Relentless optimism is one of the of the most important character traits for a missionary. To do well on the mission field, you should be the kind of person who can rejoice in one rescued woman while walking the streets of downtown Bangkok and seeing hundreds more trapped by pimps, parents, and poverty. You have to be able to emotionally rejoice over that woman while intellectually realizing the staggering statistic of 1 in 100 Thai women working in the sex industry. You must be able to laugh and sing in a church of 50 while knowing that less than a percent of the entire nation is saved. The one Christian father working so his daughter can get an education must affect you more than a thousand drunken fathers sending their daughters to Bangkok to pay for their booze.
Without optimism, you see the darkness and despair, because the darkness is that extreme, especially in nations like Thailand. With optimism, you continue in joy, and dark nations need joyful missionaries.
Know that if you are pessimistic, you will struggle terribly on the mission field, and you should seriously count the cost and question whether to go or not. Pessimism is like a stainless steel frying pan. If you cook an egg on it, and you have to scour it to remove the burnt carbon. Optimism is like Teflon: after a hard day, everything slides right off.
Optimism does not mean the absence of mourning. It means that the basic and fundamental alignment of our hearts is towards rejoicing in the Lord.
Mature optimism doesn’t mean we’re bad at planning while we say “everything will turn out OK.” It means that whether things go according to plan or not, we remember that God is in control and His purposes will succeed.
Optimism and pessimism are not simply personality trends, they are serious matters of sanctification. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and because I Cor. 13 says that love does not delight in evil, always trusts, and always hopes. Philippians tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, and we’re commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. All these are traits of optimism.
“But that’s not fair,” you say. “I was born pessimistic, while optimism comes naturally to some people.”
No one ever said that the Kingdom of God was fair. However, the same could be said about any matter of sanctification. Perhaps the man raised in a broken household who loses his temper twice a year is quite a bit further in his faith than the good Christian kid who holds bitterness in his heart and never speaks a cross word. We all start with hurdles in our faith, and the point is not that the natural pessimists instantly see the good in everything. The point is that they grow.
I began thinking along these lines just a few minutes ago listening to “The Days of Elijah,” a song by Robin Mark, an Irishman who carries that optimism in his music:
These are the days of Elijah, declaring the Word of the Lord.These are the days of your servant Moses, righteousness being restored.And though these are days of great trial, of famine and darkness and sword,Still we are the voice in the desert crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”