Cultivating a positive disposition?

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scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
Some people are naturally optimists, whereas others are naturally pessimists. This also often seems to be the case amongst believers.

By nature, we are unholy, yet we are called to cultivate holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Similarly, we are to cultivate prayer (James 5:16-18).

Do you believe that a positive disposition can be cultivated? If so, how can it be cultivated?
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
Rather than thinking in terms of optimist / pessimist, shouldn’t we strive to be realists? Shouldn’t we want to see things truly?

In accordance with the Ninth Commandment I think we should desire to see things as they truly are, and not how we hope they might be or pessimistically how we fear they might be.

That said, we are to hope all things but that doesn’t mean checking reality at the door.

Is the glass half empty or half full? I prefer to see it as 50%!
 

Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
I call the pessimists in the church the "I know but.." crowd. When giving them reasons for optimism they respond with "I know, but..." Drives me crazy! The counter to that answer is always "But God..." Good news always follows those two words! Grasping the sovereignty of God is a great help as well. To stress that God is in control, no matter the pain or emotions, and to understand that, helps keep this naturally pessimistic preacher mostly optimistic.
Is there a permissible state of aggravated optimism?
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Rather than thinking in terms of optimist / pessimist, shouldn’t we strive to be realists? Shouldn’t we want to see things truly?

In accordance with the Ninth Commandment I think we should desire to see things as they truly are, and not how we hope they might be or pessimistically how we fear they might be.

That said, we are to hope all things but that doesn’t mean checking reality at the door.

Is the glass half empty or half full? I prefer to see it as 50%!

Half full, half empty, semantics. It’s not enough coffee.:coffee:
 

CathH

Puritan Board Freshman
Some people are naturally optimists, whereas others are naturally pessimists. This also often seems to be the case amongst believers.

By nature, we are unholy, yet we are called to cultivate holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Similarly, we are to cultivate prayer (James 5:16-18).

Do you believe that a positive disposition can be cultivated? If so, how can it be cultivated?
Don't we have to distinguish natural temperament from Christian graces? There are believers who are naturally pessimists, who are always gloomily in the doldrums, who nevertheless have a clear, strong hope (in the sense of the grace of hope). They seem to see deep darkness all around, but glorious light ahead.

No doubt they would have more comfort if they could see the light shining in the midst of the darkness though, so maybe that is your question? Cultivating a positive disposition can be done with the help of secular wisdom, but obtaining more comfort as a Christian would presumably come from the diligent use of the ordinary means of grace, ie, the Word, sacraments, and prayer.
 

scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi Catherine, I suppose I'm asking the question in both senses. Does our natural temperament tend to have an effect on our walk & our appreciation & experience of God's grace within us & the outworking of His purposes in the world? Does our natural temperament remain or may it it altered?

Is it harder for someone with a naturally negative disposition to view things through an eternal perspective? The light shining in the darkness, as you mentioned.

Don't we have to distinguish natural temperament from Christian graces? There are believers who are naturally pessimists, who are always gloomily in the doldrums, who nevertheless have a clear, strong hope (in the sense of the grace of hope). They seem to see deep darkness all around, but glorious light ahead.

No doubt they would have more comfort if they could see the light shining in the midst of the darkness though, so maybe that is your question? Cultivating a positive disposition can be done with the help of secular wisdom, but obtaining more comfort as a Christian would presumably come from the diligent use of the ordinary means of grace, ie, the Word, sacraments, and prayer.
 
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ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
There are those like Luther and Spurgeon who were depressed. Cowper was said to be that way. In an interview, John MacArthur said he really doesn’t know that’s like. He’s never struggled that way.

I’m with @RWD on the realism thing yet folks will react to reality in pessimistic and optimistic ways.
 

RWD

Puritan Board Sophomore
There are those like Luther and Spurgeon who were depressed. Cowper was said to be that way. In an interview, John MacArthur said he really doesn’t know that’s like. He’s never struggled that way.

I’m with @RWD on the realism thing yet folks will react to reality in pessimistic and optimistic ways.

“In an interview, John MacArthur said he really doesn’t know that’s like. He’s never struggled that way.”

He struggles as a pessimist. He’s a dispensationalist, isn’t he?! :banana:
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
“In an interview, John MacArthur said he really doesn’t know that’s like. He’s never struggled that way.”

He struggles as a pessimist. He’s a dispensationalist, isn’t he?! :banana:
That would be a leaky pessimist.
 

CathH

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Catherine, I suppose I'm asking the question in both senses. Does our natural temperament tend to have an effect on our walk & our appreciation & experience of God's grace within us & the outworking of His purposes in the world? Does our natural temperament remain or may it it altered?

