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Archive for the ‘Positive Thinking’ Category

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3 New Living Translation

I must admit that I don’t take to adversity very well. My normal reaction to the challenges of life that come my way is often, “WHY is this happening to me?” or  “What did I do to deserve this?”

Some adversity in life comes suddenly and without warning. Like an unexpected accident or the sudden death of a close family member. Sometimes we bring adversity on ourselves by making poor choices or even facing a challenge by taking appropriate risk or exercising courage.

Just recently I’ve been taking a weekly half-hour swimming class which is meant to develop a higher level of fitness by swimming vigorous laps around the pool wearing fins. This class in “Fin Fitness” has taught me a lot about facing resistance and developing strength and endurance.

Each week,  before class begins I start wondering why I agreed put myself through the gauntlet. Everyone who has been involved in the class sees the benefits because the exercise is so intense. The small group of my classmates are younger, fitter and better swimmers than yours truly and it’s a huge challenge keeping up with them  – a task I’ve been unable to accomplish so far.

When the class is over and relief sets in I’m joyful that I stuck it out. I then experience the benefits that come from facing the challenge and finding the endurance to persevere.  Hopefully strength, fitness, flexibility and endurance will be physical benefits I will enjoy not to mention the emotional well being that is part of the process.

Whatever the test or trial might be I often wonder if our state of mind is the critical factor in it all. Is there a mindset that will help us on a day to day basis that will carry us through as we courageously face  the challenges that come our way?

In the book of James in the New Testament, the author makes some very startling statements, especially about trials and suffering. One of the better known verses, quoted above, instructs the reader to actually consider trials and tests as joyful opportunities for personal growth.

James does say that if our faith is tested, endurance has a chance to grow. When you consider it, in many areas of life we don’t get very far without meeting resistance head on.

Whatever challenge you may be facing today take a close look at your attitude toward it.  Remember that James is addressing followers of Jesus in the first century. Jesus Christ is the one who faced the adversity of the Cross and all that it entailed, yet came through victorious. Not only is He our Savior but our example of facing adversity courageously and with an eternal perspective.

 Although I don’t like to admit it, in a world full of adversity there’s probably nothing that will build strength and endurance except facing resistance with a positive attitude and an eternal perspective.  

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“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

“Almost everyone who comes into our office seems to be experiencing high levels of stress,” commented the nurse who was drawing my blood. My local doctor sent me to her recently for a routine blood test. As we were conversing we somehow came to the subject of stress and anxiety.

It’s not very difficult to see why people are under a cloud of so much worry in these times. We are under constant pressure from many sources nowadays. A case in point would be the US presidential race which ended this past week.

Even though I am not currently residing in the USA many people where I live in Ireland were watching the election with interest and I along with them. From my viewpoint, I was aware that  many of my Stateside family and friends were profoundly anxious about the outcome of the election – one way or the other.

I’m obviously not the first to discover this, but anxiety is most often fueled by a sense of helplessness in the face of situations beyond our control. The outcome of an event or the fear of “what might happen next?” is reflective of anxiety’s dominance on the stage of our minds.

In recent years I’ve come to realize that worry and stress have had a much firmer grip on my soul than they should have had. Our tendency to worry about the real-life issues we face doesn’t usually have any influence over the situations themselves and in fact makes living in the present much more difficult in the process. Maybe it’s that we have the compulsion to “do something” about what troubles us, even when we realistically have little control in the situation.

It’s a negative cycle that’s not easily broken. Anxiety creates an ever growing snowball that keeps negative thinking  growing. The effects of anxiety rob us of happiness that could be ours and influences the lives of those around us. It’s not very fun to be around people who don’t have a positive outlook on life. Anxiety is a toxin that takes away good things and gives nothing in return.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, I think one decision we can make today to start relieving the burden of anxiety on our souls is to examine our own thoughts in light of what they produce in our inner lives.

As reflected in the verse above, Jesus spoke to us very directly about our thought processes, particularly about the things we tend to stress over the most – our basic needs of food, clothing and housing. He spoke about God’s Kingdom, seeking it first, above all things, and trusting God to take care of all of our needs.

Over the past while I made some deliberate decisions about being much more intentional about my own thought life.  As a result, I obtained a small notebook as a complement to my own personal journal.  It’s specifically for recording positive things I’m seeing God doing in and around me – the signs of His Kingdom, so to speak. Answers to prayer, unexpected surprises, people who are special to me and reasons for celebrating what God is doing all find their way into the notebook.

As you might imagine, my “positive notebook” is progressing, but it doesn’t have nearly enough in it. I’m sure that I am only capturing a fraction of what God is actually doing around me and what could be recorded.

