“DON’T be discouraged! You WILL succeed!”
It breaks my heart to see how many people today, especially young people, are ignoring God’s word or even turning their back on his word in order to pursue and fulfil what they call their ‘purpose’ or ‘destiny’ in life. They think they have to eat and drink from another source other than the word of God to get what they want, and the source they eat and drink at is the philosophy of this world, the ideas and thoughts of unbelievers, of those who don’t know God, who live independently of God and believe in their own ability and powers to fulfil their dreams and become successful. In this sense, they drink from a river the proceeds from the devil himself. They follow the teachings of atheists. The teaching arose in about the 1950s and although there are different variations of this teaching, they all come under the heading of ‘the power of positive thinking.’ Many popular preachers, who call themselves Christians, now promote these ideas, and those who are more interested in becoming successful in their careers and business than in following Jesus Christ eagerly absorb these teachings as though the Bible had never been written. What is the teaching of ‘the power of positive thinking’, what is the teaching of these people who totally disregard God? Well, I will quote some of their standard statements. it goes something like this:
‘Everything depends on your attitude. If you want to be successful you need to change your attitude. If you have the wrong attitude you will always be unsuccessful and poor. Change your thinking! Only think positively and you will succeed. Grasp the opportunity! Your future is in your hands; everything depends on the decisions you yourself make! Start thinking big, start dreaming big, start imagining big things for yourself! Have confidence in yourself! Persevere and in the end you will be victorious! Don’t give up! Never be discouraged! Pursue your dreams! The way to success is paved with failure, so don’t give up! Focus on those things that will help you to fulfil your destiny! Associate with those people and with those contacts who will help you achieve your dreams! You need to discover your purpose in life! How can you fulfil your destiny if you haven’t discovered your purpose in life? Your destiny is in your hands.’
What I have just quoted are some typical statements of those who promote the power of positive thinking, that is, just by having the ‘right’ attitude, you can be ‘successful’ and ‘fulfil your dreams’. This is the anti-Christian, or we can say, antichrist teaching of unbelievers who turn their backs on God and want to fulfil their own ambitions and dreams, believing it is their efforts and choices that will make them successful. It is amazing and distressing to see how many young Christians swallow this unbiblical self-centred approach. It is not God-centred, it is not Christ-centred, it puts you yourself in the centre! None of the above statements that I quoted f come rom the Bible or have anything to do with the Bible! Most quotes do not mention verses from the Bible. Although some of the words are similar to what we find in the Bible, nevertheless the context and the source from which they come are totally different – like a difference between light and darkness! All the statements lead you to put confidence in yourself, in your decisions, in your abilities, in your powers, while ignoring the God who gave His Son that you should be His and His alone!
Now of course, some of the statements above have a definite element of truth in them, JUST LIKE what the devil said to Eve had A DEFINITE ELEMENT OF TRUTH, when he told her that they would become as God if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! And this part was true! Because after they had eaten that fruit, God said, ‘Behold, the MAN IS BECOME AS ONE OF US, to know good and evil.’ So the devil’s words had one aspect of truth, but it was not THE TRUTH, it was not the WHOLE truth, so it led them into sin, into independence from God and into SEPARATION from God. And this is what the teaching of the power of positive thinking will do in your life if you follow it.
One quote said that God blesses you only ‘spiritually’, but that YOU YOURSELF are responsible for making your life shine with success! Not only is such a thought unbiblical, it represents blasphemy against God! It is a slander against God. He knows if a sparrow falls to the ground, how much more does he not know about every step of your life and my life! God knows us through and through; he knows everything about us, from the time we get up to the time we go to bed! Do we really think that God has no interest in the choices we make; that God has no interest in the direction that our lives should take? Do we think that somehow we have to make choices independent of God in order for our destiny to be successful? Do we not read the Bible? Are we followers of Christ or not? In Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 10 it says this, ‘for we are HIS workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God has BEFORE ORDAINED that we should walk in them.’ Do we know this verse? Do we believe this word? Or do we feel safer if we take our lives out of the hands of God, out of his direction, and make our own decisions? Do we really think that by committing our lives to Christ and trusting him for every step we take that some how we will lose out, that we will miss our destiny? Is God in charge of our lives – yes or no?
