You would probably agree when I say there is certainly no shortage of popular books on positive thinking available today. Not surprising, considering I’ve met only a few people in my life who don’t want to change something about who they are, or their circumstances. However, for many of us there is one nagging reason that keeps us from moving ahead in life, it is our thoughts. Those seemingly insignificant sentences that pass through the mind, greatly influencing everything we say and do. From our thoughts, we hear messages that can propel us toward great accomplishments and positive change… or drag us into a negative spiral.
Has this ever happened to you? Some well-meaning person notices you’re a little down and decide they will help to encourage you so they say things like, “Snap out of it… think positive,” or “Cheer up things could be worse”… or my all time favorite, “You just have to stop speaking negativity into the atmosphere; think positive, if you had more faith, you wouldn’t let things affect you.” Although faith will lead to positive thinking it is much more than that and very different. Positive thinking is really something that comes from within oneself and is a decision to think in a certain way about life or certain events in life. Faith on the other hand is based on something outside of oneself.
Positive thinking in some ways may even undermine the infallible word of God. In that positive thinking refuses to acknowledge or accept anything that would disagree with what the world views as a successful end, like healing from a terminal disease, or paying bills with no income. Faith however does not require positive reports nor does it need to be the winner every time. Far too many people today mistake the notion of positive thinking with true faith in God. Many churches today call for people to believe the promises of God, trust in the Lord, to overcome sin, etc., and many of these people believe that the church is suggesting they try a little harder, look a little deeper, and find something positive to continue thinking optimistically about their circumstances or a particular situation. Unfortunately this is why many people leave the church while others want nothing to do with the church at all. Sadly the church is full of optimistic people who much like the little engine who thinks it can, try to speak their own “happy ending” into existence. But the God kind of faith is not a mental gimmick or an emotional magic trick.
Although God intends for all His people to live the “good life” it is not in the American sense of the word at all, God guarantees suffering for everyone and expects His people to rejoice in the midst of it. But it’s impossible to rejoice in something that you refuse to acknowledge, biblical faith never requires you to deny reality. Many forms of positive thinking not only oppose the Gospel by encouraging denying our broken world and individual circumstance, but it also suggests that we as mere humans are just as powerful as God, by believing that we can will things to happen, or even speak them into existence.
The idea that our words have supernatural power may seem like a sound biblical position when you consider scriptures like Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life is in the power of the tongue…” and Matthew 11:23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” But while Jesus invites us to submit our requests to God in prayer and in faith, the Bible makes it clear that our requests are granted only in accordance with God’s will, not our own. James reinforces this point in James 4:2-3. …”You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
A positive mental attitude, from a biblical perspective, is not proclaiming what is not so, it is not denying reality, it is not pretense. It plainly states the problem and acknowledges suffering – but it sees the solution in the power and mercy of God. True believers do not pretend that everything is fixed all around them; believers are not pretending their problems do not exist, that they have all the answers, and no issues, no sins. Without a doubt there is no denying there are some similarities in positive thinking and faith, as faith in the God sense will definitely result in positive thinking in the natural. However, positive thinking alone becomes an end in and of itself whereas the end object of faith in God is towards Jesus Christ and loving and following Him.
In other words, the one thing to have positive thinking about is God’s word. Decide you will believe it, no matter what. When life threatens to overwhelm you, take one of God’s promises, cling to it, and decide to believe it. That means you will be thinking positive about something that is unchangeable, immutable, always true: God. Don’t worry about trying to be positive concerning everything else in your life. In fact, don’t focus on your life at all. Put all your attention on God’s word and how it applies to your life. If you do this all the time even when you’re down, you’ll discover the problem begins to weaken and even your thinking will become better. You can be positive about God’s word, even when your life feels negative because God’s word is the only thing we need to think positive about, because it is the only thing that is true.