Overcoming Cynicism

Comedian George Carlin said, “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” He is probably right. Cynicism often comes from being let down by others or by circumstances of life. 

Jonathan Brush, being interviewed by Andy Andrews, said, “Optimism gives way to cynicism and cynicism gives way to bitterness.” I don’t know anyone who has the goal of growing in bitterness on their life bucket list, but bitter people became that way for a reason.  

Cynicism is defined by the Cambridge Online Dictionary as “the belief that people are only interested in themselves and are not sincere.” Cynicism is fueled by multiplied disappointments in people and life circumstances.  

Cynicism, however, must not be allowed to take root in the heart of a Christian. It is inconsistent with the Christian faith — it takes the lowest view of humanity and it removes God from the workings of the world. The cynic fails to remember that God is working all things together for good. Cynicism robs us of the joy that comes from knowing that God is sovereign and that a current life situation is not the final story. 

How can Christian leaders fight against the downward pull of a cynical spirit? Here are five suggestions:  

1. When you see it, confess it. It is likely that others will see our cynicism before we do. But whenever you notice it, be sure to own it. The other day, I was waiting to testify in a Kentucky Senate hearing on sports betting in Kentucky. I found myself thinking about what a colossal waste of time this was, as the outcome of that hearing was a foregone conclusion. What I failed to remember was that God has outcomes that may be different than our own. I confessed and carried on with my assignment.  

2. Ask Jesus to shepherd you through it. One of the names of our Lord, recorded in the book of Isaiah, is “Wonderful Counselor.” Jesus can shepherd us through any dark valley or unplanned sideroad. Jesus knows the ways of the cynic and He can sanctify us out of it. After all, it was Jesus himself who prayed for us to be sanctified by his truth, John 17:17. 

3. Celebrate more frequently. One of the failures of the cynic is only focusing on the things that are not as they should be and failing to see all that is going well. God is doing great things among us, and we need to discipline ourselves daily to see and celebrate what He is doing. Even when we cannot see His hand, we know with certainty that He is at work.  

4. See God in your despair. When things are bad and disappointment prevails, ask the Lord to help you see how He is working your circumstances for good. He will help you.  

5. Believe God is working all things for good. A 2014 article by Jonathan Parnell provides the following directive about fighting cynicism. The author writes, “It means that we’re cynical about cynicism, that we are determined to always assume more is happening than meets the eye, that God hears every prayer, that Jesus is truly reigning and coming again, and that, if we’re serious, we’re not idiots for thinking so.” 

Cynics make poor companions for those in Christian leadership. Determine by the grace of God and by His great power at work in you that you will not give way to cynicism.

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