People who write about writing tell us to avoid cliches. I read one article that advised tucking a few cliches into dialogue, if you’re writing fiction, so the conversations sound normal and familiar. Generally, though, cliches are considered trite and unoriginal. There’s nothing modern readers and publishers like so much as an original idea or a twist on an old one.
While I agree with all of the above, one day it dawned on me that the problem with cliches are not the phrases themselves. The problem is us. Most of the definitions and articles I looked up said that a phrase became a cliche through overuse. Why was the phrase overused? Because it aptly or creatively expressed something people identified with. But people heard it so much, they got tired of it. Then the phrase lost its luster, if not its meaning. The phrase still meant what it always did, but we don’t hear it the same any more. We gloss over it or even get irritated by it.
Most of us use cliches thoughtlessly out of habit—thus the admonition to watch for and eliminate them from our writing and speech. But some cliches are used to stop a conversation, according to Wikipedia. For instance, if you’re telling someone your troubles, and they respond, “That’s just the way the cookie crumbles” or “Into each life some rain must fall” (though the latter is from a poem), they’re not really interested in hearing you.
It’s possible to let truth become cliche spiritually as well, isn’t it?
In the church I attended in my teens and college years, we sang “Victory in Jesus” quite a lot. In another church my husband and I attended several years ago, a frequent congregational song was “Til the Storm Passes By.” In another place, it seemed like I heard “Be Thou My Vision” almost every week. For a while, I almost cringed when I heard these songs announced or heard their opening notes.
But was there anything wrong with the songs? No, they are all wonderful expressions of Biblical truth. The fact that they seemed overused was a problem in my own heart.
What about Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Granted, sometimes people use this verse like a band-aid on cancer. They mean well, but they want to “fix” the problem instead of weeping with those who weep, and then the verse becomes a conversation-stopper. But does the frequency with which we hear this verse null its meaning and effectiveness? It shouldn’t.
If someone quotes or refers to Psalm 23, should I glibly think, “Shepherd, sheep, got it,” and move on?
When Israel complained about eating manna, honestly, I can identify with them. But God faulted them for grumbling and murmuring. They forgot the miracle of God’s provision in the wilderness—a wilderness they were wandering in due to their own sin and failure.
In Malachi, Israel was offering to the Lord animals that wouldn’t even be fit for a governor (1:8), much less for a sacrifice for God. Then the people complained, “What a weariness this is” (1:13).
It’s good to be familiar with God’s Word. Throughout the Bible, God expects us to know Scripture enough to be able to think about it in our everyday lives. So if some parts of the Bible seem trite or overly familiar to us, the solution is not to scale back on our Bible reading.
What can we do then?
We can pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). We can remember the incredible privilege it is that the Creator of the universe wants to speak to us. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). If God’s Word isn’t feeling so precious and wondrous lately, we can ask God to help us see it that way.
We can pray for revival. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6). “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25. Other translations say “quicken,” “revive, “preserve.”) Three times in Psalm 80, the writer asks God to “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
We can ask God to search our hearts and lead us to repentance if need be. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isaiah 57:15).
We can ask God to restore our delight in Him and His Word.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8).
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
We can return to our first love. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5). Maybe thinking back through our testimony, God’s dealings with us when we first knew Him, revisiting our “Ebenezers,” those times we saw evidence of God’s working in our lives, will stir up that first love.
Practically, maybe interrupting our regular scheduled Bible reading plan to read through some psalms or passages that have held special meaning for us in the past might help. So might reading the Bible in a different translation than you’re used to. Slowing down to focus on the words, maybe reading them out loud, can keep us from racing through a passage. A college professor years ago advised looking up the definitions of all the words in a verse, especially if the verse was familiar.
There was a young man in my youth group years ago who, whenever he was asked to pray, asked that we’d learn something new from the Bible that day. We’ll continually be learning new things from the Bible; we’ll never exhaust it in this life. But sometimes we need reminders of what we’ve heard and learned before. “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).
John Newton wrote a lovely hymn called “Waiting for Spring.” First he talks about God’s promise that the seasons will continue, so we have the assurance that “Winter and spring have each their use” and winter will give way to spring. He says, “Believers have their winters too.” “Though like dead trees awhile they seem,” the spiritual life God placed in them will cause them to bloom again. He closes with this prayer:
Dear LORD, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.
May God shine in and warm our hearts and renew our love for Him and His Word.
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