What do you do when you feel rejected?
It can be a pretty lousy feeling. I’ve been hearing from people lately who have been rejected in one way or another. For some it’s being rejected by a family member or someone at school, or not getting the promotion at work they had hoped for. When you feel rejected, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do.
I have several friends who have been rejected by their churches because they were misunderstood and misjudged, or sometimes because they disagreed with the pastor on some topic.
There are all kinds of rejection. It happens all the time. Some situations are not as significant as others. But sometimes a rejection, or series of rejections, can cut right into your sense of self-worth.
My first big rejection
I can remember the first time I felt totally rejected and it really messed me up. I was in second grade and there was a girl in class I liked. We passed notes sometimes to each other when the teacher wasn’t watching. And every day during recess we played together on the teeter-totter. This went on for several weeks or months. I don’t remember for sure. I thought we were such good friends.
But, one day, out of the blue, she told me she didn’t want to play with me anymore. That day at recess, she was on the teeter-totter with someone else.
I was so hurt. I was devastated. I felt rejected and miserable and mad. I didn’t know how to process the situation, so I just stomped around the playground snorting and obviously upset. Some other friends from class asked if there was anything wrong. I said, “NO!”
They asked if I wanted to play with them. I said, “NO!” But down inside I really wanted to.
Somehow, I survived that ordeal. And it seems very small in comparison to other situations I’ve been in or that you may have had. But that particular day, at the time, felt like the end of the world to me. And I never even told anyone else about it.
Now I’m not going to bore you with all the other times I have been rejected in my life. And just let me say, there have been just as many times when I haven’t been rejected. But learning to deal with rejection has been a really important part of discovering who I am as a child of God, or to put it another way, discovering my identity in Christ.
How can the Bible inspire when you feel rejected?
Hearing recently from other folks who have felt rejected got me curious about what the Bible has to say about being rejected.
Actually the first person I thought of was Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, and then all the other sons of Jesse, except David of course. Each of these young men was passed over when Samuel had come to anoint a new king in Israel.
Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 1 Samuel 16:10 NIV
The Bible doesn’t say anything directly about how these seven men dealt with the fact that they had not been selected to be king. Were they jealous of David? Or perhaps relieved that it wasn’t them? Or were they honored that their brother was chosen?
How did Eliab handle rejection?
Now, there is a clue about how Eliab felt about it. Jesse sent David to take some food to Eliab and the next two oldest brothers who had gone to be in King Saul’s army. While he was there, Goliath taunted the army of Israel. David was talking to some of the soldiers and asked what would happen to the man who defeated Goliath. Eliab didn’t like the way David was acting.
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 1 Samuel 17:28 NIV
It’s pretty clear how Eliab feels about his baby brother, yes, the one who was just anointed by Samuel, and whose heart God apparently approved of. Eliab ridicules David, rebukes him for abandoning his few and insignificant sheep, which wasn’t true.
Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 1 Samuel 17:20 NIV
Eliab insults him and totally misjudges his character. Or perhaps, he’s accusing David and projecting on him the attitudes and motives in his own heart.
It’s easy to read between the lines here and see how Eliab was dealing with rejection, with not being the one selected to be king. I think it’s safe to say he may have thought he would have made a much better king than David.
Now, to be sure, David made some big mistakes as king, but think of the mistakes Eliab might have made as king.
Eliab is not the model to follow in dealing with rejection. This is an example of being rejected for not being right for the job.
When you’re rejected because of jealousy
But sometime we’re rejected because someone is jealous of us in some way. Here’s where I think of Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave.
Sarah becomes jealous of Hagar, for all kinds of reasons. Once Sarah’s son Isaac is born, she demands that Abraham send Hagar away.
Can you imagine how Hagar must have felt as she forced to leave her familiar surroundings? She had no idea where she would go and it wasn’t long until the little food and water she had were gone. Talk about feeling rejected!
But the beautiful thing in this story is that Hagar was never abandoned by God. An angel appeared to her and made it crystal clear that God would help her and her son Ishmael.
You can read the whole story in Genesis 21, starting verse 9.
When you feel rejected by someone, think of Hagar and be receptive to God’s angels. People may reject you for whatever reason, but God will never reject you, even if you have made terrible mistakes.
Now it may seem like God rejected Eliab. And He did reject Eliab for the role of king. But if Eliab’s heart had been more in tune with God, he would have discerned what God was appointing him to do.
Being rejected because you’re doing God’s will
Sometimes we are rejected because we are doing what’s right and those in charge don’t like it. When you speak truth to power, the folks in power usually defend their position and try to get rid of you.
