Philippians 4:8 – 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. (NIV)
Positive thinking! The idea is associated with an American teacher and theologian named Norman Vincent Peale, but it is actually a much older concept. While today's verse was written by Paul, Jesus was very much a positive thinker. For example, Jesus took an earlier teaching, "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you", and turned it around into the positive form: "Do to others what you would have them do to you." (Matthew 7:12 NIV) His new way of looking at it invited positive thinking and positive action.
I know people who are constantly talking about the church in despairing and negative terms. More than once, I have been asked, "So, Angus, what churches are in trouble in Waterloo-Wellington Presbytery?"
I respond that the presbytery is in very good shape, although there are two small churches that are struggling. Often, the response comes, "Churches are dying right across the country." I have been tempted to call anyone with this attitude "Eeyore", remembering the downright negative, gloomy donkey of the Winnie the Pooh stories.
Frankly, I find people like this difficult to talk to. They have little good to say, and there's not much that's hopeful or helpful in their words or their tone. Paul tells us in today's Scripture passage to think about what is noble and right and pure, good and lovely and admirable, but he isn't asking us to sugarcoat things or to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. After all, he starts by saying, "whatever is true".
Our Eeyore friends would do well to think about the words of the prophet Habakkuk, who looks at a collapsing world and says:
Habakkuk 3:17-18 – Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. (NIV)
When times are tough and we are tempted to throw in the towel, we must remember this: God is faithful. Whatever the future may hold, God is there in the fullness of His love.
Prayer: Lord our God, fill us with the certainty of Your presence and Your love through Jesus Christ! We give thanks that the victory is Yours, whatever our circumstances. Amen.