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.

Our optimism is based not on ourselves but on what God has done and is able to do.

That leads me to an optimism that takes into account the greatness of God. We quote it often; God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). The history of the Christian church offers numerous examples of men and women who have taken God at His Word and have seen Him work powerfully.

There’s a lovely verse tucked away in Daniel 11, in a chapter that is fearful and speaks of the great opposition Christians face with the devil behind so much of that opposition. But in chapter 11 we are told that “the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (Dan. 11:32). The Bible version I grew up with says, “The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (KJV). We must not give way to fear but must look to God, seeking to plan and prepare in the light of who God is. The people that know God will do exploits.

There’s a moment in Jesus’ ministry where the disciples face the prospect of five thousand hungry people. Philip can’t see how they are going to be fed by a young boy’s packed lunch. Andrew appears silly in his belief that Jesus can feed them, but he realizes that Christ can powerfully use all that is given to him. He has grasped something of the greatness of Jesus, and so is optimistic. The people that know God will do exploits.

The last thing I feel we need is an optimism that isn’t naive. Romans 8 has taught us that this age is characterized by suffering, the age to come is characterized by glory. Sin is an ever-present reality until Christ comes again. It has affected every area of our lives and even our best thoughts are tainted by it. The Christian church will never ultimately be what it should be until Christ comes again. However, we need to hold very tightly to Christ’s promises,

  • His kingdom is like the mustard seed, the “smallest seed” as Jesus refers to it, but it will one day grow into the largest tree. (Luke 13:18-–19)
  • His Word will not return to Him void but will accomplish what He has purposed. (Isa. 55:11–12)
  • He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matt.16:18)

As the hymn writer puts it: “His kingdom stands and grows forever.”

We must live and plan and worship and persevere in the light of these truths because optimism is “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.” Nothing is more certain than the success of Christ’s kingdom.

How to Handle Criticism

What Is Covenant Theology?