A Better Way to Look at Disappointment
“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered.” John 21:4-5 (NIV)
Everywhere I look, people are celebrating their successes. Their beautiful children, their awesome husbands and the coolest DIY projects. I’m happy for them … for the most part. But there’s a part of me I prefer to hide that whispers, “Why not me, Lord?”
It’s not that I don’t have much to be thankful for; I do. But there are these other disappointing realities I live with daily. Areas of my life that aren’t stellar, noteworthy or successful. Areas where no matter how hard I try, I just don’t experience success.
My go-to response for many years was to work harder in those areas … all the while beating myself up internally for not being disciplined, creative or smart enough.
And yet, God has been showing me something in these disappointing areas: They aren’t all due to my weakness. Sometimes God holds back success with the divine purpose of teaching me something.
I think that’s what happened to the disciples. There’s a story told in John 21, after Jesus’ death. The disciples had seen Jesus alive and had gone to Galilee to wait for His return.
One night, a few of the disciples went fishing. These guys were born to fish. But that night, after hours floating in the silent dark, they caught nothing.
The story takes an interesting turn as the sun starts to rise. Jesus stood on the edge of the lake (although they didn’t recognize Him at first). I’m sure He’d been watching them for hours … maybe even all night.
And I suspect He commanded the fish to stay back from the boat for a while. After all, He’d directed the wind and waves, and cast out demons, so surely He could direct some fish.
Jesus needed to teach His disciples an important lesson. And in order to learn it well, they had to experience some failure. Jesus spoke to the weary fishermen, as we read in John 21:5b-6a:
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” (NIV)
Scripture doesn’t record the disciples’ thoughts, but I can imagine they were a bit annoyed at this piece of advice. After all, they were professional fishermen, doing everything they knew to do. The fish obviously weren’t there!
Have you ever felt that way about your life? You’ve done everything you know to do, but nothing changes?
The disciples were about to learn an important lesson about success and failure. They obeyed Jesus’ directive, shifted the nets to the other side of the boat, and Scripture records: “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (John 21:6b, NIV)
At that moment they recognized the Lord, and the disciples headed to shore, towing the fish behind. The disciples didn’t just have success, they had great success.
Jesus needed the disciples to see the difference between self-directed effort and Jesus-directed effort. And in order to show them, He let them fail on their own first.
Oh, how I need to learn this lesson myself. I wonder if Jesus has watched me try on my own and held back success while I do. Is He just waiting for me to listen for His voice? To watch for His plan?
For those of us “can-do” women, this is a lesson to let soak deep in our spirits. Yes, we can do many things on our own, but that doesn’t mean we should. Why would we choose to ignore the greatest source of wisdom and power ever known, in exchange for our paltry efforts in comparison?
When we operate in our power, we see what we can do. When we operate under Jesus’ direction and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we see what God can do.
As I look back on my life, the times I’ve seen God work in the greatest ways are when I admit my natural strength isn’t enough. That’s when His supernatural strength is evident. Viewed from this perspective, it reminds me sometimes failure is an opportunity to see God work miracles.
God is always up to something for my good. And that’s a much better way to look at disappointment.
Lord, thank You for working in my life, even in ways that look like failure. Help me keep my eyes on You and not on my situation. Help me trust You more, especially when I face what looks like a disappointment. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
Proverbs 2:7-8, “He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” (NIV)
Psalm 127:1, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Identify an area of disappointment in your life. How has God used it to teach you or change you in some way?