We all have certain sayings that we regularly use. In my house, we often remind the kids, “You’ll get what you get and you won’t get upset,” particularly when it’s time for a snack. Another favorite: “We’re gonna have fun whether we like it or not.”
These are well and good, at least to a point—that is, only in as much as we ascribe no more value to them than their due. Christians are no different; we have short hand phrases that are sometimes helpful, but often not. In fact, many we treat as downright biblical, when they’re more likely to be found in 2 Hesitations. Here are five that I’d love to see never ever used again:
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.“ I’m pretty sure Paul, Peter, the rest of the apostles, all the prophets, and Jesus would disagree on this. Although Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is kind, the Christian life is most definitely not. Paul described himself and his co-laborers as “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). “Beyond our strength,” incidentally, means it was more than he could handle. But the purpose was to cause them to “rely not on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). Jesus described Paul as one who would suffer greatly for the sake of the gospel. Jesus in taking our sin upon himself most definitely carried a burden so great his sweat looked as though it were drops of blood and he pleaded for the burden to be lifted by the Father, were it his will to do so. Instead the Father sent an angel to strengthen him (Luke 22:43). (This is a subject I dealt with in greater detail in this article which appears in my eBook, Everyday Theology).
“Let’s pray for a hedge of protection.” I’ll be honest, I’m not even sure what this means. I get the reference—but the first place you see this language used in the Bible is in Job. However, there, it’s Satan accusing God of not playing fair with Job, that the only reason Job doesn’t blaspheme him is because God has placed a “hedge around him” (Job 1:10). We do find a few other examples as well, but only a couple have a protective connotation (notably Isaiah 5:5 and Hosea 2:6). A later example in Job (3:23) suggests one having his path obscured. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to pray for such a thing, but the biblical evidence is slim.
“God helps those who help themselves.“ To be clear: God does not reward slothfulness, apathy, or laziness in any way, shape or form. We also can see that faithful people are full of ingenuity and a sort of godly ambition that God blesses. But, the Bible has nothing close to this sort of admonishment, which finds its origins in Aesop’s fables (and was later popularized by Benjamin Franklin). Instead of encouraging us to pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps (which I addressed it in this article some years ago), we are to remember that even as we work, God is working in us (Philippians 2:13).
“Let go and let God.” As you can guess, this one is related to the one I just mentioned. The Keswickian notion that if you just surrender and have faith and if you’re struggling just surrender harder is, well, kind of silly (to say nothing of how it leads to classism among Christians). No matter how hard you look, you’re not going to find anything in the Bible that confirms it. Instead, you’re going to be told constantly to strive, do, go forth, fight, and so on. God commands an active faith, not passivity. So stop saying this! (And for those interested, Andrew Naselli’s got a tome analyzing Keswick theology in great detail. If you’re a Logos user, it’s worth checking out.)
“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” This is a weird one that I’ve never quite understood. The whole “open door” theology thing has always seemed strange to me, though. I can’t find anything that would give any sort of credence to this notion in the Bible. At all. (The only thing we have that’s close is the admonition that God never leaves us without escape from temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13.) Further, it seems that not every door that is open to us is one we should actually go through. Sometimes opportunities are presented as choices for us to say no to. But maybe I just don’t have enough faith…
There are, no doubt, more that could be added to this list. But for now, maybe it’s enough for us to commit to thinking carefully and biblically about the things we say and how much weight we give those sayings. But just a warning: If we do this, we might find we probably shouldn’t say some of them at all. And may God be glorified because of it.