Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Redefining attitude

I'm an occasional contributor to the Christian business/marketplace ministry site TheHighCalling.org, but I often forget to highlight my articles because of the time lag between writing and publication. So here's part of an article I wrote on "Redefining Attitude" that was posted a few months ago:

In the business world, "attitude" is a bit of a buzzword. One's mental attitude, whether positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, is said to be a key factor in the success of our work projects and professional relationships. You've seen the motivational posters:

• "A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes."
• "A positive attitude is a powerful force."
• "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."

While all this seems to be helpful, it is not distinctively Christian. In fact, the emphasis on an internal positive attitude can devolve into mere selfism, since it doesn't require dependence on God or others.

On the other hand, at my high school church camp, someone would occasionally yell, "Attitude check!" and all of us would respond, "Praise the Lord!" In the Christian world, it's often assumed that the proper Christian attitude is one of always being happy or joyful in the Lord—sometimes in seeming denial of challenging realities. That view also seems somewhat insufficient. Attitude has to be more than just happy feelings.

Is attitude primarily an issue of one's temperament, personality, emotion, or cognitive thinking? Is it just a mood? Can we cheer up and have a better attitude—or is it something more than that?

. . . Our attitude should be like Christ's, not merely in being mentally humble, but in taking the nature of a servant and being obedient to death (Phil. 2:7-8). It's significant that both the Philippians 2 usage of phroneo and the 1 Peter 4 use of ennoia connect a Christian's attitude with Christ's suffering.

If anything, Scripture's discussion of attitude is less about projecting a positive outlook on life and much more concerned with having a willingness to suffer as Christ suffered. For the Christian, attitude is directly connected with action, especially in taking on service-oriented, sacrificial acts.

As Max De Pree said in Leadership Is an Art, leadership means bearing the pain of the organization. That's a more biblical sense of what it means to have a Christlike attitude. Having a good attitude doesn't mean that we are chipper and happy in the face of adversity. A Christlike attitude means that because Jesus suffered, we too are willing to suffer. We do not avoid pain and difficulty; rather, we resolve to face it and bear it on behalf of others, because we know that it will serve the common good.

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