3 Attitude Triggers

William James, psychologist and philosopher of the 19th century, made a statement that has become a classic. He said,

“The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”

Mr. James was perhaps closer to Scripture than he realized.

Proverbs 23:7  7For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.

Every event triggers an attitude, usually as a reaction. Our attitudes change naturally with what happens in the course of the day.

A repeated event will mean a repeated attitude. Here is where Mr. James’ philosophy applies, that…

human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

I’m thinking here about 3 attitude triggers.

A compliment

A criticism, disappointment or denial

A deep, painful hurt

What attitude does each of these trigger for us? The answer depends on – you guessed it—it depends on US. Isn’t our attitude instinctive, natural? Part of it may be related to our personality, but part may also be the result of training and practice. The point is, WE hold the controls. And, like our quotation,

…Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

Problem is, altering that attitude of mind may not be easy.

It is a matter of cause and effect. The event is the CAUSE, and our attitude is the EFFECT.

WE determine the effect to the extent that we are self-governing human beings.

Here we need to keep asking ourselves: Are our attitudes in line with our goal as Christians? Remember, our goal is being “like Christ.”

1 John 3:3  3And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He [Christ] is pure.

Attitude trigger #1: A compliment

All of us need encouragement. Facing life with only antagonists would be dismal and disheartening if not totally defeating. We need to be able to GIVE a compliment when something is good, and we need also to TAKE a compliment when appropriate. It is part of the progress of skill and character building,

Now ask: What attitude is triggered by the compliment?

There are two opposite possibilities:

Pride and self-satisfaction


Humble gratitude and a desire to improve

The story is told of a young man preaching his first sermon. He had rehearsed it for hours, and when he finally presented it in his church, he did very well.

Immediately after the service, he was greeted by the church’s senior pastor.

“Young Pastor,” said the senior, “you presented yourself very well this morning”—to which the young man replied, “The devil already told me that as I was coming off the platform.”

The young man was presenting himself, not the message.

Did we take a compliment as an ego-booster? It certainly wasn’t meant that way, and if we want to be like Christ, we don’t want to take it that way.

What is the lesson from Scripture?

The Corinthians had complimented themselves! They felt superior in their own right. It came to Paul from the other side – a criticism of him, because they were “above” him.

Brother Paul’s words to the superior-feeling Corinthians are right on the mark.

1 Corinthians 4:7  7For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

So true—what makes any one of us different by nature? Only what we have been GIVEN. We have NOTHING we did not receive! Nothing at all! Even to life itself, and our ability to breath and live and move. We can only work with what God gave us.

What did Paul say to the people in Athens who worshiped many gods? What did He say about the one great, true God?

Acts 17:28  28…in Him we live and move and have our being.

It’s hard to imagine that the Corinthians looked down on one with the spiritual stature of Brother Paul, but they were university graduates! They had status in their world. They had excelled! What did Paul have to compare with them!

See Paul’s attitude. He took the opportunity for self-review, and in the presence of God—where all of us are. Hear his reasoning:

1 Corinthians 4:1–6  1Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Real responsibility here. Christ had appointed Paul to handle the sacred treasure and serve His cause. Paul says, we are serving Christ, and stewards of God’s knowledge. We are handling heavenly treasure that comes from God. It isn’t our property. We are servants and stewards.

2Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

It is the right attitude for all of us all the time. And it is absolutely true. No reason to feel puffed up, but only to be FAITHFUL in what we have been given.

Attitude trigger #2: A failure, denial, or defeat

Who of us hasn’t experienced it. Something we sincerely longed for, prayed for, worked for.

And for whatever reason, the answer was “no.”

Privilege denied.

Project failed.

Case closed.

What attitude does the failure trigger? Again, that depends on us. There are several possibilities:



Anger (blame God)


Resignation and acceptance (Thank God)

Paul, with all his triumphing for Christ, was facing a serious defeat, totally beyond his control, but no less painful.

What did he say about the churches he had labored so hard to save?

Acts 20:29–30  29For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

They would be going astray, it was prophesied. He could not prevent it. It was not his fault.

