There was a season back in high school when I thought it was clever/evangelistic of me to sport bracelets with Christian sayings on them. I had two in particular. One, of course, was your classic run-of-the-mill W.W.J.D bracelet. If I can recall correctly it was rainbow colored. The other read my favorite go-to phrase of the early 2000’s in bright neon pink: “Let go and let God”.
If we were friends, chances are I repeated those words to you during (all) your times of need. Boyfriend broke up with you? Just let him go and let God. Failed your math test? Let it go and let God. Got grounded for breaking curfew? Let this go and let God. Obviously, I had no idea I was talking about.
Thinking of those bracelets, I wonder just how many sayings I have said in my life that I never fully understood. How many times has my advice to others (or myself) been unwise because I chose weak clichés over strong theology?
Although there are dozens to choose from, today I want to share three Christian(y) phrases I believe we should all put to rest. All three I have said numerous times myself, and all three, I fear, may not be as Biblical as I once believed.
“God helps those who help themselves.”
A few months back I heard a man on a short-term mission trip say this during his Sunday morning sermon in the Haitian church we attend. In effort to encourage the people of the church to work hard, he in essence told them that if they wanted God’s assistance in their life they must first put forth their own effort.
As I listened to him I couldn’t help but to glance over at my own three children. As their parent would I ever say this to them? I will only help you through life if you first try to help yourself. No way! They wouldn’t survive a day! Not to mention that would make me a horrible, neglectful parent. With God as our Father, I don’t believe he says this to us either.
And turns out he doesn’t. Nowhere in the Bible are these words found. Some say the thought originated from Aesop’s Fable while others say Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase. Either way, it didn’t come from the Bible. And I am so thankful. Thankful to serve a God who helps me even though I am completely helpless on my best day. Thankful he doesn’t choose to help me only when I have earned it.
More than anything, I dislike this saying because it implies that us humans must first try to take matters into our own hands before turning to God. Instead, Christians should seek God’s help long before we try to help ourselves.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
This one is tricky, because scientifically speaking everything does happen for a reason. Just this week I was teaching my children how to find cause and effect within a story. But as Christians, this isn’t always what we mean when we say this to others.
Rather, everything happens for a reason is most often used to validate events in our life, specifically difficult ones. And while this may sound encouraging, we must be also remember who God is. God is Love. He cannot lie. He is Truth. Although nothing happens under the sun without his knowing, God does not cause people to sin. He does not lead people astray. He does not cause acts of hatred.
Everything happens for a reason, yes. But not everything happens because God willed it to happen. God does not will spouses to have affairs, families to break, people to hate and murder one another. These things happen everyday, but their reasons stem from sin not God.
Christians, however, can be hopeful. Although bad things will happen to us in this world, Romans 8:12 assures us that God can create good in all things for those who love him. As God’s children, this should be our comfort.
Let go and let God
Let’s end where we started, shall we? My beloved high school bracelet- where are you now?
Here’s the deal, this one really isn’t so bad if you use it correctly. Just last week I was speaking with a friend about a situation far beyond my control and I literally almost muttered these five words. Sometimes in life, you have to surrender. Surrender control. Surrender fear. Surrender your family and your friends. We surrender and place our confidence in God’s power and provision. We let go and let God.
The problem with this saying is that it is often used as a cop-out for taking responsibility. We say it and then excuse ourselves from action. We let go when perhaps we were supposed to actually do something, learn something, move in some way. Instead of let go and let God I challenge us to let God lead. Give him the situation from the get-go. Then let him determine if and when you should let it go.
Sayings like these aren’t inherently bad, and most often they are said with love and encouragement. But as bearers of truth we must make sure our speech, even down to simply clichés such as these, are based in truth as well. What about you? Can you think of any other cliché phrases Christians often say but aren’t necessarily Biblical? What other sayings should we finally put to rest?