When was the last time you heard a sermon addressed to disillusioned Christians?
When was the last time your pastor spoke to those dissatisfied with the life of faith?
When was the last time you listened to a preacher talk about about being let down by God?
If you can name one message about any of the above, let me know. I have yet to hear one.
All I know is that there seems to be a disconnect between what’s being preached in churches and what’s being experienced by church-goers. Pop in to any modern church service and you’ll leave feeling excited. Listen to any popular preacher and you’ll walk away feeling inspired. The messages being broadcast from these sources are all about change. Movement. Energy. Passion. If you’ve got a powerful speaker and a good worship team, you can count on having a motivational Sunday morning.
I’ve heard so many inspiring sermons magnifying the life of the Christian. I’ve heard sermons that spur me to call upon God to part the Red Sea and rain manna from Heaven. I’ve heard sermons that embolden me to "fight the good fight,” “carry my cross,” and “wait patiently upon the Lord,” promising a great reward for me one day. Heck, I’ve written posts on all of these topics.
But from what I’ve observed, the pulpits have been silent on the subject of disillusionment. You see, it just doesn’t quite fit with the theme most churches are wanting to convey. Worship music is meant to encourage and uplift; sermons are meant to motivate and restore. Churches are trying to embody “abundant life,” and the idea of disillusioned believers doesn’t quite fit the narrative. A dissatisfied Christian can’t be easily explained, so they’re readily ignored.
But the fact is, disillusioned believers are the reality. I’m sure I know a lot more Christians who are disappointed and frustrated than those that are not. Oh, they might not say it. They might not even know it. But the recipe for disenchantment is standard; the pattern of discontent is invariable. Perhaps you know it well.
Maybe you’ve turned down an amazing job offer because God said, “No,” and you’ve thought to yourself, “There must be a big promotion coming my way.” Or maybe after being convicted to spend more time with your spouse and family, you’ve quit your dream job, concluding, “I guess God’s got something huge planned for me.”
Maybe the Spirit has led you to break off that promising relationship, and you’ve deduced, “My soulmate must be right around the corner!” Or maybe you've been compelled to give a large sum of money to your church and you’ve thought, “Man—I can’t wait to see how God’s gonna repay my generosity!”
But then, maybe you never ended up getting another job offer.
Maybe you’ve been stuck at home with the kids for the last 10 years, unnoticed, unseen, and without any prospects of future greatness. Maybe you’re still single and you’re losing all hope of finding a companion. Or maybe you’ve been pinching pennies because ever since you gave your money away, finances have never been tighter.
You sacrificed, and you expected your loss to be compensated. You gave up something valuable, and you were sure the Heavens would open up to repay you. You denied yourself, you humbled yourself, and you left behind things that you loved—all for the sake of Christ. And you thought He was going to make it all worth it.
But He didn’t. You sacrificed, and it all ended there.
Disillusionment, I’m convinced, is one of the deadliest foes to the Christian walk. We all encounter him, but we don’t all survive.
Disillusionment thins the herd. He knocks off the weak and doubting. For those who are getting wearier and wearier as they plod onwards, he is often the final blow in their defeat. He’s turned many off the straight and narrow path. He’s been the last thing that many a believer has looked upon during their walk towards Heaven.
He’s destroyed 30-year-old marriages. He’s gotten rid of more than a couple Bible School students. He’s lured many tired mothers and stressed fathers off the path of Life. He’s even managed to kick a couple pastors out of the race.
Not even the oldest and wisest of Christians are immune to his whisperings. In fact, Disillusionment prefers to hunt among the mature believers. He preys upon those of us who have been walking in faith for many years. He doesn’t bother picking on the young; he knows that new Christians are too full of excitement and bright-eyed joy to be swayed by disappointment. The brand-new disciples haven’t yet given up enough or waited long enough for him to have any power.
No, Disillusionment’s got bigger fish to fry. And he doesn’t need to bother with the new converts, because he’s got a massive field of easy targets at his disposal. He’s got the pastor who’s been tending his flock for 25 years and has seen only minimal growth. He’s got the mother who gave up her career in order to raise children who are now letting her down. He’s got the missionary who’s invested his whole life in a country that is just as unreceptive to the Gospel as it’s always been. He’s got the 45-year-old man who’s spent years praying for a wife, but still sits alone in Church. He’s got the fresh Bible School graduate whose big plans for the future aren’t going anywhere due to closed doors and a lack of funds. Disillusionment’s got the cancer-stricken and the poverty-afflicted, the sidelined debtor and the apathetic spouse.
