Optimism During Difficult Times

Warren Lee
Feast of Tabernacles - Day 1
October 1, 2012 

It is a beautiful day that we have been blessed with again. I had the opportunity to give my sermonette to a bunch of seagulls this morning, and they all nicely lay down and went to sleep. Hopefully the same won’t happen here today, with you.

As we begin the keeping of this Feast of Tabernacles, we invariably know that there is much uncertainty in the world, and all of it is beyond our control. We truly do not know what the future holds for each one of us, but we do know that God is supreme, and He is on His throne, and His will in our lives will be done. However, this does not mean that we will be without trial and hardship. Man, through science has demonstrated that when we experience pain, unbelievably our brain changes in order to deal with that pain. Scientists have discovered that the neurons in our brain either encourage or discourage. 

Let’s look at a biblical example of this… please turn over to: 

II Corinthians 12:
7:  And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 
8:  Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 
9:  And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 
10:  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Often when we read the above passage we focus on the thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan that buffeted Paul.  Also the fact that he prayed three times, and was denied healing by God and in turn was told by God that His grace was sufficient. 

However, do we stop and consider the last half of verse nine, and all of verse 10?  Paul did not just grin and bear his infirmities; but he said that he boasts and he finds pleasure in things that would make even the mature Christian crumple to the floor.  Do we ponder what it took for Paul to come to this point in his thinking?  I can’t tell you how many times I have read over that passage and glossed right over it, and maybe you have glossed over it too.

But ask yourself… how did Paul get here?  And more importantly how do we get there?

Today my purpose is to look at how we can achieve this same level of conversion that it mentions in verse ten where it states “…when we are weak, then we are strong.”  I want to do this so that we can look to God’s word for understanding and faith on how to react to the increasingly difficult and stressful world that we live in.

When you look at this glass of water, do you see it as half full or half empty?  When we read the book of Revelation… do we see the exciting future that lies ahead, or do we see all of the horrible stuff that is coming? 

Let me be 100% clear here.  I am not saying that we should ignore the bad things; on the contrary we should face them head on.  They are recorded for a purpose to prepare us, and motivate us not to fall away so we do not suffer what is written.  But a more important thing for us to understand is what God’s perspective is.  Does He see the positive, or does He see the negative?  Well He sees both; but the positive overwhelmingly wins out!  We need to have the same perspective!

Now I want to avoid being dogmatic; but I am going to boldly state that over the years, our church culture has been predominantly pessimistic.  I heard a minister describe the effects of the Church of God culture in the form of a question.  He said: “Are we going to allow the truth to suck the life out of living?” 

In the church, we need to be more optimistic; but at the same time please understand that I am not trying to sound like a self-help book from the shelf of your local library or bookstore. 

The word "optimism" is one of those words that can be very subjective.  So let me define what type of optimism I am referring to, because it is not the optimism that decides to buy a lottery ticket as a means of planning for retirement. 

I am going to define optimism by way of an article that I just recently read on this very subject.  The article was an "op-ed" piece by a lady named Frida Ghitis; and believe it or not, it was on of all places the CNN website.  This definition really struck a chord with me, and I believe that it is a solid definition:

“Optimism by itself can be dangerous.  It must always travel in the company of action, common sense, resourcefulness and considered risk-taking.”

Optimism is not passive and neither is our calling.  We have heard others state that Christianity is not a spectator sport. 

Jeremiah 7:
1:  The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 
2:  Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD. 
3:  Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. 
4:  Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.

This is a prime biblical example of blind optimism.  Blind optimism not only leads to disaster; but can take us by surprise today too.  As we just read in verse 4:“The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, are these.” 

Even after what happened in 1995, there are some in the church that have said by their conduct, “I am in the Church of God, I am in the Church of God, I am in the Church of God”.  That mindset is not a ticket to the Kingdom of God.  Just because we can warm a seat in a congregation does not mean that we are shoe-ins for eternal life.

Please do not think that I am saying that we need to hear “smooth things.”  John referred to these scriptures last night, and so we are going to pick up in that same place in Isaiah.  My Bible has a heading over this and it says, “a rebellious people”:

Isaiah 30:
8:  Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever: 
9:  That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: 
10:  Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: 
11:  Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.

