Christ’s Positive People
Dr. Jerome Frank is a Professor of Psychiatry at John Hopkins University. He wrote recently about a confession a co-passenger made to him while flying in the days before modern security devices were in place.
‘You know, I used to be deathly afraid of flying,’ his companion admitted. ‘I could never get out of my mind that someone on board of one of my flights might be carrying a bomb.’
‘Well, what did you do about it?’ Dr. Frank asked.
He replied, ‘Well, I went to one of those special flying schools for people who are afraid of flying and they told me there was only one chance in 10,000 that someone would be on board my flight with a bomb. That didn’t make me feel much better; the odds were still too close. But then I reasoned that if there was only one chance in 10,000 that there would be one bomb on a plane, there was only one chance in 100,000,000 that two bombs would be on board. I could live with those odds.’
‘So,’ Dr. Frank asked, ‘What good would that do for you?’
‘He quickly replied, ‘Ever since then, just to improve the odds, I carry one bomb on board myself.’
Can’t our fears be just that irrational? Fear can be so cyclical that it leads into all kinds of negative thinking, insecurity and powerless thinking. Of the epidemics of our time, negative thinking spawned by fear is one of the most prevalent.
On my car radio I have heard two significant conversations on the ABC which illustrated this. The first was between Philip Satchell and a CSIRO research officer. In discussing current accommodation problems, especially for young people, the officer commented on how there was a breakdown in the system of values which help society together in the past. There was no longer any central guiding principle for most people or families.
This was a scientist making these observations, not a theologian or pastor.
‘It seems then,’ said Philip Satchell, ‘That we have abandoned one God without finding another.’
The other conversation was held between an author and an interviewer. The author had just had a novel published yet was quite depressed, as she freely admitted. Her summary statement was: the forces which are hostile to the human race have won. For her there seemed little point in going on. The only issue was how much worse life could become before some kind of eventual end.
I wonder if I am detecting a new mood sweeping across secular Australia. I wonder if there is not a spirit of defeat growing which defies even the eternal optimism of politicians. I wonder if people are now seeing that the ‘Brave New World’, the secular phoenix that arose from the cultural ashes of Christendom is in fact a vulture.
I see a spirit of defeated negativity sweeping across the spiritless landscapes of our land driven by the whirlwinds of fear, and mostly arising from the abandonment of our God and the failure to find an alternative.
I see a drought in the human heart every bit as harmful to the person as that known in parts of New South Wales and Queensland. The lucerne of the Gospel has been uprooted to be replaced by the weeds of agnosticism and atheism, and especially in our country, indifference.
Most unbelief is caused by indifference rather than study or reflection. It is that self-satisfied state of mental and spiritual laziness which has no great vision of meaning or service. Indifference can be an escapist protection against looking at reality. The reality is that fear and negativity has a hold on the hearts and minds of many Australians which not even health fund subsidies can offset.
The Gospel offers a positive approach to life through the security offered by its source, our heavenly shepherd. Our Gospel helps us to focus positively on life through God who describes himself as a shepherd, a shepherd who knows that the sheep have gotten themselves into some frightening crevasses, with fear on one side and negativity on the other.
John 10 tells us more about this kind of shepherding and the security it offers.
1. The positive person knows Jesus is his or her shepherd. Verse 27 tells us, ‘My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.
Many voices follow us throughout the course of the day, whether through the media, what we read or the conversations we have. Jesus says his flock listens for HIS voice above all. Sometimes that voice will come through the others, and it will come through the Scriptures, but mostly it will come through listening; the listening of prayer and the listening of worship.
We often find it easier to talk ahead of listening; to express an opinion than to listen to one, and that does not predispose us to being good listeners to God. Positive people develop the skill of listening to the shepherd’s voice above all the rest. If we listen to his voice clearly and first in the day we can better deal with all the others we hear.
A tourist in the Mediterranean came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingles while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned towards the sheep and called out: Mannah, mannah (follow me in Arabic). His sheep separated themselves and followed him. The same happened with the second shepherd. The traveller then said to the third shepherd, ‘I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if the sheep will follow me.’ The smiling shepherd wrapped his cloak around the tourist who put his turban on his head and called out, ‘Mannah, mannah’, but the sheep did not budge. ‘Will that flock ever follow someone other than you?’ the traveller asked. ‘Oh yes,’ the shepherd replied, ‘Sometimes a sheep will get sick and then it will follow anyone.’
My sheep hear my voice and follow me. This one true eternally positive voice breathes life into the most negative of situations.
2. We can think positively because verse 27 says, ‘I know them.’ God knows all there is to know about us. Aren’t our most precious friendships with those who know us for all that we are, who know our mannerisms and moods, our plusses and minuses, yet still befriend us. There is great security in knowing that we are known by God for all that we are, and yet we are loved so greatly as well.
Let that be the primary fact in our assessment of all the other facts we hear daily. Sure the facts about the Greenhouse Effect, the Ozone Layer, Arctic warming and so on are all important, but we can best deal with those facts when we have a positive orientation towards life based upon God’s knowledge of us, and acceptance of us.
3. The final source of positive thinking in the passage is in verse 28, ‘I give them eternal life and no-one shall snatch them out of my hand.’ That means that we are in God’s hands for all time, present and eternity.
His promise is that he will never allow anything to interfere with his love for us; he has an eternal commitment to his flock. Nothing will snatch us from his flock, neither inflation, unemployment, droughts, deserts or dumps. Australians need to hear that.
Our hope does not lie in politicians of any persuasion, or technology, however brilliant, our hope is in the shepherd. Let each of us today place a black ban on negativity, not on realism but on negativity as the framework within which we view the facts about life. Let us banish criticism from our make-up, gossip, attributing negative motives to others, irrational fears and insecurity, and let faith, belief, listening to the shepherd replace them.
Forces hostile to the human race were once defeated on the Cross and the can be defeated in out hearts too, and so free us to be shepherds to others, as Christ’s positive people.
By George Robert Iles