The Heart vs. What Happens

Groundbreaking ceremony for the building that was never built.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the building that was never built.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and this is certainly true in ministry. I spent my entire ministry of nearly 40 years at one church. For the last fifteen of those years we worked on plans to relocate and build a new facility. This included buying land, maintaining that land until we could build, surveying the congregation and leadership so the building would meet our ministry needs, going through several sets of blueprints for the building, talking with a number of lending institutions, carrying out two major fund raising campaigns, and conducting countless (and I mean countless) meetings of the whole congregation and of various teams. I personally prayer-walked the land time and time again, envisioning the kind of building and ministry we would have there. The escalation of costs and the continual downsizing of the building to make the financial numbers work resulted in us scrapping the entire project. We even had a ground breaking ceremony, covered by the local media; the earth, I’m sure, has since healed the hole we dug with our shiny spade.

Under my successor’s leadership (a man whom I personally chose and mentored for over two years) the church has purchased an empty big box store and is in the process of renovating the building for their new home. I’m all for this new direction of having the church in such a marketplace setting and pray regularly that it will soon happen. But when I’m part of a conversation about God’s mysterious ways my mind can’t help but go back to the last third of my ministry when we actively sought to build on those 23 acres of land. I have wondered if I was misguided in sensing God’s guidance. I have wondered if I missed crucial times when I should have led us to act more decisively. I have come to believe that God has His very good reasons for us taking that journey, a journey that didn’t end up where we thought it would. I’ve come to a greater conviction that God is often more interested in the journey than the destination.

A scripture that has held great meaning for me is where King Solomon has the Ark of the Covenant brought into the temple he built for the Lord. In his speech the king references his father, the late King David. “My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. Nevertheless, you are not the one to build the temple, but your son, your own flesh and blood—he is the one who will build the temple for my Name.’” (1 Kings 8:17-19)

I did what I thought we should do. I believe my heart was in the right place (and to the degree it wasn’t, I’m grateful for God’s grace and mercy to cover for that). I believe the Lord says to me, “You did well to have it in your heart…”

We can plan, pray, develop strategies, pray, cast vision, pray, call for commitment, pray and implement the plan, but we’re not guaranteed the results we want and which we think God wants. There will be times we are disappointed, even deeply disappointed, at how things turn out. I believe at such times the words God saw fit to put in our Bibles, the words He had for King David, are meant for us to take personally. “You did well to have it in your heart…”


Disappointment, Yes, Discouragement, No!

DiscouragementArtyThere’s the old story of Satan holding a garage sale where he offered a variety of his tools for sale to any demons who stopped by. There were tools of anger, lust, fear, lying, and so many more. A demon noted a tool in Satan’s garage that didn’t have a price on it and so he inquired what Satan might be selling it for. Satan replied, “That tool’s not for sale. It’s my most effective tool against God’s people.” What’s the tool?” the demon asked. Satan replied, “Discouragement.”

I’ve dealt with discouragement at various times through my years of pastoral ministry. I’ve asked myself if there’s any record of Jesus being discouraged. To my knowledge, there isn’t.

There are many accounts of Jesus being disappointed. Remember the story of Jesus coming down off the mountain top experience of being transfigured into His heavenly glory before Peter, James, and John? The remaining nine disciples had attempted an exorcism on a boy and had failed. When Jesus arrived the religious leaders immediately called His attention to the failure of His followers. “Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? (Luke 9:41) Sounds like Jesus was disappointed, even exasperated.

Then there was the time when the disciples forgot to pack a lunch and Jesus used it as a teachable moment. He then said to them, “Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:9-11) His disappointment clearly comes through the printed text. It seems there were plenty of times when Jesus was disappointed, but never discouraged.

I infer from this that to be disappointed is not a sin but that discouragement is, for the perfect Son of God was disappointed but not discouraged. My own experience confirms this. Disappointment has rarely brought me to a conviction of having sinned, but being discouraged, upon honest and sometimes prolonged reflection, has brought me to such a conviction. I’ve come to realize that being disappointed is usually prompted by the outcome of circumstances surrounding me or the behavior of people around me. Discouragement, on the other hand, comes from an inadequate or wrong view of God. If I really trusted Him for what was happening to me, that He has His reasons and purposes, then I wouldn’t be discouraged, perhaps personally disappointed, but not discouraged.

