The Scriptural Approach To A Positive Attitude

By W.H. Cook


I have no trouble wondering if God wants me to succeed. The cross is proof enough for me.

Our feelings are revealed by our actions.
-John Haggai

Every Christian prefers Feeling No. 1. Every Christian wants that mountain-top feeling, the feeling of excitement! Happiness is to be excited!

Is this a wrong desire? Not at all. When God created man, he made him supremely happy. Man was excited from the first moment he was created! Sin was the factor that made him less than God’s best. When man gets right with God, he should be supremely happy and excited about life, regardless of circumstances. Paul was.

Right at the Top
Knowledgeable men consider the apostle Paul the greatest Christian. In his field, Paul became an outstanding success. He was aggressive, motivated, a positive thinker. A first-century insurance company looking for a super-salesman would have tried to hire Paul after the first interview! They would have envisioned him reaching the million dollar club!

Scholarly F. W. Farrar, writing one of the great classics on the life of the apostle, said years ago:

How Little did men recognize his greatness! Here was one to whom no single man that has ever lived, before or since, can furnish a perfect parallel. If we look at him only as a writer,  how immensely does he surpass, in his most casual Epistles, the greatest authors, whether Pagan or Christian, of his own and succeeding epoch. If we look at the Christian world, the
very greatest worker in each realm of Christian services does but present an inferior aspect of one phase only of Paul’s many-sided preeminence.

Later Farrar discussed Paul as a theologian, a preacher, a practical organizer, a missionary, and a reformer who altered the course of history, before concluding, “No saint of God has ever attained the same heights in so many capacities.”

Rising Above Circumstances

Whatever Paul’s plan may have been (and we shall uncover his marvelous secret in later chapters), Paul definitely found a way to arrive at Feeling No. 1. And Paul did not maintain his daily thrill and excitement because of circumstances but in spite of circumstances.

Paul could rejoice in tribulation sing in a prison cell help a jailer who had flogged him and if that were not enough he could write several of the world’s great books while serving time as a prisoner. Furthermore, the apostle could stand unafraid while addressing some of the wise philosophers of ancient Athens. This man had what it takes.

He was so confident; he believed he could do anything and accomplish anything that God wanted him to do.

The Source and the Accomplishment

Add it up. Confidence, excitement, zeal, inner motivation, positive thinking, accomplishment of goals, and any way you add, the total is the same-SUCCESS.

Since Paul had no books about success or motivation to read, where do you suppose he received his ideas? Here’s a starter. He received his ideas from the one who knows more about success and accomplishment than any other-God. From the Holy Spirit of God who dwelt in Paul’s life. When the source of a success-image is right, then the accomplishment is right. Check Philippians 3:12-14 for accomplishment.

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Not as though I had already attainted. This shows humility, shows he viewed achievement as an ongoing, continuing process. This one thing I do.– that’s goal-setting. He had written it down. He had taken the purposes of his life, narrowed them into one. One can see the big aim of his life, the main drive, the ultimate passion.

Forgetting those things which are behind.- refusal to dwell on the negatives. If looking back could ever ruin someone, Paul was the one. He had persecuted the church, made havoc of God’s work, held the coats of those who had stoned Stephen, and been a leader in the first-century hatred movement. Sins and sorrows had to be forgotten, or success would have fled.

Reaching forth to those things which are before.- exciting enthusiasm about opportunities just ahead.

I press.-burning desire.

toward the mark.- discipline, dedication, shows his fixed purpose.

for the prize.- that winning feeling. He believed he couldn’t help but be successful if he could continually be the person God wanted him to be and continually achieve the goals God
wanted him to achieve.

of the high calling of God.-setting of priorities. And that’s what it takes to produce a real success image.

Characteristics of a Biblical Success Image

Christianity has well remembered some of the sterling characteristics of the apostle Paul. His best known qualities have been cited for centuries.

APPRECIATIVE-“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3).

CONCERNED-“For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).

CONSIDERATE-“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor. 8:13).

HUMBLE-“Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8).

SERVANTLIKE-“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1). But Little is said about the other characteristics which made the man. Other things to be considered include at least fifteen additional personal strengths.

BOLD-“We were bold in our God to speak unto you” (1 Thess. 2:2).

CONFIDENT-“I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me” (Phil. 4:13).

