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Norman Vincent Peale
Associated Press
Norman Vincent Peale

The power of negative thinking

Faith & Inspiration

Fewer baseball players may be taking steroids now, but they’re still demanding injections of something else: confidence. Many pitchers, when they’re going bad, watch their highlight videos to check release points when throwing but also to gain release from fear: Maybe I’m not good enough.

We’re distributing the next issue of WORLD magazine at a convention of booksellers who know what it’s like to work with writers who get lots of praise and develop a very high opinion of themselves. Happily, though, some Christian writers tend to forget the times they cooked literary steaks perfectly, and remember their mistakes.

That’s certainly my case, in baseball and in writing. I still remember when I played second base 38 years ago, had too many mashed potatoes for dinner, and didn’t get down for a ground ball that then went right through my wickets. I also remember my pre-email, pre-fax time on The Boston Globe when I had a cold and long-distance dictated a story about a professor’s complicity in developing biological warfare agents. My story the next day placed his office not in the Klein Biology Tower at Yale, which was accurate, but the Crime Biology Tower.

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Many how-to best-sellers have urged that I eliminate such thoughts. Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993) penned the granddaddy of them all, The Power of Positive Thinking, and preached his gospel in a New York City church that gained 5,000 members. Peale wrote, “Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture. … Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.”

Some opposed this proto-prosperity gospel. Theologian Reinhold Neibuhr in 1955 called it “dangerous,” saying it helps people “feel good while they are evading the real issues of life.” The biggest real issue is sin, so I’d suggest that we formulate and stamp indelibly on our minds a mental picture of ourselves as sinners. We need to gain a boost of confidence not in ourselves but in God. We’re never good enough to throw a perfect game. Christ always was and is.

Our task is to realize how desperately we need His grace—and sometimes we need to realize that by remembering not our high points but our lows.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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