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The Christadelphian | September 2016

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

An A-Z of discipleship

‘O’ for Optimism

An optimistic frame of mind to our past, present and future improves our relationship with God.

The word ‘optimism’ comes from the Latin word optimum, meaning ‘the best thing’. An optimistic person will regard their past, present and future as the optimum path they could take, and will be content in any and every situation (Philippians 4:11,12). As disciples of Christ, it is important that we learn how to approach life – particularly when difficulties arise – with godly optimism.

The past

How do you view the past events of your life? Do you feel positive about the path you have trodden? Are you confident that it was the right way to go? Are you thankful for the joys and trials you have experienced? Do you view the past as a learning curve? Or do you perhaps find yourself consumed by regret? Do you sometimes doubt the road you have travelled and wish you could start all over again? Do you compare your life to that of those around you and experience feelings of inadequacy and discontentment?

Whatever may have happened in the past, it is our current attitude that matters. No good has ever come from bewailing the past, which we are utterly unable to change. Guilt, shame, resentment and regret are all natural reactions to negative situations, but they are not long term solutions. Guilt must give way to forgiveness, shame to humility, resentment to understanding and regret to acceptance.

It is possible to reframe the past, in order to approach it in a more optimistic way. Consider:

  • Is my relationship with God stronger as a result of this trial?
  • What have I learnt about myself, others and God?
  • Has it brought me closer to my friends, family and ecclesia?
  • Am I better able to empathise with others because of my experiences?
  • Am I thankful for the lessons I have learnt?
  • Has it made me pray more earnestly for the kingdom?

If not, perhaps it is time for a change of perspective.

There is nothing in our past that is hidden from God, and He does not let His children suffer for no reason:

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:6,7) [1]

Every trial is an opportunity for growth, but only if we are willing to listen and learn.

The Apostle Paul suffered many things: hunger, beatings, imprisonments and shipwreck; yet he learnt to view all of these trials with godly optimism, so that he was able to say:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” (Romans 5:3-5)

If we, too, can view our past experiences and trials as stepping stones to greater empathy, a stronger faith and a firmer hope, we shall not be overcome with disappointment and regret but will come to know true peace and contentment.

The present

We considered last month how we are unable to change the past and have no control over the future, but can make the most of now. Whether today is filled with joy or sorrow, we can approach it with a cheerful optimism, knowing that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to [God’s] purpose” (Romans 8:28). We cannot know how the events of today will impact upon the rest of our lives, or how they will influence the lives of those around us. I’m sure we can all think of many times when we have greatly struggled, yet only later understood the value of that suffering. Intense trials and pressure prompt us to re-evaluate our lives and make often pivotal decisions. They might necessitate changes in location, job or lifestyle that we can now see were providential.

The Apostle Paul spent many years in chains, patiently enduring dire conditions and enjoying little freedom. He could have given up hope. He could have resigned himself to the fact that he was in prison, unable to help his brothers and sisters or spread the Gospel. He could have wallowed in self-pity and frustration, bitterness and indignation. What he did instead was to make the most of his confinement by studying the scriptures, encouraging the brotherhood and preaching the Gospel. Bound as he was, day and night, to Roman soldiers, he discovered that this was the perfect preaching opportunity; and, unlike John, who visited many ecclesias in person and expounded key principles for life in the Truth (2 John 12; 3 John 13,14), Paul had no option but to write these things down. How thankful we are that his chains made that necessary!

Similarly, we do not yet know what good will come out of the trials we are experiencing right now. Though they may at times feel unbearable, we must strive to remain optimistic, knowing that God can see the end from the beginning, even though we cannot. This requires that we faithfully trust that He knows best and is working out His purpose for us.

We can begin by thanking God for every trial that comes our way. Though not easy to do, we have immediately reframed the situation in our minds. Rather than viewing it negatively, we begin to consider how God might be working in our lives and what He might be trying to teach us.

Another helpful and encouraging exercise is to spend time considering the way in which God has brought us through all of our past trials (cp. Deuteronomy 8:2). Think about how far He has brought you, and all that you have learned in the process. Though at the time it is never easy, God helps us to fight our giants so that we can confidently say:

“He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)

Armed with prayer, optimism and vision, we determinedly push on, no matter how much of a struggle that may be, knowing that this is the path marked out for us, and that the end of it is eternal life, if we remain faithful.

The future

Though we have such a positive vision of the future kingdom, it is often difficult to remain optimistic about the time remaining before Christ’s return. Full of the unknown and the unfamiliar, the immediate future is a daunting place; so why do we spend so much time there, constantly dwelling on what might be, rather than what is and what we know for certain will be? If we truly believe that God is in control of the future and is directing our paths, why do we still so often fear what tomorrow may bring? If we put our trust in God and seek to do His will, He will guide our steps and take care of our needs. The Psalmist writes:

“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.” (Psalm 37:25,26)

The Apostle Paul, too, understood this truth:

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Our “every need” is not that we shall be happy all the time and enjoy a comfortable life. Although the world makes much of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and the accumulation of wealth, these are not things with which we should concern ourselves. Our prerogative is to love and serve God in all circumstances, and to love others as ourselves (Luke 10:27). This involves sacrifice and humility: two character traits that are at odds with the dog-eat-dog world in which we live. We should not, therefore, expect our lives to take the easiest route, for we know that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13).

That is not to say we should be miserable all the time. There will be times when we find it extremely difficult to control our negative emotions, but it is never impossible. Rather than dwelling on negative thoughts and emotions, we can learn to acknowledge their presence and seek to replace them with positive thoughts and emotions. Memorising and reciting scripture can be a powerful way to combat feelings of anxiety and negativity as they arise, but we can also use phrases as simple as, “I choose to be happy, in spite of my circumstances”. Though this may sound obvious, it is something I only tried recently, and it really works! Worry never got anyone anywhere, but a cheerful attitude makes even the worst trials bearable.

Knowing that these trials – big and small – will come, why do we spend so much time worrying that they might? We have already considered how God disciplines those whom He loves, and we know from scripture that He will also provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13) and will not let us fall completely (Psalm 37:24). Our attitude towards suffering is to be one of thankfulness and rejoicing, knowing that suffering produces endurance, builds our character and strengthens our hope (Romans 5:3-5). In suffering as Christ did, we learn to be more like him. An optimistic attitude towards future suffering will help us to be prepared when trials do come, and will rob that suffering of its power to hurt us. Instead, it will serve only to strengthen our faith.

What’s more, we know that we will never have to suffer alone. The Apostle Peter urges us to cast all of our fears and anxieties on God, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and to resist temptation, standing firm, knowing that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (verse 9). God has put us in ecclesias so that we can support and encourage one another when trials do come. “And after you have suffered a little while”, we are assured, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (verse 10).

No suffering lasts forever. Even if there are trials we must endure during our mortal existence, we know that the time is coming when:

“[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

While many in the world today, encouraged by the scare tactics of the media, are terrified about what the future will bring, we know that we do not need to worry. As we see men’s hearts failing them for fear, we can take courage, full of optimism and hope, because we know that Christ will surely return soon. Rather than being afraid, we are to “look up, and lift up [our] heads; for [our] redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28, KJV). Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Amy Parkin

[1] All quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise noted.

 

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