COURAGEOUS-“I withstood him [Peter] to the face because he was to be blamed” (Gal. 2:11).

DETERMINED-When stoned and left for dead, he got up and headed for the next town to preach again (see Acts 14:19).

EXCITED-He was persuaded that nothing could ever separate him from the love of God (see Rom. 8:38-39).

FOLLOWER OF FAITH INSTEAD OF FEELINGS-In the midst of a 14-day storm at sea, he exclaimed, “Sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God” (Acts 27:25).

GOAL-SETTER-After three missionary journeys, he still wanted to go to Rome and later to Spain to carry on his work (Rom. 15:24).

HAPPY-When he looked forward to going to Rome, where he knew he might die, he said, “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed” (Rom. 15:32).

MOTIVATOR OF OTHERS-To Philemon he wrote, “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee” (Philem.21)

PERSISTENT-Two years, while a captive of Rome, living in his, apparently with guards guarding him all the time, Paul continued “preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 28:30-31).

POSITIVE THINKER-“If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom.8:31).

RADIANT-“I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:25-26). Twenty-five times in his letters he talks of his joy.

SATISFIED WITH POSSESSIONS-“For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). “For I have all and abound” (v. 18).

THRILLED-“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

VICTORIOUS-“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). I know many of those qualities are listed in our modern
flurry of success books. And I’m delighted. I just consider it important that we remember these ideas originated with someone else-someone who was wonderfully in charge of giving daily
direction to an apostle’s life nearly 2,000 years ago.


There isn’t a pessimistic note in the New Testament after the resurrection.

-Andrew Blackwood

Well then, is it the power of positive thinking that is required? . . . While, in general, it is good to be optimistic, that optimism must have some basis in fact to be of any help at
all. -Ray Stedlnan

Don’t draw the wrong conclusion from Paul’s life. Someone could surmise, “If I could simply teach myself to master positive thinking, I’II have it made.” As if that was all there was to it.

A mountain of material has been written about positive thinking, but legitimate questions still arise. Paul’s strength at this point could get most anybody excited but it also brings out questions. For instance, how does positive thinking relate to negative commands? Is the Bible a positive book of a negative? Are there problems related to positive thinking? Does it always work? How could Paul always be so positive?

Negatives with a Purpose

God’s negatives all have a purpose. Every “thou shalt not” is designed to bless the life. The purpose of all God’s negatives is positive!

In order to build a positive person, God must teach us to be realistic. There are not just good things in life-there are bad. So there must not just be “do’s,” but also “don’ts.” When God says “thou shalt not,” he is not saying we may not, nor is he saying we cannot, but he is simply saying we must not if we want to lead a positive life. The All-Wise Eye is charting a course,

The disciplined distance runner must memorize well his “thou shalt nots.” These are not his main concern. His eye must be on the tape! He wants to be the first to cross the finish line! But he trains himself that he must not look at his feet, he must not burn himself out on the first lap, he must not look back every second to see how the other guy is doing! He can best think positively only when the right negatives are an ingrained part of his thinking.

Why are there negatives in the Bible? (1) Because of the reality of sin and the danger of it. (2) To tell the truth in love. (3) To simulate problems.

A simulation expert sat beside me on a flight high over Chicago. Being totally ignorant of his field, I probed a bit. His firm contracted themselves to high schools or technical schools and taught simulation. Students became excited, grade averages rose, near-dropouts took interest.

“Give me a definition of that word,” I suggested, with pencil in hand.

“Simulation is a space-age term relatively new in industry in which firms build models of a complete larger system, imitate every possible wrong turn a mechanism can take.”

“My company will discuss with you what you want done, we will build an inexpensive model of your expensive machinery, build in every possible malfunction area, and even teach you how
to train your students to use it and learn from it.

“This is the only reason the space program has been a success,” he continued. “When something goes wrong on one of the space flights, ground control will make the same thing go wrong in their model at the Houston Manned Spaceflight Center, then dictate directions to the men in the spaceship how to correct their problem.”

