn’t it?  I confess that I often lean on my own abilities instead of surrendering to God’s Spirit.  And for that, I ask your forgiveness.  It’s so easy for us to be fooled into thinking that we’re accomplishing something for God, when in fact; our mediocrity must rise like a stench in God’s nostrils.

This past Monday night I took our younger girls to see the circus.  As we got out of the car, we immediately saw (and smelled) the elephants.  As we hurried over to them, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  They had two elephants, and they looked like most sleepy and lethargic circus pachyderms.   People were lined up to take rides and next to the 12,000 pound beasts was their trainer.  He had a thin whip in his right hand, and in his left hand he was holding a cell phone up to his ear, and he was talking into it!  He wasn’t paying much attention to his task and his lackadaisical approach made me wonder how committed he was to his vocation.  Incidentally, he was still talking on the phone when he brought the elephants into the ring about 45 minutes later!

Have we lost our passion for Christ?

Friends, we must stop meandering through the motions of religious routine.  Let’s allow times of disappointment to reveal how easy it us for us to get bored with our faith.  Have we lost our passion for Christ?  When Jesus addressed the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, He commended them for their hard work and perseverance.  They had certainly labored for the Lord, but Jesus then points out that something was significantly wrong in verses 4-5“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, have we as a church forsaken our first love?  If so, let’s repent and get back on track, refusing to settle for second best.  Jesus does not tolerate anyone taking His rightful place in our individual lives, or in our church.

In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells Peter that he is about to be spiritually sifted: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” I wonder if this is a season of spiritual sifting for us.  As we walk through trials and difficulties, God strips away the junk so that we will see that we can do nothing apart from Christ.  And, when we realize that our “nets” are empty, we see the need for God to fill us.  One writer says that we will then either bend our knees to Him, or we will be broken.  I sense that some bending and breaking is taking place within our church right now, and that’s not a bad thing.  We can also take comfort from the next verse as Jesus tells Peter that he will get through the trying times because the Lord Himself is praying for him: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). 

3. Obedience is always the right thing to do. 

 In verse 5, we see Jesus gently calling out to his disciples, greeting them as “friends,” or literally, “dear children” as He asks them how the fishing is going.  He wants them to admit the obvious fact that they’ve caught nothing.  John uses this exact phrase in 1 John 2:13“I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.”  This term of endearment reveals that Jesus loves us even when we’re going astray.  He watches us rely on our own expertise and His eyes fill with tears.  He sees our empty nets and longs to load them up.  As I’ve stated before, borrowing from Max Lucado: “He loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.”  

And the way He changes us is through obedience.  When we decide to obey Him, no matter how we’re feeling, no matter how empty we are, and no matter whether it makes sense or not, He is honored.  In Jeremiah 42:5, God’s people make a commitment to obey: “Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God…” That’s what He wants from us.  And that’s exactly what the disciples did when Jesus told them to throw the net on the right side of the boat.  That didn’t make much sense because they had been trying all night to find some fish.  But they chose to obey.

In his book called, “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis imagines a dialog between the devil and his young apprentice: “It is during the tough periods, much more than during the peak periods…hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those that please Him [God] best…He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys” (Page 25).  Henri Nouwen refers to those times when God feels distant as the “ministry of absence.”  It’s then that we must honor and obey Him, for it’s out of obedience that God will reveal Himself to us.

In Zechariah 6:5, God promises His people that they will have enough workers to complete the Temple, providing that they obey Him: “This will happen if you diligently obey the LORD your God.”  I wonder how many blessings we’ve blown simply because we haven’t always obeyed Him.  

4. Blessings are closer than we think. 

 The difference between an empty net and an engorged one was the width of the boat!  Jesus kept the fish from swimming into the nets during the night and now He sends the school of fish right where He wants them.  Psalm 30:5“Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  We can’t fish the blessings out of life but we can catch what God sends our way.  The disciples, in their own strength came up empty.  But when they obeyed, God sent His blessings.  And when God blesses, He does so abundantly as Ezekiel 34:26states: “I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.” 

5. Do whatever it takes to get close to Jesus.  

I love how John was the first to recognize Jesus.  Maybe that’s because of all the disciples; it was John who hung in there while Jesus hung on the cross.  His love for His Master was never questioned and Jesus had a special place in His heart for him as well.  As they’re wrestling with the wet nets, John turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!”  Verse 7says that as soon as Peter heard this, he grabbed his outer garment and jumped in the water.  While John is contemplative; Peter is courageous.  When Jesus performed the first fish miracle in Luke 5, Peter wanted Jesus to depart from him; now He jumps into the lake in order to get to Jesus.  Earlier when Peter walked on the water, He asked Jesus if it was really Him (Matthew 14:28); now, He doesn’t need any confirmation because He knows.  And once again, He can’t stay in the boat.  He has to get to where Jesus is.

I love this about Peter.  He won’t let anything stop Him from seeing the Savior.  While He certainly still had some guilt and shame, He knew that Jesus would fully forgive Him.  Friend, will you do whatever it takes to get as close to Jesus as you can?  We can’t be passive about this.  Spiritual growth only happens when we become disciplined to read our Bibles, to pray fervently, to worship with other believers, to serve others, and to fish for the souls of people.  We must take action.  Proverbs 18:10 tells us that the Lord will protect those who run to Him for shelter: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Will you run to the Redeemer every day?

