Thinking that is both positive and Christian has a very long and positive(!) track record.
Sadly, most of us, Christian or not, are prone to a lot of negative thinking… often more of it than the positive. And that doesn’t make for a joyful life. Perhaps not a very productive one either. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the roots of positive Christian thinking… the basis for it within the faith. Then how to stimulate change for both short and long-term benefit.
Any Problems with Positive?
Before we examine the foundations and application of positive thoughts to our lives, let me address a concern I sometimes hear: “It’s dangerous (or just wasteful) to do ‘positive thinking’… it doesn’t really work, and too much optimism keeps you from being realistic”.
First, we’re not speaking here about optimism vs. pessimism in their extremes, nor about only thinking of positives. (Psychological research has, incidentally, shown that optimism actually does seem psychologically and practically better than pessimism, although extremes of it can distort reality in detrimental ways… aside from the obvious situation of a serious disorder such as bipolar.) And psychologists like Martin Seligman have proven that optimism can be learned… we are not stuck with a set point from birth or since something traumatic. So the “short answer” is that there is not a problem with pursuing positive thinking and we do have some control regarding it.
Positives from the Bible
For those who particularly want to ground their reasoning in concepts from the Bible, there is plenty of guidance. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the book of Psalms is loaded with poetry and songs of praise, gratitude, rejoicing… various expressions of positive thoughts and emotions. (Of course, it includes the full range of human experience, so much of Psalms is not what we’d consider “positive thinking”. Expression of emotions that are painful and can become destructive is necessary, too.)
The Gospels, originally in Greek and incorporated into our “New Testament”, report many examples of Jesus calling people to forms of thought we have to include as positive… trusting, hopeful, gracious, etc. The “Sermon on the Mount”, perhaps the most known and cited of Jesus’ teachings, includes this: “…. But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”. (Matt. 5:44, NIV). And, of course, this: “…. do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”. (Matt. 6:25-27, NIV).
The Apostle Paul often spoke about the ways a Christian (or anyone, really) should be thinking. Perhaps one of the most quoted examples is from Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”. (4:8, NIV)
Thinking and Self-Talk
What form does much of our thinking take? Isn’t it mini speeches we give to ourselves? We talk to ourselves, usually within our heads, but aloud sometimes, when we think we won’t be overheard. Now, much of the time, we’re not fully aware of what we’re telling ourselves. Chances are good a lot of it is not positive. Not that all our self-talk should be positive. Occasionally we need a reprimand.
But take this challenge to see what your self-talk is like: Determine to monitor it for a certain period.
- Maybe as each new hour hits during the day, reflect back on your thoughts for that past hour.
- Try to focus particularly on times when you’re not fully engaged in work, meal preparation or otherwise mentally occupied on tasks.
- Another idea: turn all audio off while driving or walking and see where you self-talk tends to go.
Overall, make a point of “tuning in” for a while to what you’re saying to yourself about yourself, your past or future, your outlook on things.
If you’re like most of us, you will probably be surprised at how much of your thinking is anything but positive, and not helpful to your mood, attitude or major accomplishments. We tend to cultivate bad habits of undisciplined thoughts. (One cause of the problem.) But feeding the negativity, from a deeper place, is usually our subconscious “pre-thought” reservoir of impressions, images and symbols built up over our lifespan. Some of this is from earlier than any conscious memories. Those with early trauma or a deeply ingrained sense of inadequacy may need the help of a therapist to be able to replace most of the troubling self-talk with things more beneficial.
Finding Ways to Go Positive
For people not in pressing need of therapy, personal support may still be very helpful… perhaps a friend or family member or a small group you may be part of would join you in a project to work, together, on creating “positivity”. Self-talk will inevitably be part of that. So a couple suggestions regarding self-talk toward positive Christian thinking, or within any worldview:
- Do some reading (or recordings of books) on the subject. There are many. One of the early classics is still a good starting place: What to Say When You Talk to Your Self by Shad Helmstetter (and other of his books). The work of the late Lou Tice, carried on by The Pacific Institute, is very helpful in understanding the role of the subconscious and in overcoming its tendency to limit us.
- Find a system (or create your own) to use consistently, over a period, to create new content and habits of self-talk. (Various audio programs… probably more practical than video in this situation… exist for this, including at least one by Helmstetter.)
- If you encounter great difficulty making progress, take a deeper look at what may be making the forming of new habits especially hard. If it seems too scary or impossible to do this on your own, seek out the help of a trained professional.
A Benefit to All
Though we’ve been considering positive Christian thinking, you may have noted this: Jesus, in challenging traditional Jewish religious thinking (toward the positive, among other things), called his audience to a positive thought life… people who were pre-Christian. Paul did similarly.
The implication: this approach can be taken on by anyone. And the benefits will come, regardless of one’s theological views or religious affiliation.
What is your own experience in monitoring and directing your thoughts to be more positive, life-affirming, loving? Any tips you have may be helpful to other readers. Thanks!