What’s wrong with some optimistic motivation in life? We often see optimistic motivational slogans in various places, and there may be nothing inherently wrong with some of these things in limited doses. Sometimes we need a pep talk. However, if you take time to ponder the slogans, many of them are contradictory to core Christian beliefs and not helpful or realistic in the long run. We are encouraged to place our faith in ourselves, and it diverts us from Christ.
Most are aware that I recently published a book entitled: Positively Powerless, How a Forgotten Movement Undermined Christianity. In it I trace the development of “positive thinking” in America. It was birthed from a movement named “New Thought” in the late 19th century that was not Christian, but rather from occultist and mystical subcultures. Eventually it moved away from this disconcerting background and morphed into something like an optimistic motivational philosophy that transformed American society in the 20th century.
I came across an author Brooke Lynn through Twitter, and she has quite the social media ministry of encouraging Christians. At first, I thought she was another one of these people promoting self-centered, feel-good, narcissistic Christianity. I soon saw that I was wrong, and agree with the majority of things that she posts. Recently I appreciated how she attempted to take a known optimistic slogan, and alter it to be more God-centered. Apparently Brooke notices the problems with many of these slogans.
When I saw her meme (below), I realized it was familiar but different. I believe the original might have been: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” by William Arthur Ward (I’m sure there are various versions of this out there.)
Here are some other optimistic motivational statements to consider:
“Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.” Tony Robbins
“All things are possible for me because I believe all things are possible.” Joe Vulgamore
“Every thought we think is creating our future.” Louise L. Hay
“Believe in yourself, and the rest will fall into place. Have faith in your own abilities, work hard, and there is nothing you cannot accomplish.” Brad Henry
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Napoleon Hill
Do you see the problem with these? The last one in particular reminds me of how Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. These statements encourage us to believe in ourselves, and trust in our thoughts. Do we really think our thoughts have this much power? Do we really think we are capable of anything? (Uh no, we have limits.) You might think I am reading into these too much. But the original New Thought philosophies literally taught that our thoughts had a mystical power to attract events and occurrences to our life. We could make good things happen with our thoughts, and ascend to a higher plateau in life.
But even if you don’t “read into” these statements and take them on a more surface level, they remain problematic none-the-less, particularly for the Christian. They are profoundly self-centered. As Christians, our hopes should be external in the promises of God in Jesus. We are finite humans, and too many of us have a god-complex. It is God who ultimately controls our destiny, not us.
Here is a brief section of my book (page 76 print edition) where I interact with GK Chesterton and the idea of “believing in yourself”:
In closing, I’d encourage you to check out Brooke Lynn that I refer to above. I think she is an example of Christian optimism done the right way, where we are pointed to Christ as the source of our hope and power in life.