The prophet Elijah is a really good example of this. Elijah was working hard to hold up the light of God’s ways in the spiritual darkness of his day. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were disobeying God and breaking His covenant with Israel with almost every step they took. And many of the people were following them.
Elijah had made a powerful display of God’s nature as the only true God, by calling down fire from heaven to burn up a sacrifice, which Baal, the god of the people, could not do, for obvious reasons. He wasn’t really a god. After Elijah killed all the false prophets of Baal, Jezebel threatened him.
Elijah had shown the supremacy of God over Baal. The people were impressed and easily swayed. But Jezebel said she would kill Elijah if he stayed there. So he fled.
It’s one thing to be rejected when you’re not right for a job, like Eliab, but to be rejected when you’re obeying God and prove God’s way is the right path, is much harder to deal with. Elijah was in despair and basically asked God to take away his life. He felt alone, rejected, misunderstood, and falsely judged.
But in that moment of supreme despair, something shifted. God spoke to Elijah in “a still small voice” (see 1 Kings 19:12 below) and reassured him that he was not alone.
When you feel rejected, you have a reward in heaven
This story of Elijah kind of reminds me of one of Jesus’s beatitudes:
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. Matthew 5:11, 12 NLT
Elijah was proof of that.
Have you ever felt like you were in a situation similar to Elijah’s? I certainly have, several times, not to that degree of course, but it’s still hard to deal with. Unfortunately, it’s not all that unusual, when you’re doing something right, when you are following God to the best of your ability, and you are misunderstood, your motives are misjudged, and eventually you’re rejected.
But Jesus promises in the beatitude that a “great reward” awaits us in heaven when this happens. That doesn’t mean your reward is way off in the future after you die. Jesus made it clear that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s here and now. It’s within us.
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matthew 4:17 KJV
nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:21 NKJV
Because heaven is at hand, your reward is at hand as well.
How can you be happy when you feel rejected?
Why does Jesus say we should be happy and rejoice when we’re persecuted? Doesn’t it seem a bit counterintuitive to respond this way?
Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know from experience, for example, when I was passed over 3 or 4 times for a promotion in my first job out of college. At first I felt totally rejected, misunderstood, and unappreciated. Which to some degree was true.
But as I prayed about it each time this happened, I got a better sense of who I was as a child of God and what God’s will for me was. Each time I was passed over for a promotion, it forced me to turn to God in ways I never had done before. And that was such a blessing.
Each time this happened, I got a little better at trusting God to lead me and letting go of my preconceptions of how my life should be.
I also realized I needed to love and forgive those whom I felt had rejected me. But looking back at this series of rejections, I can see that it wasn’t so much me being rejected by them as it was God leading me in a different direction.
This is a really important point. Sometimes when it feels like someone is rejecting you, God might just be protecting you from a situation that isn’t right for you. And God has something much better in store for you.
Does God ever reject us?
Let’s come back to something I mentioned earlier. I’ll pose it as a question. Does God ever reject us?
There are places in the Bible, that at first glance, seem to imply that God rejects certain people at certain times.
For example, before Samuel anoints David as king, God has a clear message about King Saul.
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” We’ve already talked about that. 1 Samuel 16:1 NIV
It sounds like God is rejecting Saul, but let’s go a little deeper here. God rejects Saul from being king, because his heart was no longer in the right place. God was rejecting Saul’s motives, attitudes, and disobedience.
If Saul had honestly and earnestly changed his way of thinking and acting to be in line with God’s will, there would have been no need for someone else to become king.
God rejects material ways of thinking and acting
There are other places in the Bible where God rejects the children of Israel’s material ways of thinking and acting, not to mention their disobedience of God’s laws. But actually, it was the children of Israel who rejected God.
The prophet Jeremiah felt this to the core of his being. He repeatedly tried to warn Israel of the consequences of their un-Godlike actions. But they wouldn’t listen. They rejected God’s ways and they rejected Jeremiah’s warnings.
Just for a moment, put yourself in Jeremiah’s shoes, and imagine how disheartening it must have been to be commissioned by God to warn the people and then have your message rejected.
When Israel was conquered by Babylon and the Israelites were carried into captivity, they probably felt abandoned and rejected by God, but it was actually the other way around, as I said. They were just projecting their own rejection of God back on Him.
But God was not rejecting them. Disciplining them? Yes. He was rejecting their wicked ways of living. But he never quit loving the Israelites and eventually they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the city wall.
