Freedom From Negativism
2 Corinthians 1:15-22; Philippians 4:8-9
Developing a Positive Attitude
There are many people who are seeing all of life through dark lens! Everything in life is colored by their dark evaluations. And yet, many of these same negative people would like to be positive, radiant, optimistic people. It is true that some people enjoy their negativism. They enjoy being different, obstinate, disagreeable, and troublesome. They live by negative reaction, and their perversion is further seen by their enjoyment of negativism. Life's most positive experiences they interpret negatively. But most people would like to be more positive, even though they would admit that many times they are basically negative.
The causes of negativism are multiple. A person's contrary attitude may be caused by fear, or by jealousy, or by inferiority, or by wounded pride. Who is able to discern the thoughts, intents, and motives of a man's heart? Only the Great Discerner – the Holy Spirit!
There is a radical cure for negativism. That cure is partly found in the initial work of the Holy Spirit, through His cleansing and empowering Presence. When the Holy Spirit sheds abroad God's love in our hearts by faith, we find life automatically becoming more positive in outlook.
However, while the initial work of the Holy Spirit may immediately cleanse the heart, it usually takes time, practice, and discipline to change the mind from a negative to a positive slant.
There are many believers whose hearts have been cleansed instantaneously but whose minds are still in need of further transformation. A sincere heart and a negative mind may co-exist within the same person! Why? Because the negative mind of the sincere person has confronted difficult problems which have cast a negative shadow upon his entire outlook on life.
We must spend several days looking at some of the problems which have caused some sincere believers to become negative and joyless in their response to life in general.' The inadequate concepts which many people entertain have cut short their joy and peace and positive faith. If we can give anyone a more adequate view of life and of life's problems, with the result of imparting a new joy and confidence to life, then the effort will be very worthwhile.
After confronting some of the problem areas of life which cause some to react so negatively, we must offer some positive alternatives which can expand the mind's understanding and which can fill the heart with new joy and hope and faith.
"Father, you have cleansed my heart from the sin of deliberate disobedience; now cleanse my mind from the subtle presence of negative thoughts. Fix my mind upon what is true and good and right. Help me to face all of life with a positive 'Yes', not with a negative 'No'. In Jesus' positive power. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will be a voice for positive action, not an echo of negative reaction!
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2 Corinthians 12:1-10
The Christian Answer To Suffering
Human suffering will either make or break a human being. The sun can either melt water or harden clay. Suffering can make the heart tender or tough, drive a person to God or drive a person from God.
Human suffering, either personally experienced or personally observed, can cause one to react negatively to all of life.
With every type of suffering there is an accompanying peril. The sufferings of infirmities (2 Corinthians 12) can cause one to be plunged into despair. The suffering of chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-9) can cause one to harden his heart against God. The suffering of persecution (2 Corinthians 11) can cause one to develop hatred for his enemy. The suffering of temptation can result in one falling into sin The suffering from life's losses can cause one to become bitter towards God and towards people.
Yes, suffering has destroyed many persons. It has caused some to grow hard, or bitter, or cynical, or negative in their viewpoint of life. "A great actor was dying and said, 'Let down the curtain, the farce is over. There is no reality in life: it is a farce.'" (The Divine Yes: pg. 15: E. Stanley Jones)
Said one negative and despairing person about life: Life is "a bridge of groans across a stream of tears." (P.J. Bailey) "Vachel Lindsay, a late American Poet who snuffed out his own life with a bullet through his brain, said, "Life is a loom, weaving illusion."
