How To Be Miserable

Full disclosure: I have been struggling with my attitude lately. With the recent start of school, we have faced some new challenges, and because they seem so large to my limited thinking, I’ve let myself get consumed by them at times. Per His usual, however, God has been making this trying time work for my good by helping me see how crucial time spent with Him in prayer is, and He’s leading me into losing more of my focus on myself (man, I am SO SLOW at this lesson!!!).

Recently I was listening to a Joyce Meyer sermon (Y’all, if you don’t already know, she has a FREE app with radio shows, full sermons with video, various resources, etc. GET. IT.), and she was teaching on the dangers of being so caught up in ourselves, specifically the dangers of self-centeredness. This really struck me because I wouldn’t describe myself as self-centered. But you know what? I am! I focus on myself, on my life, on my problems, and on my wishes a lot. A whole lot. Even an embarrassing amount at times. Through this sermon I really felt God pressing upon my heart the necessity of getting outside my own feelings and my own mind. I felt Him encouraging me to stop ruminating on my problems. Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” Praising God is wise. Celebrating His work in my life is wise. Pushing my emotions to the side and not allowing them to dictate how I’m going to go through my day or my life is wise. Keeping my mind stayed on God, the fixer of all my problems, is wise. Allowing my circumstances and my emotions to determine my course for the day/the week/the month? Very, very unwise. And even more importantly, it’s not just unwise, it’s sinful!

So, after listening to this sermon, I broke out my pen and paper to write down a little good-humored list that Mrs. Joyce gave during her teachings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I can usually (and unfortunately) find myself doing at least one of these things. Even on days when things are going well, I find that this list is a great reminder of what to avoid so that I can be the best me and share God more vividly with others I come in contact with throughout the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Prayer is below list.) So without further ado…

HOW TO BE MISERABLE (By Joyce Meyer)

*Think about yourself constantly.

*Use “I” as often as possible.

*Mirror yourself continually by the opinion of other people.

*Listen greedily to what other people say about you, and if it’s not what you want to hear, get angry.

*Expect to be appreciated by everyone.

*Be suspicious.

*Be jealous and envious.

*Be sensitive and easily offended.

*Never forgive criticism.

*Trust nobody but yourself.

*Insist on respect and consideration at all times.

*Demand agreement with your own views on everything.

*Sulk and feel sorry for yourself if people are not grateful to you for what you do for them.

*Never forget how much you’ve done for other people; think about it at all times….BUT, always remember what they have failed to do for you.

*Shirk your duty and seek at all times to entertain yourself, and do as little as you possibly can for other people.

Dear Lord, I see myself so much in this list above. I am so thankful, though, that I can come to You for help in getting over myself and that You always hear my prayer. Gently guide me, Father, so that I might be able to lose my grip on my own self-centeredness. I know that when I’m focused only on my life and my wants and needs I’m less useful to You. Help me to see those times when my focus needs to change, Lord, and help me be immediately obedient to You when You point those out. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful to be Yours. Help THAT to be my focus, even when things are challenging and upsetting. Help me to keep my mind stayed on You; give me an attitude of gratitude, Lord. Thank You for the life I live, for my many, many blessings, and thank You for teaching me how to better serve You. I offer this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Positively Negative

Okay, let’s play a little game. Mentally, I want you to raise your hand if you’re guilty of ever having said or thought any of the following statements.

  • “That’s just my luck.”
  • “I don’t know why I expected anything but…”
  • “Well of course that happened.”
  • “I’m not gonna get my hopes up…”/ “I won’t hold my breath…”
  • “I’m worried about_____”
  • “I’m scared that________”
  • “That’s impossible.”
  • “If the way things go in my life is any indication…”

{mentally raising my hand on ALL of them}

For most of my life, especially my adult life, I have had a mindset that included some of these exact phrases or ones like them any time something was disappointing or aggravating. In just the right mood, I was learning to be a supreme pity-party thrower. However, despite all of this evidence, I still did NOT consider myself to be a negative person. I was generally in a good mood; I didn’t get mad easily; I liked almost everybody; I didn’t complain frequently or often…while at work. Seems pretty positive, right? Wrong! As it turns out, just uttering simple statements like those above can have a devastating impact on both our mindsets and our blessings.

I first began realizing my attitude was definitely more negative than positive when I heard this dreaded phrase come out of my mouth: “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” Yikes! Nothing says I’m a pessimist louder. After that utterance, it was no longer deniable, I was positively negative. In my own defense (and I recognize that it’s a shoddy one), I wasn’t a doomsday-er or a continual Negative Nancy, but I certainly felt most comfortable preparing for worst-case scenarios just in case they happened. I felt more at ease expecting less because I thought that protected me from disappointment and hurt feelings. I would pray to God about things I needed or wanted, but I kept a “well, if this doesn’t work out, I’ll just do_____” mindset throughout my waiting periods.

It wasn’t until I read Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer that I began to understand that I was limiting, often even negating, my prayers with my decision to “protect myself” by expecting minimal/zero results. This might sound ridiculous, but until I read her book, it had NEVER dawned on me that I could push negative thoughts out of my head and actively replace those with positive ones. I felt like thinking that way was just who I was.  Through reading Joyce’s teachings and listening to as many of her sermons as I could on purposefully choosing what we think about (I love her phrase Think about what you’re thinking about!), I began to realize that just like any other new skill, I was going to have to learn to rewire my brain so that I could think expectantly and positively about the circumstances in my life. With Joyce’s help, and with the help of my husband who’s known this little secret for years, I slowly (and oh my goodness is it slooooow!) began retraining my mind to allow for more positive thinking, to allow for more blessings to be released in my life, and to allow God to work in me and my life in a way in which I’d previously been shutting Him out.