He hunts for the believers who have trusted much, sacrificed more, and gotten no reward. And within the body of Christ, he’s got whole churches full of sitting ducks.
So I ask you this, fellow pilgrim: Why are we such easy targets? Why do we—the “mature” believers, the trusting followers, the devoted disciples—so characteristically fall prey to the tempting pity party of despondency? Why are we who have long been seeking Christ at such peril of being swept away by disappointment?
Here’s my theory:
Disillusionment takes root in
the heart that has followed after God honestly
while expecting blessings immediately.
Yes, we’ve obeyed sincerely. We’ve followed Him earnestly. We’ve obeyed to the point of painful sacrifice. So how can we explain this brutal feeling of disenchantment and letdown?
I’m starting to think it’s because we’ve kept tabs on God. And now, we feel like He owes us.
I think a lot of us are chasing the blessings without realizing it. (I’m speaking to myself more than anyone, folks.) I think we’re consciously giving up our lives to be used by God and for God, but subconsciously expecting that He’ll give us what we want in return. If we give Him our bodies, He’ll give us our wishes. If we give up something important for His sake, He’ll give us the life of which we’ve always dreamt.
In my case, it’s often a very specific miracle that I’m wanting. And throughout all my efforts to follow God’s leading and wait for His direction, I secretly convince myself that He’ll reward me for my patience and obedience. Not only do I expect a blessing, I expect a very particular blessing.
The problem is, I never recognize these expectations until they are let down. I don’t realize these conditions I’ve set up until the moment’s passed, the opportunity’s missed, and God didn’t give me the reward I thought I’d earned. I don’t see the list I’ve made of anticipated blessings until I’m disillusioned by God’s inaction.
And every time, I’m disappointed because my expectations weren’t a part of His plan, they were a part of mine. I’m disillusioned because according to my calculations, I was supposed to get repaid by now. I’m dissatisfied because in my pursuit of God’s will and my surrender to His purposes, there was still a part of me that was really just concerned with serving myself.
I suppose these are the kinds of thoughts that have led many to embrace the Prosperity Gospel. And who can blame them? After all, who wouldn’t want to believe that God desires to give us money, health, and earthly success?
I’m not surprised at the huge adherence to this faux gospel proclaiming wealth and comfort to all Christ’s disciples. But I am concerned that many of us who deny this pop-culture heresy actually allow ourselves to think right along with its teaching. That’s why we can look around at our lives and say, “Where’s my blessing, God?” That’s why we can compare our circumstances to the rest of the world and cry, “What’s the point of living by faith when the faithless seem to be soaring ahead of me?” That’s why we can look at our list of unmet goals and dreams and wants and complain, “Why should I bother with this commitment if it’s only ever brought me hardship?” We’re humbled every day while our self-serving contemporaries are practically lapping us! They've got their degrees, they've got their promotions, they've got their fancy houses and lifestyles and white picket fences. Why are the godless living the dream while we disciples are left in the dust?
In this way, we echo the Apostle Peter:
Matthew 19:27 - Then Peter said to [Jesus], "We've given up everything to follow you. What will we get?"
Peter doesn’t beat around the bush. He asks Jesus what we’re all thinking. We moved for God. We resigned for God. We tithed for God. We denied ourselves for God. And now, here we are, hiking behind Jesus to Who-Knows-Where, and asking along with Peter, “What will we get?”
Here’s the answer Peter received:
Matthew 19:28-30 - Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
A couple things to note: Firstly, Jesus doesn’t promise Peter his reward tomorrow. Nor the following week. Nor the following year. On the contrary, Jesus skips right ahead to a moment when Peter’s present life would be nothing but a distant memory. He fast-forwards to eternity. To a place where earthly reward will lose all its value.
And then after promising his disciples thrones, he reveals the promised reward for all his followers. And this reward is not only compensation for every sacrifice, but compensation a hundred times more than what was given up. And not only will they be rewarded a hundred times over, but they will receive the incomparable gift of life everlasting.
Now, at this point I must make clear that I believe we are blessed. Always, and without exception. In a million ways that we never think about, we are blessed beyond belief. I’m not at all intending to assert that we will never receive gifts or blessings until we reach Heaven—my whole life is an ongoing testimony to the goodness of God in the land of the living.
Still, I don’t think it inconsequential that in answering Peter, Jesus looked straight ahead to the afterlife. He knew that his disciples still caved to their carnal desires. They, like us, wanted their payday immediately. But Jesus hinted toward a much better reward than lifelong success or earthly restitution. He pointed his followers toward the promise of eternal reward, unfathomably better than anything we could conceive of now.
