Joel Osteen is on to something. The name-it-and-claim-it mentality can be a powerful psychological tool. If we only believe hard enough and long enough, our minds will prevail. The universe cannot resist us! It makes Jesus sound like the head of the Jedis.
Wikipedia tells us:
Affirmations in New Thought and New Age terminology refer primarily to the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that “a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.”
The depressive in me is ready to crawl back into bed at the mention of all this work my mind is supposed to do, the responsibility placed on the shoulders of my brain. If only I’d empower myself; my brain turns to mush under the pressure.
I suspect it’s not so much mental illness but my sheer humanity that rankles at the promise I “will achieve success in anything” if I think hard enough, a scant 30 years’ experience has taught me that no matter how much I want something and how much I prepare myself for success, sometimes things don’t work out the way that I’d hoped and planned.
Joel Osteen and “New Age thought” are on to something, though I’d argue they’ve got it backwards. They’ve recognized a truth: more often than not, things shift and happen when you put wishes, pleas, or convictions into words repeatedly and intentionally. The thing that’s backwards that is in the equation of words, brains, and the universe (or God), it’s our minds that are bending the universe toward us. My brain isn’t changing the world through force of will; the powerful words transform me.
In the Hebrew Bible, in the first book, in the first chapter, the writer underlines the importance of words when God sets up the entire world by speaking it out loud.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
This is the fallacy of the name-it-and-claim-it “gospel”–thinking that we are gods of our own lives, in control of our own destiny. When we recognize the power of words beyond our own power and our inability to create our own realities, we can offer words back to God (or the universe), asking for those words to change us.
The psalms are a prime example of this method (prayers written and prayed for thousands of years before Joel Osteen or psychological science as such):
“Lord, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me.” (Ps. 131:1-2)
Like any human, the psalmist knows he’s been prideful, but he speaks his deepest longing to God–putting out into the universe his desire to be humble and forthright. The difference is that this affirmation, this prayer, does not assume that the speaker is in charge of his own fate, using words as the creator of reality.
This morning in the groggy 6am hour, a set of affirmations/prayers came to me; I’d tried this exercise before, but on this warm May morning, there was a potency and urgency I hadn’t experienced before.
I share what I received in case it’s helpful for you (insert your name in the blanks):
__________ suffers long and is kind; __________ does not envy; I do not parade myself, I am not puffed up;
__________ does not behave rudely, I do not seek my own, I am not provoked, I think no evil;
I do not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoice in the truth; __________ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(I Cor. 13:4-7) I wonder what would happen if we woke up every day and said these first thing, calling on Scripture’s word- and Spirit-power to ask for transformation.