It had to be hard for Paul to know his best efforts would fail. But it was in God’s hands, and Paul was trusting His work to God.

Isn’t that what we have to do? We may not be able to do what we would like to do. Our health, or our age, or our limitations may prevent us from doing what we so want to do.

It may help us to step aside and look at the big picture. What is our goal? Where is our heart? If it is all taking us toward the Kingdom, can’t we be grateful?

Or think about David. Remember his deep heart’s desire?

David had it in his heart to build a house for the Lord.

2 Samuel 7:1–3  1Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies all around,

2that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains.”

3Then Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

David’s heart was pounding. This was his deep love and longing, to build a house for His God.

But the Lord said “no” to his plans.

At an official meeting David revealed his deep desire. And God’s denial.

1 Chronicles 28:2–3  2Then King David rose to his feet and said, “Hear me, my brethren and my people: I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God, and had made preparations to build it. 3But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.’

Here was a serious attitude trigger.

Again, the options for his attitude could have been the normal human-animal instincts.

Option 1: Get back at the one who thwarted your plans?

Option 2: Sidestep the one who is denying you, and go through with whatever you can control

Option 3: Accept the situation, and trust all to God’s directing

What would it be on David’s side? Was David discouraged, disheartened, and down? No, to David’s eternal credit, he was able to accept God’s “no” and go on with whatever was God’s will.

Can’t we learn a lesson here? Circumstances may prevent our doing what we really want to do. We don’t have the time, or the resources, or the strength to do what we would love to do for the cause of Christ. We can’t even do what we used to do! We can’t share the love of truth that fills our heart as we would like to. We cannot inspire others with the glowing hope that is ours as we would like to. We wish we could.

So did David. But God reads the heart. He saw David’s heart, and credited David’s will for the deed. God saw in David one who was worthy of the eternal crown.

If all that we are doing adds up to Eternity, we have lost nothing!

Attitude trigger #3: A deep, painful hurt

Another experience we have all had. Someone has wronged us, and we are seriously hurt. Worse yet, suppose the hurt comes from someone we love?

What attitude is triggered?

Revenge and Hatred?


Mercy and Forgiveness?

Which do we choose?

Are we able to show mercy and forgive? Can we look at the situation objectively and say, I know they didn’t mean it?

Here was Jesus’ formula for correcting the wrong: His reply to Peter’s question, which always tells us how much Peter was like us.

Matthew 18:21–22  21Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Didn’t that leave Peter thinking awhile? Seventy times seven. Seventy times seven. Must have felt like infinity to Peter!

Now, how about going a step further, and turning this deep, deep hurt into something good?

Yes, God can do it. It has happened before.

Example: Joseph

Think about Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers, who had been so hateful, and so un-brotherly, who had wronged him painfully. As a teen-ager, Joseph surely could not have imagined the end of the story.

Jealousy was at the bottom of the hurt, and what do we know about jealousy?

Song of Solomon 8:6  6…Jealousy [is] as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame.

Again and again Joseph was hurt.

If Joseph had yielded to a natural impulse, if he had let the barbs keep piercing his heart during all those years between being sold into slavery in Egypt and ascending Egypt’s throne, he could have destroyed himself.

But Joseph was able to put it all in God’s hands, both the action of the brothers and the outcome. Isn’t that an example of trust in God?

Now fast forward nearly 20 years.

Recall that last meeting when Joseph finally revealed to them who he was. Look at the attitude that Joseph’s mercy triggered in the brothers. See their response:

Genesis 50:18–21  18Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

Here was an event that changed their attitude toward Joseph, or that at least showed their changed attitude! What did Joseph say? He was humble and forgiving.

19Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

21Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Notice: he was not vindictive or self-seeking. Joseph comforted them and spoke kindly

Joseph, who had been so deeply wronged, was totally forgiving. Hear him saying:

You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

Think about that: “You meant evil against me… God meant it for good.”

The situation will trigger the attitude, but WE choose the attitude.

And remember, we can alter our lives by altering our attitude.