Sometimes life and ministry can be discouraging. We step out in faith, and plan an evangelistic Bible study for our friends, but no one shows up. We try to be more intentional in shepherding our children’s hearts but end up getting impatient with them and having to confess our own sin and failed efforts. We strive to serve a neighbor or friend, but find all our efforts unwanted or misunderstood. The list could go on and on… When this happens, discouragement and disappointment can settle in.
I have been following Christ for 18 years, and I can tell you this is a cycle I often see in my own life. But God is sovereign and kind, and He uses even discouragement and disappointment for our good (Rom 8:28).
Here are 3 ways God seems to use discouragements or disappointments in ministry and life for the good of a believer:
1. God Uses Discouragements to Refine our Motives
God certainly has used discouragement in my life to refine my motives. I have stepped out in faith in so many initiatives that have not turned out the way I hoped they would. The disappointment I feel when things do not go the way I hope is usually a good indicator of where my heart is in a situation: I may have said that I wanted to do a thing out of love for God and love for my neighbor, but when I get grumpy and impatient or self-righteous when a thing does go the way I hoped, it shows that my heart was at least partly set elsewhere. A lot of times I was more infatuated with the idea of serving and ministry than actually filled with a love for God or my neighbor.
I believe God kindly allows us to fail miserably in many a seemingly ‘well-intentioned’ endeavor to expose our ungodly motives and immaturity in our hearts. This is painful in the moment, but ultimately for our good. God refines us so that we would bear more fruit and better fruit.
A good question to ask in disappointment would be, ‘How might this disappointment reveal an area of unbelief or idolatry in my heart?’
2. God Uses Discouragements to Teach Us Perseverance
Another way God uses discouraging results in life or ministry is to teach us perseverance. Sometimes we get excited about a ministry practice like prayer, but we give up when things do not change after a few days. Surely, God is often teaching us to persevere! Of course, there are times when need to use wisdom and move on to a different method or approach in a situation, but I think we often give up too quickly on many a great and godly endeavor.
Our culture’s love affair with pragmatism does not help. Sometimes the right and godly thing to do is to be faithful, even we don’t see the change or results we want. It is right to love our neighbor and persevere in loving them, regardless of whether they love us back or not. It is right to walk by faith and do what is godly, even if it makes life harder. It is right to do the work of sowing seeds (preaching the gospel to others), even if most of it is gobbled up or falls on bad soil (Matt 13:1-9; 18-23).
3. God Uses Discouragements to Lead Us to Hope in His Power and Not Ourselves
Another way God seems to use discouragements is to make us rely on His power. If an attempt at a ministry endeavor fails, it can remind us of how powerless we really are. The right response is not despair, but to place our hope in God and not ourselves. We must lift our eyes to the one who has all the power in the universe.
I find that discouragement often shows how much confidence I have been putting in my own abilities and efforts to change a situation, instead of prayerfully knowing that only God can change a person’s heart. Discouragement can lead me to repent of my self-reliance and trust again in God’s power. And in this, I see how God used discouragement for my own good and His glory.