By Dick Blackford
Most of my work as a gospel preacher has been with new congregations or small struggling ones in an effort to help them get back on their feet. I have only worked with two congregations that were self-supporting. All but one of those smaller works became self-supporting.
The pioneer spirit is the spirit of optimism. It takes that on the part of the preacher as well as the members, to be successful. It also takes a stick to-it-iveness and a determination not to let anything or anybody discourage you. It is the will not to let minor set-backs cause you to give up and quit.
In the early history of this country it was the pioneer spirit that made the difference in what this country was to become. A pioneer is one who goes before, preparing the way for others often with great difficulty, but with optimism, determination, and faith that it will be worth the struggle. The earlier settlers of this nation would cut trees and brush (the hard way) and make a path through the woods be-cause they believed there was something better on the other side. It was because of the pioneer spirit that this nation became great, blessed, and the most prosperous nation on earth. This happened, not without opposition, but with great sacrifice and great danger from man and beast.
An optimist is one who believes that good ultimately prevails over evil. It is the tendency to take the most hopeful or cheerful view of matters or to expect the best outcome. It is the practice of looking on the bright side of things. Most of the great accomplishments made in Bible history were because of the pioneer spirit of optimism and courage. Consider some examples:
The Spies Sent to Spy Out
The Land of Canaan
Hardly anyone remembers the names of the ten pessimists who said it couldn’t be done. Their names are given but I dare say that nobody reading this could name even one (Shammua, Shaphat, Igal, Palti, Gaddiel, Gaddi, Ammiel, Sethur, Nahbi, Geuel). Nearly everyone remembers the names of the optimists Joshua and Caleb. The pessimists let every negative factor become an obstacle in the way of conquering the land. Here were the obstacles: (1) the people are strong, (2) the cities are walled and very great, (3) the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites all dwelt in strategic areas, (4) the land eats the inhabitants, (5) all the people are men of great stature giants, (6) We are like grasshoppers.
Their pessimism was contagious (Num. 14:1-10). The outcome was that the ten pessimists died by a plague and the Israelites that murmured were not allowed to enter the promised land and were told they would die in the wilderness (Num. 14:33-35; Rom. 15:4).
In the end, the optimists were right and all the obstacles of the pessimists were defeated. Joshua and Caleb, the two optimists, were the only ones of the original Israelites who entered the land. They were pioneers who blazed the trail. If you have read the account you know it wasn’t easy, but believing God would bless them they went for-ward with determination to the land that flowed with milk and honey be-cause they kept God in their plans and in their hearts and they put him first.
Rebuilding of the Walls of
Jerusalem under Nehemiah
The city and the people were in great distress: The city had been burned. Nevertheless, Nehemiah told the people of a God who had been good to him and he encouraged the people to rebuild the walls. His opportunism was contagious and the people said, “Let us rise up and build” (Neh. 2:18).
But Satan is not going to let children of God have their way without a fight. There was opposition, just as there is to any worthy endeavor. Sanballet, Tobiah and Geshem tried to discourage them. “They laughed us to scorn and despised us” (Neh. 2:19). They were mocked (4:1). Tobiah said, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone walls” (4:3). The enemies conspired to fight against those building the walls (4:8). The people had to be armed and ready to fight at the same time they were continuing the work a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other. These were dangerous, difficult times. There was a plot and a trap set for Nehemiah (6:2). But, be-cause they remembered God, and because of the optimism of Nehemiah and the people, they finished the work ahead of time. If they had listened to the detractors it would never have been accomplished.
When David Fought Goliath
To look at and listen to Goliath was an intimidating experience to the Israelites. He was approximately 9′ 9″ tall. He wore a brass helmet and a coat of mail that would be extremely heavy for the average man but would have been the greatest protection of that day. Clarke’s Commentary comments: “Taking the proportions of things unknown to those known, the armor of Goliath is supposed to have weighed no less than 272 pounds, 13 ounces. Goliath was totally covered with armor, except for his forehead and eyes.” He had bronze armor on his legs and a brass shield between his shoulders. His iron spear weighed 20 pounds and a soldier bearing a shield went before him. Goliath’s faith in his gods to protect him was apparently not very strong. After much taunting and blasphemy from Goliath and his at-tempts to intimidate David and even discouragement from Saul (1 Sam. 17:10, 11, 23, 24, 26), David delivered a bold response in defense of the God of Israel (17:34-58).
To have the kind of faith exhibited by David you have to believe the Lord can and will bless those who sincerely serve him and that he will give the victory. You have to be an optimist. While all Israel, including David’s brothers, were saying Goliath is so big we can never kill him, David was saying Goliath is so big I can’t miss. If David had listened to the pessimists, the people of God would have been defeated and gone down in shame and disgrace. It would have given another occasion to the enemies to blaspheme. In all of Israel at that time, there was only one optimist. Think about that. What if he hadn’t been there and demonstrated faith in God?
