How to Overcome Disappointment
May 25, 1997
On September 5, 1886, Charles Spurgeon began his sermon on our text with these incisive words:
Satan is always doing his utmost to stay the work of God. He hindered these Jews from building the temple; and today he endeavors to hinder the people of God from spreading the gospel. A spiritual temple is to be builded for the Most High, and if by any means the evil one can delay its uprising he will stick at nothing: if he can take us off from working with faith and courage for the glory of God he will be sure to do it. He is very cunning, and knows how to change his argument and yet keep to his design: little cares he how he works, so long as he can hurt the cause of God. (“The Abiding of the Spirit the Glory of the Church”, September 5, 1886)
I am completely convinced of the truth of that last sentence. Satan’s only design is to hurt the cause of God. To do his infernal work, he has many weapons in his arsenal. He may at one time use greed, another time use anger or malice or false accusation, still another time use lust, evil desires, or the temptation to revenge. But of all his weapons, none is sharper than the one call discouragement. If only he can get the saints of God to despair over their efforts, then his battle is already won.
I realize that many who read these words struggle mightily with discouragement and disappointment. Perhaps you expected more from life and feel somewhat cheated by circumstances. It could be that you have been roughly treated by someone who promised to love you forever or perhaps you have suffered at the hands of your own family. I know many who feel mistreated by those with whom they work every day. It could be that you have had more than your share of sickness and calamity and now wish for a clam, sunny day but none is in sight.
Building a Shanty On the Ruins of the Taj Mahal
Our text brings before a case study in the causes and cure of spiritual disappointment. You will, I’m sure, recall briefly the circumstances that called forth this little book. After returning from exile in Babylon, the Jews commenced rebuilding the temple, then ceased the work not long thereafter, largely because of opposition from the Samaritans. Sixteen years later God raised up Haggai to call the people back to the task at hand. Upon his prodding, they began the work in September of 520 B.C. Barely a month had passed and the initial enthusiasm had waned once again. This time they were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project and by the memories of how great Solomon’s temple had been. By comparison their efforts seemed embarrassingly small. Why bother to rebuild when you end up building a shanty on the ruins of the Taj Mahal. Such a small building could only call attention to the past with all its glories.
Haggai now speaks to the willing but discouraged workers. Let’s look first at the causes for their disappointment—and in so doing we will discover something about our own personal struggles.
I. The Causes of Disappointment
Our text suggests several reasons for their discouragement, most of which revolve about the problem of a bad memory. They were guilty both of dwelling upon the negative and of forgetting the positive altogether. Memory can be a blessing or it can be a curse. For these Jews, it had become a heavy burden than hindered their progress.
A. Good Memory of the Wrong things
“Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?” (3) The temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. Haggai prophesied in 520 B.C.—66 years later. It not impossible that Haggai himself was a young boy when the temple was destroyed. Certainly there must have been many people over 75 who remembered the splendor of Solomon’s temple and mourned for what they had lost. When they spoke, they recalled the glory of the old days and remarked at how puny this new temple seemed by comparison. It hardly seemed like a temple at all. Where was the gold and silver that had marked Solomon’s temple? It almost embarrassed them to see such a shabby structure erected where once the old temple had been. Perhaps it just wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe it would be better to simply live with the happy memories of the “good old days.”
This week I got a telephone call from Merrill Dunlop. In case you don’t know, Merrill is over 90 years old and still sharp as a tack. He was our church pianist back in 1920. He attended the Billy Sunday Chicago crusade in 1918—that’s 79 years ago. He talks about the Paul Rader campaigns of the 1920s as if they were yesterday. But the amazing thing about Merrill is that even though he remembers the past, he doesn’t live there. In fact he was calling to give me the name of a prospective candidate for our Pastor of Worship and Music. Think about that. 77 years ago he was our pianist and now he wants to help us find God’s man for this new position. That’s the right attitude to have.
Memory is a wonderful thing if you remember the right things. For Merrill Dunlop memory is a blessing. For the Jews of Haggai’s day it was a curse because they not only remembered the past, they lived there.
B. Bad Memory of the Right things
Notice verse 5 “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt” (3). The Jews had forgotten what God had done for them at the Red Sea. Somehow that amazing miracle seemed like only a distant memory. They had forgotten how they were trapped with the Egyptian army behind them and the Red Sea before them. Moses struck the water, the sea parted, and they walked through on dry land. When the Egyptians followed them, the seas came together and swallowed Pharaoh’s entire army.
