The dictionary definition of optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” I want to argue that the Christian church, despite living in difficult days, should operate from a position of optimism.
I’m not talking about the person who is always dreaming up unrealistic plans. There can be a foolish “never never-ness” to some Christian leaders when they talk about what they hope to achieve. Relentlessly optimistic people often have the opposite effect from that which they intend.
There are cultures that are more optimistic, but I fear that in the West we can be infected by some of the cynicism that is all around us. I want to argue for the church to be optimistic in a number of areas.
The Apostle Paul recounts how he was a violent opponent of the gospel, breathing out threats, hunting down believers, seeking to have churches shut down: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Tim. 1:13). The risen Christ met him, stopped him, stripped him of his opposition, turned him around, and sent him out as a preacher of Christ. He continues in 1 Timothy 1:14–16:
The grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
We need to see Paul’s conversion as a great spur to our evangelism: if God could change him, He can change anyone. There is no sinner too bad; there is no one out of God’s reach; no one has wandered too far. Our optimism is based not on ourselves but on what God has done and is able to do.