Cynical Christianity

If I had to choose one word to describe my default way of thinking, I would choose “cynical.”

Yikes.

I hate cynicism. I really do. I hate the way it feels, you know? It’s that slimy, gross feeling. If you’ve taken your dog for a walk and you forgot to bring a doggie bag, but your dog needed to go and you didn’t want to be that neighbor, then you know exactly what cynicism feels like.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the pastor being interviewed said he was confronted by a mentor of his about this very thing. His mentor asked, “Why do you keep smearing crap on your blessings?”

My point is cynicism is disgusting.

But I also love it.

And I hate that.

I love being cynical. And I disguise my cynicism all the time. “Oh, I’m just pointing out what could be better.” “Man, I loved that movie…except the editing was weird sometimes.” “Well, that’s just how life is.” “You can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.”

It’s just so easy to be a critic. We breathe cynicism. We carry around unlimited cynicism in our pockets. We pay $40 a month to have constant access to it. We drink it up. We share it. We pass it around. Cynicism is more common than the common cold.

But, as a follower of Jesus, I’ve never encountered a command from Jesus to be cynical.

Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m obeying someone besides Jesus. Maybe I’m believing some lies about deserving a perfect, comfortable, happy life. Maybe I need to repent.

I most certainly need to repent.

Sometimes, though, we don’t know what to turn to when we turn away from sin. I know I need to turn away from the sin of cynicism, of tearing down, of being selfishly critical. But what do I turn to instead? I think one of many answers can be found in Colossians 3.

And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17

This passage is so rich. And I think there’s a significant emphasis of which I want to take note.

It’s the trifecta of commands to be thankful.

Instead of being cynical, I believe we’re commanded to be thankful.

Paul starts with the peace of Christ ruling your heart, bringing you into communion with fellow believers. And then, “Be thankful.” Be thankful for Christ ruling your heart! You don’t deserve that. But Christ rules your heart because he wants to, because he deserves to. Because that’s better for you. So you have peace with others because Jesus rules your heart. That’s amazing. That’s something to be thankful for. If you don’t know what to give thanks for, give thanks for Jesus ruling your heart. Give thanks for peace. Give thanks for friendships.

Paul moves on with a command to let the word of Christ live in you, and let the word and wisdom of Christ move you to encourage others and, get this, give thanks to God. If you know the words of Jesus, you will be able to share those with others. To know the words of Jesus is a gift. To be able to hear them and understand them is another. To be able to know, hear, understand, and share them is a third. To be able to do all those things and sing praises to God is a fourth gift–and a most remarkable one at that. We don’t deserve any of those gifts. Yet we have been given them and more. Thanks be to God!

Finally, Paul lands the plane. He says whatever you do, whenever, wherever, with whoever, do it for Jesus; and while you’re doing whatever you’re doing and doing that thing for Jesus, give thanks! Thank God for the morning coffee. Give thanks for that song on the radio. Give thanks for your boss. Give thanks for that paper that’s due. Give thanks for any ability you have, any skill you possess, any holy thought you have, any desire to do good, and any joy you might feel. Yes, this will take you all day.

I had another friend tell me he recently that he was looking at a list of people he was praying for, and while praying and thinking through that list, he thought, There are so many needs. So many people need prayer. And these are just the people on my list! There are so many more people and needs and prayers to pray. This will take me all day!

Then it hit him. When Paul says pray all day, it’s not a suggestion. When you realize how much you have to pray, you end up praying all day. The same thing goes for gratitude. When you realize how much you have for which to give thanks, you end up giving thanks all day.

Now, this isn’t something I’m a pro at by any means. In fact, you might be way ahead of me in this spiritual practice of thanking God throughout the day. I hope if you are, then you start to teach others; and if you’re a day behind, that’s OK. Read Colossians 3 and focus on verses 15-17. Memorize them if that helps. Pray for the Spirit of God to give you a spirit of obedience. Then practice. Practice right now, practice tomorrow, practice the next day after. And when you succeed, thank God. And when you fail, thank God. His mercies are new every morning.

– Matt Welborn