Is it harder for someone with a naturally negative disposition to view things through an eternal perspective? The light shining in the darkness, as you mentioned.
Hey Scott, I feel like saying yes and no at every point! So someone's natural temperament does have an effect on their walk etc, but it doesn't have to. A natural pessimist may well be a more doubting Christian, if their pessimism prevents them grasping the certainty and freeness of God's promises, but it's equally possible for natural pessimists (I know some!) to look continually at the dark side of their circumstances yet firmly grasp that the Lord is reigning and all things are working together for his people's eternal good. I suppose that is because faith grasps the bare Word, disregarding sense and feeling. A believer who feels downcast can still believe redemption here and hereafter. You can fully recognise that the fig tree isn't blossoming and every aspect of life is a disaster zone, while simultaneously rejoicing in the Lord (Hab 3).

I guess we must all know at least someone who seemed to be completely transformed by coming into the liberty of the gospel - no longer withdrawn and reclusive, now eager to meet and talk to the Lord's people about the things of the Lord, eg. On the other hand, grace doesn't give people a personality transplant (even people who are dramatically given liberty tend to settle down afterwards). Bouncy extroverts pre-conversion are probably going to be more or less bouncy extroverts post-conversion.

It might be worth factoring in too that grace works on the faculties of the soul (mind, will, etc), more than on personality traits as such. It changes what is sinful, but isn't necessarily sinful to have this or that natural temperament. So grace enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ and renews the will (SC Q31), but a person's mind can be savingly enlightened and their will savingly changed irrespective of whether they can be identified as an optimist or an introvert or whatever.

The diversity of personality types in the church needs to be valued because that is where the diversity of gifts and kinds of service can be seen. (If there were no pessimists, how could optimists exercise their gift of encouragement?!) But to the extent that someone's natural temperament actually contradicts grace and undermines their love/service to others, that person should be praying and looking for grace to subdue those tendencies. If all you do is carp and criticise, you can't excuse that hindering, hampering effect you're having on the brethren and the dishonouring impression you're giving of God, by appealing to your personality type. That may and should alter - usually through familiarity with the Word, believing participation in the sacraments, and penitent prayer, as well as fellowshipping with other believers.

What do you think yourself?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Just forcing yourself to smile at people and greet them cheerfully is difficult sometimes for some of us. But, if practiced, does go a long way in lightening the mood in a place. I am working on my daughter because she is 14 and her resting face looks pouty naturally like she is naturally in a ticked off state. I am trying to get her natural default to smile. But I also fail because I have been sick too long. Especially women help cheer a place with a smile. Men who smile too much look suspicious or gay. I know a very average-looking woman...almost ugly.... but she always is BEAMING with a smile. I told my wife that she was prettiest ugly woman I have ever seen because her smile transforms her face. So if there is hope for the ugly lady, there is hope for most of us except the ugliest.
 

scottmaciver

Puritan Board Sophomore
The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to the view that a positive disposition can be cultivated by a Biblical understanding of God's purposes & promises, particularly with a sound eschatology. At the same time, it is not inconsistent with being concerned about the present low ebb of church & state.

I agree with what you, that a person's natural disposition may make it more difficult to view things from an eternal perspective, but it doesn't necessarily have to follow. If our focus is Christward, "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4), I find it to believe that our disposition would not become more optimistic & positive, even if it is displayed outwardly in varying degrees, from person to person.

Hey Scott, I feel like saying yes and no at every point! So someone's natural temperament does have an effect on their walk etc, but it doesn't have to. A natural pessimist may well be a more doubting Christian, if their pessimism prevents them grasping the certainty and freeness of God's promises, but it's equally possible for natural pessimists (I know some!) to look continually at the dark side of their circumstances yet firmly grasp that the Lord is reigning and all things are working together for his people's eternal good. I suppose that is because faith grasps the bare Word, disregarding sense and feeling. A believer who feels downcast can still believe redemption here and hereafter. You can fully recognise that the fig tree isn't blossoming and every aspect of life is a disaster zone, while simultaneously rejoicing in the Lord (Hab 3).

I guess we must all know at least someone who seemed to be completely transformed by coming into the liberty of the gospel - no longer withdrawn and reclusive, now eager to meet and talk to the Lord's people about the things of the Lord, eg. On the other hand, grace doesn't give people a personality transplant (even people who are dramatically given liberty tend to settle down afterwards). Bouncy extroverts pre-conversion are probably going to be more or less bouncy extroverts post-conversion.

It might be worth factoring in too that grace works on the faculties of the soul (mind, will, etc), more than on personality traits as such. It changes what is sinful, but isn't necessarily sinful to have this or that natural temperament. So grace enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ and renews the will (SC Q31), but a person's mind can be savingly enlightened and their will savingly changed irrespective of whether they can be identified as an optimist or an introvert or whatever.

