Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
After the year we have had in 2020 this is a pertinent question. Our experience of the past year should at least give us a reason to pause and reflect for a moment before we say,
“Happy New Year”.
Christmas and New Year can be a time that is laden with clichés.
Clichés can be the bane of the preacher’s lives. Last week I saw a compilation of sermon clips from the beginning of 2020. All of the preachers were predicting that 2020 would be the happiest and most fruitful year ever. Those predictions do seem thin and ridiculous 12 months on.
In the light of this, what do preachers say at the beginning of a new year?
We do need to take care not to glibly suggest that we can leave the old year behind, turn over a new leaf of open up a fresh chapter. It sadly looks as if for some months we will be enduring more of the same, giving 2021 the feel of 2020 Mark 2.
In a sense this reminds us that the categories of optimist and pessimist do not quite fit what Christian preachers need to do when they are seeking to preach from Scripture.
Preachers are to be very careful to preach truth. The danger of optimism and pessimism, as generally understood, is that they can both beat truths out of shape.
The optimist and the pessimist can both avoid inconvenient truths that can take the shine off our confidence or lack of it. Of course, dodging inconvenient truths means not allowing the facts to get in the way of our opinions.
I’m an optimist. Generally, this allows me to work around or through difficulty with the sense that this is not the last word. I have valued pessimists around me because they are a vital reminder that difficulties are real and formidable. Yet it has always been my view with difficulties that the bigger they come the harder they fall!
Winston Churchill put his finger on it when he said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, while the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
Perhaps this should remind us that the correct lens for viewing life is neither that of the optimist nor the pessimist, but the way of wisdom.
Wisdom teaches the preacher to be honest. Honesty helps the preacher avoid the gloomy pessimism that sees no through roads or escapes routes in a world so often full of crisis. Honesty also helps us avoid the wide-eyed optimism that refuses to see that life is often more complicated than we choose to see.
Preachers must walk the tightrope of truth being careful not to preach what is “too good to be true” or constantly snatching defeat from the jaw of victory.
Wise, honest preaching seeks to explore the multi-sided contours of every issue. This helps us embrace the whole range of what God wants to say to us in his word.
This is preaching that is experienced in stereo that allows us to hear all the instruments and voices, so that we can experience of every note with clarity.
I find this quality so often in the preaching of Tim Keller. I often use his statement of the position of human beings before God:
“We’re far worse than we ever imagined and far more loved than we could ever dream.”
Preacher, will you be wise in your communication during 2021?
Happy New Year!