My wife, Carol, is the gardener; I am the gardener helper. She loves it and carries on the skills learned from a wonderful Grandmother and Mother in large family gardens in Minnesota. Together we have planted and enjoyed the harvest while living in Iowa and Oregon (fertile soil with plenty of rain) and now in New Mexico (terrible alkali soil, scorching sun, and arid climate).
Along with the many tasty benefits, our gardens have certainly presented us with plenty of disappointments along the way. Here in NM the conditions seem to multiply the disappointments! Last year we fought the terrible bind weed that is very difficult to kill and we got virtually nothing from our row of green beans and the watermelon vines! This year the beans and melons did well but only 1 of 4 tomato plants flourished and, and the red bell peppers were pathetic! So, we rejoice in the good yields, and shake our heads at the disappointments . . . but we don’t become totally discouraged and stop gardening or trying to improve our methods. Why? Because the joys of the good outweigh the losses.
It is much the same in our pastoral and missionary ministry. Over the years we rejoice over those who have come to Jesus, grown strong in their faith, and become a vibrant part of the Church. But, there are the very real disappointments of those who have left the church, often without so much as a goodbye or an explanation, and those who have even walked away from their faith and relapsed into a life of sin. In the past several years ministering in NM we’ve seen God’s blessing as the little church group has grown from 9 our first Sunday with no children, to averaging almost 30 and several families with children. But, this year has seen the loss of about 8, several of which just moved on without warning, and this after we poured hours of love and care into their lives. It hurts! It is confusing. The temptation can be to focus on the disappointments and, if we’re not careful, to let them discourage us.
As I look into God’s Word, I do not find the actual word “disappointment”, but it is clear that we will face disappointing trials and situations including people who seem to make a good start with the Lord and then fall away or leave the church. There are plenty of passages dealing with avoiding discouragement, staying strong, and keeping our eyes on Jesus. To be discouraged is to lose the courage or passion to keep going. I am reminded that even Jesus, the perfect shepherd (pastor) “lost” one of his 12, and many who followed fell away when the message got too demanding or the commitment too challenging. He didn’t lose his passion and quit.
Our missionaries and pastoral leaders feel the disappointments deeply. We must pray for and come along side of them in the difficult times so that they do not fall into discouragement.
As the old hymn says, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”