The diversity of personality types in the church needs to be valued because that is where the diversity of gifts and kinds of service can be seen. (If there were no pessimists, how could optimists exercise their gift of encouragement?!) But to the extent that someone's natural temperament actually contradicts grace and undermines their love/service to others, that person should be praying and looking for grace to subdue those tendencies. If all you do is carp and criticise, you can't excuse that hindering, hampering effect you're having on the brethren and the dishonouring impression you're giving of God, by appealing to your personality type. That may and should alter - usually through familiarity with the Word, believing participation in the sacraments, and penitent prayer, as well as fellowshipping with other believers.

What do you think yourself?
 
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Chad Hutson

Puritan Board Freshman
A summary of Philippians chapter 1: Prison is really great since it serves God's greater purposes!
I would say that Paul is being realistically optimistic.
 

CathH

Puritan Board Freshman
The more I think about it, the more inclined I am to the view that a positive disposition can be cultivated by a Biblical understanding of God's purposes & promises, particularly with a sound eschatology. At the same time, it is not inconsistent with being concerned about the present low ebb of church & state.

I agree with what you, that a person's natural disposition may make it more difficult to view things from an eternal perspective, but it doesn't necessarily have to follow. If our focus is Christward, "rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4), I find it to believe that our disposition would not become more optimistic & positive, even if it is displayed outwardly in varying degrees, from person to person.
I agree. I've increasingly noticed that the godliest old people I know are the most thankful, and I can only think that that must be because of how much they've grown in their grasp of God's purposes and promises, and how much they are conscious of getting closer to the hope beyond this life.

In the same way as our love for God should (must) overflow into love for others around us, surely our thankfulness to God should/must bubble out in a positive disposition in our interactions with others and our responses to providence. It's not as though there aren't reasons for deep sadness when we look at society around us, the troubles of our friends and families, our own sins and sorrows. But we have the forgiveness of sins now, we are pitied, protected and provided for by our Father now, we are heading for glory afterwards, and this redemption is equally available for whoever we meet. Of all people, the redeemed have the best reasons for a joyful walk, not a pessimistic one. If it's joy in the Lord then it can coexist with the deepest sorrow over our circumstances.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Cultivating a gracious spirit may be more important than cultivating a positive disposition. But I tend to look at the idea of the latter with a jaundiced eye due to my exposure to heretical "positive thinking" that has pervaded the business community and popular culture (to some extent) in the USA for about the last 100 years. And I think it has now spread well beyond these shores. Sometimes "negative thinking" is a more accurate way of thinking of some things.

But I do think we should strive to have a proper understanding of God's purposes in history. That gets us back into the Postmil vs Amil (of the "pessimistic" sort) vs Premil debate referenced in another thread. But recognizing that God does actually have a purpose in history and that events aren't just random is a good start, I think.
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
I don't think cultivating holiness or prayer necessarily involves cultivating a positive disposition. I think there's a false equivocation at play here, in particular because in our world of post-modern relativism, 'positive' is largely in the eye of the beholder. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not always regarded as having a positive disposition - He spoke of Hell more than anyone else in the Holy Scriptures. He was a table flipper. He was known to reprove and rebuke others sharply at times. So I think we ought to be very careful about trying to be viewed as positive, lest we speak unto others 'smooth things' (Isaiah 30:10) or seek to 'please men' (Galatians 1:10). If there is truly a time for all things (ref. Ecclesiastes), then surely there is a time to speak a word which may not be viewed positively, or where the speaker may not be viewed as being of a positive disposition.

Even if by a 'positive disposition' you meant 'optimism', there is a sense in which we are not to be optimistic. We are not to be optimistic as it pertains to our effort, merit, ability, capability, efficacy (John 15:5), status (Job 40:4), profitability (Luke 17:10), etc.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Sometimes the practice of "cultivating holiness" among some of the reformed makes one more dour and frowning and censorious, whereas some of the pagans are the happiest and most positive folks I know. It would be nice to have both holiness and a non-Grinchy personality.
 

Challer

Puritan Board Freshman
Sometimes the practice of "cultivating holiness" among some of the reformed makes one more dour and frowning and censorious, whereas some of the pagans are the happiest and most positive folks I know. It would be nice to have both holiness and a non-Grinchy personality.
Lots of things would be nice. I don't think we're called to pursue what is nice in our estimation, biblically speaking.
 

Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
Some people are naturally optimists, whereas others are naturally pessimists. This also often seems to be the case amongst believers.

By nature, we are unholy, yet we are called to cultivate holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Similarly, we are to cultivate prayer (James 5:16-18).

Do you believe that a positive disposition can be cultivated? If so, how can it be cultivated?
Optimism is difficult. So difficult, that the worlds most influential nation chose a pessimistic view of the future as a status quo.
 
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