Member Spotlight | Fighting Cynicism

Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week, we hear from Matthew Travis, a college senior and member of our Business Council, as he shares with us how his fight against cynicism looks like in light of the gospel.

How does cynicism show up in your life?

Cynicism shows up in my life when I focus on myself and my struggles, rather than on Jesus. This specifically looks like praying for something and then moving on with my day without being attentive to how God might be at work in my day. Then, when the prayer is answered, I think, “that probably would have happened anyway.”

A large part of it is also fear - I tend to shy away from things that scare me. I think I will be my best protector because I have my best interest in mind. In those moments, I fail to realize that the Lord loves me so much that He gave His only Son to redeem me into His own family. He loves me better than I ever could imagine, which means verses like Psalm 27:1 can reassure me that I can live fearless because the Lord is my God and my Protector.

A very real example of cynicism in me is in seeking to be in a relationship simply to avoid being single. Until recently, I had not been aware of how much weight I was giving to finding someone to date. I thought I had to take the situation into my own hands because God obviously didn’t want the best for me. So for years, I had so much anxiety about being single and knew that I was the one to blame, because the situation was, in my eyes, dependent on me. This is cynicism - not trusting that God is working in my life or believing that He has a beautiful, abundant plan for me.

Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?

I have seen growth in overcoming my sin of cynicism by being upfront and honest with people in my LifeGroup. It has been a huge relief to be able to go to the guys in my group and tell them how real this struggle is. They speak gospel-truth over me and reassure me that God is moving and working in my life and that He has not overlooked me.

Since starting to use the Personal Liturgy app back in January, I have begun to notice cynicism in my life. It has made me aware of how much I tend to doubt God’s presence in my life and His active movement in my circumstances. Without the app’s daily encouragement to think through my thoughts, emotions, and feelings towards God, I probably would not have noticed this sin in my life as something that needs to be addressed.

How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with cynicism?

Cynicism attempts to attack my identity in Christ and tries to tell me that the truth of the good news of Jesus does not apply to me. The gospel shows me that because of Immanuel, God is always with me and never leaves me or forsakes me. Jesus gave me the Holy Spirit when I became a believer and assures me that because of His love, I never have to be insecure ever again about whether or not He is active in my life. This is the confidence the gospel gives me.

What are practical steps or habits you practice to fight cynicism in your life? Have there been any scriptures, books or teachings/sermons that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with cynicism in your life?

Honestly, the best tool for me to fight cynicism in my life has been to turn to Scripture and read the truth about how the Lord loves me personally and how He will never leave me. He is faithful. When I am not faithful, He is still faithful. It’s beautiful to know that the Lord’s faithfulness is not dependent on me.

  • Hebrews 13:5-6 has really helped me. This references Psalm 118:6 which states that since the Lord is on my side, I have no fear. Hebrews 13:5-6 says that the Lord is not only on our side, He is our Helper!
  • Exodus 3:12 says that the Lord Himself will be with us.
  • Deuteronomy 31:8 says that the Lord Himself will be with us. He will go before us and not leave us nor forsake us.

One important characteristic about cynicism that has been hard for me to understand and grow in is that the presence of cynicism doesn’t depend on how much I know. Simply knowing Bible verses and being able to recite them is not enough. I am fighting to live in light of these verses, instead of just knowing them in my head. This takes active, pleading prayer to God for help to make these verses change the way I live in light of the gospel.

What encouragement would you offer to others in our church family as they seek to fight cynicism in their lives?

If you notice yourself leaning towards cynicism in your life when you think about God, I would strongly encourage you not to try to hide this from other people, or quite frankly, from yourself. Being open and honest with personal struggles is a healthy way to live life. I think it is really easy to say that doubting God is normal and everyone has those thoughts, when in reality, God desires for us to talk about those thoughts and believe in Him more and love Him more as a result of those conversations. Please don’t miss the beauty and the power of other believers encouraging you through your sin and struggles (Hebrews 3:12-13).

I would also say that there is joy in remembering that the Lord is sovereign over all things, including cynicism in your life, which means we can now approach every situation, no matter how hard, frustrating, or seemingly impossible they are, with hope. This hope in Jesus that He has conquered the grave and our sin allows us to fight cynicism in the grace that He has already provided for us. This is good news!

Resource Round-up | Cynicism

This week we began examining the fourth enemy to our spiritual health: cynicism. We are defining cynicism as a posture of skepticism that leads us to doubt God’s presence and activity in our lives. We hope these additional resources will be helpful as you fight cynicism in your life.

Video: Are You Cynical About Prayer? by Paul Miller

In this quick two-minute video, Paul Miller (author of A Praying Life) explains how an undercurrent of cynicism in our culture negatively affects our prayer lives.

Book: A Praying Life by Paul Miller

In his book, Miller goes in heavily on cynicism as a hindrance to our prayer lives. He has a lot of insight into how we identify cynicism and overcome it through trusting Jesus.

Article: Putting Off Cynicism by Paul Maxwell

This article defines cynicism and looks at some of its biggest hidden dangers. Maxwell identifies the five components of cynicism (including its connection to apathy) and then offers five things that Christ provides to help the cynic.

Book: Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves

During this portion of the series, we will be covering how the Holy Spirit battles our cynicism by continually pointing us to trust and put our hope in Jesus. This book provides a wonderfully compelling vision of God as Trinity and how He works in our lives. Reeves calls us out of our cynicism and invites us to delight in God and in knowing Him.

Article: Warm Yourself at the Fires of Meditation by David Mathis

David Mathis makes the case for how meditating on God and His Word is a central means of grace and healing in the Christian life.