I don’t know how disappointed or disillusioned you are today but I do know that you are as close to Jesus as you want to be.  Rick Warren mentions that at least eight times in the New Testament we are told to “make every effort” in our spiritual growth.  We can’t sit around and just wait for growth to happen.  We must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing.  It always begins with a decision (“Purpose Driven Life,” page 175, 179).  It’s time to get out of the boat and seek Him passionately like Peter did. 

6. Everything we accomplish is by His grace.  

My favorite verse in this passage is verse 10when Jesus says, “Bring some of the fish you have caught.”  Jesus already has some fish frying and some bread baking but He invites them to share what they have.  What is very interesting here is that Jesus asks them to bring the fish they have caught.  The disciples knew that they didn’t do anything to catch the fish.  It was Jesus who lured the little (actually big) fishies into the net.  All they did was put the net in the water and bring it back up.  The Greek prefix “mega” is used to describe the size of these fish.  These fish were definitely “keepers” and shows the magnitude of the miracle, as the empty nets are now filled with mega muskies!  Their paucity has been replaced with Gods’ bountiful provision.

While we may do something for the Lord, it’s all by His grace

This is a great lesson for us to remember.  While we may do something for the Lord, it’s all by His grace.  We really can do nothing, and yet we often take credit for those things that go well in our lives, and in our church.  And yet, Jesus allows us to participate in the blessings, and partner with Him in His work in the world.  That’s amazing to me.

Friends, we need to make sure we are free from pride because it has some ugly consequences as Proverbs 11:2 states: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”  The disciples couldn’t high-five each other, and celebrate their fishing prowess because Jesus was the one who filled their nets.  Daniel 4:37“And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” Hosea 13:6 reminds us how easy it is for us to take credit and become spiritually lethargic and proud of our own accomplishments: “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” And James 4:6 puts it strongly and succinctly: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  It’s all about God and yet I often think it’s about me.  Do you do the same?  I wonder if we’ve been too proud as a church, taking credit for what God alone has done.   

7. Jesus longs to rebuild what is broken.  

The emphasis in this passage is not really on the fish; it’s on the fishermen.  They needed to be restored and the only way that was going to happen was through spending time with Jesus.  Look at verses 12-13“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’  None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’  They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”  This invitation is similar to the one Jesus gave in John 7:37“Come to me and drink.”  Here Jesus recognizes that they’ve labored all night and are cold and hungry and so he invites them to breakfast.  Jesus knew that they needed to have their physical needs met before He could minister to their deeper needs.  

It’s as if He is giving them time just to sit and enjoy His presence.  As they eat, their failures fade away as Jesus passes around His forgiveness.  In this setting, the disciples didn’t have much to say because they were in awe.  They had come to the shores of God’s amazing grace and were invited back into fellowship with Him and to restored community with one another.  In short, Jesus wanted them to be at peace with Him, and with each other.  Go back to verse 2 for a moment.  As John tells the story, he lists Peter first and then right after his name, we read about Thomas.  Thomas learned the hard way to not live in isolation.  From here on, he lives in community with the other disciples. 

While we certainly need to wait on the Lord, this passage reminds us that Jesus is waiting on us.  He’s on the shore right now and He’s inviting us to sit down with Him and be restored.  He wants to rebuild what is broken in our lives.  The empty net reminds us that He’s not finished with us yet.  Philippians 1:6“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

Because so many of us live with some conflict in our lives, and at times find ourselves disconnected from God and from others, we are going to host a very practical Peacemaker Seminar June 11-12.  I urge you to make every effort to attend.  We’ll begin taking registrations next Sunday.  The Peacemaker Seminar is designed to equip us to resolve conflict in a biblically faithful manner.  The principles covered in this seminar have been used to resolve hundreds of actual disputes, ranging from simple personal offenses to family and marital conflicts, church divisions, and business and employment disputes.  The training covers topics such as confession, confrontation, forgiveness, and restitution, and uses gripping examples and case stories drawn from everyday life.

The Sign of the Fish

 Peter never forgot his fishing failure and the breakfast on the beach, and I hope we won’t either.  Have you seen the symbol of a fish on cars?  Maybe you even have one.  This was actually a sign by which the early Christians identified themselves.  The Greek word for fish is ixthus.  The letters that spell fish are an acrostic that describes who Jesus is – Jesus, Christ, God, Son, and Savior.  When meeting another Christ follower, one person would draw an arc in the sand, and a fellow believer would draw another arc to complete the symbol of the fish.  Sometimes three fish were drawn together, signifying the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  At a time during the Roman Empirewhen Christianity was illegal and Christians were put to death for practicing their faith, worship had to be held in secret places.  A fish painted on the outside door of a house let Christians know that worship would be held inside.

  1. Don’t bail when we’re bummed out.
  2. We can do nothing apart from Christ.
  3. Obedience is always the right thing to do.
  4. Blessings are closer than we think.
  5. Do whatever it takes to get close to Jesus.
  6. Everything we accomplish is by His grace.
  7. Jesus longs to rebuild what is broken.

He is Jesus Christ, God, Son and Savior, risen from the dead.  And because He’s alive today, He can deal with any disappointment you may have.  He loves to make Himself known when you are most at a loss.  Will you come to Him?  Will you respond to His invitation?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?