When The Platitudes Don’t Work

It’s easy to quote popular spiritual platitudes to ourselves and others in times of difficulty. But what happens when they don’t “work”? We find in Psalm 22 that David knew something about that. In :4-5 he says, “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.” But in the next verse he decries his own situation: “But I am a worm and not a man …”.

You can almost hear the spiritual “cliche” between the lines in :4-5: “Trust in God and He will deliver you. It has happened before, and it will happen again.” We hear similar versions of this today: just trust God and everything will be “ok.” Follow the spiritual “formula” and God will give you what you want, whether it takes the form of “name it/claim it”; “Prayer of Jabez”; “Prayer Circles” or “Your Best Life Now.” Such easy and blessed formulas — and so popular! And many people testify of how they really seem to “work.”

Only it didn’t “work” for David here in Psalm 22. “They trusted and were delivered” — but not him. He was “a worm and not a man.” He was “a reproach” and “despised.” Others may have been delivered, but not him. Other times the “formula” may have worked, but not now.

And in honest moments many of us would admit that we have experienced the the same thing. “The prayer” didn’t seem to “take.” The spiritual formula didn’t seem to “work” for us. Why is this? Does God hear and answer prayers, and does He deliver? Of course! But there are also times when He does not — for His own purposes.

Hebrews 11 famously speaks of the great deeds and deliverances of those in the “Hall of Faith.” But do not forget that verse 36 then speaks of “others …”. It says that others were stoned. They weren’t miraculously saved. Others were put to death by the sword. No angels swooped in to deliver them. And these were no less “spiritual” than those blessed with the miracles. In fact, verse 38 says these were “men of whom the world was not worthy.”

That’s why we need to be careful about spouting our spiritual cliches and platitudes at others who are in difficult spots. It may not be their sin, or lack of faith in God’s word which is at fault. It may be that they are some of the “others” whose persevering faith God has determined to display through difficulty.

And this may apply to you personally as well. Don’t feel like you’ve been left out if the spiritual “formula” didn’t seem to apply to you. You’re in some pretty good company. Psalm 22 reminds us that for David, Jesus (who quoted this Psalm on the cross), and the countless “others” of Hebrews 11, the spiritual platitudes don’t always work!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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