Friday, January 8, 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking

A coworker recently gave me an article entitled "The Art of Living Mindfully" from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article was about a psychologist who has conducted experiments about the power our minds have over our lives and our bodies. Her experiments suggested that a group of hotel maids began to lose weight just by believing that their work was as good as a workout at the gym and that old men could look and feel younger just by reminiscing about their past in depth for a week. This psychologist embraced an 'anything is possible' attitude and encouraged others to be more open minded, even as many academians attacked her for her lack of scientific precision. I'm no psychologist and am in no position to comment on the validity of her research, but she is only one in a long line of people who have touted the power of positive thinking.

How many people have told us that we could do anything if we put our minds to it? Don't we tell our children that they can grow up to be anything they want to be? Yet, as adults we feel forced to live in the 'real world' where most dreams don't come true. We don't really believe some of the promises we claim are dearest to our hearts. We limit our acceptance of what is possible because we don't want to be disappointed. Still, I think that the risk of faith is worth it. That's the whole reason I'm a Christian. If we allow ourselves to truly believe something, we give it power to change our lives.

Let's consider just one example of how believing in God's promises can make a dramatic difference in our lives. Paul wrote, "I can do all things through God who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) Paul asserted that he could do anything so long as God as with him in the endeavor. He could go without food, rest, shelter, and adequate clothing and still stay strong both physically and emotionally. He could preach to riotous crowds and find the right words to say. In fact, Paul believed he could overcome any challenge, great or small, in his service to God. Paul's life is an incredible story of triumph and endurance in the face of adversity. Even when he was tired and sad, Paul still believed he could do anything for God. Moses tried to tell God that He couldn't lead the people of Israel because he had a speech impediment, but God told Moses that He would make Moses capable of being a great leader. Moses could do anything—even lead an entire nation through the Red Sea and across the wilderness to the Promised Land—because God strengthened him. The Bible is filled with accounts of ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they believed God was with them.

The same can be true for you and me. It's hard for us to believe that we can achieve things we never dreamed possible (like Moses and Paul), so we feel a little skeptical even if we want to believe in this promise. Sometimes we're more like the father of the demon-possessed child in Mark 9, declaring, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" It's true that we need to have reasonable expectations when it comes to expecting assistance from God. He strengthens us for His purposes, so He isn't likely to miraculously grant us the power to do arbitrary things. It probably isn't God's plan for me to become a figure skater, an opera star, or a millionaire. (Although, if it was God's will for me to be any of those things, I could be with His help!) Even if God is not offering to be our personal genie, we can believe in the truth that He will give us the power to follow Him, to do His work, to make a positive impact on the world, and to overcome the obstacles we face.

I often worry about my ability to follow the path God has laid before me, so I especially need to pay attention to this lesson. If God means for me to write for the encouragement and edification of myself and others, then He will grant me the wisdom, strength, and perseverance to do so, even if my own talents are lacking. I don't have to be a genius in order to write well for God. I can do anything—even exceed my own intrinsic writing ability—through God who strengthens me. I don't have to be afraid to try to follow whatever callings I might receive because of my own limitations. If God is my ally, not even my own ineptitude can hold me back. God will make me what I need to be. When I truly believe that I can be more than I am through God's help, I benefit not only from the aid I receive but also from the power of my own positive thinking.

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