“Staying Positive in a Negative World – Reprogramming”

January 26, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Jan. 26, 2020

“Staying Positive in a Negative World – Reprogramming”
Phil. 4:6-8

Are you a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of person? Are you a pessimist or an optimist?

When life gives you lemons, do you make lemonade or do you pucker up?

When it is a cloudy day, do you run to grab a rain bonnet and an umbrella or search the skies for a silver lining?

When approaching the tunnel, are you searching for the light or waiting to be hit by whatever is approaching?

Do any of you look through rose colored glasses, or are you seeing things with another view?

Is everything coming up roses and daffodils or dandelions and weeds?

You see where I’m going, right? What is your perspective on life? How do you choose to see your life and the world? We are continuing our sermon series this week about Staying Positive in a Negative World. So far, we’ve focused on Contentment (week 1) and Faith (week 2). This week, we are learning how to Reprogram. Each week, we are learning new tools on a specific topic to help us be more positive when our daily lives are full of negativity.

Our traditional text for today is from Philippians 4: 6-8. You likely have heard this text before, and it may even seem trite… “Do not worry about anything… and the peace of God … guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace that is promised here is far more than an absence of conflict. This peace is a total well-being and it comes from God.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Phil. 4: 6-8

Don’t worry about anything? Anything? Really? Obviously, the writer of this letter didn’t have any children! Or know anything about life! Don’t worry about anything. Right. But let’s look at worry from a logical and spiritual perspective:
Some years ago a professor at a leading American university studied the things people worry about. His research yielded the following results:
• 40% never happen,
• 30% concern things in the past
• 12% are needless worries about health
• 10% are about petty issues
• Only 8% are legitimate concerns
• That means that 92% of your “worry time” is wasted energy

I must confess that I spent too much time worrying. I worry and can’t sleep when problems in the family or in the church pop up. My guess is that all of you are guilty of worrying, too. Can worrying about the future change the course of events? No. Then why bother worrying at all? The past is done and the future is not yet. Why let worry ruin the present—the only moment we have?

Paul suggests that worry and prayer are opposites—like water and fire. You can worry or you can pray, but you can’t do both at the same time. Paul has 3 pieces of advice for worriers:
A. Pray about everything—”in everything by prayer”
B. Pray with thanksgiving—”with thanksgiving”
C. Pray with expectation—”present your requests to God”
If we look at worry from a logical perspective, it has little to recommend it. So, to become more positive, we must reprogram our minds. We can decide to worry less and chose more positive things to do with our brains. The philosopher Kierkegaard used to say, “Life has to be lived forward but it can only be understood backwards.” He was right. Life would offer much less worry if we understood it backwards. Instead, we are to trust God with our lives.

Here are some suggestions for reprogramming (they are listed in your bulletin with a bit of extra space for taking notes):
1. Limit the negative influence of news in our lives. We are the most informed people ever to live on earth, and this is a heavy load to bear. We have the dubious privilege of knowing about nearly everything that is wrong with the world every day. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves carrying burdens enough to break us down. And there is little we can do about any of it.

On top of that, we have continuous access to the news. When we wake up, it may be on the radio. We read the paper or sign on to the internet and read more. When we stop for coffee, or in our cars, it may be on. People at work talk about it. At lunch, we may see snip-its of the news. When we get home, more news. Often the last thing before we fall into bed – or even as we are drifting off to sleep – we watch the news.

This constant diet of news is hazardous to our well-being. I am not suggesting that we stick our heads in the perverbible sand. I am urging all of us to cut back on our news intake for our spiritual well-being. To be positive in a negative world means taking charge of our news intake so that we are not news-junkies. Choose how much is appropriate and limit the rest. You may be surprised about the results. Give it a try.

2. Reduce or even eliminate negative entertainment. Any activity, entertainment, recreation, or pastime that violates your sensitivities or your convictions or produces and inner conflict may be worth giving up. If it gives you a headache, causes your heart to pound, changes your ability to sleep at night, makes you question your self-esteem, or has another negative impact on you, perhaps it is time to give it up. I can’t tell you what these activities are in your life – but your gut can. Anything that robs your peace of mind isn’t worth doing. This may include a genre of movies, a specific friendship, a kind of game or activity, or a bad habit – whatever it is that disturbs you – try eliminating it from your life and see if you feel better.

3. Stop listening to those who are negative about others. People who are negative, pessimistic, gripers, critical, and gossipers are not only harmful – they are contagious. Every time we are exposed to them, we are more likely to imitate them. If we want to be more positive in our own lives, being around negativity is not what we need. Refuse to listen to harmful gossip. It is okay to say, “I would rather not hear this” or “Would you mind not telling me about that”? Negativism is like an epidemic. Once the words are spoken, they are almost impossible to contain.

4. Deepen / increase positive input by meditating, reading, praying, exercising, volunteering, or other spiritually enriching activities. Not only do we want to stay away from certain activities and people, we want to increase our positive stimuli. The last few weeks, we have talked about adding certain activities. Accentuate the positive! How many of you who were here last week did something to increase your faith muscle? Did it help you feel more positive last week?

5. Actively seek positive stimuli. It is no mistake that immediately after writing “do not worry, but in everything give thanks…”, the apostle Paul asks his readers to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable….” When we put on focus on the positive, we are able to worry less!

So that is our challenge this week! Hear birds singing instead of sirens. Listen for laughter instead of complaining. See the beauty of snowflakes or raindrops instead of complaining about gray skies or the cold of the Kansas wind. Choose to find the gems of positive truth among the things that can tear you apart. Both are present in our lives. What you choose to see is a matter of faith and perspective. Reprogram your life so you can see the positive signs of God moving all around you!

Resources Used:
Campbell, Roger. “Staying Positive in a Negative World”. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books. 1986.
“The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary” vol. X. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2015.
Sermoncentral.com “How To Have Joy All Year Long” by David Rigg. Jan. 15, 2020.