Posts

Should-Christians-be-Optimistic-or-Cynical

Should Christians be Optimistic or Cynical?

Written By M.D. Valley, Africa

In my earlier years, I constantly swung between being optimistic and cynical. Whenever I wanted something desperately, I would fix my mind on it and pour my 110 percent into it, along with a few prayers.

But whenever things didn’t work out my way, I would react like a spoilt child who didn’t get the candy she asked for. In those moments, overwhelmed by disappointment—and sometimes, resentment toward God—I would tell myself that it was better to be a cynic than an optimist. After all, I figured, optimism didn’t seem to pay off.

A friend of mine shared that he gives his best in everything he does, but keeps failure as a viable option. His reasoning was this: expecting the worst protects one from too much disappointment when things don’t work out.

But not for me. In my case, whenever things didn’t work out, I would be haunted by thoughts that maybe my wishes would have come true if I been a bit more optimistic. After all, if the blind man hadn’t cried out to Jesus to have mercy on him and heal his blindness, maybe Jesus would have walked on by. If he had sat back wallowing in his disability and believing that Jesus wouldn’t care and that there was no hope for him, then he would not have been healed (Luke 18: 35-42).

Over time, I realized that the root of our unhappiness—regardless of whether we are the cynical or optimistic type—is usually the same: we want something but we don’t get it. So how do we address the root problem?

The simple answer is hope.

Czech writer and philosopher Vaclav Havel once said that “hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”.

The ultimate difference between hope and optimism is that the former is rooted in a deep trust in God. It is an assurance that God’s will would be done, regardless of the outcome. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That came before praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:9-13). It was something that Jesus himself demonstrated at the most painful point of His ministry on earth.

In the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus faced the reality of His impending death on the cross. But though the prospect of what lay ahead of Him distressed Him to the point where His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44), He did not abide by His will but by God’s will.

To be honest, trusting God to the point of death is no easy feat. The human reflex is to flee from pain and sacrifice. A friend of mine once held a job that did not honor God, and she was restless in her spirit. She knew that if she quit that job, she would have no income to support her child and herself. She had no family support in the country she resided in and being an immigrant, it would be particularly difficult for her to secure another job.

But it came to a point where she knew she could not continue to dishonor God by her choice of career. So she took a bold leap of faith and quit. The first month went by and there were no offers and no interviews, but she hoped, and had faith. Three months later, a recruiter called her and offered her a better job that would sponsor her work visa and grant her child support.

I have since learned to change my prayer from “I want this and that” to “let your perfect will be done”. I’ve learned not to be optimistic but rather to have faith, to persevere, and to hope—in God.

Just a few years ago, I found myself in a job that was not what I had prayed for. At the time, I could not understand why God wanted me there. It was grueling work; my boss was so difficult that no one could work with him except me. After two years, however, God gave me a new job that was even better than what I had initially prayed for. Ironically, I was selected for that job because of my experience in my previous job—the one I had disliked. I realized that good always comes out of every circumstance no matter how difficult the situation is, and this truth has given me peace.

I have come to realize that God always answers our prayers with what is good for us (Rom 8:28), even though what we hope for may not come to pass in the particular way we envision it. He gives us what we need—and not necessarily what we want.

I-Have-Depression-and-This-Is-What-I-Want-You-to-Know

I Have Depression and This Is What I Want You to Know

I never thought that I would have depression. It seemed like something only strangers had. Even when a close friend of mine struggled with depression a few years ago, I couldn’t relate to what she was going through. I just thought of it as a really low period some people had and would eventually get out of, if only they tried hard enough.

Depression was a faraway concept, and “depressed” was a word I used casually when I felt particularly sad. I didn’t understand depression—until it happened to me.

According to the Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2010, major depressive disorder is ranked as the most common mental illness, with one in 17 people in Singapore suffering from it at one point or another in their lives.

But reading statistics or stories on mental health issues is one thing; experiencing and living with it is another.

For me, depression was—and is—a heavy cloud hovering above my head, a coldness creeping in my heart, a veil darkening my sight. It’s days of moving slowly and numbly, nights of overflowing tears and thoughts. It’s lashing out against my family while pretending to act like a normal functioning human being in school, in church, and outside. It’s sobbing uncontrollably one moment and feeling nothing at all at another. It’s thinking to myself that I’m getting better one day, and completely breaking down the next.

It’s been three months since I found out what I was going through had a name.

I have depression, and this is what I want you to know.

There is nothing wrong with what you’re feeling

There’s so much stigma surrounding mental disorders that when I first started feeling this way, I felt confused and guilty. Weren’t Christians supposed to be happy all the time? If I had depression, did that mean I was doing something wrong? Was having depression some sort of sin?

An article I came across in Christianity Today said: “While spiritual problems—like habitual or unconfessed sin, lack of faith, or, in rare cases, demonic attack—certainly can trigger depression, those things are often the result of depression, not the cause.”

Don’t beat yourself up for having depression, because it is not your fault. What you’re going through is a mental illness that could stem from a myriad of potential causes, such as genetic vulnerability, significant life events, personal problems, or illnesses. Just as you wouldn’t blame spiritual problems for a fever or a broken leg, you shouldn’t automatically assume the same for depression or any other mental illness.

