It’s been said that the majority of people are thinking negative thoughts up to 90% of the time. I don’t know about most people, but I know this was certainly true of me at one time. Worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, critical thoughts about others, and expectations of failure were my constant companions.
I remember one occasion in particular, a couple of years after I had surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ, when Marion and I were privileged to participate in a three-day prayer ministry training school with Victorious Ministry Through Christ – a ministry that over a period of several years had a life-changing impact on both of us. The event concluded with a prayer service at which each participant was prayed over and received words of blessing from the leaders of the school. The words spoken over me were that I would go forward in joy. Like a good student, I dutifully wrote the words in my journal. Later, reading my journal and reflecting on this promise of joy, I had a disturbing thought. I realized that I didn’t even know what joy was.
Well, that was 20 years ago this year, and I thank God that my approach to life is much more positive. Yes, I do know now what joy is – and I rejoice daily in God’s amazing kindness to me. I can honestly say that Jesus has healed my soul (my mind, will, and emotions) and transformed my whole outlook on life. Life certainly hasn’t always been easy since then, but I have learned the wonderful truth of the promise that everything in our lives – even difficult and painful events – can ultimately serve God’s amazingly good purpose.
The other day I was walking home from work through a snowstorm, thinking about how bad it is that Ottawa’s bus drivers are currently on strike, and feeling less than enthusiastic about the weather and the longish trek home from work. I decided to ask God a question. I’ve found this is a very good way of getting my thinking straightened out, as long as I’m willing to pay attention to the answer. So I said “Well, if all things work together for good for those who love you, what is the purpose of this strike and this snowstorm in my life?”. Believe it or not, as soon as I asked the question I realized the answer.
It’s easy to be positive when everything is going well. The real proof of a transformed life is when peace and joy continue to mark our lives in the midst of challenging circumstances. So in the midst of my snowy walk home, I began remembering all the evidences of God’s goodness in my life, and thanking Him for each one.
People sometimes say that you can’t help how you feel, but this is actually not true. Of course, you can’t help being affected by events that happen to you. I’ve had my share of painful experiences, and I’m just like you – when things don’t go my way, I don’t like it any more than you do. But the very circumstance that causes me pain or grief or frustration can be my stepping stone to the joy of the Lord if I choose to respond in faith. I’m not talking about pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t. I’m talking about making the choice to respond in faith to real problems. Am I going to stay in the pit or am I going to praise my way out of the pit?
Of course some problems are a lot bigger than others, but if you believe God is real and that He loves you, the size of the problem doesn’t change the way you need to respond if you want to stay in God’s peace. I have consistently found that if I begin to lay out my concerns to the Lord and then start praising and thanking him, suddenly my whole perspective begins to change, and the goodness of the Lord is what begins to fill my sights instead of the problem. Not that this always changes the painful circumstance – quite often it doesn’t. But it does change me – my thoughts become more settled, I begin to feel more positive, I begin to see a way forward. If the trial I’m going through is particularly painful, I may have to keep fighting the battle for joy and peace for days or even weeks, but I know that Jesus is more committed to my success than I am, and in the end, if I respond in faith and trust, I can only win. And like any kind of training, choosing God’s peace gets easier the more you practice it. Years of doing this have functioned like a kind of training for my soul, so that my thoughts and emotions are much more stable and God-oriented than they once were, and my peace is not nearly so easily disturbed. Even if my life is threatened, I know where I am going to spend eternity, so I have no need to fear.
Yes, life can be challenging – and no doubt some of you reading this have been dealing with challenges far greater than mine. But we do have a choice about staying in God’s peace. If you read your Bible you will know that the purpose of testing is to form the character of Jesus in us. Whether or not this actually happens in my life is pretty much up to me. Will I take hold of the resources of faith and grace that God has made available through Jesus, and become a conqueror? Will you?