Why did God remind them of this stupendous miracle? Because he’s the same God today that he was back then. He still works miracles today. Look at the end of verse 5: “My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.” Think of the implications of that statement:
*Abraham is gone.
*Moses is gone.
*David is gone.
*Solomon is gone.
But the Holy Spirit is still here! Fear not, be strong, pick your hammer and your chisel, keep on working. Don’t look back to the past, don’t worry about who isn’t here. Focus on who is here: the Holy Spirit of God. He abides with His people forever. Therefore, be encouraged. Keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to tackle an “impossible” project. Don’t be intimidated by daunting circumstances. God has promised to stay with us forever. His Spirit is the fulfillment of that unbreakable promise. We must keep on keeping on. For the Spirit remains with us.
D. Playing the Comparison Game
“Does it not seem to you as nothing?” (3). The old people remembered the glory of the ancient temple and wept when they saw how puny this new temple was. To them it seemed to represent all the failure of the past. It was living symbol of what they had lost 66 years earlier. They felt it wasn’t even worth the effort to rebuild because it would never be like the good old days.
The same thing happens to us whenever we play the comparison game. We compare our children and our wives and husbands. We compare what we used to have with what we have now. We remember the past as better than it really was so that the present seems worse than it really is.
The comparison game is foolish and dangerous because only God can make a proper comparison. I am reminded of that strange and touching story about Peter and Jesus conversing in John 21. Three time Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered yes, and three times Jesus told him to feed the flock of God. Then Peter saw John following them and asked, “What about him?”—meaning, where does he fit in your plans? To which Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22).
God isn’t obligated to treat us in exactly the same way he treats anyone else or is he required to treat us today exactly as he did yesterday. Because God is God and we are not, he has the absolute right to do what he pleases. If you think about that fact, it renders all comparisons useless and counterproductive.
E. Living in the Past, downgrading the Present, and Forgetting the future.
This is the inevitable result. Because you live in the past, you look down on the present, you forget about God’s promises for the future. In this case, it meant missing God’s promise to bring even greater glory to the rebuilt temple than it ever had during Solomon’s days (see verse 9). Spiritual disappointment drains all our energy because we focus toward the past instead of moving confidently into the future.
II. The Cure for Disappointment
Our text also suggests four specific steps we must take to free ourselves from the swamp of self-pity and the slough of despond (to use John Bunyan’s famous phrase).
The first step is the hardest, most basic, and in some ways the most important.
A. Let Go!
How often this lesson comes up in the spiritual life. We will never grow until we learn to let go of the past. In this case, the Jews had to let go of their fond memories of Solomon’s temple. Until they did that, they would never make any spiritual progress. For you it may mean letting go of some painful memory from the past that keeps you from moving ahead. It may mean choosing to forgive even though the other person won’t admit they did anything wrong. It often will mean deliberately choosing to let go of some dream you held onto for many years. No matter what it is—whether good of bad—if it’s holding you back, you’ve got to let go of it.
Ray Stedman has a helpful word at this point:
Do not stop the work because it does not compare with something that was there in the past. This is one of the problems of God’s people. We are always looking back to the past. We say, “Oh, for the days of D. L. Moody. Oh, for the days of the church where we came from. Oh, what we did then.” And we are wistful and long to have it just that way. But the great lesson that God wants to impress upon us is that God always does a new and different work. The thing that is coming in the future is always better for our present situation than the past. We do not need to hang on to these things of tradition. God is saying, “Keep on working, I am with you. And when I am in your midst you don’t need to worry about how it is going to turn out. It may be different but it will always be better.” (Haggai: Some Words to
As hard as it may be, you have to let go. Until you do, you can never move forward with God.
B. Look Up!
To look up means to get a new view of who God is. Did you notice that Haggai used one particular name for God six times in these nine verses? It’s the name translated as “The LORD Almighty.” If you look closely at the text, you’ll discover the word “LORD” is capitalized because it refers to the Hebrew word yahweh, which is God’s personal name. The word “Almighty” translates the Hebrew word sabaoth, which means “the armies of earth and heaven.” The King James translated that as “the LORD of hosts,” meaning “He who is sovereign over all the powers of earth and heaven.” It’s an extremely strong name for God. You might even call it a “military” name because it means that He is the God who is greater than all the forces of earth and heaven.
No one can stand against him. No one can defeat his purposes. No one can hinder him in the least. When the LORD Almighty goes out to do battle on your behalf, you’re going to win because he’s never lost a battle yet. When David stood in the Valley of Elah facing that mighty giant Goliath, what name of God do you think he used? Listen to his words:
You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
When you God is big, the task before you will be small. David’s God was so big that Goliath didn’t seem so big to him. The Jews of Haggai’s day had a small God so the task of rebuilding the temple seemed overwhelming to them.
