I once worked for a guy who didn’t like the Fourth of July. It meant that summer was half over and it would soon be winter. By my calendar there are 160 days between our nation’s birthday and the winter’s solstice. Which is plenty of time to enjoy outdoor activities and events. Truth is I’m glad when January roles around and I can relax briefly. A warm home and a pot of coffee on a cold winter’s day is a respite after a busy summer, fall and Christmas season.
I quickly learned that my ex-employer was a chronic pessimist who always saw the downside of everything. He was also a Christian while I stilled practice my agnosticism. His persistent preaching and negative attitude did not change my mind about religion and may have driven me farther away from a relationship with Christ. Now that I’ve accepted Christ I often wonder what am I doing to push people away from the church I once scorned?
Christians are disciples of Christ. There is no escaping this. When we decide to follow Jesus we take on the responsibility of discipleship. We hope our commitment will bear fruit and do so abundantly. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Our strongest effort to evangelize may have little or no effect and it is easy to become discouraged. When plans don’t meet expectations and we fall short of our goals it is easy to become pessimistic. This causes us to reduce our evangelist efforts or abandon them altogether. The scope of our discipleship narrows sometimes to a point where all we try to accomplish is keep our church doors open and our Bibles read.
Among the many challenges facing the modern church is overcoming this sense of pessimism. Too often we feel the cold winds of winter long before the golden days of Summer and Autumn have passed. The inability to bear fruit slowly erodes at our sense of purpose and undermines the mission of Christ’s church, creating a lack of purpose. This aimlessness permeates a church, it’s members, the staff and spills out into the community.
Jesus himself was a pessimistic. He spoke of his own death and persecution;
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death.” (Matthew 20:18)
The disciples refused to understand his meaning but the words from their teacher could not have been encouraging. His persistence in describing their own fate was not hopeful either:
“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death”.(Luke 21:16)
And in Matthew 24:9 Jesus warned them;“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”
It’s doubtful if a modern day motivational speaker or political candidate would use such rhetoric to inspire their followers. Either his followers were confused, “The disciples did not understand any of this.” (Luke 18:31) or like Peter, “…Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
Still the disciples were steadfast in their devotion until that night when Jesus was arrested by the temple guards and crucified by Pilate’s soldiers. Surely the dark days ahead blocked out any hope they had in the future. However, Jesus did rise from his grave, showed them the nail scarred hands and gave them hope once again.
Perhaps this is how we overcome pessimism. Perhaps the cynicism of our age can only be overcome by the gift the risen Christ gave his followers on that Sunday evening; Hope. Not the hope that comes from wistful desires or a vague feeling of optimism. It is not the hope we have when we drop a coin in a fountain or buy a lottery ticket. This hope springs from the knowledge that God has a purpose and if we persist in faithful devotion as disciples, God’s purpose will be fulfilled. For when Jesus was proclaiming his death and the persecution of his followers, he was also assuring them that; “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51)
I’ve always believed in the old saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Persistence is simply hard work and the continuing effort to keep trying. The apostles were constantly being driven out of one community after another. Yet occasionally they would be received by people seeking a greater spiritual life and allowed to preach. They were persistent in their prayers and devotion, ” Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” (Acts 5:42)
The results changed the world. Therefore the solution to pessimism is persistence. However dogged determination by itself will not result in furthering God’s Kingdom. Persistence needs to be underpinned by hope in God’s word given to us by Christ.
My boss’s Christianity was genuine and sincere, however his cynicism and futile attitude were devoid of any hope that his faith could make a difference in the world. While he spoke openly of his faith I saw little that was positive because his faith was not grounded in hope. And without hope he could not be enduring in his discipleship. Instead of bringing me to Christ thirty years ago I was driven further from the relationship which God wanted me to have.
Our churches have several evangelical ministries designed to share our faith with others and to invite people into our worship family. We are trying new opportunities for outreach and are uncertain if they will succeed or fail. Ministries such as the Praise and Worship Service, the Men’s Christian Group, reviving the Sunday school program, a ministry garden or other opportunities demonstrate a desire to steadily do God’s work. As my Dad always said, ” If you don’t try you know you will fail.” My Dad was a wise man and he was right by advocating a constant effort to accomplish the mission of the church. However if our tenacity is not infused with hope firmly planted in faith of God’s purpose, then it will be a short summer indeed.