As much as I love Facebook, I’ve become jaded lately by the onslaught of memes offering simplified life wisdom. One in particular caught my eye this week. I don’t want to criticize the work of a specific site or person, so I’m not going to post the original photo here. It was from one of many sites devoted to “positive thinking” and featured the following advice:
- Everything will work out.
- Things will get better.
- You are worthy of great things.
- The time is now.
- This too shall pass.
- You can be who you really are.
- You can do this.
At first glance, this looks like a simple list of encouraging (though cliché) statements. For some reason, however, I was struck by how a list of encouraging statements would look totally different if written from a Christian worldview. This list provides an excellent conversation starter for your kids and offers a great opportunity to discuss the difference between secular and Christian viewpoints in everyday living.
For each statement above, ask 1) what people typically mean when they say it and 2) how that matches or does not match what the Bible tells us. (You can tailor these explanations to any age; for younger kids, simply explain that people do make the statement, describe what it means, and discuss how that compares to what the Bible would say.)
The bottom line is that secular encouragement and Christian encouragement are rooted in vastly different worldviews.
I’ve provided a Christian “translation” for each statement and some key talking points below.
Secular encouragement: Everything will work out.
Christian encouragement: God works all things together for good for those who love Him.
When people say “everything will work out,” they typically mean “everything will work out in a way I’m OK with.” But much of this life is out of our control, so we’re not living in reality when we tell ourselves that. It’s also important to understand that things don’t “work out” (in that sense) any more so for Christians; the Bible makes it clear that we will face as many challenges as anyone else, and possibly more. That said, Romans 8:28 does tell us that God works all things together for good for those who love Him. That doesn’t mean everything in our lives will be good by our definition, but that God will take the things that happen (good or bad) and bring good out of them.
Secular encouragement: Things will get better.
Christian encouragement: You can pray for your deepest needs and desires.
Similar to the problem with “everything will work out,” we can never know that things will get better in this life by our personal definition. When, as Christians, we hope for a situation to improve, however, we can turn to our Creator. He has asked us to bring our requests to Him. We can’t count on positive thinking to change a situation, but we can count on God hearing our prayers and answering them according to His will and purposes. That offers a hope that passive positive thinking cannot.
Secular encouragement: You are worthy of great things.
Christian encouragement: You are invited to do great things for God’s kingdom.
On the whole list, this is probably the statement that is most contrary to a Christian worldview. Our entire purpose in this earthly life is to participate in and further God’s kingdom. Every one of us has gifts God has given us for that purpose, not because of any “worthiness” of our own, but by His grace.
Secular encouragement: The time is now.
Christian encouragement: Your eternal life has already begun!
Author Dallas Willard, in his classic book “The Divine Conspiracy,” suggests that Christians too often see their lives in two separate phases: the earthly life, then a totally separate eternal life after. He emphasizes that we have a single, eternal life to live that we are already in the process of living – and that when we embrace that truth, our perspective is transformed. We stop passively waiting for another life to begin and start actively participating today in eternity. What an amazing thought. We are already living in eternity!
Secular optimism: This too shall pass.
Christian optimism: Your earthly troubles pale in comparison to eternal glory.
It sounds biblical, but the Bible never says “this too shall pass.” However, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, Paul talks about the temporary nature of our struggles in the context of eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” When we fix our eyes on the eternal, our earthly troubles pale in comparison.
Secular optimism: You can be who you really are.
Christian optimism: You have been set free from sin to find your identity in Christ.
From a Christian perspective, the problem is that far too many of us are already being who we “really are” – slaves to the sinful desires of our flesh (Romans 7:14-24). When we have the Spirit within us, however, we are free to find a new identity in Christ. Paul explained this in Galatians 2:20: “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 up for me.”
Secular encouragement: You can do it.
Christian encouragement: With God, anything is possible.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you just might not be able to do “it,” whatever it is. The Bible is all about God doing “it” through humans who could never do it themselves. Think of Moses talking to Pharaoh despite his trepidation, little David fighting a giant Goliath and Daniel surviving the lion’s den. God has accomplished history in spite of our abilities. With Him, however, all things are possible.
A meme of Christian encouragement would look pretty different than the original…
When you need encouragement, remember:
God works all things together for good.
You can pray for your deepest needs and desires.
You are invited to do great things for God’s kingdom.
Your eternal life has already begun!
Your earthly troubles pale in comparison to eternal glory.
You have been set free from sin to find your identity in Christ.
With God, anything is possible.