In his autobiography The True Joy of Positive Thinking, the late Norman Vincent Peale tells the story of a fifth grade teacher who had a remarkable influence on his life. The teacher, George Reeves, was a large man with a very stern appearance which covered up a kind heart.
He was, as Dr. Peale recalls, a “character”– one of those unforgettable people whose ways often inspire us when we think back on them. One of the most important lessons he ever taught Norman Peale had to do with attitude.
Often the teacher would write on the blackboard in large letters the word CAN’t. Then he would turn to his students and ask them, “What shall I do now?” The students knew the answer. In unison their voices would reply to the question, “Knock the ‘T’ off the CAN’t!”
And with a sweeping gesture of the eraser, he would do it. Then he would say, “Let that be a lesson to you – you can if you think you can.” And, pointing his big forefinger at them, he would add in a growling voice, “Don’t you ever forget it either.”
The lesson was not lost on Norman Vincent Peale. Years later when he had become a famous minister in New York, he was pointing his own finger at people and saying, “You can do it if you think you can.” His “Power of Positive Thinking” became a trademark. He was renowned for his remarkable ministry of encouragement.
The truth is, however, that there was nothing very new about Norman Vincent Peale’s ministry of encouragement. It is certainly as old as the Bible itself. The early Christian missionaries,Paul and Barnabas, engaged in the same kind of ministry among their Jewish friends in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidiam, a small country in Asia Minor.
We can imagine the problems these people faced. The fledgling church was in trouble all over the empire. Its leaders were frequently jailed or put to death. Their Jewish friends would not understand their joining this offbeat cult on the fringes of Judaism.
What would they say to us if they were here speaking to us today? We face a lot of problems, too. The world around us becomes more secular every day. Our children are ever more easily seduced into agnosticism and turning their back on the church. Hedonism grows stronger all the time.
What would Paul and Barnabas say to us in the face of all this? Would they say, “You are right. It is a losing game. Why don’t you throw in the towel while you still have one to throw in?”
Not on your life! They would say the same thing they said to those Jewish Christians in Antioch: “‘Go forward in the grace of God!’ You think you can’t make it at the church today? Knock the ‘T’ off that CAN’t – you can do anything you think you can as long as you live in the power of God!”
It’s a funny thing about a positive mental attitude. I really believe that thinking positively helps release the possibilities within you. And it works just as well for the church as it does for the individual.
What kind of church can you become if you think and act positively in the grace of God? Just imagine, if you will, the fellowship you can be. Scores of people with hearts all warmed by experience with Christ and his Spirit reaching out to one another in love and support, studying our Bibles, learning how to be better spouses and parents, better citizens in our country and world, better emissaries for Christ in our schools and businesses, better stewards of our time and energy and resources.
When we truly live in the grace of God, there are not limits to what we can do or become because the formula is always “Us plus God” and there is no limit to what God can do.
Encouragement is a marvelous thing. It’s part of our Christian ministry to each other. Paul and Barnabas urged their friends to continue in the grace of God. That is something we can all do for one another. We ought to get in the habit of encouraging one another every time we see one another.
Encourage your pastors. Help them become great pastors.
Encourage your spouses. Help them become the best mates possible.
Encourage your children. Help them become great children. Knock the “T” off CAN’t for them.
Encourage one another like Barnabas surely encouraged Paul. Become a son or daughter of encouragement.
Live your life in the grace of God. Let the doxology be continually on your lips – Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; . . .
You can if you think you can – and if you do it with God.