Negativity…negativity…negativity!!! It seems like that is all we hear. Someone is killed over here. Someone has been robbed over there. This person is sick. That person has financial problems. The government does this. Corruption, murder, adultery…and on and on. If you listen to the news, you will be bombarded with pessimism everywhere. For the church, the bulwark of truth and love, many times we are bombarded even more. We learn about the spiritual decline in our nation. We learn of the exodus of youth leaving the church. We see the modern American church in shambles as materialism and covetousness are promoted in many circles…even, if not especially, many mega-churches. All of this is enough to send one into a state of depression. However, you do not have to be depressed. You can remain optimistic despite all of this pessimism. Many of us pastors are met with pessimistic attitudes to a great degree. However, I have learned some tips on how to stay optimistic even during the most pessimistic times.
1. Realizing God is Still in Control Can Keep You Optimistic
A caller said on the Exploring the Word radio show, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurred to God?” The caller was saying that even though things take us by surprise, nothing takes God by surprise. God is God. God is still in control. Nothing is surprising to God. As Solomon wrote, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, NASB). God sees all. Isaiah writes, “‘Present your case,’ declares the LORD…’declare the things that are going to come afterward'” (Isaiah 41:21a, 23a, NASB). In other words, God knows all the evil that takes place. He will take care of it eventually. Also, with the Isaiah passage, it is shown that we do not know the future, but God does. Don’t place your trust in psychics who think they know the future. Place your trust in the God who knows and holds the future in the palm of His sovereign hand.
2. Realizing Crime and Moral Decline are Symptoms of a Greater Disease Can Keep You Optimistic
One of the great things about the Bible is its’ honesty. The Bible diagnoses the true problem, or disease, of humanity…rebellion. Rebellion, or sin, is the root cause of all the problems of this world. Yes, a good argument could be made that Satan is at the heart of sin. But even with the case of the Devil, his fall was brought forth by a rebellious heart. The Apostle Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB, underline mine). Should we really be surprised when a land that is turning its back on God does rebellious works? Should we really be surprised when a person living outside of the grace of God does what comes natural to that person? Unfortunately, unless I am greatly mistaken, few people will travel down the road less traveled. Jesus even said, “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14, NASB). In American society, there is a lot of talk about who is in the majority and who is in the minority. Let’s face it, the true church has always been in the minority. There may have been times when the church was more powerful than it was at other times. But just because a person claims to be a Christian, does not mean that he or she truly IS a disciple of Christ.
How do we remain optimistic through this? Realize that God is recreating everything. If you have received His gift of salvation, God has saved your soul, will recreate your mind, and will one day resurrect your body. In the book of Revelation, we learn of a day when there will be no more sadness and pain. That alone can keep one optimistic in Christ.
3. Realizing You Are Going to Make Mistakes Can Make One Optimistic
I really enjoy those Liberty Mutual commercials with the song “Human” by the 80s band Human League. At the heart of it, the commercials show the fact that we as humans will make mistakes. The song goes, “I’m only human, born to make mistakes.” The truth is that we are going to make mistakes. We have that sin nature…the nature of rebellion…within us. I have read somewhere that Saint Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate, had a difficult time keeping his mind on God and not on worldly things. We are talking about a man living in a cave in the late 300s. Now picture the difficulty keeping our minds on God in our modern time with all the distractions that plague us.
Although we should strive to live a moral life for God striving for perfection, we must understand that we will not be perfect on this side of eternity (unless your view of perfection is far lowered). If you could be perfect, you would not need a Savior. We all must have a Savior for this very reason. So, do not beat yourself up for past failures. Allow God to help you correct your mistakes and prepare to do better in the future. By the grace of God, you can brush off past mistakes and strive for that heavenly prize.
