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On Dealing With Disappointment

Luke 24:13-35

Let me tell you about Phineas Taylor. The year was 1820. Young Phineas was up before anyone else in the house was awake. It was his tenth birthday and he was filled with excitement. This was the day he was going to see an island, not just any island, but his very own island. You see, a year earlier, Phineas’ father and grandfather told him that on his tenth birthday they would sign over to him the deed to Ivy Island and he would become an important landowner in the state of Connecticut. All during that year while the other kids he knew were dreaming about things like knights and dragons, he was dreaming about raising crops and cattle and building a house and becoming the lord of the manor at Ivy Island. As the year unfolded he became more and more excited about being taken to see Ivy Island and then taking possession of it.

That’s why he was up so early on the morning of his tenth birthday. He was so excited, he could barely stand it. He, his father, and his grandfather, together with a hired hand, got into a buggy and off they went. They traveled for hours through the Connecticut countryside—and with every mile young Phineas became more and more excited. Finally, they arrived at a grove of trees. The father said: “Now, Son, just beyond those trees is Ivy Island.” Phenias couldn’t wait. He bounded down from the buggy and ran through the meadow, burst through the trees and looked to see Ivy Island. When he saw it, his heart sank. All it was was a large ivy-covered rock jutting up out of a snake-ridden, mosquito-infested swamp land. It was absolutely worthless. As the tears of heartbreak flooded his ten-year-old eyes, his ten-year-old ears heard the laughter of his father and grandfather. You see, Phineas was not the blessed proprietor—he was the butt of the joke. His grandfather said something about life being hard and they wanted to teach him a lesson, but it didn’t register with Phineas. Later on, he would tell people that he forgave but that he never forgot. And this one who was duped when he was ten years of age spent the rest of his life duping others. The one who was deceived made a career out of deception. You know him as Phineas Taylor Barnam—P. T. Barnam—the man who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Today we are talking about the big disappointments that come our way in life. We all have them. The question is not “if they come”, but “when they come.” So how do we respond? Well, you can respond the way P. T. Barnam responded. You can spend a lifetime getting even. But there is another way, a better way. It’s the way of Jesus Christ. We see it spelled out in the story from Luke 24. It’s the story of Cleopas and a friend. We don’t know who the friend was—we don’t even know precisely who Cleopas was—but we are told that they were both disciples, followers of Jesus.

And by looking at their story, we discover that the cause of disappointment in life is unfulfilled expectations.

Isn’t that the bottom line, the common denominator of any disappointment with which we have to deal—that because we were expecting something to happen, and it didn’t happen, our spirits are sent plunging? Wasn’t that the problem in this story—the unfulfilled expectation of these two followers of Jesus? Here they have seen the One they loved and followed done to death on the cross and listen to what they say in verse 19: “We had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped…I had dreamed…I was wishing…” Those are the words of unfulfilled expectations. “I had hoped that I would get that promotion”…”I had hoped that we would have children”…”I had hoped that I would pass the exam”…”I had hoped…” Unfulfilled expectations.

Now please understand that the expectations of these two disciples were not wrong. They were not evil people. They were not bad-hearted or ill-intended people. They wanted what was right. They were hoping that Jesus would free Israel. They were hoping that when Jesus marched into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday that it would spell the end of Pilate and the beginning of Jesus. “Goodbye Rome and hello Israel! We’re going to be free at last. We’re going to establish our own kingdom here.” That’s what they were hoping for but now look at what’s happened—Jesus is in the tomb and Pilate’s on the throne and Rome is still in control. Unfulfilled expectations. They had hoped…

I must say something very important here and I must say it carefully. Aren’t we glad that God did not answer the prayers and hopes of these two with a “yes”? Aren’t we glad that He didn’t choose to establish an earthly kingdom which would have faded away? Aren’t we glad that He was willing to die on the cross to defeat death and evil, and to establish a heavenly kingdom? You see, sometimes we pray the wrong prayer, sometimes we hope the wrong hope, and dream the wrong dreams. At such a time, the most loving and merciful thing God can do for us is to say “no” to our prayers. You see, sometimes we are plunged into disappointment when, all the while, God knows better what we need than we do. Prayer then is not asking God to do what we want—it is asking God to do what is right.

If you ever have the chance to go to the great ski slopes out west, it is a thrilling thing to watch blind snow-skiers. It’s incredible—people who can’t see a thing schussing down the slopes. How do they do it? Well, a guide skis fifteen or twenty feet in front of them. He doesn’t talk because his voice would be lost in the sounds of other people talking or in the sounds of the wind. So what he does is to take his poles and tap them together–tap, tap, tap, tap—metal on metal—and that tapping can be heard more readily by those blind skiers. So they follow the tapping sound all the way down the mountain.

Well, in our times of disappointment, when our world seems “dark” and when we need to get safely down from the slopes, Jesus calls us to listen for His leading amidst all the other sounds of the world. We need to do that, because you see, when we are in the grip of disappointment, we are ripe for plucking by the evil one. He sees disappointed people and he says: “Ha! I can get that one.” And that leads me to the second point.

By looking at this story, we discover that the consequence of disappointment is crushed aspirations.