It’s funny—I hear the words “eternal reward,” and I don’t get too excited. I can’t picture it. I can’t imagine it. All I can think is that it would be so much better to just have what I want right now. The idea of being rewarded in Heaven after being in last place for my whole life sounds . . . cheap. It almost sounds like a ripoff. It feels like a scam because I simply can’t fathom something so wonderful that it makes every sacrifice, hardship, persecution, suffering, and martyrdom a hundred times worth it.
I can’t fathom it, but it must be good if Jesus waited for it.
I may feel like God owes me something for the trivial things I’ve given up and the little ways I’ve denied myself, but I have to shut my mouth when I ponder even for one minute the Man I’m meant to imitate. My ultimate example was called “the Man of Sorrows.” My highest role model was despised and rejected by men, familiar with suffering and pain. He was held in low esteem, he was betrayed, and he was abandoned by his closest friends. This is the Man who never rose above his contemporaries during His lifetime. The King whose only crown on earth was made of thorns. The Man who was God, yet still put Himself under the authority of His Father. And after years of ridicule and mockery and slander and threats, he was nailed to a cross.
The Man who created all things came down to earth to accomplish just ONE thing: The Will of His Father. (John 4:34, 6:48)
Jesus didn’t live according to the Prosperity Gospel.
He upended it.
But He also knew what was awaiting Him. He knew that 33 years of suffering and hardship and mistreatment could not compare to the eternity of glory that awaited him on the other side of the cross. He didn't demand His blessing. He didn't stop in his tracks halfway up Golgotha to ask, "God, where's my reward?!"
No, Jesus never lost sight of the mission. And the mission was always to do the Will of His Father.
So where did we go wrong?!
When did we forget that the purpose of our life is not to be blessed, but to obey? When did we forget that the mission is His and not ours? When did we start feeling entitled to retribution here, justice now, reward today?
Luke 17:7-10 - “Which of you whose servant comes in from plowing or shepherding in the field will say to him, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, won’t he tell him, ‘Prepare my meal and dress yourself to serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what he was told? So you also, when you have done everything commanded of you, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Payday’s coming, people. But that’s not the point. Yes, we’re headed to a Day when wrongs will be righted, wounds healed, tears dried, sight restored, the dead raised, and justice served. We’re headed to a place where we will meet our Maker and our Master, and glory in His presence for time unending. We’re headed there. It’s promised to us. It’s our birthright.
But the time to inherit hasn’t yet come. Now is the time to put our hands to the plough without looking back! Our community of believers is filled with more than a handful of disgruntled old-timers, because once you’ve been on the pilgrimage for a while, you start to lose sight of the point. While we may have started out with our hearts captivated by nothing other than the desire for Christ’s Will, we all have slowly allowed ourselves to slip into a mindset of entitlement.
And when our ambition starts to shift from His Will to our benefit, we’re on shaky ground. When we begin attaching strings to our fervent obedience, we’re in danger of devastation. We’re sitting ducks to be done in by Disillusionment’s custom-made mid-life crisis or destroying wave of disenchantment.
So here’s a question for you, downtrodden believer: Are you waiting for a blessing?
To my friends who are miffed at God and disappointed in where He’s led you: What are you expecting from Him?
Is it money? Is it status? Is it a house? Is it a spouse? Is it simply a chance to come out from backstage and into the spotlight?
Let’s all go back and observe the figure we’ve been told to emulate. Let’s watch Him turn the other cheek. Let’s observe as He hangs around fishermen, tax collectors, and lowlifes. Let’s look upon His gentleness and humility; let’s ponder His patient endurance. Let’s take note of His steady obedience and trust.
And let’s follow Him up the hill to the cross. Let’s watch them crown our Leader with thorns and spit on Him; let’s watch them drive nails through the hands of our Captain.
And let’s remember what we’ve seen. Because Payday’s coming. And we will see that Man of Sorrows crowned with everlasting glory and honour, clothed in brilliant white, and seated at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven.
We will see His reward. And we will see ours, as well.
But for now, may we seek not the blessing, but His purposes. And if our Lord chooses to withhold from us healing, riches, romance, children, or greatness in this life, may we humbly accept His deliberate choice. Who are we to say how He should use our sacrifices? We’ve been commanded to obey, end of story. Everything after obedience is God’s business. So may we never sell our birthright for a single meal, or give up on following God in order to find for ourselves instant gratification.
May we continue plodding onwards, content to know that we are His, and His way is best.
May we obey in faith and leave the outcome entirely in His hands.
And may we rest in the knowledge that payday is coming, and it will all be worth it.