At first blush there would appear to be nothing wrong with something labeled “positive and encouraging.” Three Christian radio stations service my area, and all three of them make the same claim: that they offer positive and encouraging programming for the whole family. The appeal is obvious: no one wants to spend a lot of time dwelling on things that are negative and discouraging.
But I have discovered a flaw in this positive and encouraging, family-friendly environment that should be addressed. This desire to provide people with a positive and encouraging experience (whether it is by radio or by television or by church service or by website) creates an unrealistic expectation in the hearts and minds of the audience and congregation who have come to rely on “the ministry” to keep them properly fed. Content is judged not according to Truth, but according to how I feel about it. Do I feel good, positive, encouraged, uplifted, and happy afterwards? If so then all is well. Or is it?
We must seriously question things that pass themselves off as “ministry”. It is clear that the practice of “ministry” – whether it comes in the form of a sermon or a song – is becoming synonymous with “Christian Entertainment.” It is not so much what they say as what they fail to say. The most glaring omission in this positive and encouraging Christian sub-culture is meaningful reference and teaching along the lines of taking up the cross and denying self, and I would suggest this one thing sums up most of what is lacking in Churchianity today.
I do not mean a wistful remembering of the cross that Jesus died on for our sins, as this is given a fair treatment. I refer to the following “positive and encouraging” words from Jesus that somehow get overlooked:
“He that takes not his cross, and follows after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38).
“Jesus said to them all, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whosoever does not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26,27).
“Someone asked, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ Jesus answered, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate, because I tell you this: many will try to enter but will not be able to'” (Luke 13:23,24).
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the Will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Since taking up the cross is basic to discipleship, why do we not hear more about it? Because crucifixions are not “family friendly”! Those who understand the cross in a practical way – meaning, those who are actually following the Lord Jesus as a disciple – know that this denial of Self is hardly a positive, encouraging experience. Dying is not easy! Letting go of my will and embracing the will of Another is hard! Being crucified daily is not a positive, encouraging event.
And so, in order to fulfill its obligation to its audience, Christian entertainers (pastors, preachers, prophets, and performers) must skirt the issue. If we look hard and long enough we might find anecdotal evidence of a song here, or a sermon there, or a few words sprinkled in that seem to hit the mark. Let us thank and praise God for anything we can get, but a few obligatory references to the true cost of discipleship every so often tend to get lost in a vast ocean of Christianspeak that mostly focuses on the positive and encouraging parts of the Bible and virtually ignores the hard, but necessary, sayings of Jesus.
Positive, Encouraging False Prophets
“And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, ‘There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (I Kings 22:8).
Look at what the king of Israel says of Micaiah the prophet: “I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me.” Yes, this is the heart of it. To a carnal, worldly generation the prophetic word is supposed to always be positive and encouraging, always speaking good things concerning me and always tickling my fleshly little ears.
The Micaiahs are not allowed on Christian television, and they are not welcome in Christian churches. In my spirit I get the sense sometimes that when you talk about anything that isn’t deemed positive and encouraging the people are sticking their fingers in their ears, squinting their eyes shut, and shouting “la la la la la la la la” to themselves. Maybe if we pretend like we don’t hear it or see it then it will go away. We do not want to hear the Truth because it is too depressing! It makes us feel bad. That, after all, is the most important thing – not whether a thing is Truth, but whether a thing makes me feel better!
Those who only seek the positive and encouraging route are those who gravitate towards the quick fixes and the easy answers; religious activities that do not require a lot of time and effort, and preferably, no effort at all. We have special numbers to call for prayer, and we have preachers to tell us what the Bible says, and we have Christian bookstores to give us things to read, and we have the Internet to keep us connected with other Christians, and we have Christian music playing in the background to keep us in the mood. What could be easier! Just think how much more effective and powerful the Early Church could have been if only they had the same positive, encouraging support system that we have today!
Do you realize that almost every false prophet mentioned in the Bible is positive and encouraging? That is not to say that to be positive and encouraging is to be a false prophet, but it illustrates something. It demonstrates a weakness, a flaw, in human nature. We naturally embrace those things that lift us up and make us feel good, and we naturally shun those things that are unpleasant to think about. A false prophet is able to deceive people precisely because there is something in humankind that desperately wants to believe nothing but positive, encouraging things about themselves.
What am I suggesting, that we seek out things that are negative and discouraging? No, we should not necessarily seek them out, but we should not automatically shut them out, either. We should seek Truth, regardless of how it makes us feel, whether it is positive or negative. Paul says he has no confidence in the flesh. Over-confidence is a deadly form of pride, and relying totally on positive, encouraging input is a recipe for disaster. Maybe your only hope is to lose confidence! If you are in the flesh then you need to be brought to a place of discouragement – the sooner the better! Maybe the secret to overcoming is not in shouting the victory but crying out to God in despair and admitting defeat. What if, instead of embracing positive and encouraging thoughts about ourselves, we go to God and freely admit that in spite of all our positive and encouraging helps we have made a total mess of things and we don’t know what to do?
We need to revisit our Christianized value system and ask some hard questions. What makes a message “good”? What makes a church service “edifying”? What makes a Christian song “anointed”? What makes a ministry “positive and encouraging”? Does God even consider these things as important criteria at the judgment seat of Christ? Do I judge these things with righteous judgment, or do I judge them by my feelings?
Why are a certain Christian personalities popular? Why do I read their books and listen to their messages? Will a steady diet of positive and encouraging words cause me to see myself as I am, or will it seduce me into thinking I’m better than I really am? Do I wish to be entertained into spiritual dullness or challenged into spiritual maturity? Am I going to eat cotton candy and bubble gum for the rest of my life or am I going to seek strong meat?
Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts to put a happy spin on things, the most positive and encouraging thing I can say to a person is, “I encourage you to repent, because if you don’t, I’m positive that your life will only get worse. I encourage you to lose all confidence in yourself, take up the cross, and put your life in the very capable hands of Another, because I am positive that apart from Him you can do nothing.” The more self-centered you are the more negative and discouraging this sounds – and that is EXACTLY the way it should be.