There’s a car in my parking lot with a bumper sticker which reads,
“Feeling lost? Give your heart to God.”
It’s a very encouraging statement, but I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever I see it. Too often I’ve heard Christians use this cliché as an easy escape from difficult questions about life. It’s reached the point where it almost feels like a product from an infomercial.
“Are your finances in trouble? Marriage on the rocks? Is your hairline receding? Well, simply give your heart to God and watch all your worries disappear! Only $29.99 plus shipping and handling.”
Listen, small proverbs can be helpful, but real faith takes more than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Matt Smethurst of The Gospel Coalition agrees, which is why he created a list of five Christian clichés believers should stop using. A few of his top selections (as well as my own) are listed below, starting with…
“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
“I appreciate the heart behind this statement. It’s true, after all, that God can do anything he pleases (Jer. 32:27), that he sometimes redirects our course (Prov. 16:9), and that he never abandons his own (Heb. 13:5). But if God closes a door in your life, there’s no guarantee he’ll open a window. He may not open anything. He may want you to realize you have the wrong address.”
“Scripture is filled with examples of the Spirit closing doors, windows, and any other conceivable entrance to keep one from heading in the wrong direction or at the wrong time (e.g., Prov. 16:9; 19:21; Acts 16:6–7)… Maybe he wants you to re-evaluate in light of affinity, ability, and opportunity—your internal desires, your confirmed giftings, and your actual options.”
“This is your cross to bear.”
I’ve heard Christians quote this proverb whenever someone is trapped in a difficult situation. The problem isn’t that it’s false, but rather misunderstood. When Jesus called his disciples to “take up their cross” in Matthew 16:24-26, he was talking about denying worldly pursuits for the sake of God, not enduring a miserable existence because they had no other choice.
Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of this cliché is how Christians frequently use it to avoid helping their neighbors. We tell ourselves that since it’s “their cross”, the responsibility of the burden is on them alone. We forget, even Jesus had help carrying his cross (Matthew 27:32).
“God will not give you more than you can handle.”
“In a culture that tells us we can be anything we desire, this motivational slogan is meant to encourage, to reassure us that life won’t be too hard. There will be challenges, sure, but God knows my limits. He won’t overdo it. The problem, however, is that God will give you more than you can handle. He’ll do it to make you lean on him. He’ll do it because he loves you.”
“The good news is not that God won’t give us more than we can handle; it’s that he won’t give us more than he can handle.”
“Speak the truth with love.”
Ugh, let’s be honest, this cliché is the worst. It began as an encouraging statement about creating dialogue with non-believers, but over time it’s morphed into a condescending mantra Christians utter just before they say something outlandishly rude. As I’ve written before, actually speaking the truth with love requires patience, understanding, empathy, a close relationship with the person you’re addressing, and preferably a private setting. If none of these are present you’re not speaking the truth with love, you’re just adding to the noise. It’s high time we retire this slogan and stop using it to cover our hastily-typed words on social media.
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“I’m not aware of a statement more commonly misidentified as a Bible verse. And the fact that it originates from Benjamin Franklin—not God’s Word—is the best news you will encounter today. If God only helps those who help themselves, we’re all sunk. But he didn’t come for moral standouts; he came for moral failures (Matt. 9:12–13; Luke 19:10). He came for us.”
“While this slogan may be a fine summary of the teaching of other religions, the entire message of Christianity hinges on the fact that, as Charles Spurgeon once quipped, ‘God helps those who cannot help themselves.’ Indeed, he helps those who humble themselves, who repent and rely on Jesus alone.”
True faith is more complex than some quip on a bumper sticker, and that’s a good thing. The richness of Christ’s love, and the mystery of his works are what give substance to our relationship with him. Take encouragement from the proverbs but always remember, Jesus is greater than we could ever hope to imagine.
*Ryan Duncan is an Editor for Crosswalk.com