The evening news serves as a daily reminder that our world is more discouraged, more defeated, and more hopeless than ever before. Rising suicide rates, increasing depression, political divisiveness, and a general sense of negativity only provide further confirmation. The majority of the people sitting in the seats of the churches we lead, and even us as leaders within the church, are living a life filled with less hope than we once had. The question is: why?
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 13:12 that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” The unmet expectations of our past have injured our faith. We’ve experienced enough unanswered prayers that we are no longer praying big bold prayers, but instead small, safe ones. We have seen enough disappointments in life that simply hoping for a different tomorrow has become a challenge in and of itself. Our hearts are sick with the virus of disappointment, discouragement, despair, and disillusionment. As a result, we’ve given up dreaming or hoping for a greater tomorrow.
How can you and I help ourselves and the people we lead to get pointed back toward the abundant life of hope, joy, and confidence that we know Jesus intends for us to live? In my new book, It’s Not Over, I explore how we can overcome disappointment and learn to dream again. Let me share one story from the life of Jesus that I believe can help guide us. The book of John records the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha. They were frustrated and discouraged because their brother, Lazarus, was extremely ill, and in their minds there was only one way to solve the problem: call for Jesus. They had every expectation he would heal their brother the way they had seen him heal many others. But Jesus didn’t rush over. In fact, by the time Jesus arrived Lazarus was already dead. This of course caused Mary and Martha to feel defeated by their unmet expectations of Jesus. We can hear it in both of their matching statements as they each approach Jesus:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21 )
When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
Both sisters exclaim, “Lord, if you had only been here”. Have you ever had one of those moments? I know I have!
We’ve experienced the pain of not seeing our ministry grow the way we thought it would. We’ve witnessed people we once thought were our biggest supporters becoming uncommitted and disconnected from God’s church. This isn’t exclusive to leadership, but it happens in our personal lives and in the lives of those we lead. The marriage that started hopeful too often turns into a business partnership. The addiction we once believed we could defeat continues to tempt us and at times even pull us in. The miracles we once believed we would see are now just memories of disappointments. The list of unmet expectations could continue, each one leaving us broken like Mary and Martha, wondering where Jesus was when we needed him. The response the majority of Christians subconsciously submit to is a life spent shrinking the size of our dreams to match the size of our current, damaged expectations.
How do we begin to shake off the disappointments of our past and begin to live with hope again? Let’s listen in.
As Jesus arrives at the tomb where Lazarus was lying dead, He says this to the sisters:
“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me.” (vv. 39–41)
I think Jesus clues us into an important truth while restoring our hope. When in disappointment, our muscles must continue to work alongside our miracle! It’s not that Jesus couldn’t move that stone on His own; it’s that He wanted to see their obedience, readiness resilience, faith, and belief before they experienced the resurrection of their hope. He wanted them to overcome their unsurrendered expectations by moving forward in faith, believing that even though their dream didn’t turn out how they expected, when God is in control, when our expectations are surrendered to Him, it’s never too late.
Okay, here comes the miracle we love, but let’s look closely at the words of Jesus!
Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (vv. 43–44)
Why didn’t Jesus just drop the mic when Lazarus walked out of the tomb? Why did He tell them to unwrap him from the graveclothes? Because it wasn’t enough for Lazarus to breathe again—Jesus wanted him to shed every appearance of death. Overcoming death was just a step in the journey to what John called “life that is truly life,” and Jesus wanted Lazarus to live! As we journey toward finding hope and continuing to pursue the God-sized dreams in our lives, we have to protect against dressing ourselves in graveclothes! I don’t want to live my life as a child saved by grace yet dressed in death! We have to make sure we are shaking off the graveclothes of defeat, failure, fear, disappointment, heartbreak, torturous thoughts and any other clothing that may hold us back from the hope we have been given in Christ!
Disappointment and unmet expectations are a part of this journey here on earth but we don’t need to give up on our hope for a better future. Instead, It’s time to surrender our expectations to God, roll away some stones, and fight against the destructive inclination to dress ourselves in the graveclothes of yesterday. It’s time to rediscover hope and begin to dream again!
-Joshua Gagnon, adapted from: It’s Not Over: Leaving Behind Disappointment and Learning To Dream Again.
How To Use This Resource
Your church can experience the joy and excitement that accompanies a life filled with hope! Jesus created every individual with unique dreams and purposes for our time here on earth, but too many of your people are allowing disappointment and discouragement to shrink their prayers and expectations. In this 4-week teaching and small group series, your church will be inspired to rediscover their former dreams and to ask God to birth new ones within them. Learn more at www.churchsource.com.