Trends come and go. And there’s no shortage of them when it comes to talk in the church or conversations among believers.
Whether you’re still talking about the Enneagram and how that was “so 8 of you” or using a buzz phrase your pastor uses at least once in every sermon, it may be time to take a closer look at some favorite “Christian phrases” and ask yourself, “Is this really what I want to communicate to others –believers and unbelievers alike?”
Clarity is key when it comes to communicating to others what it means to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. Whether you’re a pastor, ministry leader, student of the Word, or just a church attendee, let’s communicate carefully by saying what we mean and what is biblical, and leaving the trendy language to die on the trash heap of past Christian fad phrases.
Here are four trendy Christian phrases that often mislead more than help.
1. Make space for God.
In an effort to tiptoe around the feelings of a seeker or pre-believer we might encourage them during a Sunday morning sermon or in a conversation over coffee to “make space for God.” We might also encourage a casual believer to get into God’s Word and spend more time in prayer by telling him or her to “make space for God in the busyness of your life.”
Yet, I’m sure we don’t intend to be encouraging others to carve out just a slice of their lives for Jesus.
God doesn’t want to be just a part of our lives. He demands and deserves to be your whole life. In Colossians 3:4, Paul refers to Jesus as “Christ, who is our life.” Jesus is to be our everything, not just someone for whom we are to make a little space and time.
In Acts 17:28 Paul told the men of Athens, “in Him we live and move and exist” (NASB). Paul was saying that for true believers, Jesus is the very air we breathe, our daily bread, our reason for existence. To merely “make space for God” doesn’t cut it. We are to clear ourselves out of the picture and let Him take up chief residence in our lives. Paul described in Galatians 2:20 what that kind of living (or rather, dying) looks like: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Paul didn’t say, “I have made space for God” as if clearing out a corner of our hearts was enough. God wants the whole enchilada. Instead of encouraging others to make space for God or save some bandwidth for Him, remember He’s the One who gives you life, breath, and bandwidth in the first place. That’s not a God for whom we just “make space.” That’s a God to whom we fully surrender.
2. Lean into Jesus.
Although years ago we sang of “leaning on the everlasting arms,” I can’t help but think the “leaning” we’ve been talking about lately implies much more hesitancy and much less trust. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard pastors exhort their congregations to “lean in” to God. As a writing coach, I can’t tell you how often writers repeat this phrase because they’ve heard it so often, themselves. And as a reader and follower of Christ, I’ve read it countless times in articles, blogs, and books of late.
“Just lean into God and listen to what He has to say.”
“Lean, Listen, and Learn.”
“Lean into Jesus, He’ll lean into you.”
But think about what you are saying or reading or accepting. If this kind of talk is so we can be sensitive to the unbeliever or young believer who isn’t quite sure about God and therefore is still keeping Him at a distance, then encouraging someone to lean in might be helping them make some progress. After all, when you lean into someone you are not giving them a full hug, you’re just letting them do the hugging, or allowing them to put their arm around one of your shoulders. You’re helping them approach cautiously. Let’s face it – a lean is noncommittal. Leaning implies some hesitation when there isn’t yet complete trust. When there’s something that has piqued our interest, we may want to lean in and learn a little more before we commit.
But ultimately, no matter where we are in our faith walk, does God want us to lean into or toward Him? No! He wants us to throw ourselves upon Him in full dependence, complete abandon, and absolute trust. He wants us to embrace Him. He wants you to grab onto Him and never let Him go. Jeremiah 29:13 says: “And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Notice the text doesn’t say “And you will bump into me when you merely start to lean a little.”
If you’re wanting to grow in your relationship with God, I suggest you stop thinking about leaning into Him and start full-on embracing Him. There’s no hesitancy or gradually warming up when it comes to you and God. He didn’t just lean into You. He died for you. What if we started replacing the word “lean” with the word “depend”? Instead of encouraging your friend to “lean on Jesus” urge him or her to “Let Him carry you.” Jesus is fully invested in us. It’s time we be much more invested in Him.
Can you do a little more than just lean into Him? And if you’re talking to a seasoned believer, start talking about jumping in or better yet, going all-in. But leave the leaning to the hesitant and non-committed.
