Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
“Outlook” is one’s point of view or general attitude about life. It’s really the way one looks out at the world and sees it. Your outlook may be colored by a lot of things going on in the world right now. It’s easy to let the negative, scary, and discouraging events cloud our view. Are there some proactive measures we can take to improve that picture? Yes!
- Invest in someone. Perhaps no one should have had a harder time keeping positive than the apostle Paul. Read all that he suffered and endured (2 Cor. 11:23-33). He repeatedly labored under the threat of danger (1 Cor. 15:30) and death (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6). Yet, he exuded positivity (Phil. 4:13,19; 2 Cor. 9:8). Surely one reason was Paul’s knack for investing in others. He mentored Timothy (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2), Titus (Ti. 1:4), and Onesimus (Phile. 10). He spent time nurturing and developing churches like Corinth (1 Cor. 4:14-15) and Thessalonica (1 Th. 2:7-8, 11). He was willing to run the risk of being disappointed by the people he invested in (2 Tim. 4:10). For every Demas, there was a Luke (2 Tim. 4:11). There is someone who needs to benefit from your wisdom, maturity, experience, and understanding. Seek them out and help them, for their sake but also for yours.
- Clarify your purpose. It is easy to reduce our view of this life to a daily grind we find ourselves working at. We can get lost in our routine, not unlike Martha whose outlook was distorted by hers (Luke 10:41). Being organized and fulfilling our responsibilities are vital, but what can help restore joy and meaning to all of it is regularly remembering why we engage in it all. Marriage, parenting, friendships, occupation, education, daily Christian living, church membership, and personal growth all serve a deeper purpose. Paul’s advice to slaves with earthly masters has broader application: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:23-24).
- Reduce media consumption. If you constantly monitor news and current events, you will stay discouraged and fearful. The media has always thrived on reporting on the worst events happening, and it seems there is more and more of it to report. The same kind of thing can happen with too much social media consumption. Polarizing, inflammatory posts and reactions can form a black cloud over you pretty quickly. When Paul urges us to ponder things that cause pleasure and delight (Phil. 4:8), I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking of anything like what the media is churning out.
- Increase personal interaction. Technology has steadily pushed so many toward isolation and disconnection. The pandemic forced this tendency further. Those monitoring the news cycle du jour (see previous point) retreat into virtual bunkers of suspicion against people of different colors, nationalities, and political persuasions. They become impersonal caricatures, grotesquely exaggerated and larger than life. How do you break through resulting prejudices? The Lord’s way was to be in people’s lives. Engage them. Listen to their stories. Grow empathy. Understand their hurts, fears, and needs. Realize their humanity and remind yourself how profoundly and infinitely God loves each and every one of them (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4). People can be broken, full of dysfunction, and even prickly, but we will brighten our outlook when we get out of our shells and into their lives.
- Focus on encouragement. Several times, I heard the late gospel preacher, George Bailey, say, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package.” I have yet to meet a self-absorbed person who is happy with what they’ve filled themselves with. We’re just not wired that way. Paul’s central focus with the Philippians is on how to think right, their mindset and attitude. He urges placing others above self and looking out for others’ interests (Phil. 2:3-4). It’s amazing how God has wired us. When we find people to uplift and build up, it improves our own outlook. There are countless folks all around you who are struggling with their outlook. Compliment, express appreciation for, and gratefully acknowledge them. It’s a godly thing to do, but a side-effect will be what it does for you!
- Look up and look ahead. Though not every time, usually my dampened outlook can be attributed to not only looking too much at this world and myself but also by not looking more at the world to come and God. It’s harder to focus on what’s invisible to the naked eye, but it’s crucial. Paul reminds us, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Spend more time in God’s throne room and His inspired library. Deepen your dependency upon Him. In doing so, focus more intensely on His promise of the world to come (John 14:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1ff). This life is temporary. Eternity is–well–eternal! Looking up, you’ll see the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and all-loving God (Psa. 139:1-18). Looking ahead, you’ll see victory (1 John 5:4).
I think we’ll always struggle with dark days and discouragement. Did Paul? Read 2 Corinthians and 2 Timothy. But, he and other Bible writers give us a laundry list of ways to combat these and make them temporary. David was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but He could still see divine presence, divine comfort, divine provision, divine blessings, and divine promise (Psa. 23:4-6). So can we! It just may take adjusting the way we look out at the world.