In the same way, your view of God radically effects the way you approach life. Take a good look at the God you worship. Is he big enough to handle your problems? If not, then you need to look up and get a new view of God—the LORD of Hosts, the LORD Almighty.
C. Look Ahead!
I told you last week that God only sends his people in one direction: Forward! He never sends them back to the past, and he never lets them stay in one place too long. The people of Haggai’s had romanticized the past and completely forgotten about the future. And what was that future? Verses 6-9 make three specific promises about the future:
1. A time of international shaking is coming upon the world. It’s interesting that Hebrews 12:26-27 quotes Haggai 2:6 and applies to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words ‘‘once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
The meaning is this: He shook the earth when he gave Moses the law. Haggai said a day is coming when he is going to shake the earth again. But the next time he will shake the heavens as well. The day is coming when all the world will be shaken by God. A shaking greater than any earthquake. And in that final great day everything manmade will be destroyed. Only eternal things will remain.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an earthquake. We don’t have many here in Illinois. When I lived in California, we had a small tremor one day. It happened while I was driving home from church at lunch time when suddenly the car started rocking. I looked outside and the street was rocking. I was scared to death. To me, an earthquake is the most terrifying natural disaster. If a tornado comes, at least you can head for cover. But what do you do if the very ground on which you stand gives way beneath you? Where do you go then?
The scientists say that someday a great earthquake will come again to California. They know it’s coming, only they don’t know when. The Bible says the same thing. But Haggai is talking about an earthquake greater than anything the scientists at Cal Tech ever dreamed about. When this one comes, the whole earth will be shaken apart and everything in which men put their trust will be gone. Money and houses, lands and cars, buildings and wardrobes, all of it wiped out in one brief moment. If you can see it, feel it, touch it, smell it, it will all disappear. Suddenly shaken apart and destroyed.
What will be left? Only those things which cannot be shaken. Eternal things. The things of the spirit. The Word of God. Your own soul. Hebrews 12:28 sums it all up as, “the kingdom that cannot be shaken.”
Here’s the application: Don’t pin your hopes on the world system. It’s going down for good. It can’t last. It’s going to crumble and fall. The whole world and everything in it. If you live your life for this world, in that day everything you live for will be nothing but dust.
Therefore, if you have some money……invest it for God. If you have some food….share it with the poor. If you have some clothes…..give to those who have none. If you have some water…give it to the thirsty. If you have some time on your hands….spend it with the hurting. If you have some good news….give it to the lost.
God is saying something important to us. He is giving us an unshakeable kingdom. It’s ours. Guaranteed. Therefore, we can afford to share the things of this world with others. It can’t last much longer anyway.
2. The Desired of All nations Shall come. For many centuries Jewish and Christian commentators have agreed that this refers to the Messiah. In fact, Christians understand this as one of the titles of Christ: He is the Desired of Every Nation. When Charles Wesley wrote the beautiful Christmas carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” he included this title in one of his verses:
Come, Desire of Nations, come
Fix in us your humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed.
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
How is it that Jesus can be called “the Desired of all nations” when so many do not believe in him? There are several answers: 1) His coming was expected by the nations. 2) His salvation is needed by all people. 3) He is admired in every nation because he has followers in every nation. 4) He is desired by all who see him as he is. 5) He will be prized by all in the end. He is the light of the gentiles and the salvation of the earth. All kings will one day bow before him. Thus he is—and will ever be—the Desired of All Nations.
3. The latter glory will be greater than the former glory. But how can that be? Is this only wishful thinking? After all, Solomon’s temple was so vast and magnificent and this temple seems so small and insignificant. For hundreds of years this prophecy would seem impossible. But the day would come when Jesus himself would walk through the temple precincts in Jerusalem. He is the “greater glory” that God promised to the people of Haggai’s day.
Don’t miss the lesson. You never know what will come of your faithful service for God. Some little thing you say or do may vastly impact the world and touch many lives for Christ.
Jim Johnsen and Shane Corona
I told you a few weeks ago about Jim Johnsen coming to Christ while singing “Jesus Loves Me.” And I told you about the certificate we gave him that said he was a born again Christian. Jim was in church the last two Sundays even though he was near death from the cancer that had ravaged his body.