In my case, my depression was triggered by a particular experience I had undergone.

However, if you do think that your depression may have spiritual causes, talk to your pastor or Christian counselor.

Trust that God is always with you and for you

There were many nights when I felt utterly alone and wretched. There were many occasions when the sadness felt too heavy for my shoulders to bear, and fleeting thoughts of death would cross my mind. I felt like I was wasting away, like my life had been drained of all color and that there was nothing else for me to cling onto.

A few weeks ago, the preacher at my church wrapped up his sermon with one sentence which has stuck in my head since, and which has given me much comfort: God is with us and is for us.

Even though you may feel that everything is meaningless right now, remember that God is, has been, and always will be sovereign, omniscient, powerful, gracious, merciful, loving, kind, and good.

Depression cannot separate you from the love of God, even if you feel numb to it (Romans 8:38-39). Though the nights are long and filled with mourning, remember that joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3).

God wants to help you. He is on your side in this battle. He sustains and strengthens you. All you need to do is to call upon His name and cling onto Him.

And one way of remembering these precious truths of God is by reminding yourself of them daily—and even more so as you battle with thoughts and feelings of depression.

Turn to Him in prayer, worship and in word

It can be difficult to turn to God, especially when the weight of depression weighs so heavily upon you that opening the Bible or even uttering a prayer feels like a chore. I know, because I’ve felt that way—and sometimes still do.

My mistake was to turn to other lesser means of comforting myself, which would only numb me temporarily without actually filling the aching hole in my heart.

Yet God does wonders with us when we choose to turn to Him. His Word has comforted me greatly in this season—especially the Psalms, which I used to find boring. But now, in the midst of my tears, I can finally empathize with the psalmists who wrote them when they were in great anguish and even on the brink of death. There are many psalms which tell of the psalmists’ suffering and hurt, of turning their eyes to God, of remembering His faithfulness and steadfast love, and of being delivered by his mighty Hand (Psalm 23, 30, 31, 62, 143).

I wrote down verses which God used to speak peace into my heart that surpassed all understanding, and would take them out and read them aloud to myself when I felt the shadows of depression looming. I also listened to worship songs which centered on Christ’s character as my cornerstone. I’m especially thankful for American Christian musician Steffany Gretzinger’s album, The Undoing, which spoke to me in many ways.

It can take effort to look outwards and upwards at God. But it is only Him alone who can give us the peace and comfort that we so desperately seek and need.

Tell someone who can help

At first I couldn’t articulate what exactly I was feeling or going through. All I knew was that I was inexplicably crying, almost mourning, over a deep sadness that wasn’t going away. I have always been close to my family, especially my parents, but I found that I couldn’t and didn’t know how to tell them what was happening to me.

I reached out and told my close friends, a mentor from church and my aunt, many of whom prayed along with me. There were times when I was taking things badly and God used these sisters to share with me Bible verses, a song or words of encouragement which I really needed to hear at that time.

Finally, I began to see a Christian counselor. Over the past two months, she’s been helping me to work through issues which may have triggered my depression.

It’s important to reach out to trusted friends and relatives who can support you in your time of need. If necessary, you may also want to consider seeing a Christian counselor or a doctor if your depression persists. I know how scary it can be to tell your loved ones, and to take that step to speak to a professional, but I’m so grateful that I did. Because without their support, I know that I would still be in a very bad place.

Since then, in God’s goodness and faithfulness, He has been lifting the fog of my depression, little by little. In this difficult and dark season, He has been my light, my strength and my song. He’s placed people in my life who have shown me the love of Christ through their encouragement, support and prayers. Most importantly, in the process He’s been giving me a sweeter and deeper appreciation of who He is, and gently promising me that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

For that, I give Him thanks.

I want you to know that you are not and never will be alone. You are loved as a child of God, who has been, is, and always will be with you and for you. Rest and be still in His love, dear brother and sister.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
— Psalm 139:7-12

Africa--The-Secret-Behind-Faith-and-Hope

Africa: The Secret Behind Faith and Hope

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

Whenever I visit other continents, a question I am often asked is, “What is the hidden secret behind faith and hope in Africa?”

That’s when I share about the power of thanksgiving and prayer—the fuel that drives the church in Africa towards faith and hope.

Living in Nigeria, which was ranked the most optimistic country in the world in 2011 and the 6th happiest country in Africa in 2016, I’ve learned that it’s often not about how rich we appear on the outside, but how rich we are on the inside. Regardless of our situation, we always have a choice: to wallow in despair or hope for the best; to blame our environment or let it build our character; to complain all the time or rejoice and give thanks for every positive outcome.

Growing up, my family was considered “privileged” by many because both my parents held jobs to support the family. Even then, we lived in a three-bedroom flat which didn’t have tap water; electricity came sporadically. In the absence of power, we used lanterns and would often sleep outdoors, enjoying nature and letting the cool breeze blow over us.