It is clear from the posts many people put on Facebook that they do not know the Bible, that they are not lead by the word of God in their lives, that they do not understand the nature of God and who he is, and that they do not understand that they do not belong to themselves any more but to the one who loved them and died for them. How can we think that the only alternative to fulfilling our dreams and ambitions by our positive thinking, is to be left helpless, like a passive piece of wood in a river, being carried by life’s circumstances without direction, without destiny, without hope? How can Christians have an attitude like this? If we are talking about changing our attitudes in order to change our lives, THEN THIS FALSE ATTITUDE, this slander against God IS THE ATTITUDE THAT NEEDS CHANGING! Not to follow the anti-Christian teaching of the power of positive teaching DOES NOT MEAN that your life is left at the mercy of your circumstances! There is a God who loves you so much that he gave his Son to die for you, not just to forgive you, save you from sin and bless you with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, but He has a path and a way for you to walk in. Are you interested in his will for your life? Do you seek first his kingdom and righteousness? So why drink the poison from the river of the power of positive thinking? Are you afraid, are you really afraid, do you really believe that by trusting God, by putting your life in his hands, by committing to him every step that you take, that you will miss out on the things that God himself has prepared for you? Do you want God to ordain the steps you take or do you want to choose them yourself without reference to him? It gets to a point where I asked myself what is being preached in churches today, are young people really being converted and brought into this salvation that Christ died for?
Where does the Bible say ‘trust in yourself’, ‘have a positive attitude and you will succeed’, ‘changing your attitude is the secret to success’? WHY DO BELIEVERS NOT QUOTE THE BIBLE to encourage one another? I think the reason is this: the word of God does not give us the freedom to choose our own way, and that’s exactly what people want to do today, although they say they are followers of Christ. They follow the teaching of atheists through the following the teaching of the power of positive thinking so they can get what they really want while having the appearance of it being God’s will in their lives! Why do believers not quote one of the most important and encouraging verses in the whole Bible that relates to this subject? Namely, Proverbs chapter 3 verses five and six, which says, ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean to your own understanding. IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM AND HE WILL DIRECT YOUR PATHS.’ Why do they not quote this verse? I’ve not seen it anywhere on Facebook in reference to our future lives. Do they think God is not able to direct them, to fulfil HIS purposes for their lives? Is this what they think about God? Personally, I think part of the reason is this, that this verse, as with other verses in the Bible, bring God into the equation, bring God into the situation, bring God into your life! And then there is the fear that the things I personally really want may not come to pass! And that is the reason for the popularity of the teaching of the power of positive thinking! It puts the decision-making into your hands, not God’s!
Why don’t believers quote from Psalm 37 and verse five which says, ‘commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.’ The idea that God can only bless us ‘spiritually’ but that we have to take over the direction of our lives by making our own choices, is a lie. Of course we have to think about things, of course we have to make decisions, of course there are opportunities that we need to consider! This is natural to life! This is not rocket science, this is no mystery! This is true of every person who has ever lived! THE QUESTION IS THIS, will you COMMIT your life, every step you take, every opportunity that comes along to the living God? This is the one issue! This is the heart of the matter! Committing every step we take, every decision we want to make into the hands of God does not deprive us of his purposes for us on earth nor of our eternal purpose in and through him! How could it? You might say, ‘Oh, of course I follow Christ in these things!’ Well, why do you then quote the thoughts and attitudes of the power of positive thinking (which originate from ungodly men) instead of the word of God?
