Should Christians be glass-half-empty believers or glass-half-full believers?


"Is the glass half empty or half full?" is a common expression, a proverbial phrase, generally used rhetorically to indicate that a particular situation could be a cause for pessimism (half-empty) or optimism (half full). [1] Essentially, a pessimist is more negative about things and the optimist is more positive.

Knowing all the details about the glass is important. Why is it considered half full? Why is it half empty? More importantly, why can’t the glass be overflowing? And though it's not a Christian saying, surely a Christian should be a glass-overflowing type.

I have heard this phrase when someone who considers themselves a glass-half-full person is counseling what they consider a glass-half-empty individual. They are trying to be helpful, but normally it comes across as negative and judgmental. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul said, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Notice the phrase "in all circumstances." Whether times are tough or not, our reaction should be the same — faith that God is in full control and though it may not feel like it, our glass is actually overflowing (Psa. 23:5; cf. Psa. 23:1-2; 73:10; John 10:10). And yes, this is definitely easier said than done.

This said, it’s just fine to inform others that you are having a tough day. We all have them. And we should tell the truth when we do. We know Paul had rough days when he wrote, "I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling" (1 Cor. 2:3, NIV). Moreover, Paul was being honest. It almost sounds like Paul’s glass is completely empty. So, how could Paul have written what he did to the Thessalonians? (1 Thess. 5:16-18). If we look at what Luke wrote in Acts 18:9-10, we can see why: "And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, 'Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.'" Jesus instructed Paul to have overflowing faith. In a manner of speaking, Jesus said, "Paul, look at your glass from my perspective, because I see it overflowing with great blessings of grace and mercy" (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Paul had a lot of rough days that took living by faith, a faith pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6). Paul told us about his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, but he immediately added to this his statements of overflowing faith that God would see him through it (2 Cor. 12:9-10). A chapter earlier, in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul wrote this:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

Wow! Talk about some tough days and nights! Don’t think for a moment that these times weren’t challenging and stressful. Paul suffered a great deal. Amazingly, however, Paul learned to be content in all his circumstances (Phil. 4:11-12) and rejoice in his sufferings (cf. Phil. 4:4-9).

We can learn what Paul learned — be a glass-overflowing type of Christian, not just a glass-half-full type. Notice I said learn because this doesn’t come naturally. Paul didn’t hide from what was really happening to him and tells us about some of his bad times. That's not necessarily being a pessimist, but it is being genuine. And, I might add, it’s much easier to pray for people when they are being genuine about what’s happening to them. Paul told us the way things actually were but, in the Lord, he rejoicingly handled them.

Believers should learn from Paul that we can see things honestly and yet know our lives overflow with hope and joy because of Christ.


[1] Stephanie Stokes Oliver (2001). Seven Soulful Secrets for Finding Your Purpose and Minding Your Mission Crown Publishing Group. p. 106.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).