The Puzzle of Positive Thinking
Positive Thinking guru Terrence—he’s such a big star he needs only one name—has made a fortune and a reputation by teaching his followers to say, “Yes.” A despondent banker is about to become his latest convert. The movie is Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man,” and it masterfully displays both the power and peril of positive thinking as an exclusive spiritual diet.
For years, Carl (Carrey) has been losing the battle to get past a lost love. He’s burned out. He makes excuses and is enslaved by fear. His life is headed nowhere and he knows it, yet he can barely muster the will to go through the motions of daily life.
Forced by professional underachievement to eat the sack lunch he can afford rather than the power lunch he craves, Carl sits alone outside the modest bank where he works as a lowly loan officer. While absently picking at a bland sandwich, he’s spotted by an old friend.
The friend is bursting with energy and optimism. From the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks, though the listless Carl does little to encourage the chatter. His friend’s been around the world and now he’s on top of the world. He’s living for today and can hardly wait for tomorrow.
His secret? He’s a disciple of Terrence. He’s become a Yes Man, and saying “yes” to every opportunity has turbocharged his life.
Displaying the hardness of head and thickness of skin common to proselytes, the friend forces a Yes Seminar brochure into poor Carl’s clammy hands. Unfazed by Carl’s indifference, the friend assures Carl that if he comes to the seminar it will be the best decision he’s ever made.
On the evening of the big event, Carl finds himself seated in a huge crowd of excited Yes people. Terrence, sensing Carl’s resistance, picks him out of the crowd and sprints down the aisle, barefoot and guru-esque, to confront him.
No match for the great man’s conviction and charisma, Carl surrenders to the possibilities of Yes and makes a public profession of Yestianity. At the insistence of Terrence and the crowd, he enters into a covenant with himself: From now on, he will say yes to every opportunity, no matter how small.
Satisfied that his new protege is securely on board, Terrence leaves Carl with a menacing, maniacal warning: “If you break the covenant you’ll be breaking a promise to yourself, and when you break a promise to yourself, things can get a little….dicey.”
Sure enough, Carl soon discovers that when he says yes, amazing things happen. And when he says no, things indeed get dicey.
His positive thinking leads to new adventures, exciting opportunities and a wonderful romance. It also leads to disappointment and high anxiety. In the end, “Yes” proves to be just a little too good to be true.
The problem with positive thinking is that it’s fast-acting but it’s also fast-wearing off. There’s power in positive thinking but there’s also a puzzle, and the puzzle is, “Why do I always seem to aim high and hit low?”
Take it from a friend who’s tried and failed many times over many years. If you think positive thinking alone is your ticket to ride, you’ll find yourself riding the wave as an exception and paddling in the pool as a rule. And as long as you’re paddling, you’re just one dropped stroke from becoming a sitting duck.
Enter Jesus. There’s a place in the Bible where Jesus says, “If you don’t get this, you won’t get much of anything I have to say.”
Do you know where that place is, and do you know what it is you’re supposed to get? I won’t keep you in suspense for long, but before we crack open this true fortune cookie, sermonsibility demands that I set you up to win.
After all, I’m here to help you win, and that means rolling up my sleeves with you. There’s more to this liberation thing than dosing out positivity from a safe distance.
So please, don’t miss the importance of what you’re about to read. This comes from Jesus, the man who promised—promised—that you can do almost anything with him and virtually nothing without him (Lk. 18:27, Jn 15:5). This comes from a man who’s not only able but willing to bless you in a big way (Mt. 8:3). And honestly, of all the people who are capable of blessing you today, of how many can you be sure that they’re also willing?
Listen to the one who holds your key to abundant living. He’s looking you straight in the eye and he wants to know, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (Mk. 4:13)
The parable is what’s commonly known as The Parable of the Sower (Mk. 4:1-12, Mt. 13:1-15 and Lk. 8:4-10), but it’s also known as the Parable of the Soils. In this story, the soils represent four conditions of the human heart; hard, rocky, thorny and good.
