Ronald Reagan used to tell a story when people would ask him about his optimistic attitude. The story goes that there were twin boys being studied by a scientist, who was observing their outlook towards the future. One boy was an incessant pessimist, and one was a hopeful optimist. The scientist wanted to see if he could change them, so he took the pessimist into a gymnasium filled with toys and told the boy they were all his to keep. Immediately the boy grew concerned and sadly stated: “Oh Great! Now I have to wait and see how long it will be before everyone of these toys breaks!” His pessimism held strong.
The scientist took the optimist to an old, dirty barn filled with manure and told the boy it was all his. Immediately, the boy joyfully grabbed a shovel and went to work with the manure. When the scientist asked what he was doing the boy happily replied, “With all of this manure in the barn, I just KNOW there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Some people are optimists and some people are pessimists. But which one should we be? To be sure, you can go to an extreme in either direction; and your present circumstances may play a part. The happy medium between the two is to be a realist. A realist isn’t constantly negative….nor are they naively positive. The realist faces life as it comes with a healthy balance of optimism and caution. Let me explain, by beginning with the dangers of pessimism.
Pessimism can be deadly to a person’s spirit. A constant, negative outlook towards life is bound to keep a person in the doldrums. Not only that, the pessimist has a tendency to bring everyone else around them down as well. They are always pointing out what might go wrong; and frequently live in fear of the unknown. While there may be a million secondary reasons for chronic pessimism, at its core it is nothing more than a failure to trust in God on a daily (and future) basis. Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life , as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life 's span?” --Luke 12:22-25 (NASB) The pessimist will answer, “that’s a lot easier said than done.” Of course that’s true of all things. EVERYTHING is easier said than done. But we had better be in the habit of getting things “done.” Lest we become a chronic pessimist.
The pessimist might dismiss what I’m saying out of hand…and that’s OK. I could always be wrong. But Jesus NEVER is. Are we prepared to ignore his imperative that we are NOT TO WORRY about the future? If so, then we’ve moved from pessimism/self-pity….to direct disobedience. And disobedience towards God must be dealt with, repented of, and corrected if we are to experience the glorious blessings He would have us know.
The pessimist might further respond by saying: “I WANT to trust God for the future, but I just don’t seem able to.” The answer to this is to simply pray for God’s power to overcome your fleshly outlook on life. Once a father came to Jesus asking Him to cast a demon out of the man’s son. Notice the exchange between the father and Jesus: “The boys father said: ‘If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’” Mark 9:22-24 (NASB) Jesus really showed no interest in helping the pessimistic father who lacked faith. The father believed…..a little. But he knew that he should have ABSOLUTE faith in the Son of God’s control over the situation. So he cried out, “Help my unbelief!” Pessimists might need to do this as well…..on a daily basis. “God I trust you…but not like I should. Forgive me, and HELP MY UNBELEIF!”
OK. I’ve addressed pessimism. But what about optimism? Is there ever a time when you can be too optimistic? Absolutely. Especially where spiritual matters are concerned.
We live in a day and age in which some people think that everyone is on a jolly, frolicking road to Heaven. Their optimism is deadly. It’s flawed in an eternal sense. And they had better heed the warnings and the promptings of the Spirit that tell them they must turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Sometimes the pessimism one feels isn’t pessimism at all…it's conviction. When we sin, we should feel bad. Then we should turn from the sin in repentance and renew our trust in God.
The most glaring example I can think of for unwarranted optimism comes from some of the Old Testament false prophets. Israel was living in sinful rebellion against God. Yet some of the priests and false prophets assured the people that all was well. Jeremiah (a TRUE prophet) spoke for the Lord by pointing out that the false prophets proclaimed: “‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11 NASB) They puffed out their chest in sinful, prideful, optimism. When they should have fallen on their faces in woeful repentance. There should be NO OPTIMISM apart from Jesus Christ; and their should be overflowing optimism when we walk daily with Jesus Christ.
Where spiritual matters are concerned….the Christian has every reason to be an optimist; while the non-Christian has every reason to be a pessimist. Yet, ironically, it's often the exact opposite. The non-Christian hordes up the world’s goodies and thinks they’ve found joy, security, and peace…..yet as Jeremiah said, “there is no peace.” On the flip side, Christians often live the dour life of fearful faithlessness. Worrying, wondering, and whining about “what if.” This needs to change. Indeed it MUST change if the church is to be the witness that Christ has called us to be. Christian, your eternity is sealed if you are a follower of Christ…..REJOICE! Is your job lousy? Rejoice that you won’t do it for eternity. Is your health failing? Rejoice that you will soon be in Heaven where sickness is no more. Do you fear dying? Rejoice (and relax)….God has already appointed the day of your death and you can do NOTHING to change it (see Psalm 139:16). Are you worried about your kids? Do all that God would have you do in raising them right…then REJOICE that God sees them even when you can’t. And God is far more able to take care of them than you are. No matter what you face, you always have a cause to rejoice….if Christ is the Lord of your life. Do you think I’m making it too simple? I’m only repeating the Apostle Paul, who was repeating Jesus Christ. Is Jesus making it too simple? Do you think He is wrong? If so, then take it up with Jesus. But I promise you that ONE of you will be wrong….and it won’t be HIM.
As it turns out, Paul was right….when GOD told him to write…… “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say ‘Rejoice!’” (Philippians 4:4) What do you do? Rejoice! How often? Always! And after you’ve done that what do you do? Rejoice AGAIN! With Christ it's possible. Without Christ, it’s impossible. Walk with Christ. Be an eternal optimist….and again…I say….REJOICE!