Like many families, I grew up knowing hunger and learned, at an early age, to speak to God and have faith in Him. I was five years old when I received Christ. And at that age, I began to understand why my mother fed my siblings and me a tablespoon of boiled beans for breakfast and not herself. I understood why neighbors found it amusing that my mom had to loan salt in order to cook our meals. I understood why my elder sister would harvest fruit from our little garden so she could sell them to pupils in school in order to get enough money for us to buy lunch. I understood why the cattle herder was allowed to graze his cows on our front lawn in exchange for fresh cow’s milk. I understood why we only got new clothes during Christmas. I understood why we scavenged harvested farm lands for excess potatoes and groundnuts. I also understood why we had to search for water every day from a well or borehole.

Yet, I was not embittered by these. I always had faith that God would see my family through and provide for us daily (Psalm 37:19).

My story is not very different from many others throughout my continent. Despite the high percentage of unemployment and myriad of socio-economic issues all around me, I have witnessed people finding joy in sharing their “one tablespoon of beans” with other neighbors in need. I have seen families and communities coming together to face challenges, believing wholeheartedly that despite difficulties, nothing would separate them from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39). I’ve also seen brothers and sisters in Christ clinging onto hope amid the impossible, trusting in the only name that matters (Acts 4:12).

And I have witnessed miracles of provision like those in the Bible because of an intense faith in God whose might knows no bounds. I have seen God come through for brothers and sisters who would sacrificially give their all, down to the last penny for the furtherance of the gospel.

Over the course of my life, I have found that the need to pray for tomorrow’s provision produces such an urgency for God in the life of a Christian that it brings the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-16) to life. “Give us our daily bread” takes on a whole new meaning. Trusting in God becomes real. Relying on Him for guidance, security, sustenance and sanity brings on an intimacy that living in abundance often does not evoke.

God takes us through trials in order to draw us closer to Him. For that, I rejoice and am thankful to have been born in Nigeria.

ODJ_260816

ODJ: Rejoicing in Deep Need

I read an online obituary for a friend’s father. My heart ached for my friend as I imagined how painful it would be to lose a parent. I sent him an email of condolence and was surprised by his quick response. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m rejoicing in our hope in Christ.” Even as he mourned, he spoke of hope and faith.

Similarly, the words of Habakkuk 3:2 surprise me. The prophet sang that “in this time of our deep need”, he was “filled with awe by [God’s] amazing works”.

The time of deep need Habakkuk referred to was the tumultuous period before the exile of God’s people. The ruthless Babylonian empire was growing in power. Meanwhile, Judah was turning away from God (1:2-4). Habakkuk lamented the disobedience of the people and called out to the Lord.

He must have been startled to learn that the Babylonians would be God’s chosen instrument for disciplining His people (1:6-11). Yet, in a culture of sin, with war on the horizon, Habakkuk marveled at God and said, “Help us again…remember your mercy” (3:2). What an amazing response.

Sometimes I’m tempted to question God’s sovereign rule when bad things happen. When all I can see is the increase of sin and injustice, I grow tired and complain like Habakkuk did. But his small book also shows me how to respond after the complaints are over. The prophet famously said, “The righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).

My friend’s email reflects this response of enduring loss with hope. Habakkuk said, “[God’s] coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. …When he looks, the nations tremble. …He is the Eternal One!” (3:4,6). May we find the hope and strength we need in God today.

—Andy Rogers

365-day plan: Mark 10:35-52

August 26, 2016 

READ: Habakkuk 3:1-6  


In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by (v.2). 

I read an online obituary for a friend’s father. My heart ached for my friend as I imagined how painful it would be to lose a parent. I sent him an email of condolence and was surprised by his quick response. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m rejoicing in our hope in Christ.” Even as he mourned, he spoke of hope and faith.

Similarly, the words of Habakkuk 3:2 surprise me. The prophet sang that “in this time of our deep need”, he was “filled with awe by [God’s] amazing works”.

The time of deep need Habakkuk referred to was the tumultuous period before the exile of God’s people. The ruthless Babylonian empire was growing in power. Meanwhile, Judah was turning away from God (1:2-4). Habakkuk lamented the disobedience of the people and called out to the Lord.

He must have been startled to learn that the Babylonians would be God’s chosen instrument for disciplining His people (1:6-11). Yet, in a culture of sin, with war on the horizon, Habakkuk marvelled at God and said, “Help us again...remember your mercy” (3:2). What an amazing response.

Sometimes I’m tempted to question God’s sovereign rule when bad things happen. When all I can see is the increase of sin and injustice, I grow tired and complain like Habakkuk did. But his small book also shows me how to respond after the complaints are over. The prophet famously said, “The righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).

My friend’s email reflects this response of enduring loss with hope. Habakkuk said, “[God’s] coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. ...When he looks, the nations tremble. ...He is the Eternal One!” (3:4,6). May we find the hope and strength we need in God today.

—Andy Rogers

365-day plan: Mark 10:35-52

MORE
Read Proverbs 3:5-6 and think about what it means to trust God when you’re in deep need. 
NEXT
What happens when you choose to rejoice in God even when you’re in deep need? Meditate on some of God’s attributes and consider why they fill you with hope and trust. 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)