Of course, people try to validate this kind of apostasy from the word of God by quoting the Bible! So they quote Psalm 37 and verse four where it says, ‘Delight yourself also in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ And then they say, ‘You see, God wants to give you the desires of your heart!’ And by believing this they open the door to every personal dream and ambition that they have without a true consideration of what God’s will for their lives is! And they forget the first part of the verse which says, ‘delight yourself in the Lord!’ The problem is, at the heart of the matter, that many believers delight themselves IN THEIR OWN AMBITIONS AND DREAMS! And then use this verse to pursue them! If you delight yourself in the Lord, if he himself is your joy and your love, then it will be natural to you to seek his will and to do his will in your life! As the psalmist said, ‘I delight to do your will, O my God: yea, your law is within my heart.’ (Psalms 40:8). People are turning things upside down today and delighting themselves in something else other than God!
Many young Christians are falling into the trap that the apostle James warns against! In his letter in chapter 4 verses 13 to 16 he says this, ‘ Come now, you that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas you know not what shall be tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now you rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.’
You see, even in New Testament times believers got caught up with their ‘dreams’ and ‘ambitions’. They were SO OCCUPIED with making a ‘success’ of their business and careers, that they LEFT GOD OUT of their planning! Even so today, many believers are boasting and rejoicing in the idea that they can fulfil their ambitions and their ‘destinies’ by their positive thinking, by never giving up, by never being discouraged by anything! The word of God says that all such boasting and rejoicing is evil. That’s the plain and simple truth. Let us be clear, very clear, it is not a question about whether you can have plans for the future or not, but whether you take account of God and his will for your life in the things you plan! James wasn’t criticising people for having a plan, he was rebuking them for not taking account of God and his will! He was rebuking them for being captivated by the idea of success and a successful future, and forgetting God in the process! Putting your trust in God doesn’t mean turning off your brain like you turn off computer; it doesn’t mean you stop making decisions or plans; it doesn’t mean becoming lazy; it doesn’t mean you can’t take up opportunities that come along! It means you take account of God and his will in everything you do. It means presenting yourself as a living sacrifice with regard to every major step in your life, seeking his confirmation and approval – or his redirection! It means making sure that the opportunity that presents itself to you is the one that God has provided for you!
This takes away all the slavery to positive thinking! ‘I have to keep positive, I have to keep the right attitude, I mustn’t give up, I mustn’t get discouraged etc etc.’ If your life is committed to him and if you commit each step you make to him and seek his confirmation and direction, then you can have PEACE in your heart, a peace that passes all understanding, you can have the joy and confidence that comes from knowing you are in his will! This peace and confidence is the ASSURANCE AGAINST all discouragement and difficulties that arise! Your ‘victory’ does not issue out your ‘positive thinking’, it stems from YOUR CONFIDENCE IN GOD! You can now be freed from all that hard-working mental activity about ‘being positive’, and replace it with a deep trust and confidence in God, who may lead you in the way you would choose, but who may choose not to lead you that way but in another direction! Are you prepared to live like that or not?
Some people give the impression that if you don’t employ ‘the power of positive thinking’ in your attitude, that it means you become passive, carried along by life circumstances – you don’t know where! To think like that is not to think, is not to use our brains! The Bible is full of exhortations and encouragement!
We are told in Romans 12:11 not to be lazy but to be diligent in the things that we do, and that everything we do whether in word or action, we should do ‘all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ (Colossians 3:17). Paul tells the Thessalonians that if anyone is lazy and doesn’t work then this person shouldn’t eat either (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Concerning our future and the will of God for our future the Bible does not tell us ‘to think positively’, it does not tell us to have ‘a positive attitude’ in order to ‘succeed’. Concerning the will of God and our future, what we need is to have our ‘minds renewed’ – that is the teaching of the Bible! So we read in Romans 12:1,2,
‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’
Do you think that your hopes and ambitions and destiny are under threat if you do this? It would seem that many do think this, since they are always quoting from the power of positive thinking! How can you be renewed in your mind to know what God’s will is if you fill your heart and mind with the power of positive thinking? That is a sure way of missing God’s will, certainly in this life, and risking the life to come!