If Christianity cannot deal with the problem of human suffering, then Christianity has no basis for offering hope amidst despair, joy amidst sorrow, peace amidst conflict. What is the Christian answer to suffering – the answer that negates negativism and transplants joy and hope and peace in its place? What was Jesus' attitude toward suffering? "He accepted the fact of human suffering. He neither explains it nor explains it away. If he had attempted to explain it, his message would have been merely another philosophy, for a philosophy has to have an explanation for everything. His was a gospel – Good News – even 'in spite of'. A philosophy explains, but it does not change. The Gospel may not explain, but it does utterly change. Jesus transforms suffering by using it. The victim may become victor… A Christian expects to take things as they come, good, bad, or indifferent, and use them for a witness to Jesus. That puts a positive Yes upon every No that comes to a Christian. Everything furthers those who follow Christ. Just as an airplane goes up against resistance, against the wind, so the Christian rises on the wings of resistance." (Ibid: pg. 100,101)
"Father, just as Jesus took the worst that could have happened to him – a death on a Roman Cross – and turned it into the greatest symbol of victory – through the Resurrection – so help me to turn my little daily crosses into symbols of victory. Make me creative in the transforming of my failures into successes, my hurts into healings, my disadvantages into opportunities, Through Jesus' conquering name. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God will teach me to turn my stumbling blocks into stepping stones!
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A short article written by Don Demaray appeared in the 'Light and Life' magazine, dated June 19, 1979, which most beautifully illustrates the principle of transforming the bad into the good.
"The story has about it classic dimensions. And it is true. John Ruskin, nineteenth-century writer and artist, emerges as the hero.
"A lady friend showed him the once priceless treasure in her possession, a handkerchief now ruined by an inkblot. 'Beyond repair', she moaned.
"'Let me have that handkerchief,' he demanded.
"'No problem. But why do you want a worthless piece of cloth?'
"'Never mind; just let me take it.'
"Days passed. John Ruskin returned the handkerchief. Using the blot as his center, the artist had drawn a pattern as beautiful as the finest piece of Belgian lace. With the imprint of the famous painter and art critic now upon it, the handkerchief took on many times its former worth.
"For all the world, it appeared that Joni Erickson's life suffered a blot beyond repair. But look! Books (yesterday at the Christian bookstore I saw her latest on the religious bestseller list) – yes, books, and also a movie of her life, an interview on the 'Today Show' and the loveliest sketches you ever saw done with pen in mouth. The Master Craftsman has literally used the inkblot (in her case a paralyzing swimming accident) am woven around it the most intricate and breathtaking of designs.
"The secret? Letting the Artist have the handkerchief.
"The unspeakably divine message of the gospel of redemption is just this: whatever happens to the Christian is meant as a stepping-stone to something better."
Problems and suffering can cultivate Christlike character in a person. Problems and suffering successfully met are a powerful witness to unbelievers. Suffering can cause one to fix his focus and attention on heavenly glories instead of on earthly concerns. One sees reality oftentimes more clearly through a tear drop! The trivial things of time and space grow strangely dim in the light of eternal values, made more real through suffering. Problems cause one to depend more heavily upon God's power and resources. When one is on his back, it is much easier to look up! Man's weaknesses provide opportunity for God's power and glory to be manifested. God glories in using weak men to do mighty things for Him. Many times those who are most effective in ministry are those who minister in an area in which they have personally suffered most.
"Father, help me to see the hidden blessings in my sufferings. I see that it is a Christlike work to sooth and to sympathize, but how can I myself sympathize if I have never really suffered? Help me to minister out of the wounds of my life. Use my sufferings to develop in me a tender heart, more responsive to God's love and to human needs."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God can turn everyone of my problems into projects of Divine Grace, and God's projects are always successful!
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Positive Possibilities In People
When one contemplates the changeableness and corruption of human nature, it is easy to become cynical and negative. When foes distress and friends betray, is it any wonder that some grow sour and defensive? The negative person has little or no confidence in himself and thus has little or no belief in the moral worth and dignity of others.
Many people become negative because they are perfectionists. What is a perfectionist? A perfectionist is one who expects the impossible from himself, and thus, the impossible from others. "The 'perfectionists' are always tense and anxious about their own imperfections and the imperfections of others… They cannot get along with themselves or with others. They are demanding the impossible and getting the possible – with disappointment!" (A Song of Ascents; Jones; pg. 39)
Some are negative because they don't see the possibilities of divine grace in changing human nature from selfishness to selflessness, from sinfulness to saintliness.