When I had asked my questions of the young company president, and we had discussed my work for awhile, I had a silent moment to reflect on the truths I had learned that day. God seemed to drive my thoughts on simulation toward the Bible. For the first time I knew why there were so many Bible stories of people with problems. For the first time I could understand God’s reasoning in listing the faults of some otherwise great Bible characters. Now I knew why God persisted in “telling it like it is.” The Bible has specific help for every problem area man has. Either (1) the problem area is confronted with a direct command or specific principle which applies, or (2) God gives an account of someone who had a similar problem and shares the results.

So today science uses, as one method of teaching, one of the same methods used centuries ago in the writing of God’s Word. And the young simulation expert suggested it is definitely one of the best teaching methods ever devised.

The Bible: Both Positive and Negative A spinster was getting up in years, and still she had no boyfriends. One of her friends found her standing beside a well, sobbing her heart out. “Why are you crying?”

“Well, I saw this well and just got to thinking. One day I might get asked for a date. Then I might really like the fellow and we might get engaged. After that we might get married. Then we might buy that house right over there. Then someday we might have children, and they might play out here in this field. One of our kids might come over here to look and he might lean over too far and fall in the well. Boo hoo, Boo hoo, Boo hoo.

She did have a problem, didn’t she?

There’s a lesson in all that. If negatives were all God gave us to live by, our thinking would indeed be warped. But there’s more. The Bible is both positive and negative. It is the perfectly balanced book for a perfectly balanced life. Rightly interpreted and rightly applied, the Word of God will produce a perfectly balanced life. For like life is meant to be, the Bible is

Negative on sin,
Positive on the Savior.
Negative on self-sufficiency,
Positive on Christ sufficiency.
Negative on human strength,
Positive on divine strength.
Negative on harmful habits
Positive on helpful habits.
Negative on a sin-filled life,
Positive on a Christ-filled life.
Negative on doubt,
Positive on faith.
Negative on short-sightedness
Positive on vision.

When Paul got his sin problem settled and his relationship right, he became a very positive individual indeed. Relying on the sufficiency of Christ, he was loaded with positive affirmations.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me” (Phil. 4: 13).

“My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus ‘ (Phil. 4: 19).

“[God] is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

“If God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31).

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

The Bible teaches the kind of positive thinking where one so believes in the power of God to accomplish a task, he moves forward in that power and allows God to work through him in the

The Main Problem in the Positive Thinking Movement The whole fallacy of the positive thinking movement is not positive thinking. The fallacy is in getting positive too soon. If we do not get our motivation from God, put our “success’ ‘ under God, we might be in for trouble. It is not enough to simply start a day saying, “I’m going to be positive.”

God may choose not to add his blessings to our human methodology when the same human methodology phased him out of the planning. Suppose an unsaved person cons himself into thinking
positively about his spiritual condition. Suppose he repeats fifty times a day “I’m going to think positively about my spiritual condition.” Or suppose he frequently says to himself, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better!”

Does his positive thinking change his relationship to God? Is he then God’s child?

If a carpenter makes a pulpit stand for a church, can it be said that the pulpit is his child? The piece of furniture is his product, not his child. There’s a great deal of difference between being one of God’s products and one of God’s children.

As it would be necessary to be born into the family of a carpenter to be the child of a carpenter, so it is necessary to be born into the family of God to be considered God’s child and be a recipient of the blessing he has promised to his children.

“Ye must be born again. ‘

Positive thinking, based on truth, carries fantastic blessing. Getting positive too soon, on the other hand, can do irreparable damage.

When J. Edwin Orr was speaking in a meeting in the University of Chicago, a young lady’s question began a dialogue: “I don’t understand this. If a man believes in Communism, he is a Communist; if he believes in Socialism, he is a Socialist: well, I believe in Christianity-am I not a Christian?”

“Not necessarily so,” I replied.

I noticed that she was wearing an engagement ring, so I asked:
“Could I ask you a personal question?”

“Certainly,” she replied.

“Do you believe in marriage?”

“Of course I believe in marriage!” she replied. “I’m engaged to be married.”

“Can you give me any good reasons for it?”

“Marriage,” she said, “gives a woman a home and a family, a career and social prestige.”

Facetiously, I asked the young ladies in the company present how many of them believed in marriage, and they all gigglingly raised their hands-except one determined spinster.

“That’s very interesting,” said I. “You all say that you believe in marriage as an institution or a philosophy. It so happens that I am a chaplain of the United States Air Force. I am recognized by state government to perform marriages. This young lady says if one believes in Communism, he is a Communist; if one believes in Christianity, he is a Christian; now you all tell me you believe in marriage: allow me to pronounce you married.”

