Question: "Is there any power in positive thinking?"

One definition for positive thinking is “the act of reviewing thought processes and the actions they engender, in order to identify areas that need improvement, and then using the appropriate tools to change those thoughts or actions in a positive, goal-oriented way.” While it seems relatively harmless, the problem comes in believing that there is some kind of supernatural power in positive thinking. In this age of the prosperity gospel, there are many false doctrines confusing believers and unbelievers alike. These false doctrines are always the same—human ideas with different titles masquerading as truth. One such notion is the power of positive thinking.

The idea of the power of positive thinking in recent decades was popularized by Dr. Norman Peale with his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). The theory claims that people can change future outcomes and events by “thinking” them into existence. Dr. Peale used flawed religious concepts as well as subjective psychological theories to promote a false version of faith and hope. The theory is part of the “self-help” movement whereby a person tries to create his own reality with human efforts. But reality is truth and the truth is found in the Bible. People cannot create their own reality by fantasizing or trying to think it into existence. Thus, Dr. Peale’s theory is flawed because he does not base his theory on truth.

Proponents of positive thinking claim their research supports the validity of the theory. However, the body of data is widely debated. Some of the actual findings suggest there is a positive correlation between a positive outlook and performance, but this is a far cry from positive thoughts creating an outcome. This research suggests that people who have positive attitudes tend to have higher self-esteem and better experiences when compared to people who have pessimistic outlooks. On the other hand, as in the case of Dr. Peale’s book, there is no substantiated evidence to support that thoughts can control outcomes.

What science cannot answer, the Bible can and does answer. Unfortunately, the Bible says that man cannot be “good” on his own (Isaiah 64:6). The only “good” in us is Jesus and only when a person accepts Him as Savior (Ephesians 2:1–5). Trying to impress men or God through our works is hopeless because without Christ we can do nothing righteous (John 15:5; Romans 8:7–8). Once the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, He begins our sanctification process. Sanctification is the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus. Only with the Holy Spirit’s power can a human say “no” to his sinful flesh. Even so, it is not we who are able to perform good deeds, but Christ through us. We are like a glove, and He is the hand. Jesus works in and through us to do His will.

So, if we want to better ourselves and make positive changes, we need to do more than attempt to think positively. True spirituality will always start and end with our relationship to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is the key to changing one’s life, not our thoughts, and not our effort alone. As we actively yield to the Spirit, He will transform us. “We will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15), and we will know the reality of having “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).