The man who gazes on Christ and Christ's transforming power, will be delivered from negativism to positivism. Catching the spirit and hope of Christ towards sinful mankind, will transform our negative attitudes toward people. Christ can make the bad man good, and the negative man positive. "Someone asked a Negro minister, pastor of a growing and dynamic church, how he accomplished it. He replied: 'I hold a crown a few inches above my people's heads and watch them grow into it.'" (Ibid; pg. 39)
"He (Jesus) was patient with and hopeful for the weak and the faltering and the sinful. And yet he did not compromise with and accommodate himself to their imperfections and sins… His love produces love, his faith produces faith, his hope produces hope." (Ibid; pg. 39)
"The mood of the present day is cynicism. Many people are soured on life. They are cynical and negative. This age has three sneers for everything and three cheers for nothing. It has a code of 'I don't believe in this'; 'I don't believe in that'; 'I don't believe in the other'. They are trying to live by a NO. And it is turning out badly and sadly, for you can't live by a NO. You have to live by a YES.
"Bertrand Russell said that life is a bottle of very nasty wine that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… Sartre, the French existentialist, said, 'Hell is other people.'" (The Divine Yes; Jones; pg. 14,15) Man, without contact with the Hopeful God, falls into despair, cynicism, and negativism.
"Father, deliver me from all cynical devaluations of man, due to my inadequate views of human nature. Help me to realize that you have power to transform the ugly into the beautiful, the selfish into the selfless, the sinful into the serving, the perverted into the pure. In Jesus' name."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Man is not only a creature with potential for unlimited evil, but he is a creature whose greatness is found in his unique creation and in his potential for limitless redemption!
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1 John 5:3-5; John 10:10
Christianity – Life-Affirming Or Life-Denying?
There are far too many believers who are negative and joyless, thinking that negativism is a sign of spirituality. The Bible commands Christians to be sober, so some Christians interpret this to mean joyless, serious-minded, and even miserable!
"Jesus is the YES – The divine YES. A great many people today would like to choose Christianity, but they think it is a NO to living. 'You cannot do this.' 'You cannot do that.' 'You cannot do this.' 'You cannot do the other,' – if you are a Christian. This is in fact a denial of the will to live. It is the will to surrender and die." (The Divine Yes; pg. 13)
How ironical that Christianity, which is to be the most positive and affirmative way to live, has been used as a defense for negativism and legalism!
The mind of Christ is gloriously positive! His teaching is life- affirming, not life-denying. Jesus never taught self-denial as an end within itself, but only as a means to the end of self-realization. The last word of Jesus is not losing, but finding. Christianity is not rigid discipline but glorious freedom of which discipline is the handmaiden.
Those who see Christianity as a list of demands will be driven to negative despair, but those who see Christianity as a reservoir of limitless resources will be leaping with positive joy! Holiness is health and wholeness and ultimately happiness, not a series of negative prohibitions, as some have taught! The impure disease of self-centeredness must be destroyed in order that the wholeness and health of Christ-centered living may be actualized!
Christianity teaches that love transcends law, that delight replaces drudgery, that the liberty of the Spirit replaces the bondage of the flesh!
Jesus came that man may have life and have it more abundantly! Nothing forbidding or forlorn about Jesus! Jesus said, "I am not come to destroy, but to save men!" Any destroying that Jesus does is for the purpose of saving. He destroys sin in order to impart salvation! The yoke that Jesus places on the neck fits, and therefore it is pleasant and productive. His yoke is easy and His burden is light! His work is our happiness! Pain, endured for Jesus becomes our pleasure! His laws are not burdensome or grievous. We delight to do his will, for His way is the way we were meant to live! Therefore His commands of love turn out to be the same as the demands of our human nature. There is a glorious compatibility between man's needs and God's resources!
