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Years ago, my son wanted to play on the family iPad. He loves video games. I told him playing on the iPad was not an option at that time. Our interaction was one of those mundane, innocuous moments in his life. But it was more than a quick interchange between a father and a son that we would forget five minutes later. It was an opportunity for him to choose how he was going to respond to disappointment.
He did well. He merely said, “Okay” and moved on to the next thing. My prayer for our children is that they will be able to respond this way when they are adults; when their desires, hopes, and dreams are significantly higher than playing on a device
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10
If they learn this key to fruitful living, only the Lord will limit their usefulness in life. Typically, God does not limit us; we do it to ourselves by our attitudes and thoughts, especially when we do not get what we want–even if our desires are good. Pride will always keep you from being all the Lord desires for you (James 4:6).
Think again about my son’s response to not being able to play on our iPad. He was content with my decision not to play. His contentment freed him from anger, frustration, disappointment, discouragement, demands, and a bad attitude. He was free to move on and enjoy whatever the next thing life was going to offer him. But if he had succumbed to any of those sinful responses, he would not have been in a position to move on maturely and contentedly.
His unmet desire would have held sway over him. This simple illustration is for your self-examination. How are you responding to the things that others are not providing for you? Life for you is more complicated than being turned down from an opportunity to play a game on a mobile device. The things you would like are far more critical.
Though these things are far more crucial, the process for how to think through these ideas are no different from the interchange with my son. How you respond to a “No” in your life will determine the kind of life you are going to experience.
Your life cannot always be a “Yes” to everything you want. That would make no sense, and it indeed is not in line with the Word of God because you know suffering is a promise from the Lord (Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21).
If you are a parent, you are well aware how always saying “yes” to your child would be detrimental to his maturity, as well as how he relates to others. The spoiled child is a manipulator–a user of people. Any loving parent would not provide everything a child craved (James 1:14-15).
How much more does your heavenly Father love you? It is His profound love for you that restrains Him from giving you all the desires of your heart (Luke 22:42). Living in this truth is the difference between being biblically mature and immature.
When someone responds wrongly to a disappointment, it will become harder and harder for them to react correctly in the future. The Hebrew writer speaks about this process. You see how difficult it is to partake in God’s riches when your desires become self-focused.
About this, we have much to say, and it is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:11-14
At this point in their walk with the Lord, they have not matured enough to receive more in-depth and more precious things from God. They are immature–at least some of them are.
Imagine if my son was stuck on an “iPad fixation” for the next ten years. Suppose he could not index forward from having to have his “iPad desires” met. Think about how it would dull his mind and cut him off from the more significant things that a mature person would experience.
Though your unmet desires are more complicated than missing iPad time, a wrong response to disappointment is similar. The difference for you is if you persist in your frustration over not getting what you desire–even if it is a good desire–your heart will harden exponentially.
Suffering and disappointment are gifts for the mature, but stumbling blocks for the immature. If you want to know if you are growing in wisdom, answer this question: How are you responding to the disappointments in your life?
Biblical maturity can be the possession of the young, the poor, or the illiterate while being elusive from the old, the rich, or the educated. There is only one data point necessary to assess a person’s maturity. It is how you regularly respond to your disappointments.
When you do not get what you want, what is it that you see or perceive at that moment? If an iPad were all that my son could see, that would be the thing that would control him. How about you? What controls your thoughts when you hear a no?
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:21
When Mary and Martha heard about their brother’s sickness that eventually turned into death, they had a hard time accepting God’s decision about the matter. They became chippy with the Lord, even accusing Him of not doing the right thing.
All they could see was the death of their brother. They could not perceive the higher work of God. Fortunately, Mary and Martha’s immaturity did not control Jesus. Though they could not see the bigger picture, He could.
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. – John 11:14-15
The thing that is most dominant in your thinking will have the most control over your life. The idea that exerts power over you will control your mind and behaviors. What if you examined yourself to see how mature you are?
The danger in these scenarios is the spiritual laziness that disables a person’s thinking. Honestly, it takes hard work to respond right to God in moments of disappointment. When disappointment comes, you must hold on to your faith (Hebrews 3:12, 4:11).
The spiritually mature person can do this because he works hard at discerning between good and evil. His training regimen enables him to make the right decision, which moves him closer to God rather than farther from God.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:14
Practically Walking in the Spirit
These ongoing and daily choices give him a more intimate, secure, and stronger relationship with the Lord. This kind of maturity can only come from choosing “yes” to God when you get a “no” to your desires.
The graphic illustrates this point. The more you say “yes” to the Lord, the easier things become and the higher you ascend with Him. (You’ll also find this graphic in my article, Addressing the Little Bit of Narcissism In All of Us.)
The strength you gain from this process will help you to stay focused and governed during the times of trouble. It will stabilize you when the pressures of life seek to dominate your thinking. It will give you a God-centered perspective on personal disappointment.
If your focus moves away from the Lord and the trials that the Father writes into your script shake you, there will be discouragement and temptation to quit. You should not be discouraged. Failure is not bad news; it is your opportunity to change your thinking and your direction.
Don’t miss this key idea: your trial is supposed to point you to God. It should not motivate you to continue to fixate on what you are not getting.
God does not waste pain, and you should not either. If you fixate on what you are not getting or on the person who is keeping you from getting what you desire, you will not only waste your suffering, but you will suffer more because of the self-imposed bondage that you place on yourself.
The two most important things in your life at the point of your trials are (1) perceiving the actual condition of your soul and (2) to adjust yourself as needed. The most important thing is not to become fixated on the disappointment, but what the trial is revealing to you about you.
Though overly focusing on the trial is normal, it is not wise or biblical. It is Christian immaturity that is revealing spiritual slothfulness, fear, and anger. Over time “spiritual atrophy” will set in if you do not change, plus you will become hardened by the suffering that was designed to tender you.
The question for you is, where does the path to altering the conscience begin? Typically, spiritual hardness starts with a mild disappointment. As innocuous as the disappointment may be, it can be the beginning of a person’s drift from God.
Perhaps you have seen the extreme case of the person who overly-fixates on what had happened to them and how they have suffered–particularly at the hands of another person.
You probably noticed how this kind of person is bitter, critical, cynical, resentful, spiteful, unforgiving, and not trusting. Their walk with God has grown cold. Wouldn’t you like to be able to help them to perceive how they have missed the point of their disappointments?
The key to a biblically mature life is when you can cherish God more than any other desire. This attitude is the definition of biblical maturity. It is a surrendered will that wants to see God accomplish His will in their life (Luke 22:42)–an attitude that comes through hard work and incomprehensible grace.