Man, there are just times in life when I read a Christian cliché and I’ll just sit there and think, “We actually feed ourselves this?” I read one today and it just made me angry: God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. Oh really? Does He? Because I am pretty sure that His strongest soldiers are pretty useless on their own. Was David really that good with a slingshot to kill a dang giant? Were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego born with a genetic mutation that made them flame retardant? Oh and I am sure that Daniel used mind tricks and a weird combination of judo and karate to keep the lions at bay. See the problem with many clichés and summaries of Bible verses and passages is that they miss a large portion of a verse’s meaning and the full glory of God’s Word. They can dilute the message in an attempt to simplify it. We try to cram the grandeur and splendor of God into nine words or less, and that isn’t good.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about those who are preaching and/or have the spiritual gift of discernment. There are people whom God has given the gift of interpreting His word so that others may understand it more clearly, and that is absolutely needed. It is ordained by God. What I do struggle with is when we live by the sayings that can be found in the dorm decoration department at a store instead of the word of God. Sure the quote could be super cute and inspirational. Maybe it has an awesome design and applies to life at the moment. But will it apply in 10 years? And if it does how true will it still be? Chances are the answers to those questions won’t be positive.
Condensing the Bible and the concepts of its verses short changes the power and glory of God. Take the quote I used in the beginning: God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers. While the intent of the quote might be based on (a heavily misinterpreted reading of) 1 Corinthians 10:13, it misses a key concept. The problem with the cliché is about the strength of us, the soldiers. If it were up to our own strength we would surely fail. We alone cannot conquer sin and death. Only Jesus can and did through His death and resurrection. So these so called “strongest soldiers” would fail in the first battle. The cliché itself lends nothing to the strength of God. Instead it seems as though because we are tough God gives us these tough times or seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
Now if we turn to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we can see the Glory of God and the true meaning of strength during a struggle. Paul talks about asking God (three times) to take away this spiritual thorn that bothers Him. Yet the Lord says no. He responds saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)” Well seems we have a choice. Are we going to think of ourselves as strong soldiers able to stand on our own, or as soldiers with weaknesses and shortcomings in need of the strength of God? We find Paul’s choice in verses 9b-10, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
That is a truth that we need to hang on our walls, share on our pages, and tell people who are struggling through tough times. This full and true version of the power of God glorifies Him when we face trials and overcome them through His strength. We no longer need to be tough soldiers who can weather every storm because we are somehow strong. Instead, we can boast in our own weakness and acknowledge that we don’t know what is going on. We can face the reality that life sucks and will kick us in the mouth no matter how much we try and do the right thing. Heck, we might not have a clue what to do or maybe even what to pray for. Life isn’t abridged or shortened or simplified for anyone. So why should we abridge, shorten, and over simplify the teachings of God? Life is full of times that just really, really suck. The Bible is full of promises and protections that are really, really awesome, written by a God who is really, really faithful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to sacrifice the power of God and His promises just so that His teaching can be simple and I can use it as a caption on Instagram. See, when we don’t try to abridge the Bible, the full glory of God shines and He receives the praise and honor. We are then unable to unravel the mysteries, promises, blessings, teachings, and overall magnificence of God.
In 2 Corinthians Paul chooses humility. That’s the honest to goodness truth. Pride wants to say that we are strong and that we can conquer anything. But it takes humility and faith to acknowledge our deep imperfections and failings so that we can allow God to work and to be our strength. Yet we can only know His strength if we read about it, experience it, and truly rely on it. That requires a relationship. Relationships require time and effort. Time and effort make up a commitment. Commitments are not short and are not done with brevity. Clichés are all about brevity.
Often, in times of trouble we turn to the Lord for a quick fix. Maybe read a few verses thinking that they will rock our world, change our lives, and ultimately change us and our situation for the better. Clichés aid with this. They let us escape the true nature of God and put Him where we need Him when we need Him by turning His word into a catchphrase. God desires a relationship. He has laid out verse after verse after verse describing His love for us and his desire for us to love Him and follow Him. His deep love and promises cannot be summarized in quick one liners. The glory of God and His promises do not need to be changed or altered in any way to suddenly make an impact on our life. He wrote them in a certain way, so that they would connect and the lessons and covenants would be unfolded as he designed, so that He might receive the glory and we might fully experience the goodness of His love, mercy, and grace. Our condensing of The Word does not serve His purpose it serves ours: to circumvent what is required to fully understand Him, a relationship and the time it takes.
When we are able to step away from clichés in our walk, it forces us to do two things. First, we actually have to spend time in the word and dig deeper. We find what God really has to say about struggles, successes, dealing with people, and other life conundrums. I mean not all of the answers will be spelled out in a step by step process, but as we read He will reveal Himself to us (Jeremiah 29:13, James 4:8). When we better know what He says, we can have a better understanding of who He is and so be better equipped to discern His will. Then we can actually do His will and give Him the glory.
Second, stepping away from clichés forces us to be intentional when talking with people, believers or not. We can no longer brush over a life struggle or question about God with a generic answer. When someone comes to us seeking help with anything from addiction to doubting God, we are forced to either recall what God has taught us via scripture, or dig to see what He says. Again, a generic answer will no longer work. What will work is a faith that is bold and rooted in truth, God’s whole truth.
In closing I want you to think about this. Think about the last time you tried to describe your favorite movie to someone. How did that go? Were you able to condense a 2, maybe 3, hour movie into a 60 second summary? If so did the person you described it to suddenly just fall in love with the movie just like you? Did your 60 seconds of stumbling over words and trying to describe the plot twist do the movie justice? Now try and put that amazing movie into nine words or less. If an abridged version cannot do a movie justice, then it certainly cannot do the Bible justice.