Negativity is the expression of criticism or pessimism about something. It seems that we live in a time when people express criticism or pessimism about everything. It is in our news constantly, fed to us through social media, discussed in our homes, and even abounds in our congregations.
If we are not careful, we run the risk of allowing cynicism and negativity to become our default personality traits. But Christians are supposed to be people who are joyful and optimistic (Lk. 1:37; Phil. 4:4). This doesn’t mean that we should deny reality or fail to critically evaluate things, but it does mean that we should not be habitually gloomy and discouraged people.
There has been negativity in the world since the fall of man, but it seems like it has ramped up in recent times. It may be that we are simply more aware of it because of the technology that keeps us updated with everything. Whatever the reason for the constant influx of discouragement, we need to know how to combat it as God’s people.
Embedded in God’s word are tried and true principles that can aid us in being honest about the world without surrendering our hope and joy as Christians. We may not be able to rid the world of negativity, but we can rid our hearts of it and not allow it to take up permanent residency in us. Here are some ways we can overcome negativity.
Think on Good Things
This seems easy enough, but how often do we really dwell on good things? Paul commands Christians to think on things that are true, pure, good, and lovely (Phil. 4:8). The word Paul uses for think (logizomai) in Philippians 4:8 means to give careful thought to something or to allow one’s mind to dwell on something (BDAG 598). Paul is telling us to reflect on and continually consider things that are of exalted and positive quality. This takes work and will not happen by accident.
This means that when our minds are free to drift anywhere, we must train them to go to the types of things that build up and are edifying—not worst-case scenarios. If we dwell on the negative and give our hearts over to pessimism, we will ruin our soul and be robbed of the joy God wants us to have (1 Thess. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:4).
David meditated on God in the evenings instead of on the evening news (Psalm 63:6). This is a good practice for us to imitate. Think on the right types of things and you will develop the right mindset. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You are what you think about all day long” so let us be wise and think on good things.
Remember the World Is Broken
When Adam and Eve sinned, their actions changed the world (Gen. 3:1-6). Death was introduced to the world and perfection was lost (Rom. 5:12; cf. Gen. 1:31). By the time of Noah, all the thoughts and intentions of humanity’s hearts were only evil continually (Gen. 6:5-6). Paul assured Timothy, “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13).
Stating these facts doesn’t contradict the previous point about positive thinking, but hopefully, it will help us see the world in its true shape. We may be tempted to desire more than this world can deliver and this leads to us being disheartened. We can better deal with negativity when we remember this world is not our home (Heb. 13:14).
There is a sense in which this world is the Devil’s domain, and we should not be surprised to see the world sometimes spiraling out of control (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19). The negativity in our world should remind us that humans are incapable of solving their own problems. We are the problem, and the solution is outside of us.
Only by looking up to Christ and submitting to him will things get better (Rom. 7:24-25). We should not become desensitized to unrighteousness or callous to the suffering of others, but we should also fight against being constantly hysterical about everything that happens. Jesus promised a world with tribulation, but he also said we could be of good cheer because he overcame the world (Jn. 16:33).
Watch Your Intellectual Diet
The blessed man is the one who meditates on the law of God day and night (Ps. 1:2). Our world wants us to meditate on negativity day and night, but we must refuse to do so. Fighting negativity means we must be careful about what we take in and what we fill our minds with (Prov. 4:23). Be careful about the types of articles you read, the news stories you follow, the movies you watch, and the amount of political information you consume. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, and Christians must be informed, but we do not want to become indoctrinated.
Related: How Not to Read the Bible
Our hearts are shaped by what we take in, so we would be wise not to take in any source of information more than the scriptures. We live by the Word of God, so we should feed on it continually (Matt. 4:4). If the world fills our minds we should not be surprised when worry and outrage fill our hearts. Children are told that too much junk food or candy can rot their teeth and ruin their appetite, and this can happen to us spiritually as well.
The good news of the gospel can become stale or boring to us if we do not make a concerted effort to get the Bible into our hearts on a regular basis more than the negativity of the world. If you are not as excited about heaven, not as confident in the gospel’s power to save, or not as interested in kingdom work as you once were maybe you’ve been spending too much time with the wrong news (Rom. 1:16).
Watch Your Company
Evil companions corrupt good morals (1 Cor. 15:33). The friends we have will determine our disposition in one way or another (Prov. 22:24-25). If we walk with wise people we will be wise, but if we walk with fools we will be destroyed (Prov. 13:20). Pessimism is contagious.
If we are surrounded by people who are always “singing the blues” and always think the sky is falling, we will adopt the same mindset. We should try to help others reflect on the goodness of God and to remind people that the best is yet to come with Jesus, but we should not let others drain us of our joy with their despondency. If someone is always a bearer of bad news, they may be the bad news. Watch the company you keep and surround yourself with people who are truthful but positive.
Look for the Hand of God
People talk about looking for the “silver lining” and seeing the bright side of things and Christians should be experts in doing this. We know that ultimately all things will work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28), there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39), and Jesus promised to be with us until the end (Matt. 28:20). By reflecting on the spiritual realities that belong to us in Christ, we can keep ourselves from being overcome by the hopelessness that surrounds us.
If we look to see how God is still involved in our world we will be better equipped to deal with the negativity that confronts us. God is still giving good gifts daily, he is using his people to accomplish his will, and his kingdom is still intact. While we do not have the same perfect knowledge that Joseph had regarding our circumstances, we should remember that many things the world means for evil God can use for good (Gen. 50:19-20).
There are negative things in our world, but God is ruling over the world, and that makes all the difference (Ps. 24:1). How we deal with the times in which we live is our choice, but since there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9), we should look to scripture and let it inform us on how to respond. Negativity does not have to win in our hearts and minds because, if you are in Christ, the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4).