By Akin Ojumu

To many Christians, the book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” is a Holy Writ in its own right. Originally published in 1952, the international bestseller authored by Dr Norman Vincent Peale has been translated into over 40 different languages with as many as 15 million copies in print worldwide. The extremely popular book was on the New York Times’ bestsellers list for 186 weeks, 48 of which were spent in the No. 1 non-fiction spot.

Considered one of the most influential self-help books in print today, The Power of Positive Thinking is credited with helping people around the world achieve fulfillment in their lives through Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s powerful message of faith and inspiration. Mental health professionals have incorporated some of the techniques and methods described in the book into their practice. Likewise, many of the book’s ideas and concepts have been canonized in the Church, and its positive mindset prescriptions are woven into sermons.

Just as it is with most popular ideas derived from human wisdom, The Power of Positive Thinking is a concoction of flawed religious concepts founded on faulty theology and it’s a deadly brew of subjective psycho-spiritual theories rooted in unsound doctrine. The main thrust of the book is that, with human effort, proper mental imagery, and willpower anyone can create their own reality. It’s the erroneous belief that people can change future outcomes and events by “thinking” them into existence.

That man is capable of speaking his future into existence is a gnostic concept foreign to Scripture but has become a fundamental underpinning of the beliefs and practices of many Christian denominations. This is especially the case with the Word of Faith hyper-charismatic movement. Those who believe in such new age mysticism support their position by quoting Proverbs 23:7. 

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”

It isn’t all that surprising that a contemporary reader looking at Proverbs 23:7 in the Kings James version will come away thinking that the passage is saying that “We are what we think” or “What we think is what we are.” That such an interpretation is erroneous becomes quickly obvious when we read the same verse in other translations.

Here are a few of other Bible translations of the same verse:

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.” 

“For he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” 

“For he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.”

The Hebrew verb, sa ar, translated “thinketh” in the King James Version means “estimate” or “calculate.” It’s a word that conveys the idea of someone who puts a valuation, appraisal, or sets a price on something. “The word, in the Strong’s Concordance, means “to split open, reason out, calculate, reckon, estimate, or to set a price of corn.”

To fully understand Proverbs 23:7, one must start reading from the previous verse:

“Do not eat the food of a begrudging host, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost.” (Proverbs 23:6-7 NIV).

The “he” in Proverbs 23:7 is the “begrudging host” mentioned in Proverbs 23:6. What these two verses describe is a stingy miser, i.e., “a begrudging host,” who is “always thinking about the cost” of the meal he shares. Proverbs 23:6-8 is an instruction to avoid greedily eating food served by a stingy man and it has nothing to do with thinking a future into existence.

Proverbs 23:6-8 is the 9th of the 30 wise sayings of Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. The 9th saying instructs the seekers of wisdom to avoid receiving ill-offered gifts that have strings attached to them. To crave the delicacies served by a stingy man is akin to consuming fishbones without caution. Sooner or later, the bones will get stuck in the throat. While the miser may pretend to happily invite you to come eat and drink, you better watch out. He is counting every bite you take and calculating the cost of every bolus that goes down your throat.

Eventually, your eyes will open. And you'll suddenly realize that the food you were offered was given to you begrudgingly. Then, you’ll gag and want to vomit whatever it is you’ve eaten. You’d realize that all the compliments you’ve showered on your host for his generosity have actually fallen on deaf ears because the scrooge was only pretending to be happy to have you as a guest in the first place.

In Proverbs 23:6-8 we learn that not all gifts are kosher. The passage isn’t saying man can change future outcomes by thinking them into existence. Our future is not created by the power of positive thinking. Positive confession is futile profession. It’s God alone who has the power to determine what the future will be. If you desire a good future, saturate your mind with the Word of God.


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