That was greeted with hoots of derision.

“What’s wrong with that?’ ‘ I asked.

“Mr. Orr,” protested one girl, patiently, “you know that marriage is not a philosophy; marriage is a personal relationship!”

“Exactly,” I returned. “And Christianity is not a mere philosophy; to be a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a living Person.”

Why Was Paul So Positive?

Paul seemed to never expect defeat, always anticipated blessing. His God was a big God! There was no task too big for God to do!

How can any one man be such a positive thinker? Was he just better than most of us at conjuring up good positive thoughts? Or was there a basis for it? What is the difference?

Positive thinking (the right kind) is based on three essentials: ( 1) establishing the right relationship with Christ; (2) keeping the relationship right; (3) being filled  with the power of God.

Is it any wonder Paul was a positive thinker? Is it any wonder he possessed such a strong success-image? Paul could afford to be a positive thinker because he kept his life constantly measured by those three essentials.


I know that he is far more willing to do things for us than we are to ask him. And that is the great mystery. Knowing what I do about God’s power and God’s willingness to help, I keep on struggling with myself and trying to work things out in my own way when he could save me all the anxiety and do it better and easier. I believe God is made sad at the sight of so many of us trying to work things out for ourselves. He Longs to help us, but we won’t let him; we won’t ask him.

-Peter Marshall

There’s a new game on the market, and the crowds are flocking to buy. Whereas psychiatry is a professional skill for treatment of diseases of the mind, the new fad is a do-it-yourself kick.

Spelling-wise, it might best be called Psyche-I-Atry. You don’t need a doctor but you practice this on yourself. It’s kin to psychiatry in that it invades both the medical and the mental fields.

The object of the game is to psyche yourself.

Find something you can’t do, psyche yourself (psyche the I) and act as if you can do it.

Take the thing you’re worried about and psyche yourself, act as if it is not real.

If overtaken by guilt, psyche yourself, act as if there is no real basis for your guilt.

Define success however you like, psyche yourself and act as if God is ready to empower you in the achievement regardless of your definition, motive, or goal.

This game has been recommended by some in relation to suffering. at least one religious group took its roots from the psyching of the individual. “Pain isn’t real” they said, “but only a figment of the imagination. Clean up the mind, act as if you don’t hurt, and you won’t.”

Some play the do-it-yourself game with relation to sin. “Psyche yourself by (1) believing there is no such thing as sin or (2) believing circumstances justified what you did. It’s all mental; you’ve no reason to feel guilty. Throw care to the four winds; loosen your strict standards.”

Now the game is on the market in relation to success and achievement.

The Risk Is High

In swimming, I either can or I can’t. A thousand times I may tell myself, “I know I can swim.” If I psyche myself, if I act as if I can when I can’t, and jump into the deep water anyway, I may drown.

In war, I can rush the enemy who outnumbers me 10 to 1, and all the while be acting as if I can whip them all, but the odds are real good that I’II soon be dead.

In sickness, I can psyche myself and act as if I don’t hurt and 1 may escape 30 percent of the time, but the other 70 percent will scar or kill.

In sin, I can choose to ignore the reality of it in my life, but much of my joy is lost and I short-circuit hundreds of blessings in the power area.

In success and achievement, I can psyche myself into emphasizing how much I can accomplish (watch that big “I”). Years hence the realization will come that I have not achieved half of what I could have achieved if God had been directing my life.

It scarcely seems worthwhile to risk your life and your career just because someone said acting as if it would work wonders for you. Maybe they forgot to mention that it only works in some things and then it only works some of the time.

Something Better Than Acting

The human body, it has been estimated, may have as many as ten million nerves. Ten million little nerves to get frustrated. Ten million little nerves with frazzled edges looking for a better way than acting. Ten million little nerves stand pleading for an honest way out of frustration.

Maxwell Maltz suggests that in the business of feeding information into the brain that honesty is the only policy. “The unhappy, failure-type personality cannot develop a new self-image by pure will power, or by arbitrarily deciding to. . . . You cannot merely imagine a new self-image, unless you feel that it is based upon truth.” ‘ Hence it is imperative we search for a more lasting way than that of psyching ourselves.

