I wrote this post when Zig Ziglar passed away in 2012. For those of you who don’t recognize the name, he was probably the top motivational speaker of the 80’s and 90’s. Along with Dr. Robert Schuller (of Crystal Cathedral fame), Ziglar popularized the kind of thinking that Norman Vincent Peale had written about a generation earlier in The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). All of this was in concert with the Human Potential Movement that was taking place in psychology and it was during a time when psychology and Christianity were on friendlier terms than they are today (but then, wasn’t everything?).
I had a close friend and mentor who introduced to me to Ziglar’s works and before long I had a book or two as well as his audio series, See You at the Top. I was young and hadn’t seen a lot of life so I was enamored with his message. This was during a time when it seemed that just about everyone our age was involved in some type of multi-level marketing endeavor. Amway, Shaklee, Avon, Mary Kay, and Tupperware were all thriving and went hand-in-hand with the whole “if you can believe it you can achieve it” mantra. Naiveté was certainly in the air.
Although Ziglar wrote some faith based books, it was as a motivational speaker that he made his mark. His seminars and messages were success focused with a sprinkling of Christian principles. From a biblical perspective, there was a superficial appeal. For example, one of Ziglar’s favorite sayings was, “You can get everything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” On the surface, that sounds pretty good—a little bit like the Golden Rule. But if you look at it a little more closely, you’ll notice that there’s one “help” in that sentence and two “wants.” And that’s about the way it worked out. For all of its good points (empowerment, high responsibility, etc.), it boiled down to everybody getting what they wanted (as opposed to what God wanted). In the end, it was more about consumerism than it was the kingdom of God.
I traveled down this road for a couple of years before I realized that as a disciple of Jesus, I was called not to success, but to faithfulness. It wasn’t about me, but Him. In Paul’s words, I was putting too much confidence in the flesh and not enough in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3).
I also came to see that faith has no real power by itself—it is good or not good according to what it attaches itself to. The prophets of Baal had a faith that was apparently as strong as Elijah’s in terms of sincerity and fervency, but as the episode on Mt. Carmel demonstrated, because the object of their belief was worthless (Baal was not God), their faith had no more power than belief in the Easter Bunny. In the same way, just believing (in the sense of thinking positively), is having faith in “faith” (i.e., a positive mental attitude). While that is fine and I suppose carries some marginal benefits health and psychological benefits, it is not the same as attaching yourself to Jesus. It’s ultimately just another form of humanism. Faith in Christ is meaningful because Jesus is real and alive. He conquered life and then three days after His crucifixion on a Roman cross, He conquered death. So as Peter will tell his readers, our hope is just as alive as He is (1 Peter 1:3).
That’s the positive power of faith.