Craig Groeschel - Put an End to Negative Thinking
How many of you would agree that unfortunately the world seems to be coming more and more negative? Raise your hands, raise your hands. Those of you online, you can type it in the comment section. The world is becoming more negative. Chronic negativity, we could say, is becoming an epidemic that's poisoning people's mental health right and left. And unfortunately, this isn't just a practical problem. At its root, in many ways, it's a spiritual problem. And what I wanna do today is give you a couple of foundational thoughts that we'll come back to again and again, and I want you to recognize the incredible truth that your thoughts have incredible power. Your thoughts have incredible power.
The good news is that you have incredible power over your thoughts. Your thoughts are incredibly powerful. Your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts, but the good news is you're not a victim of your thoughts, by the power of God, you can actually choose what you think about and what you think about determines how you live. Your thoughts are incredibly powerful, and you have incredible power over your thoughts.
In fact, it was the apostle Paul who said this in Romans 8:5-6, he said, "Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires". What did he mean by that? He wasn't talking about our skin. The word in the Greek is the word "sarx", and it essentially means our fleshly or our sinful nature. What he's essentially saying is those who live according to their sinful nature, they have their minds set on what the sinful nature desires. Then he says, "The good news is, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires".
Now, how does this impact us? Verse 6 tells us. The mind governed by the flesh is what? Is death, it's darkness, it's destruction, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. If you find yourself hurting, if you find yourself feeling broken, if you find yourself often being discouraged, could it be that your mind is set on the things of this world instead of set on the things of God? Because when you set your mind on the things of God and the things of your spirit, you'll find life and peace in all that you do. I'm gonna lay out my plan to you, and it's a very aggressive plan, I just wanna tell you, any time I do a talk, I always have some stated goals that I'm gonna try to achieve, and I wanna tell you what those are, just so we'll be on the same page. And these are our aggressive goals.
The first thing I wanna do of three things, number one is I wanna show you why negativity is not only hurting you, but your family, your relationships, your marriage, your values, the direction in your life, your outlook, and on and on and on. I wanna show you why negativity is hurting you. The second thing is I wanna do is try to help you identify a specific area of negativity in your own mindset. And the third thing is, by the power of God's word, I wanna show you how, with the help of God, through His word, empowered by His spirit, we can change from that which is bringing death to that which brings life and peace. A very aggressive set of goals, but that's my goal.
Let's start at the beginning. Why is negativity so toxic? At its root, we need to understand that we have what's called a negativity bias. We're biased toward that which is negative, and neuroscience actually shows us that negative events imprint on our brains more quickly and linger longer than positive ones. Negative events, something bad, something tragic, something unfortunate, seems to hit our brains and sticks longer than positive ones, and I can prove it with several examples. What do you think spreads faster on social media? Something positive or something negative? And the answer is something negative. On any news app, which news stories gets more clicks, the negative ones or the positive ones? And the answer is the negative ones. They will say, if it bleeds, it leads.
And then for you, if you have a presentation coming up, and you're really nervous about it, and you do the presentation, and you do a good job, and afterwards five different people say, "Wow, that was amazing, you crushed it. That was so powerful. I love what you did". Five people loved it, and one person makes a negative comment. At the end of the day, are you thinking about the five positive things, or are you lamenting the one negative thing? If you're like me, I'm lamenting the one negative thing. And what happens, unfortunately, is chronic negativity, it sends us into a constant state of fight or flight. And we're actually wired this way. It's not initially bad until it becomes bad, because in any stressful situation, God actually designed our brains to release cortisol into the blood system.
And that's a good thing, at first, it makes us more alert, it makes us more focused, it makes us ready to deal with a problem, and it's good until it's not. When we become chronically negative, when we're stuck in an ongoing negative loop, we always feel like we're in danger. We always feel like there is a threat. Paul said it this way: The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. What happens is when most of what you see online is negative, and most of what your friends say is negative, and most of what you say to yourself is negative, and most of what you hear about in the news is negative.
When you focus on the negative, what you're doing is you're creating negative neural pathways. We've talked about this a lot. When you think of a thought once, it's easier to think of thought again. And when you focus on the negative, and you think on the negative some more, and you hang around negative people, and you're surrounded by criticism, and you never think the best, but you always think the worst, you're creating negative neural pathways. And very literally for you negativity becomes a habit. It's a default posture. It's the things are gonna be bad and they're gonna get worse, and you can't trust anybody, and everybody's gonna let you down.
