Over the years, certain “stock phrases” have been repeated enough to become cliches. I call them “fast food phrases.” Many Christians have a reputation for being intellectual lightweights, content to indulge in catchy little ditties without digging into real conversation. No one is immune: but it is helpful to try to ferret out what we really should be saying when we use them. Take a look at a few below.
“I’m praying about it”
We use this when a need comes up – whether to take that job offer, where we should move – or sometimes (!), even what kind of car to buy.
A pastor once said we often don’t mean that we’re actually seeking God when we say this, we’re just worrying; a more truthful expression therefore might be, “Yeah, I’ve got this job offer, and I don’t know…I’m worrying about it.” A lot of times the closest we get to actually praying for something is to throw a sentence or two to God now and then like coins into the basket at a freeway tollbooth.
The origins of “pray” denote a “petition” of someone: In the literature of Shakespeare’s time, you’ll see “I pray thee,” sometimes shortened to “Prithee.” It’s an earnest asking for help or relief. Jesus famously taught us how to pray and with what attitude. But He and His disciples also admonished us to pray all the time.
But worrying is not the same thing as praying, as Paul made clear: “Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer…let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is an attitude and lifestyle, but too often we make it into just a thing on a list, and that’s where the glibness comes in.
“He has a plan for you”
In the movie “Runaway Jury,” a Christian juror tells her fellow jurors, “We don’t always know God’s plan.” Here, the cliched nature of the phrase seemed especially highlighted.
A new life was breathed into this phrase when someone “discovered” Jeremiah 29:11, thereafter transforming Christian refrigerators across the country: “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope [NASB].”
What makes this verse so magnet-worthy? Perhaps the wording and cadence, but to avoid the gratuitous glibness, let’s understand the context. In Jeremiah 29 God tells Israel through the prophet Jeremiah that, although they are in captivity in Babylon, He “has plans” to bring them back home to their land. This is also thought to be an allegory of Christ’s death on the cross promising a “restoration” of us back to God from sin’s captivity. Of particular note, a few verses earlier God tells Israel, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Sadly, we Christians have twisted this verse to say something like, “Hey kids! We’re going to Disneyland!”, conveying the idea that God has some sort of magical Candyland out there waiting for us, just because. (At the same time, however, we’re taking every opportunity to curse those in power we disagree with instead of seeking their welfare.)
If we’re to believe the context and interpretations above, God already fulfilled both “plans” by bringing Israel back home and by Christ’s appearance. If we’re looking for promises of blessing, a more poignant place might be Deuteronomy 7, where God details the promises for Israel if they obey Him and the curses for them if they don’t. God does have plans for His people – if they do His will and follow Him. He can’t show us His plan if we’re ignoring Him.
“Everything happens for a reason”
This is a popular culture version of Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It is also repeated by both Christians and non-Christians.
The intended effect of this phrase is to deaden the emotional pain of something unexpected that happened or something bad that we did. And sometimes it works: the non-Christian is led to believe that a cosmic Santa Claus is rearranging world events through their pain just so they can come out the other side feeling better.
Unfortunately for them, that couldn’t be further from the truth. God’s first order of business is that the non-Christian believe the Gospel. He doesn’t have an underlying plan to create comfortable lives for those who don’t accept Christ.
We believers tend to use it similarly, to either avoid the harsh reality that bad things happen to good people or to deflect responsibility away from ourselves for something we did.
The latter reaction is tough: Regret can inflict long-term damage. But that’s why Romans 8:28, when used properly, can be such a powerful comfort. For whom does all things work together? Those who “love God” and “the called” are clearly defined; if we are part of this crowd, all of the power and truth of this verse is ours. That’s a far cry from flippantly saying, “Oh well – everything happens for a reason” without truly acknowledging what happened, our role in it, and how we should act going forward.
Fun, Joyful, Positive – And Sober
Paul tells Christians to be sober – but that doesn’t mean “sour.” We should be blessed with joy and a positive demeanor, but yet anchored in a clear vision of why we’re here and where we’re headed. So anchored, if we say we’ll pray, let’s Pray; if we say our God has a plan, let’s actively Seek our role in it; and if we truly believe “all things work together,” then let’s really Love God and act like we’re Called according to His Purpose.
Categories: Living Christianically