Can clichés, folk wisdom and the like, when stated as if Scriptural, hinder the work of God’s Spirit in Christ’s body?
Let me give an example and then let me share what I believe Jesus would have me think on the particular example I’ve used, as well as on the subject of clichés and their counterparts.
While at one of our former congregations, before praying for the contribution, the gentleman attending made a confession after much contemplation.
It went something like this, “Recently I realized that my prayers had been more about me. I decided I would start praying more for other people.” While not apologizing for praying for himself, he decided to be more mindful of others.
Shortly thereafter I heard a range of comments in classes centered around the idea that praying for ourselves is selfish. I am not certain if these thoughts morphed from the contribution devo, but the addressing of “selfish” prayers seemed to me more than coincidence.
Meanwhile, in my own spiritual walk, my prayers included praying for myself more than usual. I believe I know where Scripture stands on the subject as far as I can tell, so I was believing what I was reading*.
But I wondered if anyone within earshot of hearing the cliché, “praying for ourselves is selfish” might have been discouraged to pray for themselves if the Holy Spirit had been leading them to do so, being unsure of what God’s Word was truly saying on the matter.
I have observed in my own life that human reasoning has a way of doing battle with God’s Spirit when one is so close to growing more in Christ. We sadly are the loser when we push God’s deep movement in our souls away with a simple man-made idea and then seek to drape it in holy terms, thus discouraging ourselves and others.
So is it selfish to pray for ourselves?
Maybe the better questions would be: What does a disciple’s circle of influence miss out on when a believer does not pray humbly on their own behalf?
What happens when one asks God for strength to remain faithful in trial or navigate life wisdom, the aim being to please God?
I can think of many people who benefit when I pray for myself: My husband, parents, natural and church family, and employers. They get a better wife, child, sibling and employee.
Here’s what I think about clichés and the like. To know if we are understanding God’s ways, we need to paraphrase what we believe God’s Spirit is working out in us. Ideas, clarifications and concepts built upon God’s Word are necessary for learning. But ideas built on other ideas can eventually crystallize into clichés. If not attended to, clichés can become wedges into our personal growth and the growth and unity of God’s body.
I am doing my best today as a disciple to seek unity with what I know so far about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What do they say about the ideas I hear all around me? Conversely, do I hear God’s responses as his Holy Spirit moves in my life and trust that Christ is completing before the Father that which I cannot perfectly explain? Do I keep the door open for more learning?
I truly believe that unity in the body of Christ is an outgrowth of my first seeking unity with the Trinity.
In summation regarding those deep prayers for myself, God was faithful. I graduated into a different season after that one, thanks to God. He helped me navigate some trials in a way I could not have done on my own. The book of James says to ask for God’s wisdom if we don’t have it, and God will give it without reproaching the petitioner.**
Just wondering what other clichés need the gentle touch of the Master that God’s Spirit not get mixed up with our wisdom.
*Hebrews 13:8, Matthew 7:7, 8 & 11