Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 29, 2012

Keep your mouth shut if all you can offer are platitudes

            Platitudes do not help hurting people. Knowing that, I often pray, “Lord save me from mouthing platitudes when my listeners desperately need genuine words that offer them hope for the future.” I need to remind myself that if I have nothing to offer people but platitudes then I need to keep my mouth shut.

            Mouthing platitudes is actually insulting your audience. People deserve more than boring remarks about something that may be true but has no real meaning. A platitude, of course, is an idea or cliché that has been expressed so often that it has lost its originality. Here are some examples: “We are what we eat.” “Go with the flow.” “Everything happens for a reason.” Most people react the same way to platitudes; they find them dull, flat, insipid and trite.  

            Now and then I recognize that the words coming out of my mouth are indeed platitudes. Like many preachers, for example, I often say “God has a plan for your life,” or “There is hope for your future.” Instantly I am aware that these are meaningless remarks unless I can move on and help people embrace the truth behind these trite but true statements. That is challenging because each person must be persuaded that God really does care for them; it is not enough that the preacher believes it. So how do we convince people that despite their misery and pain, God loves them?

            The most effective way for me to is to invite hurting people to have faith in what God says in the Bible, or to personally claim the promises of God. This worked for me when I was a young man struggling for assurance. Empty within and spiritually frustrated, I asked E. Stanley Jones to help me find the assurance that was missing. He asked me, “Do you believe the promises of Jesus?” Of course I said yes. He said, “Then let’s claim one for you – Mark 11:24.” He read it aloud: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Jones quietly asked me, “Do you believe that?” I said yes again and he prayed a brief, simple prayer that God would give me the inner assurance I wanted.

            When Jones finished praying nothing dramatic happened. He smiled and sent me on my way as though he was thinking, “Now you have it – the assurance you have been seeking.” I heard no voice of affirmation nor was I in tears; I had no emotional response. But in the days and weeks that followed I became keenly aware that the blessed assurance I had sought was now mine. Doubt was gone; assurance was real. Jesus had kept his promise – and kept it to me!

            What Jones did for me was to go beyond the platitude – “You can trust the promises of God.” He guided me, persuaded me to embrace a single promise to help me with the particular problem I was facing. To do that required faith on my part. No one else could exercise that faith for me; I had to choose to have faith in one of the promises of Jesus.

            When life falls apart for a brother or a sister, my best counsel is to encourage them to trust one of God’s promises. That is not easy to do when one is sitting in the ashes of defeat and all seems lost. What seems real is that God does not love me or this would never have happened. But that is exactly when someone needs to come and persuade the brokenhearted that “God loves you and has a plan for your life.” Is that easy to do? No, but the hurting person can find hope – if they are willing to exercise faith and trust one of God’s promises.

            One such promise is found in the writing of the Prophet Jeremiah:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11). Sounds good but it is never easy for a broken person to believe it.

            Sometimes it is helpful to read a verse in another translation. This same promise is rendered this way by Eugene Petersen in The Message: This is God's Word on the subject: "As soon as Babylon's seventy years are up and not a day before, I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”

            When we are down and out, we can give up, become angry and curse God. Or we can have faith and embrace one of his promises, trusting him to “know what he is doing,” and not abandon us but take care of us and give us the hope we desperately need. If sometimes we can guide a hurting person to have such faith in God, perhaps we can be forgiven for occasionally mouthing sickening platitudes. + + +