Staying Positive in a Negative World
News does not need to be negative, though often we make it so. The challenges the United States has faced in recent years economically and culturally has resulted in an undercurrent of negativism that is palpable to many in this nation. Despite the eternal hope we have in Christ, Christians as a group in the U.S. often seem defeated on the whole. When our parishioners don’t have jobs, or are losing their houses, or are suffering from terminal illness, we can find ourselves in a valley of despair, wondering if anything good is on the horizon.
It is among the responsibilities of a pastor, I believe, to stay positive in a negative world. That doesn’t mean to gloss over difficult circumstances or ignore real needs. Nor does it mean not to be prayerful in adversity or to avoid preaching on heavy topics. What it does mean is to consistently be placing our burdens in perspective. Always be willing to rise up and take the 30,000-foot view of a situation, and lead your congregation to do the same.
Knowing what you have. Sometimes our place within our own culture casts doubts on our own situation. Out of work or out of money, we find ourselves sinking into depression over our situation. It is important to teach the church about possessions and position using a worldwide lens that often escapes a person’s immediate situation. Knowing what you have is very much a matter of perspective.
For instance, you are living at the poverty line in the United States if your household income is at or below $22,350 for a family of four—about $15.30 a day per person. While that’s extremely low, most people do not know that earning $15.30 a day places them in the top 9% of all wage-earners worldwide. In fact, 80% of the people on the face of the earth earn less than $10 a day. Half earn less that $2.50 a day. It’s true—check the numbers (Government and Global Issues)
Even someone at the poverty line in the United States, though certainly a person or family in need, is comparatively well off compared with 91% of the world’s population. We cannot let this fact escape us when negativism settles on us individually or corporately about our financial circumstances. Even in the midst of hard economic times, there is no denying that God has richly blessed this country.
Expanding your worldview. Financial circumstances are but one way to create a negative perception in our minds. Another is lack of knowledge of the hardships of the world at large. In the United States, the average 30-minute national newscast contains nine minutes of ads and twelve minutes of celebrity, sports and lifestyle segments, leaving just eleven minutes of actual news. Of those eleven minutes, eight are spent on domestic news, on average. That means if you watch a newscast tonight you are likely to get just three minutes of what is happening in the world beyond the United States. This insulated worldview is repeated throughout our media, and severely skews our sense of how good or bad we have it.
Consider 2011, where nations suffered massive earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, violence and civil unrest and government overthrows. Egypt, Libya, Greece, Japan—we saw these stories. But, did you know in 2011 there were more than 38 separate military conflicts going on worldwide? Eleven of them had casualties numbering greater than 1,000 people. Some have been going on for more than 20 years. Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, India, Burma, Pakistan, Angola, South Sudan, Laos—the true scope of human suffering in our world is hard to imagine. Knowing that the United States, despite our great challenges, lives in relative peace within our borders is something we often take for granted.
Looking through God’s eyes. Consider too God’s view of our world and the tremendous challenge He has given us of sharing the Gospel in places that frankly would rather kill Christians than start a conversation with them. While we may see our nation as Christian-friendly, but in general moral decline, never forget the broader issue of the cause of Christ worldwide. In 52 nations around the world, Christians suffer for their faith. Five of these countries have been persecuting believers systematically for more than 30 years. To have the freedom to carry a Bible, meet publicly in our churches and elsewhere, pray freely and share our faith with friends, family and neighbors are liberties that many Christ-followers simply do not have.
Growing in expectation. When we begin to see beyond our immediate circumstances, we can respond in gratitude for the blessings that we do have, despite the solid ground we sometimes can lack. This does not mean teaching the church in a spirit of constant comparison—“at least we have it better than people in Laos”. It does mean teaching with a sense of thanksgiving to God for His great gifts to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. And that gratitude for what God has done helps leads us to an expectation for what God can and will do in our lives as we follow Him.
A pastor stays positive when he points people to Christ. When God says He will meet our needs, we also need to realize in our teaching that His provision is not merely material. The full measure of God’s blessings toward us as His followers manifest themselves in our relationships, in ministry, in service to others and in confidence in our eternal future.
Several years ago I stood on top of a trash dump in a third-world country watching people forage for food. Many were Christians who worshipped in a church that consisted of four tree branches and a piece of tin for a roof. My first thought as a North American is that our church could easily pool our resources and bring all these people out of these circumstances—give them houses and jobs and educations. But there would be a hundred to take their place the next day doing the same thing. What is the solution—to do nothing?
Our church could and did provide for some of their physical needs, but in the broader sense I realized something important. Eternally, each and every believer on that trash pile was no different than me. In Christ, they were infinitely wealthy, and their destiny after this life was the same as mine. While they did not enjoy some of the material things I did in the United States, that would hardly matter in 10,000 years. That put into perspective for me that the Gospel is the most valuable resources we possess and thank God it is immediately available and “sharable” with everyone!
Realizing our function. When we find ourselves feeding on negativism, it’s important to be reminded of our true place in the world through the lens of proper perspective. Teaching the church to be thankful in all circumstances leads us to ask better questions. Not “Why don’t I have this or that?” but rather, “What is God, Who provides for every real need, teaching me through this?” The better questions drive us toward our real role and function in life, and that is to be catalysts of the Gospel.
Often the things keeping us from realizing how temporary our lives really are on earth are not our problems, but rather our blessings. Could the walls of my house, or the shine of my car, or the comfort of my couch, or the security of my bank account at times often be detrimental to my satisfaction in and passion for the Gospel? Certainly this is among the conclusions we can draw spiritually from hardships we face.
Negativism in our hearts is often a result of being unable to answer the question that gnaws at us when trouble comes—“Why me?” God, it seems at times, would rather we step back, give thanks for His provision, take hold of His Gospel, and ask, “Why not?”
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.