By Pastor Glenn Pease
Joe Bayly had a change to stay in the luxurious Hilton Hotel in Chicago. It was going to be a treat of a retreat, but then he was hit again by the x-factor. That is what he calls Murphy's Law-the law that says, if anything can go wrong it will. The hot water in his room would not work. He was frustrated, but not all that surprised, for the x-factor is everywhere. It is like the law of gravity. It starts in childhood with getting the mumps on Thanksgiving. Then when you wear your new shoes, you get a deep scratch in them the first time, which you can't even remember happening to your old worn out pair. Then you move up to breaking an arm just as summer vacation begins. Later on, the night before your first date you get a big pimple on your face. Some people do grow out of the pimples, but nobody ever grows out of the x-factor. Bayly says, when he finally gets a chance to sleep in late, that is when some unusual event will wake him up and hour before his usual time.
Dr. R. F. Gumperson began serious research on the x-factor back in 1938. He made some discoveries that led the x-factor to be called Gumperson's law by many. Some of his discoveries were-
1. That a child exposed to a disease for weeks without catching it will then without exposure come down with it the day before the family vacation.
2. That the dishwasher is most likely to break down on an evening in which you are expecting guests.
3. That good parking places are most often seen on the other side of the street.
4. That a man who can't start a fire with a box of matches and the Sunday paper will start a forest fire when he throws a burnt match out of his car window.
There is no telling what other discoveries his genius may have yielded had he not been killed in 1947. He was walking along the highway one evening facing the traffic as wise walkers do, when he was struck by a visiting Englishman who was driving on the shoulder. The x-factor got him. It gets us all at sometime or another, and the reason I am preaching on it is because it has recently gotten us. As we were going through a very frustrating time, it suddenly dawned on me that this is a major cause of suffering in the world, and it would fit right into my series on suffering. I knew the Bible would have something to say about an experience so universal, and so when I began to search, it was not long before I discovered that it is a major factor in Biblical revelation.
Let me share some of our experience to show what motivated me to study the subject of frustration. Lavonne and I always look forward to May because that is our anniversary month, and for many years it has been our month for a special get away. This year it was even more important to us because Lavonne had been ill so much with a strange virus that would come and go. It came more than it went, and left her weak and bedridden. I have had to do things I have seldom or never done in cleaning, cooking, and taking care of her. She was getting better, and the Sunday before our vacation she was in both services and felt good. But then the x-factor got us. Monday she was ill again, and the first two days of our vacation we were going to specialists. On the third day she was admitted to Bethesda Hospital, and that is where we spent Wednesday to Saturday.
It was the most frustrating vacation we have ever experienced. This deep taste of frustration made me realize just how powerful a force frustration can be in people's lives. I know everybody gets frustrated, but when it is a prolonged experience, it has all kinds of potential for being destructive. I better understand the battle of those who endure long range frustration. And I better understand why it is one of Satan's most powerful tools to damage the Christian life. I realized how important it is for Christians not to be ignorant of Satan's devices, and I became determined to find out what God's Word had to say about this serious subject. We can't begin to cover it in one message, but what we can cover it enough to help us be aware of some basics. The first thing we want to look at is-
I. THE FACT OF FRUSTRATION.
By this I mean, it is a part of our fallen world, and it goes with the territory. There is no escape. To be human is to experience frustration. It is not sinful to be frustrated, for Jesus was sinless, but He did not escape frustration. He may have had more than His share even, for the more ideals and goals you have, the more you will be frustrated. That is why Paul had so many frustrations. In our text, Paul says he wanted to come to see the
Thessalonians, and he tried time and time again, but Satan stopped him. The word for stopped in the Greek is the word for frustration. Satan is the great frustrator of the Christians goals. The word means to hinder, to impede, to thwart, and thus, to prevent the achieving of a goal by being an obstacle. The military used the word to refer to the practice of making deep ruts in the roads to hold up a pursuing enemy army. You can imagine the frustration of a chariot driver in a hurry with deep ruts in the road.
Satan is a master at blocking the way to God's best. He prevents blessings just as we are to prevent suffering. All through history this has been his strategy-to frustrate the believer in trying to reach his objective, and cause him to give up in despair. When Ezra records the attempt of God's people to rebuild the temple of God, he tells us of the strategy of Satan in chapter 4:4-5, "Then the people's around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia." It is one of the facts of life we have to face, even if we hate it, and would rather not be aware of it. If we try to do something that we know is the will of God, we will have to expect frustration.
