I'm sorry to report that during grade school, my quarterly report card often had a note to the effect that I was not working up to my full potential. I don't know if you ever had such a comment on your report card, but I must say that this kind of comment is not pleasing to parents.
In my case, it overshadowed anything else on that card that would otherwise have elicited smiles and a happy celebration at dinner that night. I once tried explaining to my parents that if my teacher had written that I was working at my full potential, they would have been insulted by that insinuation. As I said, I tried that once.
This idea of optimizing our potential has become quite an industry today. I think an awful lot of people must have had the same kind of comments on their report cards that I had on mine. If you've ever tried to catch the news on TV early on a Saturday morning, you've probably found yourself stuck in "infomercial land." Seemingly on every channel someone is trying to sell you a faster way to slice vegetables or to maximize your potential. All for six easy payments.
We can speak lightly of these things. But there is an underlying fact that can't be ignored. This enormous supply of books and tapes and seminars designed to help people fulfill their potential exists because a lot of people are feeling insecure or unable to do all that is expected of them. A more positive outlook or a better organized day—which these things promised to supply—would clearly be a help to many people. But for others the need goes deeper.
One difficulty in meeting this need through what is called positive thinking is that it can succumb to negative thinking. We admire the story of the train that makes its way up the hill, repeating over and over again, "I think I can, I think I can." But if it's one of those days when you're overwhelmed with the thought, "I'll never be able to do it," you'll be mentally stuck in the station all day.
There is a big difference between the human will that says, "I will do it," and the spiritual sense that knows all things are possible with God's help.
This is one of the things that makes Jesus' purely Christian approach so startling. It doesn't depend on "positive thinking."
In describing what he did, and teaching how anyone can follow his example, Jesus explained that he was not self-dependent, but totally reliant on God, the source and foundation of his life and work.
He said, "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgement is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). Later he pushed this point further, ". . . the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John 14:10). The eternal Christ, Jesus' divine nature, made him fully conscious of his God-given and God-directed ability.
Jesus was motivated by God, empowered by God, animated by God. He demonstrated an absolute oneness with his Father.
Because of this conscious sense of oneness with God, he was enabled to fulfill his mission. God's great gift to humanity is Christ Jesus' example, which teaches all of us how to claim this oneness with divinity for ourselves. The spiritual fact of our oneness with God opens the door to real happiness, because it frees us from limitations and uncertainties.
If we can rely only on our aptitude or IQ, our human will or salesmanship, our education or social status, we'll never feel we have fulfilled our potential, because none of these things give us the tools that are needed to do so. Jesus showed us the way. A life that is conscious of God as being with us is a life that succeeds.
Centuries before Jesus' ministry, Moses had learned this lesson from God. Brought up in Pharaoh's court, he had been given the advantages of a life of privilege, and the status and authority that go with it. Yet later, when he was commissioned by God to go to Pharaoh to liberate the children of Israel from slavery, Moses was filled with self-doubt. He was not of the "I think I can" school, but of the "I know I can't." He had no sense of his potential. But the divine Mind that inspired Jesus was the same Mind that awakened Moses to his God-given abilities.
The Bible reports: "And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? . . . Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say" (Ex. 4:10-12). Moses relied on God, and in so doing, he was able to discover his God-given ability. Relying on God, he was well able to fulfill his potential.
Human doubt and fear afflict many people. They are the seed ground for insecurity. When these feelings rule in our hearts, we are unlikely to do well. We don't even try to do all we can. We defeat ourselves even before we start to do anything.
This mental poison can be easily neutralized and destroyed. The Apostle Paul made a brief comment that is filled with spiritual power. He declared, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). This truth gives everyone all that is needed to fulfill one's potential. It gives us certainty instead of uncertainty, courage instead of fear, because we have learned that God, infinite good, supplies all that we need. There is a big difference between the human will that says, "I will do it," and the spiritual sense that knows all things are possible with God's help. The human ego, like a balloon, can be punctured. But the divine Mind is unassailable.
The strength that comes to us from Christ is the realization that the divine Mind is our Mind. God, divine Mind, is ever-active, all-wise, all-powerful, unlimited good. This spiritual intelligence is reflected by man. When we are awake to this truth, we are responsive to God's leading, to Mind's provision, just as Moses was and as Jesus' disciples were.
Sometimes it's not insecurity but circumstances that appear to prevent us from fulfilling our potential. Competition, lack of opportunity, misunderstandings, injustice, or prejudice can appear to block our progress. There is an important truth that enables us to overcome this as well: none of these things can block our way if we refuse to give our consent.
Again, we have Jesus' example. So many forces conspired to bring his life and mission to an end. But his work was not lost. His promise to mankind was fulfilled. His example continues to live and inspire and help us today. If we accept the notion that some circumstance can block our God-given purpose, we'll suffer from believing that. But when we get on the other side of the equation and realize that because God is omnipotent, nothing exists that could thwart the will of God, then we'll be immune to the evils that would try to block our way.
In a pamphlet called No and Yes, Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Jesus rendered null and void whatever is unlike God: but he could not have done this if error and sin existed in the Mind of God. What God knows, He also predestinates; and it must be fulfilled" (p. 37). All good is possible and remains possible when we rely on divine Mind. The growing sense of God with us removes all obstacles and reveals the evidence of God's goodness embracing our lives and the lives of all mankind.
We all have a God-governed and God-animated life. This knowledge allows us to join in with Paul, and declare, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." When we understand this point, we have moved way beyond potential, to fulfillment.
(Richard Bergenheim is a contributing editor.)