And all Christians are this, and life sucks, and it's getting worse, and my mental health is bad, and I'm never gonna get anywhere, and I'm never gonna be happy, and I'm never gonna have a ministry. There's never gonna be anything that really matters in life. I'm always gonna be stuck here. And very literally, negativity becomes your default habit posture. Think about it, the mind governed by the flesh is death. The news you consume, the shows that you watch, the lyrics to the music that you play over and over and over and over again, the social media that you consume that makes you feel left out or jealous, or angry or less than, the people that you spend your time around, they all create this inner script that directs your life.
Your thoughts have incredible power over the direction of your life, but the good news is you have incredible power over where your thoughts are taking you. What I wanna do is I wanna now try to help you identify where you are most prone to negativity, because we all are. When I looked into my own life, I found a very specific category that I've really worked on for a long period of time. And with the help of God's word, He's been renewing my mind, and I've made significant progress. Which of the four areas, according to the experts that I've been consulting throughout the message series, say there's four big specific buckets or areas of negativity.
What I wanna try to do is help you define what is your one biggest one. We'll talk about this in our live groups. We'll discuss it and bring God's Word to it. What is your one big one? If you cannot define it, you cannot defeat it. What is it that's holding you back? I'll give you four big categories. The first one is what I might call relational cynicism. Relational cynicism. What is this? Cynicism is a general distrust for people and their motives. It's you can't trust people, they're gonna take advantage of you, everyone is out for themselves. All those people are this way, no matter what you do, they're looking out for their interests. Nobody's really generous, nobody's really benevolent. You can't really trust people.
Now, on a side note, according to the experts that I talked to, this cynicism is generally a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Hate to say this, but when you distrust the motives of others, according to the people I've talked to, it often reveals that you don't really always like your motives, but that's another point, and I'll let some other preacher preach on that one. I'm gonna keep this one positive. There's relational cynicism, and for some of you, that would be your one. You might say, "Yeah, I really am. I really don't trust people. I really think people are out for themselves all the time. I really don't have a good view of people. You might just say it, this is what I am. I'm relationally cynical".
There's a second category that's called negative filtering. Negative filtering, and this is just seeing what's wrong, finding the worst possible thing to point out. It's overlooking what's good it, it's overlooking what's right. It's maybe assuming the worst possible outcome. Your kids are running late and you think, "Oh my gosh, they must have been in an accident," and you thought that the last 18 times they were late, and they were never in an accident. But you continue to think that or you text your friend, and your friend doesn't respond for two hours, "Oh my gosh, my friend must be mad at me".
It's looking for what's wrong instead of looking for what's right. And we see this a lot of time in a lot of different ways. You can go on a vacation and you find what's wrong with a vacation. When you go to a restaurant, and you find what's wrong with a restaurant. You meet a person, you figure out what's wrong with a person. You go to church and, bless God, you know what's wrong with that church. It's negative filtering. It's finding what's wrong instead of seeing what's right. Some of you, that's yours.
There's another category that's called absolute thinking, and this is polarized thoughts. This is kind of the all or nothing, black or white. If a man hurts you, all men are bad. If a woman lies to you, all women are liars. If a Republican does something, all Republicans or the all Democrats are this or whatever. If someone makes a mistake, if you make a mistake, it's like, oh, "I'm just dumb". If you disagree with someone about an issue, you write the whole person off. In fact, in my opinion, we've seen more of this type of thinking in the last couple of years than in my entire lifetime. Well, they think that, so screw them and I'm right, blah, blah, blah is absolute thinking. And some of you, you are so there and you cannot see it. You're a jerk to everybody because you're right about something. And just because you're right doesn't mean you're righteous. Amen.
There's another one. I'll save that one for another person to preach on as well. And the final one would be blaming, blaming. And this is simply believing that you're always a victim. The reason you're where you are is because someone else did something and got in your way or took your toy or didn't give you a chance, and you feel like you don't have any control over what's happening to you. You're just a victim of life and circumstances, and there's no way for you to get ahead because the world is stacked against you. That raises the question, if you find yourself constantly jealous or critical or discontented or assuming the worst, or you're hard on other people and negative about other people or you're hard on yourself, can you change? Can you shift from a chronically negative mindset to one that's full of faith and reflects the heart and the character of God? Can you shift? And the answer is yes, you can, but it's not easy.
