Recently, one of my girlfriends and I headed out to a local Chinese buffet. The food was great, and the fellowship was even more so, and our conversations flowed easily as we updated each other on what was going on in our lives, and what we have been learning about Christ lately. At the end of our meal, we were given two fortune cookies, and we both excitedly grabbed the little strips of paper in between and found joy in sharing these little tidbits of wise sayings and clichés. Recently, I was thinking to myself about how convenient it would be to just have a bunch of these phrases on hand to dish out when a friend needs encouragement. This leads me to think that in our Christian life, whether we interact around our Christian or non-Christian friends, we feel a need to always have something perfect to say. There seems to be a pressure to have a piece of advice to offer, a reason to a trial, or a tiny package of hope to give out to somebody who is struggling to hold on to faith. Despite our intentions, there are a lot of times when our generalized clichés and Christian-isms aren’t useful to provide Biblical encouragement.
Here are two Christian clichés to use sparingly:
1) The Lord won’t give you more than you can handle.
Our God is a sovereign God, and His ways are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). There will be times when we and/or our friends will go through trials and one of the ways we try to encourage them to persist through it is to say that our God doesn’t give us more than what we can handle. The truth is there are a lot of things in this life – sickness, conflict and broken relationships, death, losing possessions or jobs – that are really hard to handle and exceed our human capacity. This world is marred by sin, and the consequences of sin are everywhere and felt by everyone, but the hope in this is Jesus! Jesus is present in every part of the Bible and if you are a fellow Christian, Christ is with you every day, especially through the trials in order that our faith may grow day by day by His sanctifying grace.
2) When God closes a door, He opens a window.
While researching this article, I pondered over where the clichés may have come from, and a lot of them may have come from some quoting of the Scripture, albeit have gotten watered down through the years. With this one, it’s a little difficult to place, as to I know it’s not from the Bible. It can be misquoted from a well known person (Google searches revealed Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell and so on), but growing up I remember hearing a song that went on something similar. I am also reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” It’s a bit of a far shot, but God does provide closed doors for our protection and also ways out of temptation. However, this cliché is problematic because it misrepresents the character of God as a God who is constantly seeking His chosen, disciplining His people and a God who has perfect wisdom and a perfect plan that He put into place. “When God closes a door, He opens a window” is a piece of worldly wisdom that we’ve passed on, but the Bible speaks so much of God – who He is and what He has done, is doing and will be doing through the years.
There are definitely more expressions we’ve heard through the years and there will be on this topic in the coming blog posts. I’ve been guilty of resulting to a sort of fortune cookie mentality when it comes to Biblical encouragement, and have been guilty of saying these two and more on definitely more than one occasion. Biblical encouragement is a hard discipline – to look for and also give to others. The hope I find is in these two verses: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness,” (Hebrews 3:13) and “There encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (Thessalonians 5:11). The best tool we have in encouragement is God’s word – The Bible and 2 Timothy 3:16 speaks well of this, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
I wanted to ask you, readers, What clichés have you heard through the years? What have you been guilty of saying often? Do you find Biblical encouragement easy or hard? Comment below. =)
Soli Dei Gratia,