"Father, you only subtract sin from my life in order that you may multiply joy in my life! I delight to surrender to you, for through surrender I find freedom – freedom from the bondage of self-centeredness! Bowing low at your feet, I can stand tall before everything else. Thank you for enabling me to say 'Yes' to life. In Jesus' name. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I have a right to run out and embrace life and enjoy it fully, for it is my Father's good pleasure to give me the Kingdom!
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Practicing The Principles Of Positive Affirmation
Those nonbelievers who have grown sour on life and have spelled life with a capital 'NO' are to be pitied, but more to be pitied yet are those sincere souls who have made sorrow a virtue and sadness and somberness a way of life – in the name of Christianity!
Perhaps nothing has hurt the cause of Christianity more than a joyless and colorless professing Christian who communicates more sadness than gladness. "Is there anything that would more, and better, publicize the faith than life lived with joy and assurance – the happy abandonment of those who live to better all things but who know… that if the worse comes to the worst they need not fear those who kill the body and afterwards have 00 more that they can do?" (Daily Readings; Sangster; pg. 202)
"Among the many misunderstandings which have affected the common mind of man concerning the religion of Jesus Christ, none is more perplexing or more false than the widespread idea that to receive it is to be made miserable… The fact that there is a cross at the heart of the Christian faith, and that following Christ involves some rigorous self-denials, does. not alter – and cannot alter – this central truth; the fruit of the Spirit is joy." (Ibid; pg. 144)
Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" What a positive affirmation! What a positive way to live!
The emphasis is on Christ! Christ in you is the hope of glory! Christ in you is the source of unearthly wisdom and strength! Christ in you is the fountain of overflowing joy! Christ in you is the constant cleanser of negativism and pessimism! The mind of Christ is always gloriously positive. Christ in you is the basis of your positive faith and positive attitudes!
Practice the presence of God in your life! Practice the principles of positive affirmation! Say 'Yes' to life's 'No's'! Bless and do not curse life and relationships! Don't dwell on negative conditions and don't absorb the negative spirit of reactionary and critical people. Dwell on the positive. "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." (Philippians 4:8 NIV) Dwell in the congregation of the positive and the praising! Praise God for all things, and praise God in spite of some things! In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you, in Christ Jesus.
"Father, help me to be positive, not negative, to show approval and not disapproval, to give acceptance and not rejection, to be appreciative and not critical, to be edifying and not derogatory, to be constructive and not destructive, to show affection and not hostility, to be delightful and not unpleasant. In Jesus' positive and affirming name. Amen."
AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Evil companions corrupt good manners, and negative thinkers destroy positive motivation. I will be positive and keep company with positive persons!
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Discussion Questions On 'Freedom From Negativism'
Name same of the basic causes of negativism.
What effect does the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion and cleansing have upon the person who is greatly influenced by negative attitudes?
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "While the initial work of the Holy Spirit may immediately cleanse the heart, it usually takes time, practice, and discipline to change the mind from a negative to a positive slant."
Name five different types of suffering and the peril associated with each one of these types of suffering.
What is the Christian answer to suffering – the answer that negates negativism and transplants joy and hope and peace in its place?
Which of the three following reactions to suffering is the Christian reaction or response (and tell why): Explain Suffering, Explain Away Suffering, Use Suffering.
List several of the potential benefits that can be derived from suffering.
In what ways can contemplation on the changeableness and corruption of human nature foster a negative attitude toward life?
Why do some people who are perfectionists tend to be negative?
How can catching the spirit and hope of Christ towards sinful mankind help transform one's negative attitudes?
Why do some people (believers) strangely think that being negative and reactionary is a sign of spirituality?
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Christianity is not rigid discipline, but glorious freedom of which discipline is the handmaiden. The last word of Jesus is rot losing, but finding."
Is Christianity basically a list of demands or a reservoir of limitless resources? What Scriptural basis can you give for your answer?
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Christianity teaches that love transcends law, that delight replaces drudgery, that the liberty of the Spirit replaces the bondage of the flesh."
What are some Biblical principles of positive affirmation that you have practiced, principles that have helped you to ward off the harmful effects of negative thinking?
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