And I'll show you an interesting study that I saw in a TED Talk that was very fascinating to me. And they introduced an imaginary new surgical procedure, and they took a two different groups of people, and they presented the same procedure with different odds of success versus failure to see if they thought it was a good or a bad procedure. The first group, they said, "Hey, there's a 70% chance of success in this surgery". And the other group, they said, "There's a 30% chance of failure". Essentially the same odds, but a different way of presenting it. They asked the first group, "Hey, if there's a 70% chance that this is going to succeed, is this a good procedure or a bad procedure"? And you would expect the majority said, "Oh, this is actually a good procedure".
To those who are on the other side that thought there's a 30% chance of failure, they asked them the very same question, "Is this procedure good or is this procedure bad"? And when they were presented with a negative, they stuck with a negative and they said, "This is a bad procedure". You might expect that. Then they wanted to determine can you switch if you simply change the narrative? They went to the first group and said, "Well, we're glad you think it's a good surgery, but let me give you the other side. There's also a 30% chance of failure. Knowing that, do you still think it's good"? And the majority who first said it was good said, "Oh, now that you say it that way, this is actually a bad surgery". Then they went to the other side and said, "Well, knowing that it's 30% failure, what if you think about it this way, there's actually a 70% chance that it's actually a positive thing, meaning it's gonna be successful. Do you now change your stance"?
And what do you think they did? Those who said it was bad even after the switch said it is also bad, proving that you can change your perspective, but to change from negative to positive. It is not natural and it is not accidental. You might need a little supernatural help from God and a little intentional work on your end, and it really, really matters because your thoughts are more powerful than you can imagine, and you have more power over your thoughts than you think you do. How do you do it? If you really need to work at change, how do we practically change? I'm so glad you asked.
What I wanna do is look at one of the most powerful illustrations of the mind with David in the Old Testament, and he shows us what to do when you are hit by, blindsided by an avalanche of negativity. And we're gonna be in 1 Samuel 30, and lemme give you the context. It was a bad day. It was worse than you can possibly imagine. However bad your week was, David's was much worse. David and his troops had just come home from battle, and they tragically discovered that an enemy force had burned their homes and kidnapped their wives and their children. So you got these warriors coming home and David thinks it can't get any worse than this. They've burned our villages, they've taken our families, and he thought it couldn't get any worse until it did, when his own men decided to turn on him and thought about stoning him. And we can read the story in scripture where it says this, "When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire, and their wives and their sons and daughters taken captive".
So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. Some of you may feel close to that right now. You're hurting so deeply, so much pain, so much anxiety, so much fear, and they wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep. And David understandably, was greatly distressed, because the men were talking of stoning him. Each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. And in the middle of his worst and lowest moment, scripture says this: But David found strength in the Lord his God. In the middle of an avalanche of negativity, he found strength in the Lord his God. Some of you, it's time to find some strength, not in your own power, not in your own positive thinking, but in the power of a life-changing presence of God. He found strength in the Lord.
And I love the way the King James Version translates this verse. The King James Version says this, "In the middle of his darkest moment, David encouraged himself in the Lord his God". Some of you in a world of chronic negativity, it's time for you to learn to encourage yourself in the Lord. What did David say? And the answer is we don't know, 'cause scripture doesn't tell us, but we do know what he said other times, and it's very likely what he said at other times is similar to what he said to himself. Let me give you some examples. Psalm 103:1. David was talking to himself. He was encouraging himself in the Lord. He said, "Praise the Lord my soul". He's not saying like, "Praise you, God". He's saying, "Hey soul, praise the Lord. All my inmost being, praise His holy name," self start worshiping God. He says, "Praise the Lord my soul. And forget not His benefits. David, don't forget who He is and what He's done. The one who forgives your sins and heals your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies you with desires, good things".
Says, "Hey, remember David, He anointed you as king, He chose you. Hey, He sets you apart. He delivered you from the lion and the bear. He gave you the faith and the courage to stand up to Goliath". "Remember that He never leaves you, that He never forsakes you. Remember that He protected you from the spears of Saul". And he encourages himself in the Lord. And then in verse eight, he says something that you may have heard before. And in a moment, I'm gonna ask you if you've heard this verse before, and if you have, I want you to raise your hand, or online, I want you to type it in the chat, "I've heard this verse before," but no foul if you haven't. Not everybody's been around the Bible, but if you have, I want you to tell me. Verse eight, in the very same chapter, he says this, he says, "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love".