Be not weary in well doing says Paul, and why? Because he knows from experience that well-doing is not a piece of cake. It is hard work, and often will not lead to the results you hope for. That is why Jesus had to experience so much frustration. He was perpetually going about doing good, but was it all greeted with gratitude? Not so! The Pharisees treated Him like a criminal for loving people so much that He would ignore their laws to heal people. It frustrated Jesus that those who were supposed to represent God cared more about rules than about people. Jesus was frustrated with His own disciples because they were so much like the world, and they quarreled among themselves for status. He was frustrated over Jerusalem, for He loved the people and wanted to protect them from the wrath to come, but they would not listen and open their hearts to Him. Jesus wept over the city in frustration.
We could do a whole study just on the frustration of Jesus, but the point we need to stress is that frustration is just a fact of life. It is not wrong to be frustrated. It is just a reality that needs to be recognized. It makes a world of difference to know this, and that Jesus and Paul, and all God's people, are in this together. Frustration, or the being hindered from reaching goals, is a normal experience for all who are in the will of God. It is not a sign that you are failing God, or that you are on the wrong path. If Satan can get you to feel this way, his strategy will be effective, and frustration can lead to failure. When Christians lose their cool because of frustration, they do all kinds of meaningless or destructive things.
The poet Homer, in his epic The Odyssey, tells of how the Greek General Olysses was leading his army toward Troy, and came unexpectedly upon a flooded river he could not cross. He was so frustrated by this obstacle that he went out into the river up to his knees and began to thrash the water with chains. As might be expected, the river gave no response to his rage. The nervous energy created by frustration needs to be channeled toward constructive ends, and we will look at this in a moment, but we first need to get it in our heads that frustration is a fact of life, and something we all need to cope with, even in the will of God.
Edwin Erickson, our Conference missionary in Ethiopia, wrote of the many frustrations he and his wife faced as they returned to Ethiopia. He writes,
"A home that sometimes seems like a dorm.
City water that occasionally disappears when it is most needed.
A basement that sometimes floods after a heavy rain.
A guest house for our Ethiopian brothers and sisters that has plumbing problems.
People needing medical attention.
We need patience to find our niche, try to be ourselves and at the same time be God's servants. Pray for us that we will not be overwhelmed or frustrated by human expectations as we discover what God expects from us."
Frustration is a common battle on the foreign field, but it is the same on the home field. Listen to Gary Odle, who is a home missionary trying to get a new church started. His testimony represents thousands of Christians in their struggle to be used of God. He writes, "We tried everything. We did door-to-door survey work and evangelism. No results. We organized a neighbor barbecue at the community swimming pool, personally inviting over 500 people and handing out flyers. No results. We promoted neighborhood information meetings for those looking for a church home. Many said they were sincerely interested-but no results." He goes on with more efforts that got no response, and he concludes, "By December I was frustrated: All this work and expense with little to show for it. Doubt assailed me. Maybe I am the wrong man for the job. Maybe I am going about this in the wrong way. Maybe I'm not spiritual enough. Maybe I should quit."
Doubts and depression are the common results of frustration, and if they are allowed to become the dominate emotions in one's life, they lead to becoming weary in well doing. Thousands of Christian soldiers go AWOL, and do just that-they quit. But Paul did not quit. He faced the fact of frustration frequently, but he refused to fail because of it. He was thrown in prison, and run out of town. He was unjustly punished, and had to endure all kinds of frustrating delays, and being let down by fellow Christians who, like Demus, forsook him. Then, on top of the Satanic obstacles in his path, and the human hindrances to his goals, there was also the God caused frustrations. God's ways are not our ways, and the result is, Paul had goals and ambitions that God prevented, and thus, frustrated.
In Acts 16:6-7 we see God guides sometimes by closing doors we want to go through. He forces us to go through doors He wants us to go through. In other words, frustration can even be a part of God's providential leading. Dr. Luke writes, "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to." Paul went West instead of East, and Christianity became predominately a Western
rather than an Eastern movement, because Christ hindered Paul's plan, and promoted his own.
