Do you remember New Year’s eve? The buzz, the palpable excitement, the joys. Do you remember at 11:59 pm when it seemed like the whole world collectively drew in their breath in eager anticipation of the new year? 2020 would be the start of a new decade. A new year and also a new beginning; a fresh opportunity to achieve goals and prosper.
I still remember talking to some of my mentees and friends about the plans they had for the next year. How big they were, how impossible the goals seemed. Yet, a faint optimism persisted, many believed this would indeed be their year and were ready for it.
In light of recent events, a different image has emerged. I’m now aware of many who have already given up on the year. Many who look at their goals with contempt believing it’s too late to achieve or too late to have the best year ever because of recent events. In a sense, they are right. External events have been unprecedented and have shocked global life. The Coronavirus has changed societies forever. However, as Christians, our fortunes should never be so externally defined. Just because there is fear and pessimism on the outside does not mean it should be on your inside. In fact, the Bible speaks at length about the temperament of Christians in times of hardship. We are to be wide-eyed, optimistic and full of hope.
In an article in Time Magazine,2008, Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote in an almost prophetic manner about the type of issues that would plague humanity in her future and now our present. She wrote
‘The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet. We have reached the beginning of the century with 6.6 billion people living in an interconnected global economy producing an astounding $60 trillion of output each year. Human beings fill every ecological niche on the planet, from the icy tundra to the tropical rain forests to the deserts. In some locations, societies have outstripped the carrying capacity of the land, resulting in chronic hunger, environmental degradation and a large-scale exodus of desperate populations. We are, in short, in one another’s faces as never before, crowded into an interconnected society of global trade, migration, ideas and, yes, risk of pandemic diseases, terrorism, refugee movements and conflict.’
Just because there is fear and pessimism on the outside does not mean it should be on your insideM.T Omoniyi
She goes on to explain “That’s why the idea that has the greatest potential to change the world is simply this: by overcoming cynicism, ending our misguided view of the world as an enduring struggle of “us” vs. “them” and instead seeking global solutions, we actually have the power to save the world for all, today and in the future. Whether we end up fighting one another or whether we work together to confront common threats—our fate, our common wealth, is in our hands.”
Her argument is simple enough. She says that one of the most important factors for world changers is that they are not cynical but they are wide-eyed and optimistic during times of hardship. It is important to note here that this message of optimism started in the bible. Believers are told to watch their thoughts, speech and behaviour especially during times of hardship. In the epistles, Paul gives the new believers guidelines to manage their conduct, speech and thoughts because it is through these domains that pessimism can set in. That address is as relevant now as ever. Let’s take a look at these domains.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In this portion of scripture, Paul gives as a conceptual beacon for our thoughts should be. He says things that aren’t tangental or in some way related with the list above should be discounted. He does two things in this passage. He first confirms that it is important what Christians think about, a point he has made earlier in 2 Corinthians 10:5. Secondly, he encourages us to increase the quality of our thoughts. He encourages us here to consider carefully what we think and to address idle thoughts.
We are not to simply be careful about our thoughts, we are also to practise having better thoughts. That may sound funny, but there are deep joys attached to this. Attached to raising the quality of our meditations. A Christians mind should be guarded and optimistic. Its should be full of thoughts that are true, noble, right, our, lovely and admirable.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
The second domain naturally follows from the first. Thoughts eventually become speech and in the book of Ephesians, we learn that our speech as Christians, should follow a similar optimistic tract. We are to speak in such a way that it builds people up and that it is beneficial for those who are listening to it. This means not only should Christians refrain from unwholesome talking, but they should also do the opposite. In a time where fear can be found everywhere, Christians need to allow their speech to be conduits of hope and faith. This doesn’t mean ignoring reality or blissful ignorance. Instead, it means declaring Gods truth in the bible over what seems like uncertain terrain. Speaking to build others up and to add light to what can seem like a dark situation.
1st Thessalonians 5: 12-28
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
This portion of scripture needs little exposition, the height of maturity here is to live in peace with each other, to be patient with everyone. We are commanded not to pay back wrong for wrong, but instead to strive to do what is good. One of the hallmarks of our generation is self-preservation. We often concerned first with me, then myself, and then I. This is especially so in a time of crisis. As resources become more scarce, people can become even more self-preserving than normal. Gripped by fear, people may become overwhelmingly preoccupied with looking after their own. In the midst of this, we are encouraged to be different. To let optimism bleed into our behaviour and conduct with each other. To reach out a hand and open our palm rather than walk around tight-fisted.
These words are important because, at this present time, optimism is in short supply. On the one hand, we are uncertain about so much regarding our future lives and on the other, we are inundated with news headlines about the bad that is happening to other people. Many are sad, fearful and lost. Optimism now would a breath of fresh air and one desperately needed. This year can still be amazing.