Who's ever heard that verse before? Type it in the comment section. I've heard that verse before, and your hands will go up. I'm gonna ask you, are you sure? Are you sure you've heard that verse before? Because David said that in Psalm 108. But David also said this in Psalm 86:15. In 86, he said this, "But you, oh Lord, are a compassionate and a gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness". Have you heard that verse before? Raise your hand. Are you sure it wasn't the other one? Are you sure it was that one? Or perhaps it was Psalm 145:8, when David said this. He said, "The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love".
Have you heard that verse? Are you sure? Or was it a different one? Because evidently, David wasn't very creative. When he was talking to himself, he said the same thing over and over again. "Lord is gracious, he's compassionate, he's slow to anger, he's righteous". He said it again and again. And what's crazy is David wasn't the first one who said that. He was copying it. You know who he plagiarized? He copied God. God was the first one to say that, God said it of himself in Exodus 34. What's interesting is when things got bad, David didn't have to go searching for a Bible verse. He had already hidden God's word in his heart, and he said the same thing to himself over and over and over again. He encouraged himself in the Lord.
And I wanna give you a tool to help you encourage yourself. And one of the greatest tools I can give you is to start acting like a cow. Start acting like a cow. Eat more chicken or whatever the cow commercial would say. I don't know, but what does a cow do? One of the things a cow does is something called ruminates, which is really, really cool. What does a cow do? A cow takes a mouthful of grass, and chews it and chews it and chews it, and then swallows it, and then throws it back up in his mouth and chews it, and chews it and swallows it, and throws it back up in his mouth and chews it some more. Besides being really cool, that's really gross.
Why does the cow do that? He wants to get every bit of nutrition out of that grass, is to ruminate. And the same Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated as meditate, can also be translated to ruminate. Ruminate, meditate, chew, enjoy. Get every bit of spiritual nutrition from God's word over and over and over and over and over and over again. So when you find yourself in a tight situation, you don't have to look for a verse. You've already got one hidden in your heart. And David said, "The Lord is slow to anger. He's compassionate, he's gracious, because he's been meditating on that". And I wanna help you learn to meditate on God's word. I told you in the last few weeks that I hit a very low spot, incredibly low spot, occupationally burned out is what the diagnosis was. And my mind started to break down, like real mental challenges.
And in this time, what I did is I ruminated, I meditated on Romans 15:13, "May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of His Holy Spirit", over and over and over again, may the God of what? May the God of hope, hope, he's a God of hope. May the God of hope fill me. I need the joy: The joy of the Lord is my strength. I need His peace. The peace that surpasses all understanding. May the God of hope fill me over and over and over again as you trust in him. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways, acknowledge him, so that He'll make your path straight. May the God of hope fill me with joy and peace as I trust in him.
And as I meditated over and over and over and over again, what I'll tell you and Amy will tell you that today is like I'm different, changed. Healed whole, full of joy, full of power, full of strength, full of victory. My mind is different, my mind is different. The mind governed by the flesh is death. And I was caught up in all the negativity and all the external pressure trying to perform instead of taking the strength of God from the inside and letting it flow to the outside. I'm different by the power of God's word. Some of you right now, what you need is you need a negativity fast. You need to fast from negativity. Whatever it is that's freaking you out, the news every single day, man, you wanna be ticked off and mad and afraid of everything. Just read the news every day, nonstop, nonstop. Watch that same channel. You know the one, you know the one, your favorite one. That pisses you off every day. Oh, feel so good. Oh, oh!
Or social media that makes you feel left out and horrible about yourself. That one person, just don't look. Or some of you, you're stuck in a YouTube rabbit hole, and you're fighting a battle that only this many people are fighting, and you think the world's coming after you, and you don't even know you're lost in an algorithm that's feeding you the same type of garbage that's just destroying your soul. Some of you, it's your friends, every time you're together. It's just a hate fest. It is to criticize that church, criticize those people, criticize that group, criticize here. Your thoughts are incredibly powerful, and you have power over your thoughts.
So earlier we went over the four big categories, and what I wanna do is I wanna give you a potential spiritual truth to ruminate on. What I like to do is I like to take scripture, and I like to put 'em in power, thoughts. So it's God's word in something I can remember and say over and over and over again. And so I created for, for these four categories. If you wanna take a photo of one, you can. if we wanna take a photo of a different one for your friends, you can. If you wanna take a photo of all four for yourself, you can do that. But I'll show you some power thoughts, and you can ruminate on these. If you find yourself battling with cynicism, you may say this over and over again. With God's help, I will get rid of all bitterness and skepticism. I choose to believe the best about others and be kind, compassionate and loving. I will love and forgive others as Jesus has loved and forgiven me over and over and over again.
