For the longest time I was sceptical of positive thinking. It sounds pretty grinch-like, doesn't it? To me, positive thinking was an airy fairy escapist thing involving inspirational quotes on photos of nature and not a lot of practical good. And that is something quite different to what I'd quietly defined faith to be about. To me it is primarily about battling evil (usually the evil within myself) by God's grace.
Only it isn't so different. Not really. In secular culture, I think positive thinking and self-improvement often go together, usually in a well-meaning yet quite impractical way. Yet, also in the Christian life, positive thinking and transformation go together, only we have a slight category shift—we call positive thinking praise or worship.
A distorted truth
Recently, I have been pondering the nature of truth and lies and personal convictions. I've reached the conclusion that believing in lies will inevitably result in sin, but believing the truth will lead you to knowing God better and better. This is nothing revolutionary; it's more or less straight from the epistles of John.
But it made me wonder what I truly believe about what it is to be a Christian.
One of the things that I loved most about the Bible is that it tells it like it is: we see the imperfections of every human character. We have books like Job and Ecclesiastes that legitimise our questions about the hard things in life. It's OK to wonder what the point is, there's space to grapple with suffering: God makes room for that.
I think for a very long time I emphasised the fact that I am sinful. That's a fact not to lose sight of. However, putting it as the central truth led me to focus on my faults and identify with them, even though I wanted not to.
These things that I valued so much were one-sided. It was an aspect of the truth, but not the whole truth.
Given my strong belief in human fallibility, I would have absolutely no time for secular inspirational messages; ones that claim that we have what it takes to overcome any adversity, that our potential is just waiting to be unlocked.
I started wondering about a Christian positivity when my then-girlfriend came to me with something important to her: she didn't feel affirmed. Having been asked to make more of an effort to say encouraging things, to tell her what I liked about her, I discovered an issue: I couldn't think of a whole lot to say.
It may have been reflective of us not being a very good match—that's certainly the conclusion we came to eventually. However, I feel it was indicative of something else going on in my mind—or rather—an indication of what was lacking. I needed to worship more.
Being transformed by the renewing of my mind
I don't mean worshipping her. I also don't mean just singing more songs or sitting in prayer—although these things are good. I mean praising God from the heart. I mean seeing God's beauty, falling in love with His character and seeing His richness around me. Focusing not on the darkness within me, but the light all around—trusting that the eye is the lamp of the body, and light will have light.
I need to remember that while it is great to acknowledge the hard things, it's even better to see the good things.
Far more than the Bible telling the story of human sin, the Bible is a story of God's great glory. It's a testament to His great character, to His patience, His kindness, His justice, holiness and power.
Seeing God's goodness in the world around us—that is true positive thinking that can and will effect change. Finding joy in God's character and being thankful for the multitude of His great gifts—these things will change our hearts. And the heart shapes our thoughts, our actions, our habits, and our character.
Let's meditate on God's greatness, take time to count our many blessings, and work on appreciating and giving thanks for His work in ourselves and others.
'Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.'
- The letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verse 8.
Matthew Joils is a student at the University of Canterbury. He is involved in the Christian Union on Campus. He enjoys having people in his house, drinking tea, and writing. He publishes occasionally on his blog: www.matthewjoils.wordpress.com
Matthew Joils' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/matthew-joils.html