We get a clue about this by looking at Cleopas and his friend. They suffer from clouded vision. It says in the story that “Jesus drew near to them but their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” Isn’t that interesting? He was right next to them and they couldn’t see Him. Why? I used to think it was because Jesus had somehow disguised Himself. But this week it occurred to me that they couldn’t see Jesus not because He had changed but because they had changed. Disappointment had clouded their vision.

I know some folks, for example, who have been through bad marriages and they are convinced that there is no such thing as a good marriage. Their vision is clouded. I know some women who have had bad experiences with a man and now they believe that all men are just one level above cockroaches! I know some people who have had bad experiences in a church—the church was impersonal or the preacher couldn’t preach or some TV evangelist swindled them out of their money—and they wind up swearing off the faith. Disappointment, you see, so clouds our vision that Jesus Himself could be right next to us and we wouldn’t see Him.

And these two also suffered from hardened hearts. It says in the story that they had been told of the resurrection but they didn’t believe it. You see, their disappointment had so hardened their hearts, had made them so cynical that when good news came they couldn’t receive it. Please hear this: there is a fine line between being disappointed and wallowing in self-pity, between being hurt and allowing that hurt to control you. Yes, there is a fine line between a hurt and a hate. When your heart starts to harden, you’re going to cross that line.

A lady wrote this to me recently: “I caught my husband breaking faith in our marriage. He swore it would never happen again. He begged me to forgive him, but I could not and I would not. I was so bitter and incapable of swallowing my pride that I could think of nothing but revenge. I was going to make him pay and pay dearly. I filed for divorce even though my children begged me not to. Even after the divorce my husband tried for two years to win me back. I refused to have anything to do with him. He had struck first, now I was striking back. Finally, he gave up and began building a new life without me. He married a young widow with small children. I see them occasionally. He looks so happy. They all do. And here I am lonely and miserable because I allowed selfish pride and stubbornness to ruin my life.”

Could it be that it’s time for you to put your disappointment behind you? I’m not minimizing the hurt you have experienced. I’m not saying that what happened was right or fair. But is it really giving you much joy to keep re-living the old hurts and pains? Bette Midler sings:

“It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken that cannot seem to give
It’s the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”

Be careful of that clouded vision and the hardened heart.

Of course looking at the story also helps us discover that the cure for disappointment is honest examination.

Have you heard the joke about the fellow who lived alone and wanted some music in his home? So he went down to the pet store and bought a parakeet. The owner promised him that this bird could sing and fill his house with the brightness of music. Sure enough, the next day when the man came home from work, the little bird was singing away and the man loved it. He went over to the cage to get some food for the parakeet, and suddenly he noticed for the first time that the parakeet had only one leg. He called the pet store owner up and said: “You sold me a one-legged parakeet.” The owner said: “Does he sing?” The man said: “Yes, he sings.” To which the owner responded: “Well, what do you want a parakeet who can sing or who can dance?”

We’re like that sometimes. We need to ask: What do we really want out of life? Do we want immediate solutions or do we want long-term solutions? Well, look at the way Jesus dealt with the disappointment of these two disciples. They didn’t recognize Jesus because their visions clouded and their hearts were hardened. Their faces were crestfallen. Their dreams were shattered. Their hopes were gone. And what did Jesus do? He tells them a story. You wouldn’t believe it if it weren’t written right here in the Bible. If I had been Jesus, I would have done a little razzle-dazzle. I would have turned a nearby sycamore tree into an elephant, or I would have made the earth rumble with an earthquake or I would have done a loopity-loop off the temple. I would have done something to knock their eyes out. Not Jesus. He simply told them a story. It says here in Luke that starting with Moses, He began to tell them everything that had been said and written about Him. Starting with Moses. That’s 1500 years! And some of you think my sermons are long! Jesus went back into Scripture and told them everything. He gave them a Bible class right there on the road. He restored their perspective. He said: “You don’t need to be worried. This is all part of God’s plan. This is the way it was supposed to happen. Relax. Take it easy. Renew your perspective by going back and visiting the story.”

In other words, Jesus is saying to us that when we feel that the challenges of life are greater than we are, we need to read the story. When we encounter some Red Sea in our experience and we can’t get across it, we need to go and stand by Moses. When we feel that we can’t pay our bills, we need to go into the desert with the Israelites and see the quail and the manna and then say, “Lord, I needed that encouragement. I know you are going to take care of me.” The next time your problems are bigger than you are then get down on your knees and pray like David did before he faced Goliath. The next time you are trapped in circumstances from which you cannot escape, join Jonah in the belly of the whale and say, “Lord, I know you can get me out.” When you think the government is going to pot then read about Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar and the handwriting on the wall. The story reveals a God who is working and acting and moving and changing—and what He did then, He does now.

Corrie Ten Boom used to tell how when she was a child, and she would be traveling on European trains with her parents, she was always terrified when the train would move into long, dark tunnels. She said: “In time, I learned to sit very still and trust the engineer to get me through the tunnel. I didn’t jump out. I didn’t hop off, though at times I wanted to. I sat tight and trusted the one in charge.” Just so, when disappointment grips your life, don’t give up or give out. Here the story again, sit tight, and trust God to get you through. And He will.

So…

P. T. Barnam said: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Maybe so. But what is even more true and more important is this: There’s a Christian born again every minute. Maybe this minute, it will be you…

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