If yours is negative filtering, you might say this: God, by your power, I take every thought captive and make it obedient to the truth of Christ. Because you're good, I choose to think on what's good, right, true, helpful, and worthy of praise. As I trust in you, your peace will guard my heart, soul, and mind in Christ Jesus.
If you find yourself lost in absolute thinking, everything's black or white, and all these people are this or that, you tell yourself as Jesus loved and accepted me, I will love and accept others. This is God's word. Rather than always being right, I'm called to always be loving. Rather than just making a point, I choose to make a difference. In humility, I choose to love others above myself. And if you find yourself always a victim, always blaming, you just declare the truth that God has given me a life and a mind of my own. By His grace, I will own my choices and choose God's best for me. I've been given everything I need to accomplish everything God wants me to do. In Christ, by His power, by His blood, by His stripes, by His spirit, I will overcome. I am an overcomer by the blood of the lamb and by the words of His testimony.
The mind governed by the flesh is death, is destruction, is darkness, is negativity. Who do you think that's from? Our spiritual enemy? Who is the father of lies who comes to steal, kill and destroy? But Jesus said, "I've come that you may have life and life to the full. The mind governed by the flesh is death. But the mind governed by the spirit is life and joy and peace". So what are you gonna be? Swept up by the latest gossip and lowering yourself to the lowest common denominator of popular opinion? You can stand up for something that brings glory to God. Say we're not a victim of what goes on in the world. I'm gonna choose to see where God's working. I'm gonna choose to look for the good and people. I'm gonna choose to be loving and kind and full of grace, because your thoughts have incredible power, and you have incredible power of your thoughts.
And therefore, we will not be conformed to the patterns of this world ruled by the princes and powers of darkness, but instead will be transformed, how? By the renewing of our mind. Then we can test and prove that the will of God, His good, His perfect and His pleasing will. If you feel the presence of God, can you tell him thank you, he's here, he's with you. He's good. He's for you. He's moving in this place.
So Father, we ask that by the power of your spirit, you transform us.
Wherever you're watching from today, those of you who would say, "I may be stuck in a negativity loop and I need help out". Lift up your hands right now, all over the place, lift them up, just be honest. Lift them up, online, just type it in the chat: Help me out of my negativity.
God, thank you for people that want to be free. God, I pray you would reveal to all of us in which area are we most vulnerable. Show us, God. Help us to own it, to repent of it, and to turn to your word to renew our minds. Heal us, God, change us. Help us to think on that which is pure and lovely and excellent and admirable and worthy of praise. Help us to be a voice of hope and life and point people to the goodness of your son, Jesus. Set us free, heal our minds, renew our minds, we pray.
As you keep praying today, there are some of you that you just look at life and think, "Ah, it's just a mess". And you may feel guilty and you may feel hopeless. What's the point, anyway? I wanna tell you about Jesus. Jesus is the sinless son of God who came that we may have life and life to the full. And the good news is he didn't come for those who are perfect, he didn't come for the righteous. He came for the sinners. We talked about the mind that's govern by the flesh. That's our sinful nature, and the reality is that we have all sinned. Every single one of us. We've done things wrong, we've hurt people, and our sin separates us from God.
But God in His love sent Jesus, perfect in every way. Who is the innocent sacrifice, died on a cross, and God raised him from the dead, so that anyone who believes in Jesus, who turns to him, your sins will be forgiven, and you would be brand new. Wherever you're watching from today, those who say, "I want that, I want His grace. I want forgiveness of my sins". We're gonna trust in him. We're gonna surrender our life to him. When you call on him, He hears your prayers. He forgives your sins, He makes you brand new.
Today is the day of your salvation. Wherever you're watching from, those who say, "I need His grace, I want His forgiveness today. I surrender my life to Jesus. I give my life to him". That's your prayer. Lift your hands high now all over the place and say, "Yes," lift them up and say, "I give my life to him". Thank God for you, and over here, praise God for you guys, others today who say, "Yes, Jesus, I surrender to you". Online, just type in the comment section, "I want to follow Jesus, I wanna follow Jesus". And let's all pray aloud. Pray:
Heavenly Father, forgive my sins. Jesus, save me. Be first in my life. Heal me, forgive me. Fill me with your spirit so I can know you and show your love. Do your will in all that I do. My life is not mine. I give it to you, Jesus, thank you for new life. I surrender mine. In Jesus' name. I pray, Jesus.