As I have said, it is by committing ourselves to Christ continually that we have an understanding and assurance of his good, acceptable and perfect will! THIS is our CONFIDENCE and PEACE in facing any difficulty that may come; it is this confidence and peace that deals with any discouragement that may come! You don’t fight discouragement by fighting discouragement (with your ‘positive’ thinking) but by putting your trust in God. What people and ‘believers’ are posting on facebook and other forums about positive thinking and how everything depends on your attitude, takes God out of the equation, out of people’s thinking, out of people’s lives!
People quote Scripture in order to try to validate the ideas of unbelievers; so for example, they like to quote Proverbs 23:7, where it says, ‘as he thinks in his heart so is he.’ So those who want to exalt self and ignore God’s word say, ‘You see, your attitude is important. How you think in your heart defines you!’ Of course attitude and thinking is important, vitally important! But it is the word of God that is to shape our attitude and thinking! The word of God directs us to the kind of attitude we should have and the kind of thinking we should be engaged in! We are to have faith in Christ and to trust God in all things! This is a foundational attitude! We are to rejoice in Christ Jesus always! With regard to our thinking read Philippians 4:8 where it says, ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’ I suppose to many this verse doesn’t appeal so much as thinking positively about how successful your career is going to be!
With regard to attitude we have a clear instruction in Philippians chapter 2, where Paul says in verse five, ‘let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’ What an amazing verse that is! To have the same attitude as Christ. Is that the attitude you want? Read the first half of this chapter to get the full context and blessing! If you want to change your attitude, what about adopting the attitude of the apostle Paul, who says in Philippians chapter 3, in verses seven and eight, ‘But what things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.’ Is that your attitude – in comparison to knowing Christ, everything else is just dung?
People talk about achieving their goals. Well, the apostle Paul had a goal. Paul had one goal, one aim. He said, ‘Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14). So if you believe we need to change our attitude, is this the attitude you believe we need to have? Is this your attitude; is this your goal? Or do you think this attitude is just for apostles? But read the next verse and you will see it’s not just for apostles but Paul wants everyone to have this attitude! Paul says if you want to have the right attitude, if you would be perfect in your thinking, if you want to have the right attitude, then this is the attitude you should have!
What is the will of God for your life? The word of God tells you, ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3). If you fall into fornication while pursuing your successful career, how will your successful career save you in that day? What is the will of God for my life? He tells me, ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’ (1Thessalonians 5:16-18). You might ask me, “What has this to do with my future career?” Well, it has EVERYTHING to do with your future! If you don’t have the right relationship with God, if you don’t have the right attitude towards God, if you are not walking in fellowship with God and committing your life continually to him you will MISS his will for your life! Or have you made future success and idol in your life?
Many Christians shamelessly teach things like, “You need to discover your purpose in life; you need to fulfil your destiny in life! If you don’t know your purpose in life how can you fulfil your destiny?” This is nonsense! Christians talk as if there is no Bible and no God! Our destiny on earth and in eternity is made clear from the first chapters of the Bible, where God says, “let us make man in our own image.” God’s eternal purpose for you and me is to be made in his image, to shine in his image! “For whom he did foreknow, he also did PREDESTINATE TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29; read also 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 4:17). We are to be as Christ on earth and in eternity! This is our destiny! How can people TRIVIALISE the great calling of God on our lives and reduce and corrupt its meaning to apply a temporary career or business we might have on earth?
What is the purpose of eternal life? Jesus Christ gives us a clear answer in John 17:3, where he says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Our purpose in time and in eternity is to know the Father and to know the Son! The devil wanted to destroy God’s purpose for Adam and Eve on earth and he enticed them by quoting something that was true (in part!). And the devil wants to do the same in your life by enticing you with the teaching of the power of positive thinking – and it seems he is succeeding in many lives! And there are preachers today that do this very thing, namely, they teach a self-centred gospel about positive thinking and success and make it enticing by quoting and corrupting a few Scriptures to support these deceptions.