So frustration can be both demonic and divine, and to round it off, we need to see it can also be self-caused. Paul was frustrated with the Galatian Christians for listening to the Judaisers, who would drag them back under the law. But he blamed external forces on their being obstructive, and he writes in Gal. 5:7, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" Cut in on is the same Greek word for frustrated. This word is also used by Peter to refer to self-hindrance. In I Pet. 3:7 he writes, "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." Unanswered prayer is one of the great frustrations of the Christian life, but you can't blame the devil for it all, for Peter says we frustrate our own goals when we refuse to relate to our mate in the way God desires.
Paul recognized the danger of self-frustration also, and that is why he put up with a lot of things that were not the best, because he did not want to frustrate the plan of God. He writes in I Cor. 9:12, "If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the Gospel of Christ." Paul is saying, he would rather endure frustration of his rights than cause the frustration of the Gospel. We have not begun to cover all the reality of frustration, but we have established that it is a fact of life that is inevitable, and has its source in-
1. The Satanic.
2. The Spirit.
3. The self.
There's no escape from the fact of frustration. All we can do is respond wisely or unwisely to this fact, and that leads us to consider our second point which is-
II. THE FRUIT OF FRUSTRATION.
Even bad responses to frustration can lead to getting your own way, but these do not produce the fruit of the Spirit, which always be the Christian goal. A child is the prime example of how to cope with frustration in an immature manner. We should expect this of a child, but there bad example is not be our guide. A child responds to frustration with anger, and then a tantrum if the frustration is not quickly relieved. It is wonderful that children are the weakest segment of society. If they controlled power, history would be a short story. Block a child from getting his own way, and you often create a monster. Fortunately, their fangs and other weapons are not yet fully formed.
Fruitful frustration calls for acceptance and adjustment. It does not make any difference if the blocked goal is a result of Satan, the Holy Spirit, or the self, for the only way you can be creative in your use of frustration is to accept the reality of it, and adjust your goal. That is what Paul did. He did not stand before closed doors and pound until he was bloody. He walked away and entered other doors. He did not say, if I can't have it my way, I quit. He accepted the fact that his way was not possible, and he would have to go a
different direction. He knew how to retreat as well as advance. A strategic retreat has saved many an army, and wise is the general who knows when retreat is the key to victory. A stubborn inflexible determination to have your own way regardless of the consequences is not a Christian virtue. It is like childish rebellion against reality. Paul did not like it that he could not get to the Thessalonians or to Romans, for he was hindered, but he did not devote his life to grieving or to rebellion. Instead, he went elsewhere and did the will of God.
I am sure Paul did not like the experience of being thrown in prison, but he did not, in frustration, bang his head on the bars, or go into a vegetative mood of depression. He got out his pen and wrote letters that changed the course of history. He accepted his limitations, and adjusted to the situation, and did something else other than his plan A, and God used plan B to accomplish even more than Paul ever dreamed of doing with plan A. Even God's frustrating no can be a blessing if we accept it and adjust to doing something other than what we planned to do.
Nobody gets their own way all the time. Look at king David, for he had a deep desire to build a temple for God. It was one of the great dreams of his life. But God said no. God put the block before him, and hindered him from achieving this great goal. God said to David that Solomon his son would do it, and it would be known as the temple of Solomon, and not the temple of David. What a frustrating development, but David did not say, if I can't make the rules of the game, I won't play. He accepted the fact that he could not do all he wanted to, and he adjusted to this reality and said, I can at least collect all the materials needed for the project, and that is what he did. Someone said, "If you can't do all the that you want, you can want to do all that you can." That is what frustrated people do who do what is wise to do in frustration.
Paul was so frustrated when the Jews would not respond to the Gospel. He loved them and longed for them to be saved, but when they rejected the Gospel, he did not give up and quit, but went to the Gentiles and became the apostle to the Gentiles. Abraham Lincoln wanted people to love and support him for his fight against slavery. Instead, he got letters threatening his life. They came on a consistent basis, and they were a frustration to him,
but he finally adjusted, and recognized he could not stop other people's folly. He could only choose to go on with his goals, and that is what he did. He wrote, "I long ago made up my mine that if anybody wants to kill me, he will do it. If I wore a shirt of mail and kept myself surrounded by a bodyguard, it would be all the same. There are a thousand ways to getting a man if it is desired that he should be killed." He did not stop the assassin who finally got him, but he also never let the frustration of that threat keep him from doing the best he could to stop slavery.
