Pastor Ryan looks at how easy it is to be negative with all that is happening in the world, but through gratitude and encouragement, we can be positive.
Here’s something many of you didn’t know about me, up until the early part of this week, I was Covid Positive. For those of you attending this service online, you’re probably glad you are! Don’t worry, I made it through – and I’m back to 100%. But today we’re taking a light-hearted approach to our message to Be Positive.
Now I was the obvious person on our pastoral team to give this message, because those who know me know I’m clearly the most optimistic person on the team – with Amy the obvious pessimist. Just Kidding. But being positive is more than just how optimistic or pessimistic you view life. It’s more about how you carry yourself and how you treat others.
Take a moment to consider some of your favorite people you like to spend time with. Who are the people you love sitting at a dinner with or even the people at church who just make you feel good about yourself after having a conversation with them in the foyer. What are the attributes you most like about them?
The people I have most enjoyed spending time with in my life are people who make me laugh. They tend to be good natured. They have a positive outlook on life most the time, and they have positive words to encourage me. And on the flip side, those I tend to ignore are those who have an Eyore personality. You know the types – everything is hard, everything is overwhelming, life isn’t fair, and it never seems to get better.
Now as we think about the people we enjoy being around, and contrarily, those we don’t – where do you fit? Are you generally a positive person with a positive attitude who is encouraging to others, or might you be a bit more negative, and have room to grow in this area?
Now when I talk about being positive, one direction I don’t want you to think I’m taking this message is towards toxic positivity.
Defined: Toxic positivity is the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset.
This is exemplified through an attitude of telling people to “Just Stop it.” Stop feeling sad, stop feeling frustrated or anxious. Just think positive. Just see it as a good thing. Just ignore the pain.
And to be clear, this is NOT AT ALL what I’m talking about today. I think all of us can related to having experienced some real losses this year. We have all missed time with family, experienced stress with kids doing school from home, perhaps lost our jobs, missed vacations and now we’re staring down a holiday season like no other. And I’m not telling you to simply forget the pain. It’s real.
It’s human to grieve a loss, but we can’t wallow in it.
Grief is process that moves us from experiencing loss to accepting it. Now when you google the stages of grief, you will find that there are anywhere from 4-12 stages of grief, and they are in different orders, but thats because thats how we experience grief and loss – through a messy process of all sorts of emotions. But somehow through the process we come out the other side able to deal with it, and in fact able to once again Be Positive.
Wallowing in the loss implies simply an unrestrained indulgence in your pity. It is just sitting it, not moving forward, not healing, not growing, and never able to be positive so long as you sit there stuck.
How to Have a Positive Attitude
Now after moving through the stages of grief, after dealing with all the losses we have faced in 2020, we need to be people aiming to be positive. This world desperately needs more positive people. And here is how to have a positive attitude:
Internally = Gratitude
First, we have to internalize a positive attitude. When we do that, it manifests itself in gratitude. Instead of throwing yourself a pity party, focusing on what you have lost, you have gratitude for what you still have.
We all understand, life has no guarantee of being easy. You will receive good gifts in life and and you will experience tough parts. We have no control over the circumstances of life. So circumstances may AFFECT us But we can’t let them CONTROL us.
And we see this all over the pages of scripture. The Psalms are full of examples of feeling worn out and heavy with the challenges of life. Yet we also see a single refrain in numerous Psalms,
Psalm 107:1 – Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Or when we look at the Apostle Paul’s life, we see a man who is well acquainted with suffering and pain, yet his letters, and in particular Colossians, are full of verses about how he gives thanks to God for so many things – for their faith, for their love, for their inclusion into the family of God. Then in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he writes:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
We see Paul is clearly a positive guy who internalizes that positive attitude about what God is doing in his life and in the lives of others – and he is grateful to God for it all.
And that makes sense, when you take Jesus’ own words into account. Remember when Jesus, talking about money’s grip on our hearts said,
Matthew 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You see, if our eyes are fixed on the wrong things, like our comfort, our income, whether or not we can have our holidays the way we always have, then our hearts will be heavy and we won’t be able to have gratitude for what we do have – a God who loves us, who is in control, who will bring us to his side whether things work out in this life or not.
So this week, I encourage you to properly grieve the losses you are experiencing. I’m not asking you to diminish those losses. But in the process of grieving, I pray that you will be able to come out the other end of the process – accepting the circumstances and able to be grateful and thankful to God for what we do still have.
Externally – Encouragement
And speaking of me encouraging you, that’s the second part of having a positive attitude. When we let our positive attitude flow outside of ourselves, it manifests itself as encouraging others. Our positivity is contagious and helps comfort other’s wounds, it builds them up, and it encourages them to keep moving forward through their own challenges, trials, and loss.
