Paul – Dealing with Disappointment

(Acts 16:6-10)


It is nearly impossible to overemphasize the impact of the Apostle Paul on the history not just of Christianity but of the world. In the book Turning Points of History Earl of Birkenhead puts it this way:

            Of all men who may claim to have changed the course of the world’s history, St. Paul must surely take first place.  He altered the basic ideas of Western Civilization; the whole of our history bears the marks of that busy career of impassioned teaching which the Jewish tent-maker undertook after his conversion of faith in Jesus Christ. [Quoted by Vaughn in Acts:  A Study Guide Commentary]

Another writer says:

            We simply cannot make too much of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus from the fiercest enemy of the church to its greatest spokesman and theologian.  All of world history has benefited from his Christian witness, the exemplary and intense life he lived, and most of all, his legacy as a writing theologian. [Acts:  Layman’s Bible Commentary]


In this session we are going to focus on one of the most disappointing experiences in Paul’s life.  The story is recorded in Acts 16.  Paul had burning desire to begin a new, aggressive missionary thrust into Asia Minor.  The leading city in Asia Minor is the 1str century was Ephesus.  On several occasions I have had the privilege of visiting ruins of Ephesus, and even after nearly 2000 years of decline it is still an amazing place.

  • When Paul set out on his second great missionary journey at the end of Acts 15, the desire of his heart was to proclaim the gospel in the great city of Ephesus.  But Acts 16:6 says that Paul was “…forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia…”  How were they forbidden?  Two ideas have been suggested:
    • Some say it was an inner prompting from the Holy Spirit letting them know that at that time the conditions were not right for sharing the gospel in those areas.
    • Others suggest it may have been some outward circumstance, specifically an illness on the part of the Apostle Paul.  That Paul’s personal physician, Luke, had sailed to Troas and was waiting for them there, gives credence to this idea.

However it happened, that door was closed and, no doubt, that was a great disappointment for Paul…

·         So he settled for his second choice and turned toward Bithynia.  This was a province on shore of Black Sea from which Paul could launch a missionary campaign into Russia and perhaps even China.  But again the Scripture says in Acts 16:7 the “…the Spirit did not permit them…”

No doubt Paul was deeply disappointed when his dreams and plans did not materialize.  And what I want to focus on in this session is how Paul responded to that disappoint. 


The truth is that in the course of life it is inevitable that we will encounter some deep disappointments and perhaps even some crushing blows.  These experiences come in all kinds of forms.

·         The loss of a loved one to death

·         A difficult medical diagnosis

·         Financial pressures from which we see no way out

·         A child going through some type of difficulty that we cannot relieve

·         A broken relationship with a spouse

·         Etc., etc., etc!


I want to point out a couple of things we can learn from this experience in the Apostle Paul’s life that will help us get through times of deep disappointment.


I.  When disappointments come, we should not let those disappointments paralyze us and cause us to withdraw from life.

1.      One of great temptations we face when our plans fall through is to put our lives on hold while we lick our wounds and focus on our disappointment…from this paragraph clear Paul did not let his shattered plans paralyze him…he didn’t stop…he kept moving…that theme literally permeates this paragraph…notice all the references to the movement of Paul and his fellow travelers…

--v.6 - “they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region…”

--v.7 – “when they had come to Mysia…”

--v.7 – “they were trying to go into Bithynia…”

--v.8 – “they came down to Troas…”

--v.10 – “we sought to go into Macedonia…”

      Clear Paul kept moving forward, even in face of disappointment…


1.      Seminary…needed job…clean restrooms…water grass…promoted to paint crew…knew nothing…older experienced painter took under his wing…showed me the basics…learned lots of principles form painting that have served me well in life…principles such as—

--preparation key to good job…

--taking little extra time can actually save time in long run…

--it’s okay to stop occasionally and admire what you have done…

…and one key lesson came from day taught me how to paint straight line to cut in around window and door frames…said secret is not looking back…don’t look at where brush has been but where brush is going…

2.      That’s how Paul approached life…didn’t waste time and energy looking back at what might have been…kept his focus forward…as he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on…”

3.      When you experience some major disappointment, don’t put your life on hold…don’t give up in despair… keep moving forward…


II.  When disappointments come we need to work at staying in touch with God.  Disappointments can motivate us to be more dependent on God.

1.      There is a recurring theme in this passage.

·         How did Paul know that he was not, at this time, to preach in Asia? (“…forbidden by the Holy Spirit…” –v.6)…

·         How did Paul know not to go into Bithynia (“…the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them…” –v.7)

·         How did Paul know  to go to Macedonia? (“…he had seen a vision …concluding that God had called… -v.10)

2.      Do you see in that a reference to the totality of God?…God the Holy Spirit (v.6), Son (v.7), Father (v.10)…don’t think accident…Luke saying Paul was person in touch with the totality of God…when disappointment came, motivated Paul to move closer and seek clearer direction from God…


1.      What important lesson in that for us!…when our plans fall through, when our dreams are shattered, when disappointments come, the very best thing we can do is move closer to God…like a little child might cling to a parent in midst of a loud, booming thunderstorm, so when we are buffeted by the storms of disappointment and shattered dreams, our appropriate response is to cling to God…

2.      There is a legend a certain guide who lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way…carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs...when in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air…pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal …because of this unique practice he was known as “the dove man”…[, Unexpected Doors, David Dewitt]

3.      And the way we keep from losing our way in midst of shattered plans is allow Spirit of God in us to continually point us in His direction…


III.  When disappointments come, we need to view them more as opportunities than obstacles.  Disappointments are often the prelude to God’s best for us.

1.      It is out of the disappointments of life that God often does His greatest work in us…Paul was disappointed that he was not allowed to preach in Asia Minor and specifically in the great city of Ephesus…but the reality was that God had bigger plans for him…while in Troas Paul had the vision of a man from Macedonia calling Paul to come share the gospel there…sailed across the Aegean Sea and became first Christian missionary set foot on continent of Europe…and instead of preaching in the great city of Ephesus got to preach in the even greater cities of Athens and Corinth and eventually went all the way to Rome, the very heart of the Roman Empire…

2.      Because Paul kept moving and stayed in touch with God, found an even greater opportunity than he had ever envisioned…


1.      Lesson for us in that is clear…when our plans don’t materialize and our dreams are shattered, the appropriate question to ask of God is not “Why?” but “What?”…not “Why can’t I do or have or experience what I want?” but “What are Your plans for me?  What are you doing in all this?”

2.      Sure most of you have heard some form of the story about survivor of a shipwreck a small, uninhabited island…prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming…managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements…one day, after scavenging for food, he found his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky…was just more than he could take…stunned with grief and anger cried out "God, how could you do this to me!"…the very next day, he woke to the sound of a ship approaching the island to rescue him…when asked the rescuers how they found him they replied, “We saw the smoke from you large fire.”.

3.      That’s often how God works…need to look for God’s opportunities in the midst of our shattered plans…


1.   Some of you may recognize the name Thomas Merton…he was a monk in the Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Trappist, Kentucky…was prolific writer before his death in 1968…among his writings are a number of prayers and want to share one with you…

      My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

      I do not see the road ahead of me. 

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

      But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 

      And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

      I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone. [Quoted in The Wilderness Experience, Robert Bailey, pp.25-26]

2.      I think the Apostle Paul would say “amen” to that…when disappointments come and your dreams are shattered do what Paul did—

--keep moving forward…

--stay in touch with God…

--look for opportunities in disappointments…