God is well able to sort out and direct my life in the path that he has chosen with regard to any job of future activity I might be involved in! This is incidental to the great calling with which he has called you and me in Christ Jesus! If I put my trust in Christ and commit my life and every step I take to him, then he is well able to lead me into the job or career that he wants me to do and to bless me! But my job, career or business is not my life’s purpose nor is it my destiny! Christ is my destiny – in this life and in eternity! To be like him, and manifest his life on earth in everything that I do – that is my purpose and my destiny! Christians are turning to the world’s philosophy and teaching things that rob Christians not only of God’s eternal purpose and destiny for them but also of God’s will for them on earth by filling their heads and hearts with the ideas of the power of positive thinking that focuses on their abilities, their decisions and their attitude rather than focusing on TRUSTING in God, COMMITTING one’s life to him at every step and letting him CONFIRM his will for our lives.
Let me just say, in case someone misunderstands me, that the alternative to having what they call a ‘positive attitude’, is not being negative, feeling useless and hating yourself! Because this too is the devil’s work! The alternative is putting our hope and trust completely in Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us that we might have life, and have it more abundantly! God can make a way for us through the most impossible situations (Isaiah 43:1-3,16). The Scriptures that exhort and encourage us to put our trust in God are too numerous to mention here! If you want your thinking to be ‘positive’ in the biblical sense, then what you need to do is to put all your trust in the living God!
This is what the apostle Paul did and that’s why he could say in Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ But what are the ‘all things’ that Paul mentions here? This is what he says, ‘I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.’ Paul was prepared for, and content in any situation! He can do these all things through Christ! Many people will not like this because putting your trust in Christ does not always lead to what people consider success or being successful. And here we have the fundamental reason why they turn their back on God’s word and embrace the teaching of the power of positive thinking which in general leaves out references to God and to Christ! They say things like ‘just change your attitude and you will find success; have confidence in yourself and you will succeed!’ In many of their statements they leave out the reference to God and to Christ since there one aim is not Christ but a successful business or career! Or these false preachers will simply corrupt God’s word and so you will find total nonsense posted on Facebook, like for example, ‘God has confidence in you, so have confidence in yourself.’ God has confidence in you? Where do they get this from? Why do believers swallow this poison? God loves us and has given us the most precious thing that he has, namely his son Jesus Christ, because our lives were lost in sin and darkness, so that we might now put our trust completely in him who alone is worthy! That’s why Paul says in Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” These are the characteristics of the true Christian! Life’s difficulties are to teach is one thing, namely, “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Please let me be clear. The question is not whether we use our abilities or not, IT IS A MATTER OF WHERE WE PUT OUR TRUST. You see, the choice is not between confidence or no confidence, but putting our confidence in God!
Coming to God about these matters to find his good, acceptable and perfect will, means that at times we might find that His will is different to what is in our hearts, and if we are to live before him as a living sacrifice, then we should be prepared for this. Many years ago I very much wanted to pursue a particular course of action in my life, a very important one, but as I waited on God it became increasingly clear that it was not the way that God wanted me to go. Often God confirms his will by the peace that he gives us in our hearts, or by the total lack of peace! And I simply had no peace in my heart to take the step, although I thought it was the perfect timing and opportunity! How thankful I am today that I didn’t take that step, which I can now see, looking back, would have been disastrous for me! What a wonderful God we have! What a wonderful father we have, who so cares for us and who can direct us in the important decisions of our lives! He sees and knows things that we can’t possibly know or foresee! But this is only possible if we present our bodies and our lives as a living sacrifice before him and put our trust wholly in him! I trust these few words will encourage you to put your trust in Him. Amen.
© David Stamen 2016