Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
When I was still young in the faith, I had the honor of being friends with a pastor who was truly like a Barnabas risen from the dead. He was a man of God who spoke the word of God with power, one I remember fondly to this day and even want to pattern my life after. Perhaps above all, like Barnabas, which means, “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36-37), this pastor was a great encourager, in person in a way which was quite helpful and I would say apostolic. Except for one thing. He had been helped in younger days from what is considered a classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale. And he wanted to give me a booklet by Peale which probably gave the same message in summary form. He knew me well enough to know that I needed to escape being overcome and taken under by a barrage of negative thoughts, simply what the experience of life brings with a worst case construction on anything possible.
Unfortunately for me that ended up being a breaking point, when really there was no reason other than that to break, and by and by I left that church for more of a fundamentalist kind of church and denomination for a time. Looking back on that now, I know I was mistaken, since the pastor himself did not at all teach the power of positive thinking as taught by Peale. That book had simply jogged him in a way which had helped him think not only realistically, but according to God’s promises in expectance of good from God.
The passage quoted above from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of scripture, helps us to hopefully find our way into a new way of thinking, to both enter into that and practice it. It certainly includes what is true, so that it is not unrealistic, head-in-the-sand thinking. But it looks reality square in the face through the lens of the possibilities in God’s good promises to us found in scripture and fulfilled in and through Christ. It is kind of like a reprogramming which we need, particularly which the likes of myself need.
Although the Lord has helped me to overcome such a barrage of negative thoughts mainly through his word, I really have not fundamentally changed over the years, so that my disposition and default position is to always expect the worst and try to be ready for the worst possible outcome. That can help here and there, for example on my job I’m always trying to guard against the beginning of trouble. But such a frame of mind means one is always on edge. In and through Jesus we have something much better.
So the break which needs to be made, some might call “possibility thinking” (coined by Robert H. Schuller, who like Peale has no appeal to me) might better be called “promise thinking” in terms of God’s promises found in scripture realized in and through Jesus. So that we can live with God’s promises in view, rather than our own naturally dour outlook:
Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus.
God is great and God is good. God works for our good in all things, certainly to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29). So the good is not in terms of what the world sees as good. Yet it’s not antithetical to good in terms of blessing within creation as well as new creation in Jesus.
We need to pray and read scripture with this thought in view, with the goal of a new mindset by which we will look for the good from God that might come even out of what is not good, and always be open to that. And be able to rest more and more in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus.