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It has been said, “The difference between medicine and poison is in the dose.” Solomon similarly wrote ages ago, “Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much, or it will make you sick!” (Proverbs 25:16 NLT) When it comes to spiritual matters, these proverbs have application as well.
Prophetic ministry is neither pure optimism nor pure pessimism, but pure realism. It doesn’t see the cup half full, nor half empty, but both half full and half empty at the same time (…and also where the bottle is to fill the glass up the rest of the way!) If we are to have a holistic, complete, and balanced view of God, we must have an equally weighted view of both His “positive” as well as what we might deem His “negative” aspects. Paul said, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.” (Romans 11:22 NIV) Prophetic ministry considers and communicates both, in their proper time and place.
An example of this can be seen in the book of Revelation which opens up with the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos receiving an open vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ. When John turns to see the voice behind him speaking as a trumpet, he sees an epiphany of the glorified Son of God that is so terrifying in holy appearance that he falls as a dead man at his feet. In his vision, the resurrected Christ is seen standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands which represent the seven churches of Asia Minor.
Jesus then tells John to write down specific prophetic messages for each of the seven churches. Of these seven “letters”, two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are filled solely with positive praise and encouragement, one (Laodicea) is filled solely with negative reproof and correction (except for the promise given at the end to the overcomer), and the remaining four (Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis) are filled with a mixture of both positive praise/encouragement and negative reproof/correction.
Only two out of the seven, therefore, had a purely positive word from the Lord. The one church that only had positive words to say about itself (i.e. “I…have need of nothing.”), Jesus had nothing but purely negative words to say to it. The remaining four had a balanced mixture of “cup-half-full”/”cup-half-empty”, positive and negative words from the Lord. All of this should inform us concerning the “realistic” nature and spiritual balance of prophetic ministry.
There is a phrase that is found in our culture today, especially in relation to how people deal with personal emotions. That phrase is “toxic positivity.” Its popular usage relates to the unhealthy focus on strict mental and emotional positivity in the midst of tragic or difficult situations, to the denial of all negative thinking and/or emotions. It can also be used to describe the refusal to acknowledge negative aspects of oneself or one’s situation by remaining solely positive in regard to them. In this respect, one clinical psychologist wrote, “Taken to an extreme, positivity becomes toxic and deprives us of the motivation to make healthy changes that the awareness of a negative, uncomfortable reality would otherwise stimulate us to make.” (Psychology Today) It is this second aspect that can especially become “spiritually toxic”, both for individual believers and assemblies of God’s people if engaged in.
“Religious Toxic Positivity”
Toxic positivity sometimes takes on a religious form and often this is rooted in an imbalanced view of God Himself. When the more attractive and “positive” attributes of God, such as His kindness, mercy, patience, and love are alone what defines one’s perception of God, and the more stern and seemingly “negative” attributes of God, such as His anger, wrath, severity, and judgment, are excluded, it is possible to develop a God-focused form of toxic positivity.
Such a view of God tends to make one unconcerned about the treacherous nature of their indwelling sin and corruption. Such a person is apt to then “think of [themselves] more highly than [they] ought” (Romans 12:3) before God and become impervious to the reality of their own moral and spiritual failings. They can become like those whom David described in Psalm 36:2, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” Such personal positivity, however, is spiritually toxic, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)
True self-perception is found when one faces the negativity of one’s own fallen nature, acknowledges it and turns to God in confession, repentance, and humble trust in the mercy and grace of God. Then, and only then, does one find the forgiveness, cleansing, acceptance, and righteousness that come from God alone. Then, and only then, can one find their true worth, purpose, and God-given self as one created in the image of God, redeemed and infinitely loved. A deep realization of the positive only comes after a deep realization of the negative. This is the basis of balanced, healthy spirituality.
This “religious toxic positivity” can take on a collective dimension as well. We have an example of this in the church of Laodicea. Their unified confession was, “‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’“ (Revelation 3:17 NLT) Theirs was a purely positive self-concept and yet they had no awareness of their true spiritual condition: Jesus said, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (vs. 17) Here is collective toxic positivity on display!
This condition is prevalent in the Church today as well. When religious institutions embody deep concern for their corporate and ministerial success, image, respectability, reputation, growth, and prosperity, hyper-focus upon the positive aspects of the organization and ministry is of highest importance. A spirit of corporate self-aggrandizement and sectarian pride/allegiance is fostered in order to increase attraction, adherence, and cohesion.
This spirit often spills over into the content and focus of the spiritual ministry offered as well. Because the positive elements of God and His Word are more attractive and less offensive than the so-called “negative” ones, an imbalanced, positive-only, somewhat “saccharine” view of God and His Word may consistently be presented. Often the driving force behind this is a “man-pleasing”, “entrepreneurial” spirit that seeks to attract more attendees and/or “not offend the visitors” merely for the sake of corporate promotion and propagation.
This condition can be further exacerbated when an imbalanced and excessive “culture of honor” is nurtured that sets leadership on a high pedestal as those esteemed as nearly infallible, untouchable, and unquestionable. Such a spirit can have a facade of spirituality, but, in fact, it is a fertile breeding ground for collective toxic positivity.
The Spiritual Antitoxin
Seeing how prevalent and pervasive this stronghold can be, what, then, is its remedy? If excessive religious positivity can indeed be toxic, what is its spiritual antitoxin? In a phrase, the remedy is found in what could rightly be called “prophetic realism.” Only when an individual or body of believers has prophetic revelation of their true condition, from God’s perspective, can they be delivered out of the false bubble of toxic positivity. Only when they see what the “eyes of blazing fire” see, and perceive what the “sharp double-edged sword” is discerning; only when they feel the weight of the “feet like bronze, glowing in a furnace” falling, and are washed by the “voice like the sound of rushing waters”, will they know their true condition and find not only the grace and mercy of God, but also the balancing holiness and justice of the Lord as well. Only “prophetic realism” will impart to God’s people a holistic, complete, and balanced view of both God and of themselves. Such balanced realism comes through God’s prophetic Spirit, Word, and anointed vessels and where these are received, and not resisted, healthy spirituality will surely ensue.
May God deliver us from “religious toxic positivity” and all of its unexpected side-effects in our lives and within His Body.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
(Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22)
Previous posts in this collection (#propheticresistance):
Prophetic Ministry and…(#propheticresistance)
Prophetic Imbalance and…(#propheticresistance)
The Stronghold of Pragmatism (#propheticresistance)
The Stronghold of Traditionalism (#propheticresistance)
Next post in this collection:
The Stronghold of Spiritual Eccentricity (#propheticresistance)
Our Deepest Convictions
The Anointed Body of the Anointed One: Prophetic Anointing (#thecorporatechrist)
Amen David. It is like having faith in the love of God, but without a biblical fear of God. The fear of the Lord will move us to repent and be changed. Our love for God will also do that, but we need both. Bless you.
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Yes, exactly. Bless you too, my brother!
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