Getting Into the Right Mind

“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” (Phil. 4:8).

Mention the phrase “law of attraction” in many Christian circles and you may trigger a religious war. Call it visualization, possibility thinking, or the power of faith if you like: since Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952, the concept has been a frequent source of antagonism among believers. Having faith in God or playing God? Pious confidence or selfish ambition? Biblical or heretical? The current popularity of the concept among unorthodox thinkers doesn’t help. Much contemporary teaching on the topic, from Rhonda Byrne’s ultra-popular The Secret to sermons in established-Christian-denomination churches, makes open assertions that epitomize pantheism and self-centeredness: “You are a manifestation of God.” “Whatever you desire is right for you.” “You are ultimately and completely responsible for whatever enters your life.”

To be fair, someone has to take a stand against the contemporary everything’s-hopeless worldview. I for one avoid literature described as “realism,” which these days means “the philosophy of facing up to the fact that everything good will fall apart, probably sooner rather than later, and that the best we can hope for is to survive as individuals as long as possible.” The news broadcasts now ubiquitous in every public venue are full of complaints, disasters, and speculations that can only encourage such thinking. Likewise with popular fiction. Even the Christian community seems to be finding its only solace in the hope that Christ’s return is imminent (not that I object if it is, but does a constant emphasis on how everything has hit bottom really help unbelievers see Christianity as a life of joy and confidence?). As followers of God, we can’t pretend evil and pain don’t exist, but we can’t let them be our central focus either.

St. Paul said it well when he wrote, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). I doubt that by “everything” he meant immaterial things only. Though he certainly recognized their primacy, the Bible nowhere says it is a sin to have or enjoy material things; the sin is to love such things to the point that we regard God and other people only as means of or hindrances to getting “more.” Instead, let us regard our “more” as no more than a means of serving God and others.

Likewise, the Christian attitude toward “positive thinking” should not be that it is an evil to be avoided at all cost, but a tool to be used for God’s work and under His guidance. A seminar I attended last week at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston did a good job of presenting the balanced and Bible-centered approach. A key theme: By all means, set goals, have a vision for your life, and see where you want to be as though you were already there; but do it all in gratitude to God and with an eye to the benefits, not to yourself alone, but to everyone your life will touch.

Therein lies the real secret to a mind that is noble, pure, admirable–and full of joy, the longing for which lies at the ultimate root of all goals.

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