A pessimist has the tendency to emphasize negative aspects, conditions, and possibilities, or to expect the worst possible outcomes. Optimism is the opposite of this. In the classic water glass example, pessimists would say it is half empty while an optimist would say it is half full.
People of hope are on a mission to overcome pessimism. Hope is an overall optimistic attitude about the future based on the goodness and promises of God. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). I am not a proponent of positive thinking but of biblical optimism. Our hope level determines our influence level.
There are two ways to live. First, we can live a pessimistic life and never be disappointed. Or, we can live an optimistic, hope-filled life with occasional disappointment. It is this second option that sets us up for victory and influence.
Here are five ways to overcome pessimism:
- Recognize it – Even though we will all experience pessimistic feelings at times, it not normal to create a personality out of it. In an effort to be “realistic”, many are perpetually negative and don’t even know it. When we admit it is a tendency in our lives, we take the first step to overcoming it.
- Know Its Source – Pessimism is not a personality issue, it is a belief issue. “Now may the God of hope fill you . . . in believing” (Romans 15:13). Increasing hope is the evidence we are believing truth, while increasing pessimism is the evidence we are believing lies.
- Understand It is a Great Enemy – The story of the twelve spies in Numbers 13 is enlightening. They spy out the Promised Land for 40 days and come back with their report. Ten of the spies brought a pessimistic conclusion, while Joshua and Caleb were optimistic. This tells us that our conclusions about situations are often more important than the situation itself. A chronic negative bent in our conclusions is a great enemy of God’s purposes.
- Attack It With Truth – David “encouraged himself in the Lord” in 1 Samuel 30:6. His family had just been kidnapped, his city had been burned, and his soldiers wanted to kill him, but he overcame his sense of hopelessness. I believe he spoke God’s promises over him as a means to shift his perspective.
- Set Others Free From It – When we regularly share our own journey of becoming more hopeful, or when we engage in something like a book reading club on radical mind renewal, we create a situation where we will be regularly confronted with what we need to hear ourselves. This increases our level of personal victory, and we get to help others as well.
Important Note: Just because we are optimistic, it does not mean we will be encouraging of every choice people are thinking of making. Even if we have positive expectancy about a person or organization, we will still at times say things like, “I am concerned about this decision and do not believe it is wise for you to move forward in it.” Even when we need to do this, we can learn how to voice contrary opinions without releasing a spirit of pessimism into the atmosphere.
ABOUT STEVE BACKLUND
Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.