Can I Get an Amen?!

Oct 18, 2021

Words matter.

To quote the infamous Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ‘Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” This summer, if I send a text to my family, “Backyard glowing with lightning,” I’d better clarify if this is the kind with or without wings. I prefer the former.

Even humdrum words, the kind which the tongue happily spits out, hoping ones with sumptuous syllables will follow, transform into sit-up-and-chew-slowly directives when baked into legal documents. “Must” is most definitely not synonymous with “may” in a contract. “Arrival time of 9:00 AM” may find you clinking coffee cups if you show up at 9:10 at a breakfast meet-up with a friend or earn you clean-out-your-desk orders if you arrive at 9:05 to a business training. Context matters; as does the audience.

Phrases, like hammers, can drive a point home or smack someone soundly.

When God decided to halt construction on the Great Tower of Babel, he didn’t send lightning strikes, employ earthquakes, or summon a horde of locusts. He opted for syllables and sounds. Or, in fancier terms, morphology and phonology. Language unites and divides. Clarifies and confounds. Eases and stresses. Therefore, we need to be savvy as Christians about our words. Here are three statements we need to revise.

1. God wants to use you.

Okay, I get it. I understand the meaning -- because I’ve grown up hearing (and yes, using) Christian lingo. But put this is any other relational context, and well, it just sounds creepy. If not repulsive. God’s not interested in taking advantage of people, getting from them what he wants and then tossing them overboard or spiritually “ghosting” them. He desires we have a right relationship with him, and he’s invited us to partner with him in bringing “Good news of great joy” to a world desperate for it. God wants to “give you a purpose” of eternal significance – yes! “Use you,” – no!

2. God has a plan for your life.

Again, I get what’s meant. Again, I advocate for a change in nouns. “God has a purpose for your life.”

One little term. Big and numerous differences.

When people envision God with a “plan” for every person on the planet, it conjures up images of warehouses stacked with boxes in A-Z order. Whenever a human happens upon the correct combination of prayers, actions, and/or thoughts, an angel is dispatched to the Strategic Control Center and (cue the “Hallelujah” chorus), their custom, straight-from-paradise plan is placed on the celestial conveyor belt and scheduled for distribution according to the faith plan they’re currently subscribed to. Those with daily quiet times benefit from overnight shipping, while early morning risers who conquer the quick-scroll-through-the-phone temptation and reach for their devotional qualify for immediate delivery. Backsliders are on backorder.

The problem with this thinking is it leaves people so intent on discovering the precise sequence to win the divine plan lottery, they miss the opportunities right at their feet.

“Is this part of God’s plan?” fosters conversations akin to players planning a chess strategy. The answers become binary – right/wrong; yes/no; now/never. Instead, “Is this part of God’s purpose” transforms the perspective from searching through miniscule puzzle pieces in hopes of assembling the "just right" picture to seeing God’s grand aim and joining the team.

Ironically, focusing on finding God’s “plan” cultivates self-absorption. Concentrating on bringing redemption, restoration, and righteousness to fruition, however, keeps us God-centered.

3. God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.

That’s great news! No more eschewing the easy enticement of vegging out on the sofa, munching chips, and streaming movies.

No more laboring over books and searching for worthy sources of knowledge.

No more forcing myself to stare at a saucy screen with its taunting white space until a smattering of phrases dribbles from my keyboard.

“Hey, student currently struggling in school, drop out!”

“Hey, business executive, don’t bother with professional growth.”

“Hey, mom and dad, no need to learn about child development.”

After all, if it’s the unqualified God wants, why would we dishonor him by trying to become qualified!

Again, I get it. I understand the phrase’s intent isn’t:

"Let’s strive to be uneducated jerk wads because then God will choose us!”

However, according to the Book of James, we need to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no,” “no.” Or, for a more contemporary voice, we can’t do worse than Horton, handiwork of Dr. Seuss, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.”

I understand there are “nobody’s” from Scripture who God partnered with to accomplish great things. Gideon comes to mind. Yet look closely at so many others, and you’ll see folks with qualifications. David? Sure, his own father didn’t consider him significant enough to include in the lineup of possible next-to-be-anointed-as-king contestants. (You’d think a parent would want to have every chance their family could get. Apparently not.) One might conclude David wasn’t “qualified.” Yet when he showed up to serve the current king, Saul, he demonstrated both his skill as a musician and a soldier. God didn’t zap him with a divine wand to enable these abilities. David had rehearsed those chords and swung that sling shot countless times to protect the sheep, provide food, and (probably) prove his skill to his older brothers.

Paul had an impressive resume which he utilized, when the situation called for it, to advance the gospel. He instructed Timothy to study hard: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." Sounds like advice to get qualified.

Certainly, the message shouldn’t become “God only calls the qualified.” The message needs to be,

“God calls the faithful. And he gives them what they need.”

Can I get an "Amen?"

This phrase, by the way, needs no revision.