When Jeff, a restaurant manager, was asked him how he was doing, we would reply, “If I were any better, I’d be twins!” One day he was asked, “How do you do it? I don’t get it, you can’t be a positive person all of the time.” Jeff replied, “Each morning, I wake up, and say to myself, Jeff, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood, or choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life. The bottom line of life is: It’s my choice how I will live life.”
Jeff’s positive philosophy was put to the test. One morning he left the back door to his restaurant open and was held up at gunpoint by three armed robbers. While trying to open the safe, his hand, shaking from nervousness, slipped off the combination. The robbers panicked and shot him. Luckily, Jeff was found quickly and rushed to the local trauma center. When he was wheeled into the emergency room he saw the expressions of the faces
of the doctors and nurses. He got scared. In their eyes, he read, He’s a dead man. A big, burly nurse was shooting questions at him. One question she asked was if he were allergic to anything. “Yes,” Jeff replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for his answer. Jeff took a deep breath, and loudly said, “Bullets!” Over their laughter, he told them, “I’m choosing to live. Treat me as if I’m alive, not dead.” Jeff lived thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing positive attitude.
Attitude is our response to life. It is our choice. Someone once said that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. One of the most significant decisions we can make on a day-to-day basis is choosing a positive attitude. Henry Cloud in his book 9 Things a Leader Must Do writes that successful people “do not allow negative things to take up space in their lives.” Attitude is perhaps more important than education, experience, and endowment in living life to the fullest. An optimistic attitude fuels one’s fire to greater heights. When one’s attitude is right then no barrier is too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, and no challenge too great. William James, the father of American psychology, stated, “The great discovery of my generation is that people can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
In the little letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi, he didn’t mince words when it came to attitudes. He came right to the point: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5 NIV). Jesus was the most positive, upbeat person who ever walked the face of this earth. He radiated optimism. He was a pied piper that people wanted to be around because of his uplifting outlook on life. Paul adopted Jesus’ attitude. A few paragraphs later Paul stated, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Phil. 2:14 NIV). In other words, don’t whine, shine. Don’t be negative, be positive. Paul had every reason to be negative, but he chose to be positive. And near the end of the letter Paul states his positive stance on life, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13 NIV). Paul displayed a positive position toward life. His was a can-do attitude.
How could Paul be so positive? How could he display a “can-do” attitude when he had been beaten, stoned, left for dead, ridiculed, and rejected? Like Jeff, Paul knew that living positively was a mental choice.
I. The Secret of Positive Living
If we want to live positively we must carefully choose what we think about. Solomon wrote, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (Prov. 4:23 GN). Paul reiterated those words by sharing the secret of his can-do attitude, “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 NIV). It’s been said, “You’re not what you think you are, but what you think, you are.” Mohandas Gandhi wrote, “A man is but the product of his thoughts.
What he thinks, he becomes.”
A little girl complained to her mother that she had a stomachache and didn’t feel like going to church. Her mother said, “Your stomach hurts because it is empty. It will feel better when you put something in it.” They went to church and as they were leaving, the pastor mentioned that he had a headache. The little girl told him, “Your head hurts because it is empty. It will feel better when you put something in it.” In a way she was right, because how one feels is determined by what one puts in their head. Thoughts are the seeds one plants for future attitudes. What you think about today is what you will do tomorrow.
The Bible teaches that the way we think determines the way we feel, and the way we feel determines the way we act. So if you want to change your actions, change the way you think. If you want to change your attitudes, change the thoughts you put in your mind. Sometimes you may act negatively; that is, you may worry, be angry, be depressed, complain, or criticize. Do you know why? Because you feel that way. Do you know why you feel that way? Because you are thinking negative thoughts. So if you want to change you actions, don’t focus on your feelings, focus on changing your thoughts.
II. The Steps to Positive Living Granted this is easier said than done. But let me give you some practical steps for changing your thoughts.
1. Make your first thoughts God-directed. Before you face the day, face the Father. Before you crawl out of bed, crawl into his presence. Some people make it a habit to roll out of bed onto their knees and begin their day in prayer. I don’t make it that far. With my head still on my pillow and my eyes still closed, I offer God the first seconds of my day. “God here is my life, I give it to you, to be used by you.”
C. S. Lewis wrote: “the moment you wake up each morning . . . [all] your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life comes flowing in.”
2. Focus your waiting thoughts on uplifting-ideas. Consider that by the time your life is over, you will have spent six months at stoplights, eight months opening junk mail, a year and a half looking for lost stuff, and a whopping five years standing in various lines. Why use those moments thinking about something upbeat and positive? In the waiting moments, the common becomes the uncommon, by becoming a cathedral as you pray, or a classroom as you learn from a teaching CD or read a book.
3. Center your repeated thoughts on the winning outcome. We all talk to ourselves often saying the same thing over and over again. Make sure those repeated thoughts are positive and will benefit you not bring you down. Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful tools we can use. We are going to talk to ourselves, some of us will even answer ourselves. The point is to make those words uplifting and encouraging. We, in many respects, are the
benefactors of self-fulfilling prophecy. We become what we think and say to ourselves.
I remember when I was playing tennis competitively I had a few phrases that I would repeat to myself. I would say, “One point at a time” or “Concentrate on the ball and hit a winner” or “Racquet back, watch the ball, follow through” or “You can do this. You are a winner.” I would repeat those phrases throughout the course of a match. These repeated thoughts helped me to stay positive and focused. Likewise, we need to utter repeated positive thoughts so we can stay positive in everyday life. Not trash talk or negative thoughts, but positive thoughts that God has about you and prayers that will help you stay true to his word.
4. Give your final thoughts to God. Conclude the day as you began it: talking to God. Thank him for the good parts. Question him about the hard parts. Seek his forgiveness. Seek his wisdom. Seek his strength. And as you close your eyes, take assurance in the promise, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa. 121:4 NIV).
Let’s review. We are to have the same attitude as Jesus. God’s goal for us is “to think and act like Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5 NCV). For this to happen we must be careful what we think. For our thoughts determine our feelings and our feelings determine our actions. We then make our first thoughts each day to God, our waiting thoughts uplifting, our repeated thoughts positive, and our final thoughts to God. But, like Jeff the restaurant manager, it’s your choice.