I think you will all agree with me that this world needs more encouragers. 2020 has been a dumpster fire and we’re all feeling it. So many people are experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, and a general discouragement that things are never going to get better. And as followers of Jesus who are being positive because of his love flowing through us, we have an opportunity to be encouragers to those desperate to hear an encouraging word.
Hopefully at some point in your life, you have experienced the balm of hearing an encouraging word when you were down in the dumps. Or maybe you weren’t necessarily in a bad place, but somebody spoke words of encouragement and empowerment to you. Think about the impact those words had on your life. Think about how dramatically those words lifted your spirit or built you up to tackle the challenge in front of you.
Most of us have that experience, so we resonate with these words from King Solomon:
Proverbs 12:25 – Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.
And it’s the power of our words that Paul again urges us to use wisely:
Ephesians 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Notice how he points out how we can have unwholesome talk OR words that are helpful and beneficial. Our words can tear down or build up. And this world is hungry for all of us to be people who build others up.
But we have to take a moment to define what exactly it is that we are encouraging others about. Some people have bemoaned the Millenial generation, calling them the Trophy generation. People accuse millennials of being encouraged and built up for not actually doing anything and as a result believe the whole cohort to be soft.
And there is something true about the damage of encouraging people about the wrong things. We call this Flattery. Flattering a student with no physical gifts to keep working so one day they can be an NBA player is just setting them up for failure one day. Now I know, some of you parents out there might be shocked at what I just said, but let’s just call a spade a spade. I once had a conversation with my oldest son who struggled with reading and school. And he told me, “I hate it when teachers say I can be anything I want. It’s not true.” I think we have to take this as a caution. It’s like Toxic Positivity. It’s taking this message of Being Positive, and making it something it’s not meant to be.
This exact situation is depicted by the prophet Zechariah:
Zechariah 10:2 – The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.
You see there were false leaders who were telling the Israelites that everything was going to be OK. They were telling them not to worry about the other kingdoms around them, not to worry about facing the consequences of their idolatry. And encouragement and comfort doesn’t feel very good in the moment you realize it wasn’t true.
And so we have to be careful when we are giving people encouragement that we are encouraging them in things that are actually true. You see, encouragement in the Bible isn’t telling people that LIFE IS GOOD but that GOD IS GOOD! Sometimes you might think life has to turn around and get better and then suddenly you get punched in the gut all over again. Life I’ve said, we have no guarantees about that.
Let’s just take a quick look at what I mean about how people in the Bible encouraged others:
From the Old Testament
1 Sam 23:16 – And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.
From the New Testament
Acts 11:23 – When [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.
Do you see how in both cases, the encouragement offered wasn’t in something that couldn’t be guaranteed, something only meant to puff them up? No, the encouragement was in God, in his presence, in his promise to give us strength to get through the trials, in his promise to bring us all into his kingdom on the other side of death.
Spread Some Christmas Cheer
So we need to take this positive attitude and be encouragers to those around us. And that encouragement can’t just be empty, trite words that everything will be OK. They need to be the life giving words of God’s love, acceptance, of his control over this pandemic, and his grief over the same things that are grieving our own hearts.
So consider, who in your life needs to hear a cheerful word of encouragement and of compassion this holiday season. Perhaps you have a neighbor who is going to experience a lonely Thanksgiving. Give them a call, speak words of love and care, and maybe even drop off a treat that says “I care about you, and you are not alone.”
But I also know, some of you hearing this message want to be positive, but right now, you’re still in those stages of grief. You are hurting and being positive isn’t something you are capable of right now. And I want you to hear, THAT’S OK. But it’s hard to move out of that space all on your own. Yes, you need to turn to God and look to him to be your strength, but you also need somebody in your life to encourage you. Who is that person? Or have you closed yourself off to others and so nobody is able to speak the life giving words of encouragement you need to hear. If that’s you, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call a trusted friend and let them know you are struggling. Follow last week’s message about our need for confession, and give that person an opportunity to be an encourager to you.
Life in 2020 is no cake walk. We all know that. And in the next 4 days we head into a Thanksgiving unlike any before. At empty dinner tables we will be tasked with considering what we are thankful for. And we will have to decide if we are going to be positive people of gratitude or be Eeyore’s who only see what is wrong with this year. Choose to be positive. Work through your grief rather than wallow in it, and come out the other side as a positive person who is able to spread christmas cheer to all who hear. That’s being a light to what is clearly a dark world. We have that opportunity – let’s seize it!