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Christian Affirmations?



Affirmations—the idea that you can change your life by repeating certain phrases daily—have been around forever. Some might say they are as old as the Bible. But should Christians use or practice affirmations?


The first time I encountered affirmations was in High School before I knew Jesus. My friends were passing around the book The Dilbert Future by Scott Adams. We all thought it was funny. But it also featured a chapter on affirmations that seemed out of place with the rest of the book.


That chapter was the content I remembered the best about the whole book. Scott Adams told the story of how he became a famous cartoonist, and he credited his success in part to affirmations. He had several stories about using affirmations with strangely successful results. He used an affirmation about becoming rich from the stock market to pick the best stocks for that year. He used an affirmation about becoming a bestselling author while writing his first book and hit the New York Times Bestseller list.


While he didn’t believe the method was important, the method he employed was simple. He would write a short “I will” statement featuring his name on a piece of paper fifteen times per day. For instance, “I, Scott Adams, will become a famous cartoonist.” That’s it.


I bet several questions are running through your head right now. Maybe you’re wondering if this really works. Maybe you’re wondering why it seemed to work for Scott Adams. And you might be wondering if Jesus would be pleased if you tried it.


Do Affirmations Work?

I honestly can’t answer this question with certainty. If you search the internet, there are a lot of stories out there about affirmations. Some of these stories sound quite credible. Some of them sound more fantastic. Some of the people sharing the stories are models of success. Some of the people sharing the stories are the kind of people you might not trust to sell you a used car.


Whether or not affirmations “work” probably depends on how you use them and what you expect them to do for you. Will they reorient the universe to fulfill your desire? No. They will not. Will they release the "law of attraction" to bring you success? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s how a Christian should be operating even if it works. Will they help you focus on your objectives? Probably.


How do Affirmations Work?

As Christians, any kind of spiritual manipulation and any exercise of spiritual power outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ is off limits. If you expect to change reality with your affirmations, you are in error.


Writing an “I will” statement with your name in it is not magic (or at least it shouldn’t be). It will not reorient the universe to fulfill your desire. It will not (or should not) release spiritual power to accomplish your will.


However, there are some things it may do for you.

  1. It may help you focus.

  2. It may reinforce your motivation.

  3. It may get into your subconscious.

  4. It may affect your faith.

  5. It may create an illusion.

Focus

Number 1 should be obvious. Writing out your objective on a piece of paper fifteen times per day will focus you on that objective. What you write down will probably become a higher priority in your life. In addition, affirmations about your attitude could change your perception. Writing an affirmation that you would be happier or more thankful will probably help you focus on those feelings.


Motivation

This blends in with Number 1. A greater focus on your objective will result in greater motivation. The fact that you have repeated this phrase over and over may help you summon your will to do hard things.


Your Subconscious

Number 3 is trickier. I am not a psychologist, and while I do believe in the subconscious mind, how it works is still a mystery. It could be that repeating an affirmation results in some kind of self-hypnosis that “programs” something into your subconscious or into your spirit.

Studies demonstrate that human beings can easily pick their name out of a noisy crowd. This is because our brains are tuned from a young age to respond to our names. It’s possible that using an affirmation with your name in it triggers that part of your brain. When this is repeated over time, it may signal to your brain what is important.


Faith

While I don’t want to get into the controversy over certain faith teaching, what we believe does impact what we say (see Romans 10:9–10, Mark 11:23, Revelation 12:11). In fact, Israel was commanded to keep repeating God’s word to themselves over and over again.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

This was part of God’s formula of success for Israel. However, repeating Scripture to ourselves over and over again is different than personal affirmations. More about this later.


An Illusion

Another possibility is that affirmations themselves do not work at all, but the people who say them do. In other words, the kind of person who will be faithful to write out their objective fifteen times per day is already the kind of person who is highly motivated to succeed. It’s possible that writing affirmations is a result of being highly driven and has no efficacy in and of itself.


Performing affirmations could just make you feel successful or give you an illusion that they are working. Affirmations could do nothing more than give you a Placebo effect. But the Placebo effect is still an effect and a pretty powerful one.


Should Christians Use Affirmations?

The Negative

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to whether Christians should use affirmations. I do think that certain uses of affirmations are clearly wrong. If you believe that affirmations are exerting the law of attraction or are sending signals out to the universe to fulfill your desire, you should stop. If you think affirmations will manipulate God into giving you what you want, you should stop. If you believe in affirmations more than prayer, you should stop. If you are using affirmations to try to fulfill your selfish lusts (James 4:3), you should stop.


As with anything, if your faith is in the method and not in the person of Christ, you should stop. This is my biggest caution. If our faith is in our method or our works, we have strayed.


The Positive

However, if your heart is set towards God and you are using affirmations to help you focus on God’s desire for you or remind you of God’s promises, affirmations (as described in this post) can be righteous.


In praying through this topic, one of the questions I asked was, “What if Abraham had used affirmations when it came to Isaac?” What if he had woken up every day and said, “I, Abraham, will have a son,” fifteen times? I don’t think God would be displeased. I think God would have been pleased that Abraham was reminding Himself of Yahweh’s promises.


An Affirmation Above Reproach

One way to use affirmations that is above reproach is through Scripture memorization. Repeating God’s words and promises to yourself over and over again will no doubt be more effective than any other affirmation. You can personalize the Scriptures and put your name in them. Rather than choosing goals or objectives, choose Scriptures about God’s ways and memorize them. Recite them to yourself over and over. Personalize them in prayer.


One of the most life-changing things I did this year was memorizing Romans 6. I still review it every day, and that means that every day I tell myself, “So you also must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God . . .” Romans 6:11 ESV.


Conclusion

In preparation for this post, I gave affirmations a try. I wanted to pick a “way” rather than a goal and pull from Scripture. I picked Proverbs 22:29 and formed it into an affirmation: “I, J. Ammon, will be diligent in my work.” I typed it into Notepad fifteen times every day, and while I don’t have any objective data, I feel like I have been more focused on my work and more productive since I started my work day with Proverbs 22:29.


Not all kinds of affirmations are right for believers, but I believe that leveraging affirmations into a meditation on Scripture and declarations of faith can be to the glory of God.

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