Whenever I’m tempted to let anxiety take root, or allow negative thoughts to dominate, my positive notebook is never far away. Taking time to reflect on the positives gives me a fresh perspective on my current problems and renews a spirit of gratitude within me.

I don’t expect to solve everyone’s problems with anxiety with one essay such as this. Just the exercise of sharing these insights gives me hope that whatever the future may hold for us, stress and anxiety need not have a dominating power in our lives. This is especially true for all who are seeking God’s Kingdom. We can intentionally yield to Him, longing to have His rule dominate our thoughts and  hearts.

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“Finally, brothers, whatever is true . . . if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

I grew up in an era when Norman Vincent Peale was something of a household name in North America. He was a well-known Manhattan pastor who popularized books on “Positive Thinking.” A somewhat controversial figure, he was admired by some and despised by others. I know my late father-in-law loved his books and always kept one on his coffee table.

I recall the comment made by one of our popular professors speaking in chapel during my early years in graduate school when he said, “The theology of Paul is appealing but the theology of Peale is appalling!”

At the time being a rather, I thought, optimistic person myself I wondered why anyone would be opposed to positive thinking?

My goal here is not condemn or condone Mr. Peale, nor any of his advocates or critics but to examine the reality that the way we think and process “truth” is of critical importance. This essay is the first in what I hope will be a series on the subject of positive thinking.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Philippians in the first century he has much to tell them about the positive nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is what I consider to be the foundation of Positive Thinking. The reality is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is in fact, the most positive message in the universe. The Gospel is all about a new relationship with God based on His work in man’s behalf – the restoration of a broken relationship at the Cross and a new resurrected life in the Spirit. What could be more positive than that?

However, just because we acknowledge truth doesn’t mean that we align with it. In order to have a positive outlook on life – which by the way I think is essential for one’s emotional and spiritual health – we must align with the truth.

I married my wife Joyce at the tender age of twenty-one years of age (for both of us) in the little town of Whitehall, Wisconsin in July 1975. We started off our married life with high hopes and a very old and somewhat unreliable car. To get to our wedding I had driven 1200 miles from Texas to Wisconsin. Before returning to Texas we were planning a honeymoon in Niagara Falls. A trip of over 800 miles all the way over in western, New York  – all by car!  Needless to say, our resources and our car were being tested from the outset of our married life.

A couple of days into our trip across the Midwest a couple of warning signs, or “truths” if you will came crashing down on my world of positive thinking. After all, I was a newly married man on his honeymoon!

First, I noticed that a new glitch arose with the car. A red light on the dashboard that I had never noticed before, started flashing on and then going off after a few seconds.  It seemed to be the brake light but I tended to ignore it because it never stayed on and the brakes didn’t “seem” to be faulty.

About the third day into our trip we woke up in Dearborn, Michigan with plans to travel on and arrive in Niagara Falls later in the afternoon. To our surprise the phone rang in the motel where we were staying and my mother was on the other end. She was calling from Texas to “inform” me that I had “possibly” been exposed to Hepatitis (don’t ask me how).

Our agenda then quickly shifted. The recommendation was that I should find a doctor ASAP and have him administer a gamma globulin injection as a precaution. I wasn’t too keen on the plan because I wasn’t convinced I was in any danger, I didn’t have time for this and unfortunately, I was well acquainted with the agony of these injections from my childhood bout with Rheumatic Fever.

That morning, without realizing it I was faced with several realities which couldn’t be handled with “positive thinking” alone. We wanted to reach our destination that day at Niagara Falls, but what we really needed was a mechanic and possibly a doctor as well.

We ended up finding a doctor to administer the shot then in haste headed off to our destination in a car with faulty brakes. It wasn’t until we crossed into Canada that we decided to switch drivers. Along a seemingly deserted road in south central Canada my lovely new bride slammed on the brakes for a light that turned red ahead of us. We rear-ended  the car in front of us because my priorities and my positive thinking didn’t allow for fixing a leaky brake line.

I suppose I have to keep learning what Henry Cloud explains so well in his books, that “The truth is always your friend.” We may not like some of the medical reports and warning lights in life, but most often they are there to alert us of dangers and pitfalls that will find us along life’s way.

My failure to align with the truth that my brakes were failing on my honeymoon was one of the harsh realities of my early married life. I now invest a lot more of my resources in car safety and I have no desire to put my family members at risk. The hepatitis scare was bogus but the red light and mushy brakes were revealing something that was true. It’s sometimes hard to read the signs. I guess that’s why they use red for the ones that are important.

I believe positive thinking is possible and even necessary. Perhaps the first step is to take a look at reality even though we may not like what we see. Seeing reality for what it is and taking appropriate action is to acknowledge that indeed truth is our friend. Maybe it’s that positive thinking should lead to appropriate action – even though it may not be very convenient.

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