Even Jesus was rejected
Probably the most obvious example in the Bible of someone being rejected is Jesus. Think of all he did to share God’s love and the message of salvation with people.
But in spite of all the good he did, the religious leaders of his day rejected him and his message. And they didn’t even begin to realize they had rejected him as the Messiah, whom they thought they were waiting for.
It’s interesting that one of the prophesies in the Old Testament actually predicted that the Messiah would be rejected.
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3 NLT
Jesus knew he would be rejected. But that didn’t stop him from going forward with what God anointed him to do. He was faithful to his purpose regardless of how others approved or disapproved of him.
That’s a really good example for you and me.
How to respond when you feel rejected
So what can you and I learn from all these folks in the Bible about how to deal with being rejected?
Let’s come back to what I mentioned a few minutes ago, the beatitude about how to respond when you’re persecuted and maligned. Jesus said, “Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.”
As I said, this seems a little bit counterintuitive. But actually, it reminds me of something Jesus said to the seventy disciples who came back from a preaching assignment Jesus had given them.
They told Jesus about all the healing they had done while preaching, and were pretty excited about it and rejoicing. But Jesus put things in a different perspective.
But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.Luke 10:20 NLT
Jesus is really saying, whether you’ve been ridiculed and rejected, for whatever reason, or you’ve had great success in your ministry and been accepted and praised by people, the important thing to remember is that your name is registered in heaven. Your identity is secure in the kingdom of heaven, which is present, here and now.
Jesus was always reminding us that we need to keep our focus on the kingdom of heaven.
So that’s really the most important thing to keep in mind when you feel rejected, that your name is written or registered in heaven.
That means, even when people reject you, they can’t erase your name from heaven. That’s really pretty comforting when you think about it.
Your attitude is important
And when you’ve been rejected, the attitude you bring to the situation is more important than the rejection itself.
If you’ve been rejected because you’re not the right person for a particular job or activity, be humble about it. Maybe there are some lessons you need to learn, some things you need to deal with in your own life. Maybe God has something better for you. Maybe the folks making the decision misjudged you or honestly thought someone else would be better.
Whatever the situation is, try not to take it personally. I know, that’s easy to say. But when you realize there’s a bigger picture and that God is working in ways you might not see, it’s easier to trust God to show you how to go forward for what God is calling you to do and not be discouraged by what others say or do to you.
And however hard it may seem, pray to love and forgive those who have rejected you. In fact, take it the next step and bless them. Pray for them to feel more God’s presence in their lives.
Jesus, as always, sets the supreme example. On the cross his simple prayer was,
Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Luke 23:24 NLT
And what he taught his listeners in the Sermon on the Mount, he is still teaching us today:
I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44 KJV
Responding like Jesus
When you respond this way when people reject you, you’re embracing the mindset of Jesus, which what The Bible Speaks to You Podcast is all about.
One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the human mind feels a sense of rejection even before a particular incident occurs.
If you have what I’ll call a “rejection mindset,” you may feel rejected by people or God, even when you’re not. This is a time to surrender that feeling and know God loves you and is always ready and willing to help.
What God rejects are the thoughts and actions unlike Him. But God never rejects you. He sees through all the layers of wrong doing and thinking to the way He originally created you in His image and likeness.
The more you can see yourself in this way, as a child of God, always loved by God, and included in the kingdom of heaven, which is right here and right now, the less you’ll be affected by someone rejecting you.
You’ll get to the point where you realize it’s more important to love and obey God than to have the approval and acceptance of people. And sometimes, being rejected is actually proof that you are obeying God’s will.
The next time you feel rejected, or remember a time when you felt that way in the past, think about some of these folks in the Bible we’ve talked about today. Ask God to show you the bigger picture of what He is doing. Ask for more grace to deal lovingly with those who have rejected you. But most importantly, ask God for guidance and inspiration to do what God has called you to do.
Photo credit: Andrew Neel on unsplash.com
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
1 Samuel 16:10 NIV
10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”
1 Samuel 17:28 NIV
28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
1 Samuel 17:20 NIV
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry.
1 Kings 19:12 KJV
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
Matthew 5:11, 12 NLT
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
Matthew 4:17 KJV
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Luke 17:21 NKJV
21 “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
1 Samuel 16:1 NIV
1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” We’ve already talked about that.
Isaiah 53:3 NLT
3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Luke 10:20 NLT
20 But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”
Luke 23:24 NLT
24 “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Matthew 5:44 KJV
44 I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;