Years ago, Norman Vincent Peale wrote a very popular self-help book, The Power of Positive Thinking, when self-help books weren’t yet all that popular. While it received criticism from some mental health experts, theologians and academics, his book explored 10 helpful rules for “overcoming inadequacy attitudes and learning to practice faith.”
Among these were visualizing oneself succeeding; drowning out negative thoughts with positive thoughts; not attempting to duplicate others, and recognizing the role God plays in achieving our goals. To be honest, I skimmed the book many years ago, so I don’t recall much of it.
But even nearly 70 years since Peale’s book was published, many of his points make good, common sense – to a point.
For instance, picturing ourselves finding success in our chosen pursuits is definitely preferable to envisioning our efforts ending in failure. I have a friend who often quips, “I’m a positive thinker. I’m positive things are going to get worse.” We don’t want to be our own self-fulfilling prophecies.
Comparing ourselves to others and seeking to replicate their accomplishments can also be self-defeating. I’ve learned that during this hard-knocks life. I can’t be someone else, just as they can’t be me. Psalm 139:14 declares, we each are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” We’re unique, not only in how we look but also in the way we think, our innate talents, our experiences, the skills we cultivate, and the spiritual gifts God entrusts to us. So trying to copy others can result in our rejection of how the Lord has uniquely designed us.
And if you’ve read these posts for very long, you know I’m all in about the belief that God wants to be directly and personally involved in every aspect of our lives. In his book, Peale asked his readers to repeat, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” 10 times every day. Taken from Philippians 4:13, a more contemporary translation is, “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” This is certainly valid biblical assurance we can trust – although I’m not sure we need to turn it into a mantra.
Ultimately, the strength of positive thinking depends on the basis for such thinking. If we adopt a “think happy thoughts” or “don’t worry, be happy” mindset, our apple carts are sure to become upset at some point. Because from the moment we’re born, life is tough; and often it gets harder from there. But if our trust – our faith – is centered on the God of all eternity, His sovereignty, faithfulness, love, grace, mercy, holiness and righteousness, we have every reason for thinking positively.
We live in a world that bombards us with negative thinking and information. We wake up and if we’re foolish enough to turn on the news, we’ll want to jump back in bed, pull the covers over our heads and stay there. Sadly, the atmosphere in some homes is negative as well. As someone has said, it’s hard to soar with the eagles when you’re walking with turkeys.
Cultivating a positive attitude toward oneself can help to a degree, but that can’t safeguard us from events and circumstances that are beyond our control. The most positive attitude in the world won’t help a 6-foot-6, 275-pound person to become a world-class jockey. Sometimes our picnics get rained out no matter how positively we think.
But as we study the Scriptures, examining and meditating on the life of Jesus Christ, as well as learning about His children – sins, warts and all – we find the best source for learning to think positively. I’ve long appreciated the counsel of the apostle Paul, who wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Each of these adjectives aptly describes the Lord Jesus, and the more we can focus our thoughts on Him and His example, the better our lives will be. We also find incredible treasures in His teachings, whether it’s His so-called Sermon on the Mount or the many other interactions He had with people during His earthly ministry.
There was the time Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees, a self-righteous, self-assured group of Jewish leaders, who decided to test Him with what they considered a trick question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36). They probably figured that if the Lord singled out one commandment, they could challenge Him on why He didn’t think others were just as important.
But Jesus wisely responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
In this, He was not only summarizing all of the commandments and their intent, but also giving us a simple template for positive thinking: Love God with all we have, and let love and concern for others be the governing factor in our actions and decisions. If we’re thinking the right way, we’ll find positive thinking imbued with limitless power. Power from above.
* * *
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.