I’ve come to realize that discouragement is the fear that I’ve lost control and there is no way things are going to turn out well. Such fear of what has happened and what seems to be an inevitably bad outcome is based on a lack of faith that God is still on His throne and in full command.

As a follower of Jesus, and a servant of His, I seek to be like Him. This means I am willing to embrace disappointment because I live in an imperfect world but will reject discouragement because I serve a perfect Lord who is still in ultimate control and gives me the courage to keep from being discouraged.

“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Joshua 8:1, 10:25, 1 Chronicles 22:13, 28:20, 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17, 32:7)

Applying God’s Grace to My Disappointments


Having recently retired from the pastoral ministry I find it rather easy to compile pastoral lists; a list of funny stories, a list of ugly congregational meetings, a list of wedding snafus, and so on. Another such list is that of disappointments, plans that didn’t turn out the way I thought they would, the way I believed God wanted them to turn out.

There were people into whom I poured my life who left our church to pursue “God’s call” to go elsewhere. Their motives, it seemed in my humble opinion, were based more on running from their anger and the resulting conflict with fellow parishioners or with me rather than a running after the call of the Lord.

There were meetings that were planned, but as it turned out very few planned on attending the meetings. You try not to get caught up in the numbers game, but you do need at least a few people if anything’s going to happen at a meeting you’ve called.

I never expected to be the pastor of a mega church, but I’ll have to admit I thought we’d grow more than we did. In fact, the weekly attendance had slowly gone down the last few years of my ministry. This was in spite of the fact that, by my own estimation and that of church leaders, we were growing in Christ and had a clearer awareness of what the church should be.

Probably one of the biggest disappointments was spending over twelve years planning to build a new facility that never was built. We acquired a piece of ground, had countless meetings, carried out two major fund raising campaigns, went through several drafts of architectural plans, and had a ground breaking ceremony. The church is now in the process of selling the land (which, for the record, I believe is God’s will for the church to do). Over a quarter of my ministry involved this process of seeking to build a new facility better able to be the home for carrying out the Lord’s work, but it was not to be.

Life in general, but pastoral ministry in particular, has its disappointments. How are we to view these disappointments?

I’m reminded of the times Jesus was disappointed in people. He healed ten lepers but was disappointed when only one returned to give thanks. He was disappointed that His disciples were with Him a considerable length of time and still didn’t get some basic principles He had been teaching them. If it was OK for Jesus to be disappointed in people then we’re in good company when it happens to us! It’s part of the experience of ministering to and with people.

Then too, I have to remind myself that as much as I’m disappointed in others I also am sometimes a disappointment to others. Jesus’ teaching of the speck and the plank in the eye is a good one to remember at this point.

But that leaves those times when I’ve been disappointed, sometimes deeply so, that things did not work out as I thought they should. John Koessler wrote a book titled The Surprising Grace of Disappointment. I had never thought about applying God’s grace to my disappointment before reading John’s book.

When reflecting on some of my disappointments I wonder if I did all I could, or if I even took the right course of action. Was my timing off? Did I misread God’s will for me or for the church? Did I listen to bad advice from others or fail to take seriously the good advice of others? To such questions my honest answer is usually, “I don’t know.” Hindsight is not 20/20 in most of these cases.

There’s an incident in the ministry of Jesus and His disciples that comes to mind as I grapple with my disappointments. Jesus was sending His disciples out to do ministry, and He warned them that there would be times when they wouldn’t get the results they wanted, that people would not respond to the Good News they tried to share. “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11) I think what Jesus was trying to tell them is that they would be disappointed. His advice to them? Shake the dust from their feet and move on to the next village. In other words, let it go!

I believe Jesus’ words of advice to the original proclaimers of His Good News are there for those of us who proclaim His Word today too. We too are given the advice to shake the dust from our feet and move on. Yes, the grace of God is there for me to receive when I’m disappointed. I can hear Him whisper to me in His gracious way, “Let it go.”


Good Reminder

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I know we all preach and teach this, but I know I sometimes have a more difficult time making application of the truth to my own life. I have found, though, that the people in my church who have helped me grow the most in the Lord are those with whom I don’t have a natural affinity or with whom I have had conflict. My faith in the Lord has also grown more by grappling with and accepting answers to my prayers that have disappointed rather than delighted.