In their commentary, this is what Keil and Delitzsch had to say about these verses:

They forbid the prophets of Jehovah to prophesy, straight or true things things not agreeable to their own wishes, but would rather hear smooth and flattering things, and even illusions or deceits.  Their desire was to be entertained and lauded, not repelled and instructed. 

This sadly describes the culture of our western world as a whole.  We are punch-drunk and seduced with the seeking of the pleasures of the self.  Again, blind optimism rears its ugly head here, and it is such dichotomy from the good news of the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the true subjects the citizens of that Kingdom… us!  The gospel declares by its very words, that we need to hear things that correct, that encourage, things that help us grow, and things that help us to overcome. 

We now circle back to where I asked at the beginning of this message How do we get there?  How do we get to that same level of confidence, understanding and optimism that the apostle Paul did?  The first advantage we have is that we have God’s Spirit; and while this is the foundational key of having “the peace that surpasses all understanding,” this is not the only key.  I say that because there are people in the Church of God who are looking at prophecy from a “save your own skin” type of mentality.  I speak from first-hand knowledge here, because this is exactly how I came into the church.  Yet I quickly realized that we are called to develop an intimate relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ.  This is something that does not come naturally to us;  we need to be taught. 

James 1:
2:  My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 
3:  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4:  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

The word “count” is Strong’s #2233, for those who would like to look it up.  The word has a broad application; but in this context it means “consider.”  We can literally draw up a sheet of pros and cons on every trial that we go through, until we figure out the correct approach.  God will bring us back, over and over again, until we figure out the correct approach.

That same verse refers to describing it all joy!  We all know, especially those of us who have been in the church for many years, that this is much easier said than done.  When it comes to us humans, producing something does not happen at the flick of a switch.  How much faith would we build if the solution to every trial was simple and easy? 

This is where optimism enters the picture again.  Another quote from the article by Frida Ghitis:

“It {optimism} acknowledges that you don’t always win; that when things don’t turn out well, you try a different approach and then another until you find a solution.”

Let’s hone our focus now to prophecy.  We know that one third of the Bible is prophecy, and most of that has yet to be fulfilled.  So when it comes to the future prophetic events, we have to be honest with ourselves, and we have to realize that this will be new to us.  It will be uncharted territory. 

Jeremiah 30:
4:  Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. 
5:  "For thus says the LORD: 'We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. 
6:  Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child?  So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? 
7: Alas!  For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.'"

Talk about uncharted territory!  Every human that will be alive on the earth at this time has no idea what that is going to be like.  Now I will openly admit that when I read verse 7, it scares me.  I cannot even imagine what that will look like; and frankly, I don’t want to be around to see it.

Yes, we as human beings, even those endowed with God’s Spirit, have a proclivity to hang on to the negative things.  When we read verse 7, do we focus on the first half or the verse or the last half of the verse?  God provides the optimism for us in a promise.  He will make sure that Jacob will be saved out of it.  While that does not lessen the anguish and devastation of the first part of the verse, at least there is a hope.

One last quote from the article on optimism:

“It is only the optimism that reasons, that considers courses of action and different potential outcomes, that pushes ahead, which truly leads to greatness.”

Should we physically plan for what is coming?  Should we be stocking up on the necessities of life, reducing our debt, and doing our level best to prepare?  Yes; but we also have to come to the realization that there is only a certain point that we can come to with the means which we have.  After that, we will have to rely one hundred percent on God to take care of the things that are beyond our control.  I believe that is the point, that God wants us to rely on Him one hundred percent.

In conclusion, we cannot let the truth suck the life out of living.  We in the Church of God need to be more optimistic; but we need the proper optimism and focus that only God and His Word can provide. 

I heard one person describe coming to Sabbath services in the following manner:  “When we enter the building to services, we are to leave our baggage at the door.” 

We spend six days a week immersed in the world; it surrounds us.  I don’t know about you; but the news can really drag me down.  Church services, from start to finish, need to be a source of encouragement; and we should anxiously look forward to Sabbath services with the expectation of being refreshed and uplifted.  When we hear about events going on in the world, we must be diligent to go back to God’s Word and search out His instruction and His admonition to guide us in how to think, how to react, and how to grow in faith, so that our response will mirror His will.

If we are doing our part, instruction and correction are refreshing and uplifting, and they lead to the correct optimism!