There are many people, Christians included, who believe that positive thinking has the power to change their lives. Visualizing their successful lives, such people practice positive thinking believing that they will become richer, more successful, and healthier.
Some believers have also taken up this popular philosophy, interpreting key Bible verses based on the need for powerful positive thoughts.
While there is nothing wrong with optimism generally or looking on the bright side of situations, the philosophy, which asserts there is inherent power in positive thinking is unbiblical.
Using positive thinking exercises, practices, or mantras as a magical or powerful force cannot change a person or anything in their life.
Placing one’s hope or trust in anything other than the Lord is idolatry and clearly condemned in Scripture. For Bible-believing, faithful Christians, using positive thinking as a magnetic force to bring about change or success in life is not an option.
The Power of Positive Thinking
The philosophy that thinking positive thoughts will cause good things to happen in life is directly related to a belief system called New Thought. New Thought spirituality began in the early 19th century and developed based on transcendentalism, Hinduism, the misuse of Bible verses, and from other mystical teachings.
One of the key teachings of New Thought is the law of attraction, which is now known as manifestation. The law of attraction or manifestation teaches that if a person believes, through the power of positive thinking that good things will come to them, then such things will occur.
Like a magnet, the law of attraction says that if a person thinks good thoughts, then good will inevitably come to them.
In more recent times, the power of positive thinking through the New Thought spirituality has been popularized by the 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Peale, and the 2006 movie The Secret, which is based on the same-titled book by Rhonda Byrne. Specifically, the book by Norman Peale brought New Thought into Christian circles.
Peale, who was a minister, tied in supposed “Christian” aspects into the law of attraction, urging people to pray and repeat Bible verses such as Philippians 4:13, as part of their positive thinking exercises.
For example, in chapter three of his book, Norman Peale describes how a baseball player gained physical power when he was tired by reciting Isaiah 40:31 (Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking). Apparently, this man regularly stated this verse when he needed physical energy for games.
In another part of the book, Peale also discusses the law of attraction and provides examples of how positive thinking has changed people’s lives. Such a book, based on New Thought spirituality, is a surprising product from a man who claimed to be a Christian and started the popular Guideposts magazine and devotionals.
Although New Thought has tried to incorporate Bible verses into its system of beliefs, there is nothing Christian or biblical about its method. Using Bible verses, such as Philippians 4:13 or Isaiah 40:31, as magical formulas to bring about success is misusing God’s Word.
Furthermore, such use of Scripture also fails to take the immediate context into consideration. For instance, Isaiah 40:31 in context was given to the Israelites who were weary from the oppression of the Assyrians (Isaiah 40:1-2).
God’s people then, and now, were promised that God would provide them with strength to continue, based on His strength and not their own (Isaiah 40:28-29).
This verse does not imply that the Lord will supernaturally infuse athletes with physical energy to continue in a sport. Rather it is an encouragement to people with weary spirits who can find renewed hope and strength in God.
In addition to misusing God’s Word, the New Thought philosophy places humans in the place of God as the ones who control events and situations through positive thoughts. Such a system fails to recognize that God is in control of all things, not man (Isaiah 14:24; Colossians 1:15-17).
All good things that man receives is from the Lord, not as a mystical effort of humans (James 1:17). New Thought spirituality seeks to place man on the level of God, which comes from the original lie of Satan in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4-5).
In addition to being a system of philosophy, which misuses Scripture and dishonors God, the power of positive thinking is also a form of idolatry.
Those who believe they can change their lives, health, and relationships through positive thinking place their trust and hope in the New Thought system. While most who practice the system would not claim to be practicing idolatry, this is exactly what they are doing.
Instead of trusting in the Lord and His will for their lives, they are placing their faith in a system, which teaches that they can have happiness and fulfillment based on their own power of positive thinking. Placing anything above God is idolatry, which is strictly denounced in Scripture and should be avoided (Exodus 20:3-6; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21).
Also, using one’s own “power” of positive thinking to manipulate events is closely connected to witchcraft and the occult. According to Britannica Encyclopedia, witchcraft is “traditionally, the exercise or invocation of alleged supernatural powers to control people or events” (Jeffrey Burton Russell, “Witchcraft,” Britannica Encyclopedia).
Using positive thinking to make things happen in one’s life would fall under such a definition. God deliberately and repeatedly condemns the practice of witchcraft in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Galatians 5:20-21; Revelation 22:15). Believers are not to have anything to do with such practices.
Where Real Happiness and Change Is Found
Those who follow the New Thought movement believe they will find happiness, success, and fulfillment. Such people need to realize that true happiness and change only comes through Jesus Christ, not the power of positive thoughts. Only He can provide lasting joy and fulfillment.
By believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection to save a person from their guilt, shame, and wrong deeds, a person is made new by being born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8).
At that time, a person is transformed: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Real and lasting change is possible only through faith in Jesus and by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Jesus does want His believers to find joy and to stay focused on positive thoughts — heavenly ones based on eternity (Colossians 3:2). He wants His followers not to worry, but to instead stay focused on and seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:25,33-34).
This does not mean that life as a follower of Jesus is easy, for it involves dying to self and can involve persecution (Matthew 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 16:33). However, such a life lived for the Savior is the only way to true fulfillment and eternal joy (1 Peter 1:8-9).
A Non-Biblical Philosophy
Based on the history and background of New Thought philosophy, this system is not a biblical one. Even so, people such as Norman Peale have tried to connect the mystical spirituality of New Thought with Christianity, such a system does not come from the Bible.
Instead, Scripture denounces New Thought’s misuse of God’s Word, dishonoring God, the practice of idolatry, and the use of witchcraft. If there is any “power” in the power of positive thinking, its source is not from God.
In lieu of seeking happiness and fulfillment in an empty and spiritually dark system, a person can find complete joy and freedom in Jesus Christ. By focusing one’s thoughts on Christ and an eternity with Him, a person’s life can be truly changed.