The Apostle Paul
If anyone had reason or justification for pessimism, surely it was Paul (2 Cor. 11:23-32). How could he be so optimistic, considering his terrible experiences and knowing the comforts he could have continued to enjoy among the leaders of the Jews?
Paul was a trailblazer’s trailblazer. He traveled the inhabited world at that time and took the gospel to places where men had never heard it before. Many did not want to hear it and some who heard did not want to hear it again. Everywhere he went was like cutting a new path through the wilderness. He often went alone, or at the most, a few friends accompanied him. Not all remained loyal (2 Tim. 4:9-16). So how could he have such a positive outlook? He had the pioneer spirit the spirit of optimism that with God’s help, everything would eventually turn out for the best (Phil. 4:4,13; Rom. 8:28,31; 2 Tim. 4: 16). What if Paul had not had such great faith and optimism toward the Lord’s work?
Jesus Was an Optimist and
Had the Pioneer Spirit
Jesus’ attitude expressed through his teachings is a contradiction of the dismal, pessimistic, forlorn, defeated spirit so often expressed in the name of Christianity. Were he here in per-son today, Christ would have little in common with many who bear his name.
From within and without the church there are those prophets of doom who have pronounced the death of the church universally and locally, and have (to their satisfaction) conducted its final rites. So much did our Lord believe in the cause of his kingdom that he gave several parables that express his optimism concerning the kingdom. They were based on:
The Phenomenal Growth of the
Kingdom (Matt. 13:31, 32)
It had a humble beginning “the least of all seeds.” Often Jesus talked about small and unnoticed things, even comparing his kingdom to a grain of mustard seed. Smallness and humble beginnings never meant weakness or insignificance to Christ. We should re-call that his was a humble beginning, and so was the beginning of his kingdom.
It survived many trials, “When it is grown.” There was no question in Christ’s mind that it would survive and that it would grow, despite its trials. None of the trials of the early church could keep the kingdom from marching on. And as it marched, it marched not with the force of the sword but with the power of God. Imagine believing that a movement that did not depend on carnal force or carnal weapons could overtake the mighty Roman Empire with all its armaments and armies! What an optimist! Remember the image in Daniel’s dream (Dan. 2:38-45)? The stone that broke the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. That stone was the church.
It reached unbelievable proportions, “it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree.” From eleven followers of Christ at beginning of his ministry who had very little in common with each other, that small beginning reached the whole world and today our coins and calendars are numbered from his birth.
The Permeating Influence of the Kingdom
Jesus’ optimism was not based on a flamboyant, explosive display of power or Madison Avenue techniques, but rather on the quiet, unpretentious yet relentless and undeniable influence it would have on millions of lives and countless civilizations through untold ages yet to come. It begins from within. The parable of the leaven does not speak of the visible increase of the kingdom (like the mustard seed parable). It speaks of the invisible inward change. Christ has placed the Christian as a bit of leaven hidden in his own part of the world. Small and insignificant as the Christian may think he is, he must never underestimate his potential. It is from those few Christians and their influence that congregations are started and over time, grow and flourish.
The Infinite Worth of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:44-46)
Jesus was an optimist not only because of the phenomenal growth and the permeating influence of the church, but also because of its infinite worth, of which many are unaware. How many had walked over the treasure hidden in the field without the least idea of its presence or worth? How many had given the pearl of great price only a passing glance, never detecting its real worth?
It is with the faith that God’s way is going to be victorious that brethren all over the country and all over the world continue to sow the seed, plant, and build. The key in each of the cases we have mentioned is that those who were successful trusted God. Pessimism is a form of unbelief. Israel was often punished for this, as in the case of the ten pessimistic spies who didn’t believe it could be done.
I know it takes money for any group to function. Say what you will about that. But it is the blood, sweat and tears that go into a congregation that gives each member that stick-to-it-iveness and that loyalty that when a congregation is struggling he doesn’t kick it when it is down or abandon it for something easier, some greener pasture where the hard work has already been done.
Through the years I have gathered quotations about pessimism and optimism. Among them are these:
“A pessimist is a guy who crosses his fingers when he says, `Good Morning. ‘
“When the pessimist thinks he’s taking a chance, the optimist feels he is grasping a great opportunity.”
“The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist, the opportunity in every difficulty.”
“For some reason, a pessimist always complains of the noise when opportunity knocks.”
“If it were not for the optimist, the pessimist would never know how happy he isn’t.”
“A pessimist can hardly wait for the future so he can look back with regret.”
At the Rocky Point Road congregation we are engaged in a pioneer effort. Whether we succeed depends on the faith of the members in God and his will that congregations be established and their optimism toward the Lord’s work at this place. We have met with opposition and detractors. As I look at what happened to the ten spies, I see that the Lord takes a dim view toward pessimists. Will we be like the two or the ten?
Guardian of Truth XLI: 20 p. 10-12
October 16, 1997