In response to a world currently filled with turmoil, Time Magazine just put out a special edition titled, “The Power of Positive Thinking – Why Attitude Matters.” What a relief to see something in print that encourages optimism.
Oh wait — is positive thinking a new concept? I don’t think so. Is it biblical? Yes and no.
By nature, humans are optimistic beings. We’d rather admire the colors of a rainbow, than bemoan the stormy clouds that made it possible. Granted, we aren’t always positioned toward the sun, but our mental and emotional healths are optimized when we find a “sweet spot” of balance between positivity and pragmatism.
Time Magazine says, “…true optimism isn’t about living in denial of reality — even all the ‘bad’ parts. What optimism is really about is accepting even the most troubling challenges and obstacles with perspective and clear-eyed intent to not let them stop you from enjoying the best version of your life.”
If you listen to the televised news and social media, you’d expect optimism to erode under the weight of a worldwide pandemic, financial instability, increased homelessness, commodities supply-chain stagnation, and shocking episodes of unwarranted violence. Collectively, we may grumble about our national politics and our leaders’ inability to enhance living conditions, but for most of us our private optimism remains solid.
Hope is essential for our well-being. It keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress, and even improves our physical health.
“In fact, a growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness.”
Biblically stated, God created us to be in a state of ongoing, expectant hope.
In 1950, L. Ron Hubbard first printed “Diabetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” In 2003, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s book, “The Power of Positive Thinking” was published. Joel Osteen wrote “Your Best Life Now” in 2014 and “Empty Out the Negative” in 2020, among other titles.
Between these three authors alone — and there are many writers saying essentially the same things — there are over 310 million books in print. People are starved for what Hubbard, Peale, and Osteen are serving.
However, their message isn’t just about the pursuit of God-given optimism. They have been successful authors by appealing to people’s hopeful belief that they can improve their future through the power of their minds.
Scripture doesn’t tell us to control the world with our thinking — it tells us to control our thinking.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise-worthy — meditate on these things.” (Phil 4:8)
The biblical authors wrote that we must honor God, pray and model our lives after Jesus. We cannot do any of those things without choosing how we think.
Last week I met a police chaplain who said something I will never forget: “Courage will get you to the mouth of the cave; curiosity convinces you to enter it.” No one enters the cave expecting to be eaten by a bear. Rather, we optimistically anticipate something worthwhile awaits us inside.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he encouraged these thoughts: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you … hold fast what is good.” (1 Thes 5:16-18, 21)
Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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