Sermon Series: “Crisis of Faith

If in the midst of your cynicism you find yourself wrestling with tough questions and doubts, we recommend checking out this sermon series by Midtown. This series takes a look at six questions or issues that hinder people from following or trusting Jesus. For more resources on these topics, check out the blogs posted for this series here.

Article: The Sin in Our Cynicism by Jonathan Parnell

This piece looks at the sinful roots that often lie underneath our cynical attitudes towards God and others. Parnell argues that cynicism is a problem, and more than that, it is sin. He challenges readers to fight cynicism by beginning to see things as they are—as God has told us they are in His Word.

Sermon Recap | The Doubting Thomas in All of Us


This week in our Personal Liturgy series, we began exploring our fourth enemy to our spiritual health: cynicism. This enemy is one of the hardest to point out because we sometimes conflate being cynical with being grown-up, rational Americans and because we don’t have a great working definition or understanding of what cynicism is on a day-to-day basis.

Cynicism - a posture of skepticism that leads you to doubt God’s presence and activity in your life.

3 Symptoms of Cynicism:

  1. Doubt/Distrust: When we’ve been burned or hurt, we don’t want to feel that again, so we self-protect. We start to believe everything and everyone has an angle and begin questioning people’s motives. We start to doubt God and distrust Him. Our faith gets doubted constantly while our doubts and cynicism go unchecked.
  2. Distance: We grow distant from God and people, specifically people who don’t join us in cynicism. If intimacy requires trust, then cynicism is distrust. It holds people at arm’s length and doesn’t expect God to show up in our lives.
  3. Disenchantment: Hope, belief, trust, love, intimacy, and life with a supernatural God are all very enchanting things. They are things that brighten our eyes and fill our spirit and fill us with wonder. Cynicism looks at these and rolls its eyes at it because cynicism makes us disenchanted.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

- John 20:19-22, 24-25

When Jesus died, so did Thomas’ spiritual hopes and Thomas’ reputation. To say Thomas was devastated is not enough. He felt distraught and abandoned. At best, he’ll be mocked for following Jesus, the fraud. At worst, he’ll be tracked down and killed.

That’s the weight of indescribable disappointment and hurt packed in the words: “I will never believe.

The Doubting Thomas in All of Us

Sometimes, like Thomas, disappointment and wounds are at the heart of our cynicism. Cynicism becomes our defense mechanism. Cynicism grows in the wounds caused by life not going how we hoped.

But cynicism is more than just disappointment and hurt. The truth is, there’s a bit of a doubting Thomas in all of us.

  • For some of us, cynicism starts every morning when we don’t see the need to carve out time with Jesus and then stumble into our day godlessly, without prayer or any acknowledgment of God’s presence and power in our lives.
  • For others, cynicism shows in us when we attribute something amazing to circumstance or nature, rather than to prayer and God’s hand.
  • Cynicism shows up in our spiritual growth when we don’t see the growth we desire, believe that we will never change, and so we stop putting forth the effort.
  • It can show up in our relationships with others. When we see sin or weakness in someone and God’s Spirit prompts us to encourage, correct, or rebuke, cynicism creeps in and tells us that conversation will go badly or that it won’t be worth it.
  • Cynicism can creep into the mission. We can get really excited about the mission and want to invite people to church or LifeGroup, but when cynicism speaks up, we deflate and convince ourselves they won’t come, so it won’t be worth asking. Cynicism neuters courage and obedience.
  • Ultimately, cynicism affects our view of God. We start to see God more as a distant watchmaker in the sky, than as a Father who cares and is involved in the details of our life.

It’s all cynicism. We don’t actually trust God is exactly who He says He is and we don’t actually believe He’s going to do what He says He’s going to do.

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

- John 20:26-31

As Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds, Thomas’ wounds are healed. His cynicism and distrust are shattered. The prophecy in Isaiah 53, that by Jesus’ wounds we would be healed, comes true for Thomas right here.

In the middle of this incredible, powerful moment with Thomas, Jesus stops, and thinks about us. He stops and thinks about all of us who would never get to see Him in the resurrected flesh, and He says, “Blessed are those who don’t see but still believe.”

Jesus extends to us the same offer He extended to Thomas: to look at His wounds and believe. He invites us to believe that Jesus, the Son of God died in our place. He calls us to believe He rose from the grave. He calls us to believe that in the midst of our frustration and doubt, God sees us, hears our every word muttered in cynical angst, and loves us anyway.

Reading the Bible brings us back into the enchanted, supernatural world that God created. It was written so we could encounter the living God, the Maker of heavens and the earth, and the God who sustains our every breath. Time and time again, we get to see God showing up over and over again, bringing life and hope to all kinds of different people and sinners. We get to see the miraculous work of Jesus dying on the cross for us and saving us!

Here’s what this means for us:

  1. God pursues the disenchanted and the cynical. The Bible is proof - the spread of this book around the globe is proof! God is coming after us. We have God’s supernatural revelation of Himself to us right here.
  2. We fight cynicism by being in God’s Word. If the purpose of Scripture is for us to believe in Jesus and we find ourselves wrestling with cynicism, we should be spending more time in His Word.

This is God’s plan to crush your disbelief and cynicism. The Bible is God’s plan to re-enchant you to the unthinkable grace found in reality. God’s Word never returns void.

Personal Liturgy Challenge

Our challenge for this week is to meditate on Scripture for at least 15 minutes per day. Passages and questions will be provided for us to pray through as we meditate on God’s Word.