Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Another of the World’s Most Trite and Tired Phrases

It’s an overused phrase. So much so, it’s become almost a meaningless expression. People use some form of it everywhere from describing a positive time in life, or asking for something from God, to an exclamation after someone sneezes.

As a pastor, I find myself using it and then kicking myself mentally for uttering such a trite and tired phrase. It’s the religious equivalent of “Don’t worry, be happy.” What is it?

God bless you. But what does that mean? To be blessed by God or for us to bless others?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Isaiah: 22:1-24:23

Galatians 2:17-3:9

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 23:15-16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah: 22:1-24:23: Through Isaiah, God lets it be known that he is a two fisted God. In one God holds blessing (see below). This hand God opens readily for those drawing near to God in faith, love and obedience. The other fist God holds tight but warns that it holds a curse: the curse of what comes from not being in relationship with God but in opposition to him.

Somehow this is the hand God needs to describe most often for us. Thus we see God as wrathful but not ourselves as receiving the consequences of our disobedient actions.

Psalm 60:1-12: The above is repeated in this Psalm. God’s rejection or acceptance lies, in part, within our own choices. The psalmist readily admits and accepts God’s rejection and then pleads for restoration and salvation. “With God we will gain victory,” the psalmist reminds us. The unsaid? Lining up against God is sure defeat.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Late one night, I took a wrong turn and got lost just east of the Mississippi River near down town St Louis. Suddenly I found myself in the wrong place, in a dangerous part of town. Every store front was locked down with heavy bars and huge locks over the doors and windows. With each new turn, I turned back on myself like a rat in a maze. Making it worse, I could see where I should be, my hotel well lit and inviting, rising into the night over on the west side of the Mississippi.

On my fourth trip down one dark street two guys attempted to block my way. I swerved around them and gunned my car toward the river. I had to get out of there or die trying. Then I saw a bridge spanning the river. It seemed to lead right to my hotel. The only problem was that the bridge was closed for construction. Terrified, I edged my car around the barricades and, white knuckled, picked my way through the construction rubble, imagining myself driving off the end and falling into the Mississippi. I was not happy.

The word “bless” is used nearly 400 times in the Bible. It is a key concept. God says to Abram, “I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing . . . and all the peoples on earth will be blessed by you.” Psalm 1 begins “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” Jesus tells us “Blessed are they who mourn . . . .” And in today’s reading, Paul repeats the Abrahamic promise from Genesis 12. But what does it mean to be blessed?

Most people understand the word to refer to some kind of happiness or well being. Don’t worry, be happy. Robert Schuller even wrote a book called “The Be (Happy) Attitudes” based on Jesus’ contradictory sermon. That simple definition doesn’t work, however. Did God promise Abram and all peoples of the earth happiness? If so, God has not kept his promise. Did Jesus tell sad people, like the famous song, to just be happy? Hardly.

No, being blessed is more than happiness, more than an attitude, and–certainly–more than a trite, tried phrase used to express a desire or extinguish an explosive sneeze.

Most often blessing in the Bible carries the meaning of contentment even in difficult situations because you know you are in a right place with God. Being blessed does not only connote receiving something from God but rather walking through life with faith in God. “So those of you who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith,” Paul reminds the Galatians. Jesus wants us to have faith that whether we are hungry, mourning, poor, or persecuted we can still know God is with us and cares for us.

What could be more of a blessing to yourself and others than having unflappable faith in tough times? God blessed the peoples of the earth with Abraham’s faith.  God can do the same with you and me.

Somehow the bridge did not collapse nor did I drive into the river. That dilapidated bridge lead over the dark waters of the Mississippi and right back to my hotel. As I pulled in the parking garage, strangely I felt not happiness but relief, peace–almost contentment. It wasn’t just that I was now safe. Finally I was in the right place. I was where I was supposed to be. It dawned on me, I could have had that peace in Christ, even on the other side of the river.              

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. When have you felt in the right time and place with God?
  3. What passage spoke most to you?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Another of the World’s Most Trite and Tired Phrases

  1. elna

    God provides in amazing ways. This evening I was able to copy and paste a part of this message to a friend in need. God bless

  2. Syl Sidewinder

    Thank you for sharing your thought provoking insight on the over-used phrase Don’t Worry, Be Happy! Over the past 5 years, my faith has not only expanded, but it’s grown deeper and notably stronger. (long story; not directly relavant).
    At the time the song became a hit some 20 years ago, my faith existed but not to the extent it does now. To me, even back then, that “catch-all” phrase was annoying because it solved nothing and helped no one. (I still maintain that).
    However, at the time, your comments probably would not have held the same meaning. Your remarks actually helped explain the very reason why that phrase solves nothing, helps no one, an d as you put it, It’s a simple definition that does not work “

    • It is so true that many things we learn come at a certain time and place, when we are ready. Of course this does not dimish who we were then. It simply means that the passing and watching of time is crucial in growing and learning.

      I am glad your faith is expanding. Funny how you say, “long story.” Could you mean life long story? That’s how it is with me. God rarely lets me rest in my lack of faith and ignorance.

      Thanks for reading and replying. Eugene

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