Three Basic Laws

Three laws must be understood before we can be assured of success: the law of self-effort, the law of reversed effort, and the law of divine effort.

Law of self -effort. To win a battle against another power, self must be stronger than that other power. If an individual is to be successful as he battles Satan and temptation, then that individual must be stronger than Satan. Otherwise, he cannot hope to win.

Satan knows how to defeat every one who fights with self-effort. He knows by every weakness, and can at any moment hit me at my weakest point. I am simply not stronger than he is.

Analyze the following conversation-(read it in Luke 22:31). (This is a personal paraphrase.)

Jesus: “Simon, Satan is after you, really after you” (v. 31).
Simon: “Don’t worry about me, I am ready” (v. 33).

Jesus: “If the way you’re going to fight him is through self-effort, the big `I,’ then the outcome is already known. You will soon deny me three times” (v. 34).

Yet self-effort is the way every unsaved person fights the battles of life (only way he can) and the method used by 75 percent of Christians. The longer this method is used, the more likely the next law will come into play.

Law of reversed effort. If we try too hard not to do something, we will finally do it because we will have impressed it so indelibly upon our minds. Robert Thouless in his book about the psychology of religion discusses this law.

Suppose that you have been told to walk along a plank lying on the floor of the room in which you are at present sitting, without stepping off on either side. You would have very little emotion about the possibility of your failure, and you would accomplish the task quite easily. Now suppose that you have been told that you must walk along something equally rigid and of the same width at a height of several hundreds of feet above the ground. You will almost certainly fall off. What has happened is that your horror of falling off has made the spontaneous autosuggestion of the fall so strong that you have not been able to prevent your mind from realizing it’ You will also find, under these conditions, that the harder you try to prevent yourself from falling off, the more certainly you will do so. ”

James Jauncey adds, “Suppose a young man is troubled with impure thoughts which he finds almost impossible to drive from his mind. The more he struggles, the more involved he becomes. Even prayer does not seem to help. What he is doing is making the problem worse by focusing his mind upon it.” Robert Thouless relates how the plank can be walked.

Your only chance of performing the task successfully is to adopt a method which reduces to a minimum both your fear of the fall and your voluntary effort to keep on the plank; in other words, you must think neither about the height nor about the effort necessary to keep on the plank, out only about getting to the other end.”

We are dreadfully slow to learn that the law of divine effort is our only real solution. Simply stated, this law suggests that God is the strongest power there is and divine effort can meet any need or master any situation.

Oswald Chambers, in his excellent book, My Utmost for His Highest, must have been thinking about this law.

A river is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers. For a while it goes steadily on its course, then it comes to an obstacle and for a while it is baulked, but it soon makes a pathway round the obstacle. Or a river will drop out of sight for miles, and presently emerge again broader and grander than ever. You can see God using some lives, but into your life an obstacle has come and you do not seem to be of any use. Keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you round the obstacle or remove it. The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never get your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle is a matter of indifference to the river which will flow steadily through you if you remember to keep right at the Source. Never allow anything to come between yourself and Jesus Christ, no emotion, or experience: nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source.

Divine effort, when applied, stops all possibility of failure due to overworked self-effort. Many a Christian has become neurotic by attempting to master self-effort and failing to zero in on Divine effort.

The Bible does not just say, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” yet that’s the way many people quote it. That would simply be self-effort at its futile best. It would be far better to memorize the entire verse: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Submission, turning the problem over to him, enables divine effort to be applied, and Satan knows to flee from that. Satan knows when he has met his match. When he finds a person who turns him over to the Lord Satan knows he will be defeated.

Anxious that we move ahead to victory God inspired others to teach us this same law of divine effort.

Paul: “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil” (Eph. 6: 11).

Isaiah: `Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isa. 40:30-31).

John: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” ( 1 John 4: 4). Remember, Satan is the prince of this world.

Self-effort is not sufficient to fight the biggest battle of all-the battle of life. At best self-effort will sooner or later fail you (Satan will see to that); at worst, self-effort will become reversed effort. Blessed is the man who discovers and applies divine effort.

Honesty demands that I admit there are some things I cannot do, some battles I cannot win, some goals I cannot achieve. I can either act as if, or seek an effort greater than mine.