Chuck, a good friend and denominational brother, and I met during our junior year in college and, although our paths have led us to different parts of the world at times, we have always maintained contact over the years and see one another whenever we get a chance.
Back in November of last year, I had the opportunity to visit with my old friend when he came back to this part of the country to teach a week-long workshop for local church administrators. A long-time believer, Chuck takes his faith quite seriously in fact perhaps too seriously. Raised in a strict, legalistic denomination, Chuck carried quite a bit of unnecessary, negative baggage into his adult life and, as a result, has had a difficult time coming to accept the fact that God might indeed want him to enjoy life. What Robert Schuller is to smiling, Chuck is to the scowl. Over the years, I have discovered that my friend Chuck is not alone.
More than a few Christians go through their days as if dark clouds were hanging over their heads and exhibiting a countenance that indicated they began each day being baptized in vinegar. I recall that on one memorable occasion Chuck's wife Jill bluntly stated that if her husband ever smiled, he would probably sprain his jaw.
Both scripture and common sense screams that this is not what God intended for his children. The Christian life was meant to be a joyous affair instead of an ordeal to be endured. Granted, life will always have its difficulties, but even when we face trials, I believe that God desires that we do so with as much optimism and hope as possible.
Personally, I have come to believe that one of the fundamental keys to a life of Christian optimism is to have positive expectations based on scripture and the integrity of God.
Think about it. In Romans Paul tells us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that promise should keep us in a positive frame of mind, even during times of difficulty and trial. In case you are not familiar with this passage, or if you have forgotten it, let's take a look at what Paul says in Romans 8: 38-39
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below indeed, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
If we trust God and believe what scripture tells us, then we have every right to be completely optimistic about the present and the future. This is not a false, "pie in the sky" optimism nor is it a Pollyanna style denial of reality. No, this biblical optimism is based entirely on scripture and God's character. God is a being of integrity and further, he cannot lie. Our optimism is based on the firm foundation of God's promises and his character.
The enjoyment of life flows from trusting God and, through that trust, to have positive expectations in life. We have every right to believe deep in our hearts that God truly desires our happiness because he is the Father of Lights and we are Children of the Light. Indeed, scripture affirms that God wishes that we "prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers." (3 John 1:2)
This has nothing to do with what has come to be known as the "prosperity gospel." Here I think John is speaking of the fact that God desires our happiness and enjoyment of life and we proper in life. Yes, this can mean financial wealth, but it can also mean emotional and spiritual wealth. We have every right to expect the best because God wants the best for his children.
John mentions here the fact that our soul prospers. What is he talking about? In brief, as humans we are tripartite beings, meaning that we have three aspects to our being. Just as God exists as a Trinity, in a real sense, so do we. Our three-part make up consists of body, soul, and spirit. The soul consists of our mind, our emotions, and our will. God's original intention was that our spirit be in the driver's seat and in direct communication with God. Based on this divine connection, our spirit governed our soul and our bodies. Due to the Fall, this arrangement was distorted and, because of our spiritual death, it became necessary that the soul take up the command of our lives. The results of this, of course, are quite negative and adverse to God's intentions.
When we accepted Christ into our hearts, ideally the original order of things was restored, at least on a spiritual level. When we live from our spirit (walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh), our soul does indeed prosper and we can enjoy life and expect the best.
Having positive expectations based on scriptural promises, leads to a realistic and practical optimism that impacts all aspects of life. Further, this practical optimism allows us to better enjoy life, even at times when things may not be going as we might desire. We know that God wants our best, he wants us to prosper and enjoy life, and that nothing can possibly separate us from his love. How can we justify anything less than positive expectations? To expect less or to expect the worst is an insult to God in that we do not trust his promises or his character.
I remember saying these things to Chuck across a plate of pasta last November and, at least for a few moments, he did crack a genuine smile. I forgot to ask Jill if his jaw was cramping up on him the following day.
Dwight Turner is founder of LifeBrook Communications, a ministry which produces and publishes web content on a variety of faith-based themes. LifeBrook may be viewed at:
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