Whenever the Parable of the Soils is preached, the apparent punch line is that God approves of good soil. That makes sense. But what’s not obvious and what’s seldom preached is that no soil condition is hopeless.
I grew up in Central Iowa, surrounded by land that’s arguably the most fertile on earth. I wish I’d known the Parable of the Soils back then because the truth of that story surrounded me every day.
If I’d had eyes to see, I would’ve grown up immersed in inspiration. Instead, my early years were dominated by the Opie-like notion that, “Nothin’ much ever happens around here.”( Lucky for me, Iowa life is pretty darned good even if you’re blind!)
Not only is Iowa soil fertile but the farmers who tend it are tenacious and ingenious. Give them a piece of ground that’s hard or rocky or thorny or stumpy or parched or swamped and they’ll soon have it cranking out corn and soybeans as if by magic.
Even today you can drive down any rural Iowa road, park your car, look out at a field and not see a bare patch or a “dud” in sight. Think of it! Thousands upon thousands of seeds go into the ground in the spring, and of those thousands of seeds hardly a single one fails to do the job which God created it to do. It’s amazing, and it’s the way the spiritual world would work if only we’d let it.
If your heart is hard, it can be plowed up and turned over and broken down and prepared for planting (Mt. 21:44). If your heart is rocky, the rocks can be removed. If your heart is infested with the thorns of worldliness—the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for meaningless things– the thorns can be eradicated. (Mk. 4:15-19)
The real punch line of the Parable of the Soils is not that God rubber stamps only good soil but that all “human soil” is potentially good. With God’s help, any heart can get from where it is to where it should be.
I won’t continue the explanation of The Parable of the Soils because it’s not my job to teach the Bible. It’s my job to tell you, in as many ways as I can pray up, that if you want to live large it’s your job to teach yourself the Bible. (Heb. 5:12)
Don’t be offended, be excited. God says you can do this. You can receive first-hand revelation. You can bring something to the party besides Tostitos Scoops. You have a unique light to shine and it’s supposed to shine out in the open, not just in your prayer closet. (Mk. 4:21)
Yes, that last bit was a pep talk, and there’s nothing wrong with pep talks. I’ve always been a sucker for positive thinking myself. Positive thinking is a good thing but it’s insufficient. To be complete, we must ingest the Good News. (2Ti. 3:17)
My mom taught school almost forever. She’s one of the last living one-room school teachers. Every year, in every class, she wrote these words on the chalkboard: “Aim high and hold your aim.”
Positive thinking can raise your aim, but if you really want to hold your aim you’ll have to get into the Bible.
As lay people, we get intimidated and even manipulated by those who seem to know the Bible better than we do. If somebody can name all the apostles (big deal) or flip to the Book of Job without using the Table of Contents (big deal again), we practically throw them a license to teach.
That stuff is nothing but head knowledge, whereas Jesus was more about the heart than the head. The Parable of the Soils is about your heart. It’s the heart we’re supposed to guard, because it’s the wellspring of life (Pr. 4:23). It’s the heart we’re supposed to tend to, because it draws up our treasure map for life. (Mt. 6:21)
So what if you can’t recite the Seven Plagues of Egypt in order? Who cares if you don’t know a sackcloth from an ash heap? Stacks of facts are just a recipe for Old Covenant Hangover. The antidote to Old Covenant Hangover is the New Covenant (duh!), and the crown jewel of the New Covenant is this: “They will all know me, from the greatest of them to the least.” (Heb. 8:11)
They will all know God. “All” includes you, my friend.
You and I have been set free from God’s grievances and there’s nothing left to do but drink in His goodness. So why not stick your nose in the Bible, get what Jesus really wants you to get, and meet me back here next week?
As my pastor likes to say, “Let’s get after this,” because blind faith may be risky, but blind positive thinking is even riskier.