In the early 1950s, Norman Vincent Peale authored The Power of Positive Thinking, which captured the imagination of millions of readers. In the book he made observations such as, “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate,” “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism,” and “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
Following his teachings came a wave of motivational messages, declarations like, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” A slew of men and women perched on the Peale pedestal seeking to inspire and challenge aspiring achievers to think higher and dream bigger.
|This bee at Busch Gardens in Florida wasn't just thinking|
about making honey - it was doing something about it.
Even today the impact of the late Dr. Peale’s thoughts continues to reverberate, his legacy being carried on by many others, ranging from the smiley-faced aphorisms of Joel Osteen and other feel-good tele-preachers, to the fun, “don’t worry, be happy” type tunes sung by vocalists like Bobby McFerrin and Pharrell Williams.
I’m not a positive thinking naysayer. There’s great value in taking a positive, optimistic approach to life. I’ve always preferred to start the day with a hearty, “Good morning, Lord!” than a discouraging, “Good Lord…morning!” And I can remember many times when doubts started creeping in, I was able to cast them aside with a determined, “I can do this!” – and I did.
Maybe that’s why the old Nike slogan, “Just Do It,” connected with so many people. It suggests the power of positive thought, but goes beyond that. Basically it says, “Don’t just think about something – do something about it.”
For instance, do you want a better job? Don’t squander your time wishing and hoping. Figure out what you need to do to become a more valued worker, how to improve or expand your skills. Discover where your talents are, what you like to do, and take the initiative to find somewhere you can put those abilities to good use.
Do you want a better marriage? Don’t just wish it were better – or even pray that it would be better. Figure out what needs to happen to make it better, how you can become a better partner to your spouse, and if necessary, where to find help in making necessary changes.
Positive thinking definitely trumps negative self-talk, but it only goes so far. The time comes when we need to stop thinking and talking and to start doing. I appreciate what the Bible has to say about this. To follow Jesus isn’t just pondering the so-called “sweet by and by.” In fact, He said not to dwell on the future, but to focus on the present. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
The apostle Paul told members of the early Church that faith in Christ was not an intellectual exercise, but belief and commitment translated into action. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Sounds to me like he was preaching the power of positive doing.
Apparently the apostle James observed among those professing to believe in Jesus a similar tendency, to spend more time contemplating spiritual things than implementing those truths in their daily lives. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like” (James 1:22-24). Seems silly, doesn’t it?
Hammering home his point, James added this admonition: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes, and daily food. If one of you says to him, ’Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-18).
The Bible clearly teaches we can’t work to earn God’s favor. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). But if our professed faith lacks outward expression – through our actions and behavior – chances are good what we believe might be nothing more than positive thinking.