power of negative thinking
"The art of being
wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." — William
Just about everyone
has heard of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive
Thinking. Since it was first published in 1952, this self-help
classic has sold about 20 million copies in 42 languages.
For more than half a century untold
millions have been transformed by this book, including me. My maternal grandmother
introduced me to Peale’s writings in my teenage years and the positive
effects remain with me to this day.
Yes, there is power in positive
thinking. There is also a power in negative thinking. No, I am not referring
to the dangers of being a negative thinker. I am instead referring to the
positive effects of saying no.
Winston Churchill used
to quote Alexander the Great who said, “The Persians would
always be slaves because they did not know how to pronounce the
Yes, there are times we must learn
to say no. Accentuating the negative can be enormously positive. Life is made
up of these kinds of choices. Here are two categories.
decisions are usually obvious. Debate is not necessary. We know
the catastrophic consequences if we place a toe over certain lines.
One stupid decision can ruin an entire life. When avoiding such
circumstances, saying no is extremely positive.
From the Garden of Eden to the
Book of Revelation, the Bible challenges readers with the power of negative
thinking. Over and over God declares the benefits of saying no to sin. Again
and again the Bible documents our notorious habit of ignoring God’s
Adam and Eve ate the
fruit. Cain killed Abel. Noah’s generation was wicked. Disobedient
people built a tower. Abraham lied. Isaac lied. Jacob was a deceiver.
Judah committed adultery. And that’s just the Book of Genesis.
We can go on. In Exodus,
Israel doubted God and Moses struck the rock. In Joshua, Achan
took what was not his. A whole generation arose that did not know
God and they did “that which was right in [their] own eyes”
(Judges 21:25, KJV).
What more could we say of Eli,
Saul, Solomon, Jeroboam, Manasseh, Jezebel, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira?
The list could go on and on.
Lest one become discouraged,
however, another list could also be compiled of those who, with
God’s help, exercised the power of negative thinking. They
said no to that which displeased God. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph,
Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Daniel,
the three Hebrew children, Peter and Paul. They, along with scores
of others, show us how possible it is to say no to sin.
Perhaps the greatest
example of the power of negative thinking took place in the Garden
of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed for relief from the burden of
the cross. “Take this cup from me,” He asked the Father.
But He concluded with, “Yet not what I will, but what you
will” (Mark 14:36, NIV). The power to say no to His own
will and yes to His Father’s became the greatest positive
power in the world.
our entire eternal destiny was dependent upon those two choices
of two men in two gardens. The first Adam and the second Adam
responded differently to the power of negative thinking. One’s
choice resulted in our condemnation and the other’s resulted
in our salvation.
choices can get very complicated because principles are involved
and we must decide between the good, the better and the best.
Priorities matter. I may be concerned with developing a career
or running a marathon or acquiring a degree. How do those priorities
blend with other life priorities?
Rather than explicit biblical imperatives
to guide these choices, we must look to biblical principles. For example,
consider the principle of excellence. Second Corinthians 8:7 says, “But
just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge,
in complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you also
excel in this grace of giving.”
Excellence. Now that is a challenging
principle. We can strive for the good, the better or the best but what does
that mean? Absolute definitions are often impossible yet the Bible clearly
expects choices that move us to “excel in everything.”
That kind of priority
can never be cultivated without discipline. In his book Alternative
to Futility, Elton Trueblood eloquently says, “Any
man can pull a bow over violin strings, but it takes years of
restraint on fingers and ear to make really excellent violin music
when the bow is drawn. … The price of excellence is discipline
and the continuance of discipline.”
Jim Collins begins
his well-received book Good to Great with these words,
“Good is the enemy of great.” He goes on to say that
we don’t have great school, great government, or even great
people because we settle for having good schools, good government
and good people.
I remember some years ago when
I was research deep in my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Minnesota.
My schedule was full and running over. Frequently my sons would ask, “Dad,
can we go play tennis?” I had my academic goal to finish in five years.
I was also working full time. I was focused and immersed in the tasks at hand.
To what should one say no?
A friend told me, “There
are a lot of good things that need to be done in the world, but you can’t
do them all.” To this day I do not regret taking seven years to complete
my degree rather than sacrificing my best years with Darin and Kevin.
Pecan pie is good, but is that
best if I’m trying to lose weight? Watching a favorite TV program or
playing a video game may be good, but is that best if I’ll have no time
for reading God’s Word? Making lots of money by working overtime may
be good but is that best if it will cause me to lose touch with my spouse?
The power of negative thinking.
The gardener says no to the wrong plants (weeds) and grows a horticultural
masterpiece. The author says no to the wrong words and writes a literary masterpiece.
The sculptor says no to the unnecessary stone and carves an artistic masterpiece.
Even Norman Vincent Peale’s
wife said no to him. Peale was in his 50s when he wrote his famous book and
had received nothing but a stack of rejection slips. Dejected, he threw the
manuscript into the wastebasket and forbade his wife to remove it. She took
him literally, and the next day presented the manuscript inside the wastebasket
to an accepting publisher. The rest is history.
We should always remember that
the ultimate reason for exercising the power of negative thinking is our own
good. Our compassionate Heavenly Father cries out, “Oh, that their hearts
would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might
go well with them and their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:29). God
always knows what is best.
The power of negative thinking.
Learning to say no may be one of the most positive things we could
Meyer, Ph.D., is president of Valley Forge Christian College in
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