How Can Christ Help Us Defeat Pessimism?
“And [Elijah] prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ … So, he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4, 10).
We all need hope to live, otherwise, we will just give up.
Some time ago researchers at Duke University decided that they would put the phrase “where there is life, there’s hope,” to the test, to see if it’s really true. They set laboratory rats in water, in a situation where there was no ability, no hope whatsoever, of escaping. The scientists wanted to know how long the rats would continue to swim when there was no ability to survive. What they observed was that the rats, in that dismal environment, would swim about for a little while seeking to escape. When it appeared that the rats lost hope of finding a way out, they’d just duck their heads under the water and drown themselves. Then when the scientists put rats in a situation where it would be difficult to escape, but possible, the rats would continue to swim for hours until their hearts failed from exertion.
What the scientists decided is that they had actually proven the opposite of “Where there is life, there’s hope.” They had proven “Where there is hope, there’s life.” That is, you and I need hope in order to live.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
Whether you choose to react to events with hope or hopelessness makes all the difference in how you experience life. Is there such a thing as a genetic predisposition to being an optimist or a pessimist? There do seem to be several examples of Biblical heroes who were natural pessimists: Elijah, Moses, even Peter! But even if this is true, the good news is Christ can help us defeat pessimism, and replace it with biblical optimism.
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Defeating Pessimism and Hopelessness
Remember the account of Thomas, also known as “doubting Thomas” (John 20:24-31)? The other disciples excitedly tried to tell him, Thomas, He’s risen! He’s risen! Just as He said He would – He’s risen from the dead!
And Thomas, whose heart had been broken by recent events, had apparently decided that it was better to be a pessimist than be an optimist and be disappointed. He replied:
“Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Talk about the eternal pessimist! But with grace and mercy, Jesus stepped into Thomas’ battle with hopelessness, and filled him with life:
“And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:26-28).
In short, He showed Thomas His wounds; he was communicating to Thomas, it’s okay to be hurt, it’s okay if you are wounded. Wounds don’t have to be hidden in shame.
One of the ways in which our wounds get healed is when we share them with our Savior. Did you hear what He said to Thomas? Not His words, but His heart?
I believe He said, “it’s okay to believe. It’s okay to trust, to expect big. It’s okay to hope. Because I am faithful, you can place your hope in Me!” Biblical optimism is, well, biblical!
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What Is Biblical Optimism?
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
There is a great deal of difference between worldly optimism and Biblical optimism. Worldly optimism is subjective and based on one’s current situation and self-assessment of the ability to overcome obstacles, both of which may be in error.
But Biblical optimism has nothing to do with us. It is the act of placing our trust and confidence in our faithful and all-powerful God. Biblical optimism consists of anchoring our hope in Christ.
In fact, we can learn much from the classic account of Biblical optimism found in Numbers 13, the story of Joshua and Caleb.
Spying out the Promised Land
Moses and the Israelites had reached the border of the Promised Land, the land of blessing and of God’s favor. It was the territory given to them by God, which represented the abundant life that God had destined for His kids. But before they could go in and settle it, God instructed Moses to send twelve scouts, or spies, to look around, so they could develop a military strategy (Numbers 13:26-14:9).
Twelve men were sent and returned. They spoke of giants and strongly fortified cities, but also brought back evidence of fantastic abundance and fruitfulness. Ten were pessimistic, hopeless and defeated by what they saw. But two placed their trust in God, believing He would make them successful in battle.
“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it’” (Numbers 13:30).
And Joshua said:
“…If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them” (Numbers 14:8-9).
Both the pessimists and the optimists experienced and saw the same things in the Promised Land: the same cities, the same giants, the same massive grapes.
So how did Joshua and Caleb defeat creeping pessimism and embrace biblical optimism?
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1. They Had the Right “Up-Look”
Simply put, they had a proper view of God and His character, while the others had a much different, negative view of God. They murmured:
“Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:3).
Their pessimistic words accused God of being unfaithful and unloving.
God doesn’t care.
God has abandoned us.
God is not interested in our well-being.
God can’t be trusted.
But remember the view of God that the two optimists had:
“The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’”
Their words demonstrated they knew God’s character that – He was a good Father!
He heard our cries in Egypt.
He sent us a deliverer to give us freedom.
He gave us water from a rock and manna from Heaven.
He fed us with quail until it was coming out of our ears.
He caused our shoes and our clothes to not wear out.
Every step of the way God, has been with us. His face has shined upon us and his goodness has been evidenced to us. And now, God has destined us for the Promised Land.
Two groups of people, the optimists and the pessimists. What made the difference was their “up-look,” their view of God and His character. So how do we have the same “up-look”? Just remember His proven love towards you.
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
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2. They Looked into the Right Mirror
The pessimistic spies looked through the mirror of their circumstances: there are giants in that land. But Joshua and Caleb looked through the mirror of God’s Word and His promise to them, which was… I have given you this land.
We do not ignore circumstances or deny reality, but the Bible does command us to not walk by knee-jerk reactions to our circumstances.
Circumstances may be real but they don’t always tell the truth. God’s word tells the truth.
And if you look through the mirror of circumstances, pessimism will rob you of your destiny in God. But when you look though the mirror of God’s Word, you will experience a much different result:
“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
Do you want to be blessed and empowered to experience everything God wants for you? Then look at your circumstance in the right mirror!
3. They Thought on and Said the Right Things
Even though they acknowledged the land was good and blessed, the ten pessimists were focused on the problem before them – the giants! And because they focused on the problem, they were doomed. But Joshua and Caleb focused on the promise symbolized by massive grapes!
Simply put, those that fall prey to pessimism focus on their problems; those that defeat pessimism focus on God’s promises instead. They say what God says about themselves and about their circumstances. It’s just a simple fact in life and a powerful kingdom principle, that whether we overcome in life is largely dependent on what we think about. Because what we think about will determine the words that we speak, and actions we take.
What words of life are you going to speak when pessimism tries to rise up within you? No matter your particular challenge, one thing is certain – you will defeat pessimism and hopelessness and develop biblical optimism, when you look in the mirror of the Word for encouragement, speak about and meditate on these promises and God’s faithfulness.
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.