Many things in life are outside of our control. Life throws us many curves. Hardships befall us. People in our lives may be difficult. There are so many opportunities for failure, but only few opportunities for success. The real question is, do our circumstances determine our success or failure.
The answer is a resounding, No!
How is it that two children can be raised in the same difficult living conditions and environment, yet one will rise above it, and the other will become a victim who carries their negative experiences into the next generation? The opposite is also true. How is it that two kids can be raised in a nurturing environment, but one will become bitter and the other will thrive in life?
The truth is that no one has a perfect nurturing environment. People who have a good life can always find negative things to focus on, and people raised in a cruel world can find good and climb out of the cycle of failure. What is the key that opens the door to a good course for our lives?
Things will enter each of our lives we cannot control, but one thing we can control is our own attitude. And our attitude is the blueprint for how we build our lives in the world in which we live. This is by God’s design.
The Lord has promised two things we can anchor our hopes upon.
One is that God promises He will not allow us to endure more than we can bear. This promise is regarding temptation from without. God does not promise He will not allow us to self-destruct. If we are determined to find the bad in life and are determined to milk negativism for all it’s worth, God will not stop us. God doesn’t protect us from our own rebellion, but He does protect us from the evils around us. When I say protect, it is our hearts that are protected.
What’s more, the Bible says to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. This means we have unlimited strength if we put our focus on seeking God and allowing Him to guide us to the good in every circumstance.
God will not allow hardships to overcome our faith, but He will allow hardships to break us from trusting in the flesh. If you are relying on the power of your might, God’s promise doesn’t apply. The Lord doesn’t promise to protect our fleshly way of living. Sometimes we have more than we can bear because we are trusting in our strength instead of God’s unlimited power given through the Spirit.
Evil cannot destroy our heart, but evil within our heart can destroy us. And negativism is evil nurtured within our heart. We are the cultivators of what thrives in our heart.
Brooding produces nothing good. The heart is like a garden. We can plant poison ivy, thorns, and harmful plants in our garden, but why would we want to? Yet this is what many of us do in our own hearts. Something harmful will spring up, and instead of weeding it out, we rush to water it, cultivate it, grow it into something powerful, and then wonder why it is affecting our lives.
If we are grumbling under our breath, complaining about everything, murmuring, and cultivating a negative attitude, we’ll reap these things in our lives. The Bible warns that what we sow, we will also reap. If I’m constantly walking around and grumbling under my breath, what can I expect to reap through my emotions? I’ll reap what I am sowing and nurturing – a negative grumbling spirit.
I have never seen a happy grumbler. I have never seen a broody person with a joyful attitude. The more I brood, the darker my attitude becomes. Have you ever listened to the testimonies of people who ‘just snapped’? Those who commit atrocities have a history of brooding. They allow what harms them to dominate their thoughts and it grows into an obsession. The more they brood, the more stressed they feel. They become time-bombs that are only one incident away from exploding.
On a smaller scale, every person can become a bomb maker. If our attitude puts us on edge, it doesn’t take much to set us off. Brooding builds up the pressure and then we start expecting negative things from people, and we react as though everything is an offense. Sometimes innocent comments are misinterpreted as an attack. This causes our negative attitude to react based on our internal turmoil, rather than upon the intention of the person we are reacting against.
The negative spirit imposes their feelings onto others. This causes them to interpret innocent mistakes or comments as an attack. It also causes the negative person to view petty disagreements as momentous. Instead of shrugging off little annoyances, the negative spirit goes to war.
While few people make the news, many people are time-bombs. They are one incident away from having a temper explosion, emotional meltdown, deep depression, or any other outlet for their emotional reaction. Notice I said ‘reaction’, not ‘response’. There is a difference. Most people react to their environment. Circumstances create an automatic reaction which drives their lives. Yet the sound mind knows how to respond to circumstances.
Negative attitudes can only react. Only positive attitudes have the power to respond.
We have the power to stop, consider an appropriate response, and resolve the problem. But this is only possible when we are in control of ourselves instead of being controlled by our circumstances. Or being controlled by our negative attitudes.
It’s important to reiterate this again. We project our attitude on others without even realizing it. A good attitude assumes the other person is thinking positively, but the bad attitude interprets negativism from a person even when it is not present. A dishonest person doesn’t trust others, in the same way, a negative person believes those around them are also negative.
While doing some interim preaching in a church, I noticed a storm brewing among some members. There was a lot of backbiting going on and I decided to address the situation by explaining the Bible’s command to love the brethren. I looked at what it means to love, and what love does not allow us to do to our brethren. After the message I received two reactions. Those who knew nothing about the turmoil going on said they felt inspired and encouraged to express Christian love.
Those who were manufacturing division became angry. I received angry phone calls and was accused of spewing venom from the pulpit. One person quoted me as saying something I never even thought. He was so insistent that I listened to a recording of the message. The offensive things some people heard were never spoken.
How can two groups of people hear such different messages? One expected to be blessed from the scriptures, but the other expected offense. Their attitudes affected how they interpreted what they heard. In fact, those with negative attitudes heard things which were never said.
How many offenses in life are similar in nature? It isn’t what is said, it is what is assumed that offends people. “He just thinks… I know she’s mad at me because she didn’t speak…He’s doing that to get under my skin…I can tell she doesn’t like me by the look in her eye.”
All of these are assumptions. Most are wrong. Yet we can manufacture conflict so the assumption becomes reality. We project our attitudes on others and this can build up or tear down relationships.
The second promise of God is that all things work for our good. God did not promise all things in our life would be good (that is from the human perspective) but that it would produce good. This is something I’ll refer to again as we move through this book. God is looking for your good – not merely here on earth, but good from the eternal perspective. We get so shortsighted that we think a setback or loss of something temporal is a tragedy.
Many years ago, a local newspaper covered a story on a man’s reaction to an accident. Someone rear-ended his boat in traffic. He snapped and attacked the man and severely beat him. His action sent him to prison. Because of a scuff on his fishing boat, he was willing to attempt to kill the person who accidentally caused the damage.
The real irony is that by now his boat is probably in a junkyard somewhere – along with thousands of other boats which have aged to the point of uselessness. Is a possession bound for the junkyard worthy of our life?
Life is filled with disappointments. I may lose my job, lose a ball game, miss that promotion, or any other thing I think is important in this 70-80 year life. Are these truly worth an emotional investment? If I’m cheated, will it matter in the course of my life? How will it look in light of eternity? Is it worth the hatred, bitterness, or desire for revenge? Is it worthy of my sorrow and despair? Is self-destructive behavior the answer to a problem? Any problem?
No. Nothing in this life is worthy of the value we place on it. As the Apostle Paul once said, “The sufferings of this life are not even worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” By ‘us’ he is referring to those who have given up temporal things in order to live for eternity.
No suffering is even worthy of our comparison. Therefore, we should not be investing our lives into our sufferings, irritations, annoyances, frustrations, disappointments, or any other thing that displeases us in this life. Our focus should not be on what we have lost, but what we are gaining. The focus has to be on where we are going – and that requires having a direction to go.
See the goal and begin walking that way. What is your goal in cultivating a healthy emotional and spiritual life? We must cultivate an eternal perspective. This will affect our attitudes and values in every area of life.
Excerpt taken from Eddie's book, The Promise of a Sound Mind.