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by Jacob Ninan
Good things get misused, and good ideas get misinterpreted. If grace has been distorted and made to look like a license for sin, it is not too shocking to see that the concept of positive thinking has also been misunderstood and misinterpreted by people to take on different forms and meanings. As people have recognized and highlighted the positive character of faith, there has also been an unhealthy and misguided emphasis on avoiding everything that is 'negative.'
As this anti-negative teaching goes, we are not supposed to think negative thoughts or to speak negative words. Negative thoughts or words are indicative of a lack of faith, they say. Didn't Jesus say that according to our faith it would be for us? (Mt.9:29). The Bible also says that as we think, we become (Pr.23:7). Medical science has shown that a lot of sickness is the result of negative thinking and that recovery and healing come faster to those who have a positive outlook towards life. It is not difficult to see that there is much truth in this. The problem which I see is not about there being no truth in this teaching, but in its being over-emphasized and being misinterpreted.
An exaggerated form of 'positive thinking' gives one an impression that if you keep thinking you are something, you will soon become like that. "You can, if you think you can," say the experts! So if a thought comes into your mind that says you can't, of course you mustn't allow that. That's a negative thought! If you set a goal for yourself, you must keep imagining yourself as if you have already attained it, and very soon things will happen as you have wished for! Didn't Jesus say that when we ask for something we must believe that we have already received it? (Mk.11:24). After we have prayed for healing we must confess that we have been healed, whether it has happened or not. To say, "But nothing happened," is a clear case of unbelief. Thus goes the teaching.
It is surprising to see how much these types of psychological gimmicks have pervaded Christian thinking and behavior. They have been around for so long and so many people have become familiar with them that it almost looks like blasphemy to question them. Now we even have people who are scared to express their need in prayer because they think that it would make a negative statement. They have been taught to believe that we must only give thanks and praise for everything. So instead of asking for something in prayer they would rather give thanks for what they hope they would be getting! But that was not what Jesus did in Gethsemane. He did not start by thanking the Father for the cup and continue by praising Him for removing the cup from Him! He started by praying that if possible the Father would take the cup away from Him, and ended by submitting to the Father's will whatever that was. This does not sound quite positive according to the current understanding!
We don't like to acknowledge negative things about ourselves. Our nature is such that we would like to ignore them and act as though everything is all right. Songs that say everything's gonna be alright hit the charts overnight. But how can God make things all right until we admit our sins and our need? (Je.3:13). If He has to build us anew, doesn't He have to break down the old things in us first? Old sins have to be confessed and put behind, old habits and friendships have to be given up for new ones, etc. But when we ignore prayer and enjoy only praise and worship, aren't we hindering God from transforming our lives?
Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt.27:46). Experts would decry such a statement coming from anyone other than Jesus as a totally unacceptable negative statement! Jesus also said at one time that His soul was deeply grieved to the point of death (Mt.26:38). Paul has said things such as how he was sometimes fearful in the midst of conflicts and how God helped him when he was depressed (2Cor.7:5,6). But today's Christians are virtually being taught to live in a state of denial, where they are not welcome to express their real feelings, situations or needs, even in prayer to God.
Think of the large number of psalms where David bared his soul to God in his need. Think of Job and prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk who told God what they honestly felt (e.g. Job.30:20,21; Jer.20:7; Hab.1:2). God did not respond to them in anger or displeasure, but listened to the cries of their hearts and answered them. On the contrary they are written down in Scripture for our comfort and consolation. Why then are we 'acting' positive and missing out on what God wants to do for us?
There is a lot of inward struggle and confusion as Christians are trying to be positive and speak 'only words of faith,' and as they try to make themselves believe what is not real in their lives. I guess that more often than not it turns out in actual practice that people are careful about spoken words while 'negative' thoughts such as confusion, fear and unbelief persist inside. Does faith demand that we should pretend or lie in order to receive what we want? Is it not much better for us to acknowledge our fear and unbelief honestly and seek to get hold of faith?
Jesus was the most pragmatic Person who ever lived. He asked a blind man whom He was trying to heal whether he could see clearly. When the man replied that he could not distinguish between men and trees, Jesus touched him again till he was able to see clearly (Mk.8:24,25). Now preachers and healers compel us to confess (by faith!) that we are healed even when we can see clearly that we have not been healed. When we have prayed over some problem we are expected not to mention any 'negative' statements about the outcome, such as how things don't seem to have changed, because we are warned that according to our faith it will happen for us.
Is this emphasis on being positive one of the factors that has contributed to the increasing negligence of prayer meetings while worship meetings are becoming very popular? You see, prayer meetings involve 'negative' expressions concerning our need, while worship exudes positive vibrations!
With many churches experiencing the novelty of the blessing of praise and worship meetings, there are even cases of leaders promoting worship to the extent of neglecting other activities such as prayer. I wonder if the emphasis on being positive also has something to do with this. Should the Body of Christ be only a sanctuary for the worshippers and not also a haven for the weary? Jesus invited all who were weary and heavy laden to come to Him to receive rest (Matt.11:28). Just think about it. Is not coming to Jesus with one's problems, trusting Him to be capable of solving them, an act of worship in itself? In that sense a proper prayer meeting is also a time of worship.
Prayer is an expression of need, and also of faith. We would not pray unless we believed that God would listen to our prayer and that He was able to answer it. It demonstrates our trust and confidence in God. Why is it that many people do not pray? It is because they think it is no use praying. They either do not believe in God or they think that God is not interested in them to do anything for them. So when we pray it is a positive statement! When we pray we honour God, in just the same way as when we praise or worship Him.
There is a negative way of praying, and there is a positive way. The positive way is to make our requests known to God with an attitude of thanksgiving (Php.4:6). Whether our needs are big and look impossible to handle, or small and look too silly to bother God with, God has given us the channel of prayer to go to Him with them. We go to Him because we know that He is our Father and is concerned about every aspect of our lives, even to the number of hairs on our head. He knows what we are going through, what is bothering us, and what we are looking for. He is looking for an honest, sincere and trusting approach from our side. He wants us to tell Him what exactly we want (Mt.20:32). He is not going to scold us if we do not have wisdom to handle our situation in a perfect way (Jas.1:5). He wants to take us back even if we have gone away from Him and messed up our lives. Certainly He is not going to be upset with us if we do not know how to pray like the theologians, with correct words and phrases and Bible quotations.
The Bible is so very true when it says that we do not receive because we do not ask (Jas.4:2). Is it not silly of us not to receive the things God wants to give us just because we would not ask? How 'poor' we can be because of a silly understanding of being positive!
Why can't we be real before God? Tell Him what we feel, confess to Him if we are perplexed or confused, share with Him our fears and dreams, and ask Him to show us which way we should proceed, all the while expressing our confidence in His love, wisdom and power. What is going to succeed, an honest and sincere cry for help, or a pronunciation of the right words without any conviction behind them?
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, October 2005
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