July 9, 2014 - Don't Substitute Optimism for Faith!
By Jerry D. Scott
We love stories about "can do" people who, like the little engine in the children's story, just keep pushing ahead saying, "I know I can, I know I can!" But true faith is more than gritty determination or a positive outlook on life. Faith has a fixed point of promise on which it rests securely.
In the book Good to Great (Harper, 2001), Jim Collins recounts a story of meeting Adm. James Stockdale, the highest-ranking American imprisoned during the Vietnam War. For eight long years he was confined in the "Hanoi Hilton," often tortured, both physically and psychologically.
When the war ended and he was released, Stockdale came home to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor and superb leadership of other prisoners during that terrible time. He helped many of those men survive their confinement by devising a communication method so they could encourage each other. He also set an example by resisting the work of the Vietnamese to use the prisoners for propaganda purposes.
When Collins met the admiral he asked him, "Who didn't make it out?"
"Oh, that's easy," Stockdale replied, "the optimists."
These were the men, Stockdale explained, who convinced themselves they would be home by Christmas and then had to face disappointment; who then set the date for Easter and were crushed yet again. They eventually gave up and died of broken hearts.
Stockdale told Collins, "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you cannot afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your reality; whatever they might be."
Collins calls this the Stockdale Paradox. Retain faith that you will win in the end, while forcing yourself to face the facts, tell the truth, and deal with the ugliness of your situation.
Believers who want to win the prize of God's high calling would do well to observe the Stockdale Paradox. The great faith chapter, Hebrews 11, starts off with some great stories about people who lived in faith and enjoyed success. The same chapter closes with illustrations of people who had great faith and appeared, in this life, to lose!
The inspired writer closes the chapter with this summary about those good and faithful people who died without seeing their reward: "All of these people we have mentioned received God's approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised" (Hebrews 11:39, NLT).
Our faith cannot be expressed in simple optimism that insists, "Everything will turn out great!" Good people sometimes die young. Great sacrifice sometimes appears to produce few results this side of eternity. Godly people get Alzheimer's. People who live disciplined healthy lifestyles sometimes die from heart attacks.
Depressed yet? Actually, looking at the worst stuff and realizing that God is still God is the only way to remain true, steady and enduring. I hate the false promises made by preachers of prosperity that cause people to think they can control their lives by saying the right prayers and doing the right things. These false prophets may seem to stir "great faith" in people, but they also create many casualties of faith by building hope on a foundation of half-truths.
True faith is set in the goodness of God and His absolute promise that those who trust in Jesus Christ will have life eternal. He declares that in the end He wins. But the end in His timeline is not necessarily correspondent with the end of our timeline.
Jesus promises us, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" (John 11:25, NKJV).
In the book of the Revelation, He says, "You still have a few followers of Jesus in Sardis who haven't ruined themselves wallowing in the muck of the world's ways. They'll walk with me on parade! They've proved their worth! Conquerors will march in the victory parade, their names indelible in the Book of Life. I'll lead them up and present them by name to my Father and his Angels" (Revelation 3:4,5, The Message).
That's the ultimate promise I take as my North Star to keep me on track through the present world. It is not mere optimism that steadies me, it is faith in the eternal promises of my Savior and my God, to whom belongs all the praise, all the honor, all the glory. Amen!
— Jerry D. Scott is senior pastor at Faith Discovery Church (Assemblies of God) in Washington, N.J.
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