Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
“It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.”
Robert H. Schuller
Our battles in life are won and lost in the mind. How we think about ourselves and our circumstances affects everything else. The good news is that we can choose to think better.
My friend Ruth told me a story this weekend. It’s about two boys. One of them, Chad, had an optimistic nature. If he was given a toy car, he’d instantly see all that was good in it. “Look how shiny it is! The doors open and everything!” The other boy, Peter, had a more pessimistic attitude. He would look at the same car and say, “The wheels don’t work very well. It’s not as good as my other cars.”
It didn’t matter what situation you put the two boys in, Chad would see the best in it and Peter would see the worst in it.
Some curious adults decided to conduct an experiment. They put the boys in separate rooms. Peter’s room was filled with every kind of toy you can imagine. Even then, Peter wasn’t satisfied. He went round and pointed out all the negatives about the toys. “This isn’t the colour I wanted. And I’ve already got half of these.”
Meanwhile, they put Chad in a room that had only one thing in it – a huge pile of manure. When they came to check on Chad, they were amazed to see him with a huge smile on his face.
“What are you so happy about, Chad?” they asked in surprise. “You’re in a room full of smelly manure.”
“Exactly!” beamed Chad. “That can only mean one thing. There must be a horse around here somewhere!”
Automatically seeing the negative is a habit, and just like other bad habits, it’s not very good for you. I think we can agree that it’s more fun to be a Chad than a Peter. So why do we struggle with negative thoughts?
For one thing, it’s easy to see the negative as it’s usually screaming from the rooftops at us. If you watch the news or read newspapers, you’ll probably start to feel quite overwhelmed with all the doom and gloom. The media works on the theory that bad news is good news for them.
And of course, focusing on the negative is a safer place to camp out. You’re not going to be disappointed or disillusioned if you never hope for anything good in the first place. It’s hard to be the person who hopes for the best and believes for good, because you’re always going to be in the minority.
Just think about Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13. The Israelites were on the brink of entering the Promised Land and God was longing to show it off to them. Moses sent in 12 men to have a gander and come back to report on what it was like. Unfortunately, he sent 10 Peters and 2 Chads.
All 12 men saw the same picture – amazing fruit, an incredibly fertile land flowing with milk and honey, and populated by very big people. But when they came to report back, 10 of the men gave a negative report:
“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33 NIV).
"They focused on the size of the problem, rather than the size of their God."
They warned the Israelites to leave it well alone. Meanwhile, Joshua and Caleb were banging their heads on the tent walls with frustration. Their take on it was this:
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7-9 NIV).
The ten Peters had forgotten the bigger picture - that God was on their side. They saw themselves as powerless grasshoppers. Their lack of hope and trust in God diminished their own identities, to the extent that they put themselves down. They disqualified themselves from the fight and labelled themselves as ‘small and hopeless’. They focused on the size of the problem, rather than the size of their God.
It was the same scenario the day David wandered down to camp with his brothers’ packed lunches and found everyone freaking out about Goliath. (Note: tall people seem to freak us out.)
“They fuelled the fire of hope for the future, by recalling God’s miracles of the past.”
While the others were getting their knickers in a knot about the size of the problem, David got down to dealing with it in the knowledge that his God was much bigger than some big, hairy bloke with a gob on him.
Joshua, Caleb and David had something else in common - they’d seen their God bring them through great challenges and defeat mighty enemies before. They brought this knowledge to mind and this was the basis of their hope. They fuelled the fire of hope for the future, by recalling God’s miracles of the past.
Here’s a verse that gets trotted out by Christian friends and used (unfortunately, often in a patronising fashion) when you’re going through the manure:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
It can be a pretty galling verse to have waved under your nose just seconds after something truly hideous has happened to you. But. But, it is true.
“Hope is the fruit of remembering and calling to mind the ways that God has got you out of the manure many, many times before.”
God is remarkable for many reasons. (Sue me for making an understatement, why don’t you?) But one of them is that He is able to take a pile of manure and somehow find you a pony.
Hope doesn’t come out of nowhere. Hope is the fruit of remembering and calling to mind the ways that God has got you out of the manure many, many times before. This is one reason why it’s great to be old. You’ve got a lot of experience to recall.
“Negative thinking makes us small in our own eyes, and makes our God small too.”
David, Joshua and Caleb all have one thing in common - they made a choice to focus on the size of their God and not the size of the problem, or even on their own puny strength.
Negative thinking makes us small in our own eyes, and makes our God small too. Positive thinkers (or those who live in hope and faith) remember the bigger picture and focus on how great God is. This isn’t about living in denial. We need to address our negative feelings and deal with them. But the trick is to not get stuck there. Re-hashing and fretting about a problem doesn’t actually help. Jesus asks the million dollar question:
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25 NIV).
(Answers on a postcard please.)
Of course, thinking and talking positively doesn’t mean that life won’t throw a load of manure at you. It doesn’t mean that things will be easy all the time. We are in a battle, we have an enemy. But, thinking positively will cause hope and faith to rise in your hearts. And God only needs a mustard seed of faith to move a whole mountain of manure out of your way.
“Don’t gaze on the problem, gaze on God.”
So here’s my positive peptalk (and I’m talking to myself as much as anyone): Steer your thoughts away from grasshopper thinking, one thought at a time. The Holy Spirit will help you by prodding you in the ribs when you start a negative spiral. Don’t gaze on the problem, gaze on God.
And keep looking for the horse.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
P.S. Seems like positive thinking helps you hear God’s guidance too. Focusing on the problem messes up your ability to see what God wants you to do next.
This archived article was written by Adele Richards for release in Mar, 2013. Circumstances and situations may have changed regarding the author, locations and ministries. This content may therefore be outdated or misinformed.
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