3. Love yourself.
I know I’m going to step on some toes here because I’m talking about our favorite person: ourselves. However, the phrase “love yourself” is not biblical. It’s a phrase that secular culture came up with that sounds kind and supportive, but what would actually be more loving, kind, and supportive is the phrase “love others” as Scripture teaches. Clearly to love God first, others second, and self last is to experience joy.
In Matthew 22, Jesus reiterated the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (verse 37). And then He told us the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39). But that did not equate to a command to love ourselves. It was a command to love others at least as much as we already love ourselves because it is natural, in our flesh, to love ourselves more than anything else. (In Ephesians 5:29, when Paul instructed husbands to love their bodies as they love themselves he wrote, “for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.) In addition, Jesus went a bit further. He knew we would be able to love ourselves far better than we would be able to love others and thus He taught His followers the very unpopular message: Die to yourself. (That’s another way of saying love God first, others second, self last.)
Now, lest you think I am encouraging self-hate or self-loathing (and the destructive things people do as a result of that distorted mindset), let me clarify that self-love is not the same as self-care or self-respect. Scripture says when we become God’s adopted children by His grace (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 2:8-9), our bodies become God’s temple, and therefore we are to be kind and loving toward our fleshly dwelling place of God because we have been bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
If you’ve been physically, verbally, or emotionally abused and hate yourself, that is an unhealthy behavior and mindset that resulted from others’ sin and your brokenness. Anytime we have self-destructive thoughts or feelings of murder toward ourselves, we need to get ourselves (and Satan’s thoughts) out of the picture and focus on the God who uniquely created us in His image. He says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and God loved us enough to die for us, so we can see our worth in His eyes. That is the only kind of self-love that is biblical. God has called you and me His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10 NLT), and therefore we have worth to Him. But if we leave God out of the equation and simply talk to believers – or unbelievers – about loving ourselves, apart from the redemption of Christ, we have missed the gospel message and the reason we can love anything or anyone at all.
Love yourself? No. Love Jesus, and let HIM love you. That is the key to understanding a healthy view of self-love and self-worth. We are to care for ourselves and treat our bodies well. But we are not to prefer ourselves. There is a world of difference.
4. Let’s dive deep.
It is absolutely biblical to desire the depths or meat of scripture. In fact, I love it when pastors or other believers say, “Let’s dive deep into the Scriptures.” The disappointment is when they don’t go deep at all, they just cover the basics for someone who may have never heard it before. One person’s idea of “deep” may be another person’s shallows.
I think it’s safe to say most believers (or most church congregations?) in this country are still treading water when it comes to the depths of God’s Word. They’ve got to be able to wade in the water before going in knee-deep to swim and then over their heads to experience what would be considered “the depths.” As Scripture teaches, they’ve got to be able to digest milk, before graduating to chewing meat (Hebrews 5:12-14).
First Peter 2:2 says we should, as infants, desire the pure milk of the word (the shallows). We should eventually be able to handle the meat of scripture which is more akin to swimming. But to “dive deep” is to get so in over your head that it’s at times dangerous – your core thinking will be challenged, your mind may be renewed, and your long-held Sunday school beliefs could be challenged. You will have to grapple with the truths and mysteries of the Word as opposed to what your flesh may want to settle with. It’s a worthy, wondrous goal and something we should all strive for. And it should absolutely be encouraged of other believers. But don’t use the term so much that you make the average believer (or unbeliever sitting in your seeker-friendly church service) believe they are going “deep” when you simply gave them a Greek definition or used a commentary to exposit a couple verses of Scripture.
There’s no “diving deep” in a story or sermon with three application points that rhyme. In fact, you’ve seen the sign posted many times near swimming pools: “Shallow Water. No Diving.” That needs to be considered when telling your friend, your readers, or your congregation that you are going to help them “dive deep” or “go deeper” into the Word. Since most churches are still wading in the shallow water (especially if you cater to an unbelieving, seeker, or baby Christian crowd), let them learn to swim and become comfortable in the water before you give them diving lessons or, worse yet, push them off the diving board into the deep end of the pool, if it is, in fact, truly deep in those waters you’re giving them.