As with any lesson I’m led to by the Holy Spirit, I find it sticks with me better and transforms me more fully if I take time to study what the Bible says about this concept for myself. One portion of scripture that really stuck with me, and to which I’ve returned numerous times since, is the story of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. While continuing to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses sent ten men into the land of the Caananites to see what that land possessed. Upon returning from their scouting trip, all of the men reported that the land was good, saying, “…surely it flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). That was the good news. The bad news? The land was populated with large, strong residents (basically giants), and the city itself was highly fortified. Those Israelites were a bunch of Grumbling Gusses (takes one to know one!), so of course, that bit about the giants and the well-armed city caught their attention way more than that milk and honey part. The Bible tells us, though, that Caleb spoke up, encouraging with his positive attitude: “Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once and possess it; we are well able to conquer it” (13:30). Hear that again, what positive thoughts allow you to declare: we are well able to conquer it. But his co-scouts–Joshua not included–didn’t share in his positive thinking. Instead, they allowed the negativity to consume them. “So they brought the Israelites an evil report of the land…saying, The land through which we went to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants. And all the people that we say in it are men of great stature…and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (vs. 32, 33).

Let’s take just a second to evaluate their words in these two verses. First of all, I see nary a mention of the goodness of that land, the milk and honey they mentioned after returning (I think it’s even worth noting that, upon their immediate return, they mentioned the milk and honey before ever discussing the inhabitants). Instead, their entire focus is the challenges they face. I see no evidence of their faith, do you? I see no proof that they believe God is with them. I see no decisions being made to trust God’s sovereignty. (How very much like these negative naysayers I am when things aren’t sunny!) One thing I do see is how they described themselves, their own power, and their own ability: as grasshoppers. Powerless, tiny, completely inadequate creatures in the face of so very many things. But it’s not just that they thought themselves to be like grasshoppers; they got so consumed with negativity regarding their own insignificance that they transferred that vision onto the people of Canaan. Look at that verse, at the way that last line is written: “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Did they go up and talk to these people? No. Did they get beaten down by them, mentally or physically? Nope. Did they have any encounter with the Canannites at all? Nuh-uh. But because they were so negatively minded and so focused on the perceived problem in front of them instead of the God whose hand was over them, their minds were altered. They created problems and false “truths” because of their negativity.

This story begs the question, how many times have we prevented our own entry into a land of great blessing, a land of milk and honey as it were, because we decided we KNEW what was going to happen instead of taking it to God, keeping our eyes and minds stayed on Him, and letting Him walk us through it? To be honest, it’s upsetting to me to think what I’ve likely missed out on in my past because of my negativity, but in greater measure I’m motivated not to EVER let this type of thinking control me anymore. Expecting the worst, preparing for the worst, limiting myself to mediocre faith…none of that protects me. It doesn’t protect me at all. What it does do is prevent me. It prevents me from receiving the abundant blessings that my faith earns. It prevents me from maintaining my joy. And, most importantly, it prevents me from being a good, useful witness for the Jesus who died to give me this incredible life that I live. Sure it’s hard sometimes, and sure, like Moses and Aaron and the other guys, we’re going to face some giant challenges in an effort to get to our Promised Land, but how much sweeter will that Promised Land be because of what we’ve come through to get there? And how much stronger will our faith be, how much closer will our relationship with God be, when we’ve walked through those hard times together?

So, what if you’re a Negative Nancy by nature, like me, and you don’t want to be? First of all, admitting it is the first step. (That expression is SO overused, but it’s overused for a reason. It’s right!) Second, don’t expect to change overnight. You can ask my husband, I have been diligently working on this within myself over the last 4+ years, and I’m just now starting to really have something to show for my work. Real progress takes time, and this is a mindset you’ve likely been cultivating for years. Be patient with yourself and don’t get frustrated when you don’t “snap out of it” right away. And most importantly, pray for God’s help with this area of your life. Imagine how pleased He’ll be that you want a better thought-life and a bigger faith! Read what He’s said to you in the Bible about this very topic. Before I started seeking God’s Word about my negative mind, I had no idea that so many biblical principles centered on the fact that the mind controls so much of our lives.

If you’ve been in church very long (or if you’ve been on the Internet for longer than two weeks), you’re probably familiar with Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” Just think what those Negative Ned Israelites could’ve accomplished had this verse been what came out of their mouths! How about you and I do better than they did. When we’re faced with adversity, let’s remember Who is really in charge and Whose strength is really at work.

Another great reminder of the importance of getting our minds right is Romans 12:2, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I don’t know about you, but I desperately want to be transformed. As I am, it’s not good. But with Jesus and the grace and power He brings to the table, I can be made more like Him every day. And where does that start? With the renewing of my mind. Inside my own head. It begins with taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so that I can do what Paul instructs in Phil. 4:8, and fix my thoughts at all times and in all situations “on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely and admirable…think[ing] about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Call me crazy, but that sure sounds a lot less like focusing on those giants and a lot more like centering on that milk and honey in our lives, don’t you think?

Dear Lord, thank you so very, very much for the wonderful life you’ve given me. Help me, Lord, not to be so negative in my thoughts that I create problems and fail to see You at work on my behalf. I pray today, God, that You would help me recognize these thoughts when I have them so that I can do as You’ve instructed and take them captive, exchanging them for positive, Christ-like thoughts until it’s these that become habit. Father, I trust You and I love you, and I so desire to have thoughts that please you, no matter the challenges I face. Help me to pay attention to the words that I think, the words that I say, and the focus of my mind. Thank you for helping me through each step of this important change in my life. Thank you for hearing me. In Jesus’s name I pray this prayer, Lord. Amen.

 

 

“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.”  –Francesca Reigler