About a week ago I got a letter from Shane Corona who is in the Danville state prison. He’s the young man from the streets of Chicago who came to Christ through the ministry of Glen and Jane Fitzjerrell. I baptized him last year and he gave a powerful testimony of the grace of God in his life. He’s now serving 15 years in the prison system for a crime he committed before coming to Christ. Shane wrote that he is still going strong for the Lord and asked me to thank everyone for praying for him.
Then he added this P.S. “If you see Jim Johnsen again tell him that his story has inspired me a great deal. His story has made me stronger to not be afraid because the Lord has me in his hands. He will be in my prayers.” I have no idea how Shane even heard about Jim Johnsen but he did. Sometime after midnight I got a call from Bob Johnsen telling me that Jim was dying. I went over to his house and found the entire family gathered around his bed. He struggled with every breath and could barely whisper. It was obvious that he only had hours to live. I said, “Jim, do you love Jesus?” He couldn’t answer me, but his lips formed the words, “I love Jesus.” Then I told him about the letter from Shane Corona and how his testimony had touched this young man in prison. I could tell he was glad to hear it.
Jim died late on Tuesday and we had his funeral here on Friday morning. The thought occurred to me that Jim Johnsen never met Shane Corona but his story had an impact he never fully knew. Jim Johnsen is in heaven and someday he and Shane will meet there face to face and Shane can thank him personally.
Here is a wonderful antidote to discouragement. Be faithful because you never know who is watching and listening. And you never know the lives you can impact through your faithful service for Christ.
D. Get Moving!
Here is the final step in overcoming disappointment. Get up and get moving for God. Too many of us sit around stewing in our juices when the Lord says, “Get up, my child, and do the work I have called you to do.” That’s what the Lord said to the Jews. Three times in verse 4 God says, “Be strong.” Rise up and do the work of God. Be strong in the face of difficult and do the work of God. Don’t let anything stop you. Be strong and work!
Sometimes the best therapy is simply rising from your seat of despair and tackling the job in front of you. Yesterday I talked with a friend in a distant state who is battling through a hard time. She traveled to a large city to take a course that will enable her to get an advanced degree. For months now she has been attending classes 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. In three weeks the course will be finished. She can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Victory is within her grasp. But on the phone she sounded so weary, so tired, so worn out, so discouraged. “You’re out of gas, aren’t you?” “Yes, I am.” I reminded her of what I’ve been telling you lately about God’s providence and God’s predestination. Nothing can ever happen to the children of God without His express permission. Everything that happens fits into his plan for us somehow, somewhere, some way or other. When I asked if she believed that, she replied that she did. “If you believe that, just ask God to give you strength to take just one more step. You don’t have to go for three more weeks or even three more days. God is only asking you to take the next step. And in the taking of that step, he will give you the strength to take the next one.”
So many people live in defeat because they can’t climb the steep mountain before them. Just remember this: You don’t have to climb the mountain. You just have to take the next step with God. He’ll take care of the rest.
Don’t Let Discouragement Drive You From God
I have a new acquaintance in Sacramento, California who visited Calvary recently and has been e-mailing me some questions about the Christian faith. She was raised in a Christian home but has struggled for many years with various problems and doubts. She was greatly relieved this weeks when I wrote that doubt is not a sin unless it drives you away from God. The same is true for discouragement. We are all discouraged from time to time, but that need not be a sin unless we let it take us away from the Lord.
It may just be that I am speaking to some very discouraged and disappointed people who wonder why God has allowed certain things to happen. Perhaps you’ve been through a series of events that has shaken you deeply. Whatever you do, don’t turn away from God. How will things get better if in your despair you reject the only fountain of hope? Let God speak to you and pray for ears to hear His voice clearly.
This applies especially to those sinners who do not have know Jesus Christ. Your disappointment may be God’s appointment to bring you to the cross for forgiveness and salvation. Just as the Lord said, “My Spirit remains among you,” I declare that God’s Spirit is here today calling you to salvation. He can lead you to repentance and faith and give you new life. If you feel hopeless, congratulations. God specializes in saving hopelessly lost people. He lifts the fallen and encourages those who turn to him.
Run to the cross. Lay hold of Jesus. Rest your troubled soul in him. Do you want to be saved? If you have the slightest desire, you can be saved today because the Spirit of the Lord remains among us. He will save you if you cry out to Jesus with all your heart.
Seek the Lord while he may be found. Yield to him while the Spirit woos your heart. Open the door of your heart and Jesus himself will come in. May God grant you faith to believe in Jesus and give you everlasting peace and hope through his Spirit who remains among us this very day. Amen.