In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
The book stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 186 consecutive weeks. Needless to say, the book was a huge success.
The idea of thinking positively about life has been floating around in the philosophical and cultural atmosphere ever since. You still hear echoes of the idea in statements made by business and spiritual gurus all across the globe. Here are some examples:
The latest version of this is contained in a book and movie called "The Secret." Here's how one author describes the theory within the book...
AS attractive and hopeful as that approach may sound... positive thinking of that kind is pure bunk.
You can think positively all day, every day, for your entire life, and still wind up with nothing to show for it.
Well, that's not entirely true. What you'll have to show for it is a more self-centered view of life.
The reality is that God is in control of the universe. He does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3) and is over all (Ephesians 4:6).
However... that's not to say that the way we think about life has no effect at all.
If we think according to what is true (as God reveals it), then we will be better off (Romans 12:2). If we think according to what is not true (as God reveals it), we will be worse off.
So, it's not a matter of "positive thinking" as much as it is a matter of "truthful thinking."
Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)
What the LORD says about life in this world
Lately, I've been studying the book of Ecclesiastes, and I'm finding that it's not the depressing book I once believed it to be. Through the wisdom of Solomon, the LORD is showing me some powerful truths about life in this world. Here's one of the things that's hit me hardest...
This passage is not an excuse to go carousing night after night in the bars (though I've heard some try to justify their behavior that way). It addresses the activities of life, and more importantly, how we VIEW them.
There are three phrases that stand out to me...
1 "what I have seen to be good and fitting"
Before revealing what he's seen, Solomon makes a comment about it. What he has seen is good. It's fitting. It's the right way to think, based on the truth of God.
We have to start there, with the willingness to humble ourselves to the point that we can accept what God says about our place in the world. So, before we go any further, ask yourself this question:
Are you willing to accept what God says about your place in the world? Even if it sounds uncomfortable or contrary to what you've always dreamed?
If you can do that, you're on your way to adopting what is good and fitting for you, as God's creature.
2 "find enjoyment in all the toil"
The implication is that enjoyment is available, embedded into the fabric of everything that makes up our lives. Work, play, relationships, responsibilities, even suffering... all of them have an element of enjoyment inherent within them.
I'm not saying we're to adopt a demented, masochistic view about pain. But we are to look for what God is doing in it, behind the scenes.
As God's creatures, we are responsible to look for the blessing, to search them out, and in doing so, we'll be showing that we trust our Father, who is working even the most difficult things, for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
3 "to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil - this is the gift of God."
I'm not a Pollyanna sort of guy. I know that life can be very, very hard. I know life can be unfair, painful, and distressing, and I'm in no way saying that we are to deny those facts.
But there is something powerful about accepting our life, as it is, as from the hand of our loving God. I know that statement is very hard to swallow, but walk with me through this for a moment...
It's a huge stretch for some of you to accept what I've just said, because much of your life has been painfully difficult.
But be assured, God's gifts, His blessings are there, in the midst of the pain. They are not always the type of "blessings" we expect, but they are exactly what our LORD deems is best for us; things like the opportunity for us to grow in faith, the strengthening of our character, the growth of our ability to see the LORD alone as our all-sufficient treasure.
Our responsibility, as His creatures, is to humble ourselves under His mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6), whatever it has brought into our lives. That means, at least in part, to accept our life, as it is, and learn to rejoice in the toil it contains because we know our God is up to good.
When we do this, we're learning to rejoice in being who He's made us to be. We're learning to rejoice in the part He'd have us play in His plans. It's submitting ourselves to His will, which is always good (Psalm 119:68).
The nature of our struggle
The things I'm saying are so hard for us to grasp because sin has wired us to fixate on the negatives, even when positives are present. The shadows of the negative events in our lives easily darken the good things that exist right alongside them. If we let them, the negative events or circumstances of life will convince us that God is not doing good in our lives. We might even come to believe He's doing evil.
But what we have to keep in mind is this: The shadow proves the sunshine.
Putting on your "blessing goggles"
As I was reading this passage, my imagination kicked in. I began to picture a sci-fi / fantasy kind of situation where a person was given a pair of glasses that revealed a hidden world around them. With the glasses in place, this person could see the spiritual realm, and the kinds of things God and His angelic servants were doing behind the scenes. They could see the long-term impact of their current actions and attitudes, they could see the eternal ends to which the pains of the present day were leading.
Can you imagine what that would be like?
You'd be able to:
- Move ahead confidently, in spite of difficulties.
- Endure present pain because of the certainty of future outcomes.
- Be a better leader to your family in the hard times, because of where you know you’re going to wind up.
That would be great, wouldn't it. Here's the application:
That's what Paul means when he tells us that we "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). We live our lives as people of faith, trusting our God to do and be doing what He has promised He will do.
What is the result?
Solomon says it best...
An attitude (way of thinking) that:
- accepts the place in the world God has given you, and
- looks for the blessings behind the circumstances you face
Will result in GOD HIMSELF putting joy into your heart.
You'll look back on the days of your life without the shadows of the negative events blotting out the positive. Your life will be one characterized by joy, true joy, no matter the toil or obstacles you've faced.
What does this mean for the way you lead your family?
Here's a short-list of the ways I see this applying to the leadership of family:
- All of you need to be learning God’s truth about life through time in the scriptures (here’s some ideas for how to take aim at that – here and here).
- You should take the initiative to talk regularly about life and the hardships each of you face (here’s a post on how to go about doing that).
- You need to be reminding each other, daily, how great our God is and how He is actively working in ways you cannot see.
- You, the parent, need to set the course by your own example. (I’ve written plenty on that topic).
- You can fill your home with scripture and music that reaffirms the truths you’re wanting to embrace and live by (Here and here are some resources toward that end).
To wrap up this post, here's an oldie but a goodie from a band that had an enormous impact in my life as a teenager. I wore the grooves off this album from playing it so much (you do remember albums, don't you?) That's a testimony to the power of putting God's word all around you. Saturate yourself and your family with God's truth, so that you can remember it in the toilsome times.
I hope you don't mind the dated musical style... but the word are straight scripture, and encouraging to my heart. Enjoy!