Coping with the Difficulties of Life

“As I chanted my Hindu mantras I visualized white light flowing through my bloodstream. It made me feel centered and balanced. I had learned to draw in the white light that I visualized coming from some source above me, and with the sound vibrating through my body, the light traveled through me causing a sensation of calm alignment.”1 Could this testimonial have come from the Apostle Paul? Is this the way he found peace in the difficulties of life?

Paul’s Plan

Indeed not! Shirley MacLaine’s new age mysticism did not parallel Paul’s plan. His practice as detected in his letters contained five components.

      Contentment with Current Circumstances. Paul did not turn from tough times. He was content with anything (Philippians 4:11,12). This contentment was not a fatalistic capitulation to life’s difficulties. Paul believed his difficulties would produce ultimate good: other Christians’ faith would grow as they saw him overcoming, an unbelieving Roman soldier would confess Christ, or young preachers would proclaim more boldly the gospel (Romans 8:28; Phil. 1:12). Paul’s contented acceptance of difficulties resembled the poise of the mighty eagle spreading its wings against the howling wind.

      Trust in a Personal God. Paul’s faith rested in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–not in some impersonal Divine Power of Cosmic Consciousness. His child-like faith radiated, “My God shall supply all your needs. . . “(Philippians 4:19)! When things got tough, Paul knew God would supply on time. This trust grew from a conviction that God who had started a redemptive work within believers would finish it (Philippians 1:6, 2:13). God’s unlimited reservoir of strength stood at Paul’s disposal.

     Focus on the Living Christ. The focus of Paul’s desires was Christ–not his problems. Paul endured imprisonment for Christ’s sake. The chains merely adorned the ambassador of Christ. Paul measured his self-worth and his circumstances in life, not by who he was or what he could do, but by his devotion and service to Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 12:8-10). He joyfully faced all things so that Christ would be exhalted.

    Reliance on Christian Community. Support from believers figured meaningfully into Paul’s plan. Companionship with Timothy, Titus, and others provided two benefits: (1) their prayers saved Paul from hopelessness and defeat (Philippians 1:19), and (2) their emotional and material support comforted Paul when in conflict or opposition (II Corinthians. 7:5-7; Philippians 2:19-30; 4:18). Imprisoned in Rome, he urged Timothy to bring his books, coat, and come before the winter set in–he desperately needed Timothy.

      Use of Focused Prayer. Prayer brought Paul’s needs into contact with God’s resources. Prayer opened the jail at Philippi, brought strength to cope with the ‘thorn in the flesh’, and produced spiritual maturity (Philippians 1:9-11). Paul’s prayer was not a mystical meditation but a conscious communication with the personal God.

Modern Approaches

Modern self-help approaches differ significantly from Paul’s plan. A common focus of these approaches is on one’s inner self.

      Positive Thinking. Norman Vincent Peale popularized positive mental attitude in The Power of Positive Thinking. The ‘magic of believing’ beckons the immense powers of the human mind to imagine a condition into reality. Think earnestly, intently about deep desires and they will come about.

     Meditation and Relaxation. Dr. Herbert Benson’s plan for meditation (The Relaxation Response , 1975) contains four essentials: (1) a quiet environment, (2) a mental device, (3) a passive attitude, and (4) a comfortable position. Using a mental device–a special word, sound or phrase, often called a mantra, this form of meditation seeks to empty the mind in pursuit of inner calmness and union with cosmic consciousness. The Christian form of meditation seeks to fill the mind with active thoughts of Christ.

     Channeling and Crystal Healing. Channeling occurs whenever a person permits a spirit entity to communicate special messages to the mind. Kurt Leland (Menus for Impulsive Living, 1989) received instructions on living impulsively from a spirit called Charles. The “menus” Charles gave Mr. Leland promised to bring magic back into his life–a plan for living gained through channeling.

Shirley MacLaine championed the use of crystals as a method of bringing calm and balance in life. Crystals may be worn as jewelry around the neck or rubbed over the body to absorb bad energy. They also serve as utensils during psychic rituals such as channeling. One practioner positioned a quartz crystal at each of the four corners of the bathtub to focus energy into her body while she bathed. Supposedly, crystals contain the ability to focus psychic energies to bring inner healing.

Who is Right?

James Thomas’ book, The Seven Steps to Personal Power, 1992, epitomizes the proliferation of modern self-help approaches. The steps seem simple: (1) Claim the power within, (2) Create what you need, (3) Create emotional balance, (4) Set your heart on change, (5) Go with your inner voice, (6) Know the power within, and (7) Connect with the Divine.

Simple? Maybe. Biblical? Not really. The focus is egocentric, not Christocentric. I prefer Paul’s plan: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

1 MacLaine, Shirley. (1985). Dancing in the light, New York: Bantam, p. 8-9.


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