Doctors face frequent frustration because of the complexity of medicine and the body. What cures one kills another, and every cure is also a potential cause of other problems. Dr. S. I. McMillen, college physician of Houghton College, a well known Christian institution, tells of the 35 year old Mrs. Cheryl Wilkins who had the dread disease of Lupus. She was put on high dosages of Prednisone. It probably saved her life, but her eyes bulged, her blood pressure was high, and she had headaches and emotion problems. She became a walking medical museum. This is frustrating to doctors when causing suffering is the only way they know how to help people. They have terribly frustrating limitations, and they get plenty of flak because of it, but thank God they don't give up. They have to face up to the reality of their limitations, and press on doing what they can.
Paul could not choose where he would be all the time, so he chose to start a church wherever he happen to be. He could not choose to be well off all the time, for sometimes he was forced to be poor and do without. Since he could not choose, he came to the ultimate adjustment and writes in Phil. 4:11-13, "....I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."
I never saw it before, but this famous saying of Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," is directly related to frustration. He is not saying he has some kind of plug into omnipotence and can do whatever he pleases. He is saying, when I can't do what I please, and when I can't be where I want, and when I can't have what I wish, and life refuses to go my way, I can, by the power of Christ, be content. I can adjust to the fact of frustration, and I can make it fruitful by accepting it, and choosing to refuse to let it get me down and discouraged.
Satan could not defeat Paul, because Paul learned the secret of victory over frustration. If you way is blocked, go a different way. If you can't, then stop where you are, and do something different. Adjust to changing circumstances, and be content in the state you are in, regardless of what goals are being frustrated, for that is the key to being fruitful. The popular idea that says, if life gives you a lemon, make lemonade, is not off the mark, for it fits the mind of Paul. Keep in mind, we do not always know if our goals are being frustrated by God, Satan, others, or even ourselves, but the response on our part has to be the same if we are to make them fruitful.
When my granddaughter was brought to the hospital to visit Lavonne, she had some very specific goals in mind. Two of them especially stand out. The goal of ripping the Guidepost Magazine out of the lounge, and the goal of pulling the plug for the TV out of the socket. My goal was to frustrate her two major objectives. The score was a tie, for I only partially prevented it, and she only partially achieved it. The point is, I was being frustrating to her for her own safety, and for the benefit of others. Everyone would have been the loser had she been free to do as she pleased.
Frustration is not all bad, and so we have to accept it with that in mind. It could be the obstacles in our way preventing us from fulfilling our will are really beneficial. But even if they are not, and are of the devil, or have their source in human folly, there is only one intelligent response to frustration. It is the response of Paul at his conversion, and for the rest of his life. Jesus stopped him cold in his plan to arrest Christians, and Paul knocked from his horse, blind and frustrated, said to Jesus, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" His response of obedience made this one of the most fruitful frustrations of history, and he had many more to come.
One of the most famous works of art in the world is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. When the pope asked Michelanglo to paint it, he protested. He was a sculpture not a painter, but the pope would not take no for an answer. He started this colossal task in frustration. He had to paint ten thousand square feet of ceiling with pictures that would form a unified design. It took 343 figures, some of them 18 feet high. To make it more impossible, the five artists hired to help him were all sent home, and their work destroyed.
He would have to do it as a one man project.
He felt it is was too difficult and beyond him. He did not feel like a genius, but was tormented by frustration at the difficulty of the task he was forced to do against his will. The first scaffolding had to be torn down and rebuilt. The first section he painted developed a mold and he begged the pope to let him quit, but he refused. So, month after month he lay on back 68 feet up in the air doing a job he did not want to do. After about four and a half years of this agonizing labor the work was uncovered in Oct. of 1512, and for over 450 years it stands as one of the wonders of the world of art. The point is, Michengelo was frustrated with this task from start to finish, but he did not, because of his frustration, blow it, and do a poor job. He did his best in spite of frustration, and made it one of the most fruitful periods of his life. He couldn't do what he wanted, but he wanted to do what he could, and he did.
Frustration is not eliminated by a wise response to it, but it can be elevated so that the negative energy is used for positive purposes. The most frustrating thing in life has to be living without assurance of one's destination. It is frustrating not to know for sure if you are going into eternity as God's friend or foe. This frustration can be the most fruitful of all, if it moved you to take God's gift, and to receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and, thereby, have assurance of salvation. This would make it life's greatest fruitful frustration.