Look For God's Purpose in Your Disappointment and Discouragement (1 Peter 5:10)
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Disappointment and discouragement are an unfortunate but ever-present part of life. Bad things do happen to good people. Every day Christians across the country are forced to endure unwelcome circumstances that leave them disappointed or discouraged. That promotion you hoped for went to someone else. That scholarship you applied for didn’t come through. The raise you strived for did not materialize. An injury you got is slow in healing. The vacation you planned fell through. Your only son has turned to drugs. Your adult daughter has left the church.
The list of unwelcome circumstances that can intrude on your life is almost infinite, and even the most righteous Christians are not spared. This is the bad news. The good news is that God sees your disappointment and He knows when you are discouraged. Better yet, not only will He walk you through your disappointment or discouragement, He will use them for your good. Consequently, when enduring disappointment or discouragement it is important to look for God’s purpose in your unwelcome circumstances. This is the message in 1 Peter 5:10 where we read: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
That God has a purpose in our disappointment or discouragement was driven home to me in the most unlikely of circumstances. It wasn’t in church, nor was it when studying for a counseling degree. Rather, it was while I was taking a college course in history. We were studying the life of Sir Winston Churchill, the man credited with bolstering Great Britain’s resolve when its citizens were enduring the Nazi onslaught during the darkest days of World War II. The constant bombing raids on London and other cities was leaving many British citizens deeply discouraged. But Churchill’s bulldog determination and steadfast reassurance gave them hope.
Our professor explained that “but for fate” Churchill’s brilliant leadership of his country during the worst time in its history might never have been. What this professor called “fate,” Christians would call the hand of God. As a young man in his early 20s, Churchill ran for a seat in Parliament but lost in a closely contested race. Deeply disappointed and discouraged, Churchill had to find a way to start over and rebuild his reputation. To do this he secured a job for himself as a newspaper correspondent covering Britain’s second Boer War in South Africa. Churchill did more fighting than reporting in this war. During one battle, he was captured by the Boers but soon made a daring escape from their prisoner-of-war camp.
After eluding his captors for weeks—an escapade extensively covered in the British press—Churchill eventually found his way back to safety. As a result of the press coverage he received, Churchill became a hero back home; a welcome turn of events that launched his successful 40-plus year career in politics and government service. Had he won a seat in Parliament in his first attempt instead of becoming a hero of the Boer War, Churchill might never have become Britain’s Prime Minister at the exact time in history when his bulldog determination was needed most.
When the professor reiterated the serendipitous role “fate” had played in Great Britain’s history and Churchill’s life, a fellow student turned to me and said, “God works in mysterious ways, but He has a purpose for everything. He had a purpose in Churchill’s discouraging loss in his first Parliamentary election.” God has a purpose for your disappointment and discouragement too. I don’t know if Churchill ever recognized God’s purpose in his suffering, but it is important that you recognize his purpose in yours.
The key to discovering God’s purpose in your suffering is to look past the suffering to how God might be using it to benefit you or someone else through you. As you begin to look for God’s purpose in disappointment or discouragement, be reassured that His overall purpose in our lives is to make us more like Him; more Christ-like in everything we think, do, and say. Further, God can see right into our hearts. He knows our inner-most thoughts, weaknesses, and transgressions.
God knows how far we have come or not come in our journey to be more like Him. When He sees areas in our lives or character in need of improvement, He sometimes uses the suffering we are enduring to make those improvements. Let me be clear here. I am not saying he purposely sends grief or heartache into your life to teach you specific lessons. Rather, I am saying that when he sees you suffering through unwelcome circumstance in life, He can use those circumstances for good.
It is not uncommon for Christians who are suffering to wonder if they are being punished by God. Of course, God can use suffering to punish wayward sinners. After all, He did send the flood during Noah’s days. But I encourage Christians who are hurting to avoid dwelling on whether or not God is punishing them because even if He is His purpose is to help not hurt. God’s overall purpose in our lives—when we are suffering and when we are not—is to scrub us clean and see us become more Christ-like.
This is why in a fallen world where suffering is part of life, God will use disappointment and discouragement for good; to make you better in some way. He knows you even better than you know yourself, and He knows what you need to become more Christ-like. Further, He knows becoming more Christ-like will improve your life beyond measure. Disappointment and discouragement can be the tools He uses to accomplish this purpose. Consequently, when life hurts it is important to be open to learning what God sees in you that might need improvement and how He might use your suffering to make the improvement.
Finding God’s purpose in your suffering can be difficult because it can require soul-searching self-examination. You may have to look deeply into yourself and ask, “How do I need to change to be more like Christ?” Recognizing and honestly admitting our shortcomings is never easy. As human beings, our motto might be summarized in these words: emphasize the best and downplay the rest. The problem with this approach is that God sees right through us to the core of our hearts and souls. We may be able to hide our shortcomings from others and even ourselves, but we cannot hide them from God.
Christians who are hurting sometimes need help finding God’s purpose in their suffering. Because this is often the case with those who approach me for counseling, I developed a self-assessment that makes probing the possibilities of God’s purpose in your suffering into a systematic process based on the following three questions:
Could God be using your suffering to increase your faith?
Could God be using your suffering to improve your Christian character?
Could God be using your suffering to prepare you to better serve Him?
Finding the answers to these questions will require prayer coupled with honest introspection. In asking these questions, you seek to discover things God already knows about you, but you may not yet know about yourself. In pursuing answers to these questions, you will come to know yourself better. This is a good thing, but it can be a hard thing. What can make the process especially challenging is that you may find it difficult to admit to yourself and God some of the answers you discover.
This looking-honestly-in-the-mirror aspect of the process can cause discomfort and even emotional duress, at least in the beginning. This is why prayer is such an integral part of your introspective journey to discover God’s purpose in your disappointment and discouragement. You probably won’t be able to forthrightly answer these questions or acknowledge what you discover about yourself without the help of God, and that help is enlisted through prayer. Thankfully, I have found in working with Christians who are enduring disappointment or discouragement that these three questions—when answered forthrightly—can be effective in helping them identify God’s purpose in their suffering.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.