4. Realizing the Power of Forgiveness Can Make One Optimistic
One of the great reasons for pessimism today is the insatiable desire for many to hold on to past troubles. A person wronged you in the past and you want to hang on to the problem. Even though I am not a Buddhist, I read a quote from the Buddha in a Sunday comic strip that read, “Hanging on to anger is like trying to poison someone else by drinking the poison yourself.” That is a great quote. Jesus said, “Yes, if you forgive others for their sins, your Father in heaven will also forgive you for your sins. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NCV). We do not have time to go through the theology of the issue of forgiveness in this article. But, I will say that if you have been forgiven by Christ, you have the power and responsibility to forgive others. Forgiveness does not mean that what was done to you was okay. But, it does mean that you place the situation and the person in the hands of God. You don’t have to walk with the pessimism that comes from grudges and vengeance. You can be freed by the optimism of forgiveness and love.
5. Realizing That God Brings Results Can Make One Optimistic
We live in a demanding culture. Bring results. Make more calls. Get those numbers up!!! Push…push…push!!! With the globalization that has come to the business world, competition is at an all-time high. The same can be true with pastors. It seems like pastors in many areas seek to compete against one another to see who can get the highest numbers.
A youth leader from another church approached me recently and discussed some ways that we can reach the young people of our community. I really appreciate him because he said, “I don’t care if they come to my church or to your church as long as they are in church.” I agreed completely. We as a modern church do a disservice to the kingdom of God by becoming so focused on numbers because of a simple fact. You do not bring anyone to church…GOD DOES!!! Jesus said when Peter professed that Jesus was the Messiah, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17, NASB).
Sure, you plant the seed. You invest your time in visitation. Ultimately though, it is God who will convict and reveal. The same holds true in all walks of life. Do your best. Leave it all on the field or in the office and leave the results to God. This certainly takes the pressure off, does it not?
6. Realizing That You Serve God…and NOT Humanity (People Will Turn on You…God will Never Leave You) Can Make One Optimistic
People are fickle. What makes people happy one moment will bring disgust at another moment. We must understand that we will not please people. So, we must stop trying to appease everyone. If that is one’s goal, he or she will be doomed to fail. If one wants a biblical example of this fact, just look at the Israelites in the wilderness. Moses, a great leader filled with the presence of God, led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. At the first sign of trouble, the Israelites would turn on him like a pack of wolves. If you try to please others, you will most certainly be led to a life of pessimism. If, however, you seek to please God, you will find great optimism as He will bless you with the fruits of the Spirit…which are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
7. Realizing the True Source of Your Joy Can Make One Optimistic
In correlation to the previous truth, we can always possess an optimistic spirit. One of the fruits of the Spirit, as recorded in Galatians 5:22, is joy. Joy and happiness are two different things. Happiness is a momentary emotion. Joy, “chara” in Greek, is a state of being. Spicq and Ernest writes of the word “chara,” “The proclamation of salvation is one of great joy (charan megalēn, Luke 2:10–11), which contrasts with the pessimism and despair of first-century paganism. This explains why a large proportion of the occurrences of chara in the papyri are of Christian origin, why pagan occurrences of the word are so rare, and especially why pagan joy is never that of the soul. Rather, it is the pleasure felt by a traveler returning to his homeland…” (Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, vol. 3, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 498-99.). If the source of your joy comes from the worldly news, then you do not have a firm foundation for joy. However, the realization of life, love, and joy that comes from knowing God and the eternal life found in God brings a joy that no one in the world can take away. This truth brings the ultimate form of joy which can lead to the ultimate expression of joy…true worship.
The world is in bad shape. It shows no signs of getting better. Understanding the truths found in Revelation, the world will one day come to a fiery end. However, reading Revelation 21 and 22 shows us what a re-creation of this world looks like. John writes,
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.* He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:3–8, NLT).
The last verse seems depressing. But, understand the justice that God brings for those who are violent and do all manner of evil will be final and complete. God will make all things right. So, just because it seems like the guilty are getting off scott free…rest assured that God will bring judgment on all those who do evil. But, the most important truth is that God will bring joyful blessings for all those who are in Christ. The truth is that for the lost, this is the only heaven they will ever experience, and for the children of God, this is the only hell they will ever experience. As Paul said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, NASB).
Love in Christ,
Pastor Brian Chilton