The power of "positive thinking" is a popular concept, and it seems to fit right at home in the Church. This is perhaps why some many mega pastors have authored best-selling books and preached international sermons on the topic. But my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ need to know that the concept of "positive thinking" is hogwash that cannot be entertained by disciples of Jesus Christ! (I mean that with as much sugar as my personality will allow.) Joel Osteen preaches it. Joyce Meyer preaches it. I've heard several other heavy hitters in the faith community preach it, and while it sounds great, positive thinking is false thinking. It isn't of God and there's nothing Biblical about it. And before someone tries it: NO! Not even Philippians 4:8 supports the concept. The "positive thinking" movement holds that merely thinking happy thoughts will propel you into a life of success, wealth and other earthly pleasures. But in Philippians 4:8, Paul is actually encouraging believers to meditate on the TRUTH of God as a means to remain at peace and hold fast to the faith in the midst of trouble. These pastors tend to tell their followers to focus on the positive, whereas Jesus requires His followers to focus on the truth.
I wanted to discuss the doctrinal errors of the positive thinking philosophy because it is the very message being pushed in Joel Osteen's latest book, Think Better. Live Better: Victorious Living Starts in Your Mind. According to Osteen, the key to living a successful life is for you to simply "reprogram" your thoughts. In this book, Osteen endeavors to provide readers with strategies for deleting negative thoughts and thought patterns. (Seriously???!!!)
But as Christians, we need to know that the idea that any power or victory we have begins in our minds is FALSE. NOTHING starts in the mind, but in the spirit. Our "power" and our "victory" comes from the Holy Spirit, who works IN us! It is God's Spirit, not our might, Who reprograms us once we are in Christ. Yet, if you are still thinking about buying Osteen's book or have already read it, I encourage you to consider the following to recalibrate your thinking back to the truth of God:
"For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Our minds, void of Jesus Christ, are carnal and worldly, so they are not enough to produce any true good in our lives. What we deem is "good" and what God counts as "good" are two different things. It is the mind of Christ (aka the Holy Spirit) that gives us power, boldness and victory in this life. Do not attempt to think your way into self-confidence. That causes you to look to yourself, which is a prideful act. Instead, place your confidence in the power that comes from Jesus Christ.
"You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4, emphasis mine).
Osteen says the key to a better life is to simply "delete" bad thoughts. (Ha! Have fun with that!) But thinking positive thoughts while satan is pummeling your finances, family, faith and even YOUR MIND will do you absolutely no good. We can ONLY overcome satan and his schemes with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It was Jesus who, through His death, burial and resurrection, conquered the power of sin and death. Jesus fought a spiritual battle and the battles we fight in this life are also spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). The difference between us and the world is we have Christ as our salvation and through Him we are equipped with the proper weaponry to engage in spiritual warfare. It takes Spirit, not thoughts, to conquer spirit...and the sword of the Spirit is God's Word. We should read God's word daily to mature in our faith, to hold to the truth of God, to remain confident in our righteousness in Christ, and to be equipped to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You truly have to abide in Christ and He in you to claim ANY victory in this life (John 15:5).
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the good, and acceptable and perfect will of God." Romans 12:2
One might argue that Joel IS speaking to those who are in Christ. They might even say that by giving readers a strategy to "delete" negative thoughts he is indeed telling them how to "transform" or "renew" their minds in Christ. To that I have to ask: Is he? Because one who is already in Christ doesn't need to be told to "think positive thoughts" or be given a strategy for it. What's a positive thought when we have the mind of Christ and have seen evidence of the Holy Spirit guiding and perfecting us? What's a "strategy" when we are equipped with God's word and His spirit? We ALREADY see a supernatural change at work in ourselves and we already know where to get the truth we need when faced with adversity or error. HE who began a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Joel can't tell anyone how to do what God is ALREADY doing in His people!
And allow me to clarify that having the "mind of Christ" isn't to simply "think like Christ". You can't just read Jesus's sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7) and assume you can now go out, do good in the world and that's all there is to it. Having the mind of Christ is a transformative experience during which the Holy Spirit sanctifies (perfects) your whole person. He tears away your carnal desires, attitudes, beliefs, behavior, character, conscience, motives, etc., and replaces them with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)...it's a holistic renewal that doesn't happen overnight, but the change is certainly noticeable, and it is lasting.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think, according to the power that works in us" (Ephesians 3:20, emphasis mine).
You cannot simply THINK yourself into being a consistently joyful, whole, peaceful, or victorious person. As a matter of fact, you shouldn't even want to depend merely on what YOU think to give you a "better life" because God is able to do so much better than anything you could imagine. HE'S GOD! HE created US! HIS ways are HIGHER than our ways and HIS THOUGHTS are HIGHER than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)! Osteen is urging his readers to reprogram their own minds to achieve success in life, but this undermines the power of God, which works in us. (I have to repeat this to be sure you receive it.) As a result, Osteen's ultimately leading his readers to expect less than what God may have in mind for them, or he could be leading many to think of a form of "success" that God never intended for them. It should not be our thoughts, but God's plans that order our steps. We should remain prayerful and open to following wherever He leads (Proverbs 19:21).
"Beware lest anyone cheat you thRough philosophy or empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
The issue I, and many others, have with Osteen's teachings is that they can lead many to never truly root themselves in Christ and His Word. Joel is on record with admitting that He doesn't preach the full counsel of God. His sermons and books never touch the "negative stuff" of the Bible. He instead refers to the "blessings" and "promises" of God. But even then he only refers to God's benefits in generic terms. He never discusses at length exactly what those blessings and promises are, nor does he teach what God requires of us to access His benefits. God is not our personal genie and being a "child of God" is not something one professes merely because they belong to a local church. While the rewards are well worth it, following Christ requires many sacrifices (Luke 9:23, 14:25-33). Unless people understand this, they come into this faith blind and ill-equipped to stand firm in their faith and they will only fall away in the moment of trial.
I said all of this to say...
Osteen and many others who push the "power of positive thinking" in the church are actually building a generation of apostates. Positive thinking is not only FALSE thinking, it is dangerous and deadly. Osteen admits that he prefers to stay away from "negative" thinking, but persecution, for example, is a "negative" experience and Jesus tells us plainly that ALL of His followers will endure it (John 15:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:13). You can't prepare for that reality on your own, in your own strength. Your spirit has to be firmly rooted in Christ to still live in peace knowing that persecution, losing family members, losing jobs, or even losing your very life for your faith is possible. You have to gird yourself in the full armor of God to fight and endure in such a battle (Ephesians 6:13-17). So, unless Osteen's new title covers the need for repentance and receiving Jesus Christ, confessing one's sins, understanding self-denial and reading God's word daily, I don't see the point of this publication. It won't help the lost get saved, and it won't help existing believers mature in their faith. And, as a result, no one who reads this book will truly come away with any power or victory. They'll be living the same life they had before they picked up his book, but with about $25 less in their pockets and an increased chance of living a lukewarm existence before God.