Have you every sat down and thought about just how cliched you are? Especially when it comes to your faith and living your life for the Lord? How often do you have a "quiet time" or pray before your meals? Or how about singing along with the worship band on Sunday mornings? How many times in the past week have you said or heard something along the lines of "protecting her heart", "being intentional", "I'm praying for you", "living missionally", or "preach it!" (and even more at the end of this post)? As I find happens often with me, God opens my eyes to see his truth in a new light through song lyrics, in this case by a Christian Evanescence-esque band Eowyn in their song "Cliche":
When you think about it
Why do you say what you say?
When you think about it
Why do you pray what you pray?
When you think about it
Have you become the Cliche?
~ Cliche by Eowyn
So think about some of things listed above. How often do you say or do these things? Or more accurately, when you inevitably do the "cliche", how often do you think about why you have become the "Cliche"? You see, living for Christ isn't about the things we do; it has never been about the things we do. But rather it has always been about Jesus, and us lifting his name high in praise for our King. We were all once lost, broken, searching for something that never brought anything but hurt. But God, in his great love, saw us in our need and sent help, his Son Jesus Christ, who took our burden upon himself and died the death that we deserve for breaking the covenant the Father made with us. And once Jesus, having been dead for three days, rose to life once again, proving that death is weak compared to the power of his glory, he made a way for us to be relieved of not only our sinful lives, but also the very death that separates us from God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life." Once we know that God truly loves us and wants a relationship with us, our lives begin to change as we begin to look more like Jesus.
So knowing that the truth of the Gospel has the power to conform us to the likeness of Christ, in whose image we were all lovingly created, you must necessarily be wondering how we can possibly all look like Jesus and not be one massive cliche. But that's the beauty of everything, isn't it? That we recognize how horrible this world is, and how much better God's kingdom is, and how much we want to bring his kingdom to earth? Well, yes, to some extent. But it only means so much if you miss the point of why God saved us in the first place, and what he wants us to do now that we are walking in his freedom.
Like I said earlier, God speaks to me a lot through the music I listen to. And my preferences in music are not often shared with others. I like my music loud and heavy; metal. I like intensity, so throw an orchestra on top of a metal band and things get epic. And I like a band with real talent, so throw on professionally trained vocalists and musicians, and songwriters who have perfected progressive instrumentation and their individual style, and you get my two favorite secular bands: Nightwish and Opeth. I have listened to so many other bands who try and take influences from these two, but really the come nowhere close to being as good as them, and I think this simple illustration lends a lot to discuss in this post. These bands are anything but cliche, and because they have not only stepped out of the world of traditional music, forgoing the easy promise of fame and fortune in following mainstream music, they have risen to the top of their respective genres and gotten it anyway. Nightwish was founded in 1996, but it wasn't until 2004 that they really got huge. Likewise, Opeth was formed in 1990, but never achieved worldwide success until 2001, and even took another 8 years to really take off in the US.
What I am trying to say with these two secular bands is that the reason they have become so popular is precisely because they didn't follow the social norms in their musical industry. There is an incredible beauty in not just following what others do, but in making something truly your own. They have taken the art of music back, showing the world that they aren't in music just for the money, but because they love what they do. They simply love music, they do what they want to do, and they find more success in this than they would have if they just blindly followed a crowd, because it makes then unique. And I feel this is exactly the same with Christians and the way we live out our faith. If we simply take what we see others doing, we may see a bit of fruit, but nothing even close to what we would see if we were to truly own our faith and know why we call ourselves Christians.
So I just want to take a moment to recognize the term "Christian". Acts 11:26 tells us, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." This is because in the early Church, those that believed in Christ were being persecuted, and many from Jerusalem fled to Antioch. Here, they began living out the commandment that Jesus had given them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second [commandment] is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these." (Mark 12:30-31). The people of the early Christian church in Antioch took these words as literally as they could, loving God with every fiber of their being, and loving and caring for their neighbors in the very same way that Jesus did. In this way, those living in Antioch began calling these people "follower of Christ", or Christian. These people looked like Christ because they decided that it was worth giving up the things they loved for the people they loved. They didn't care that they would be yelled at, spat on, beaten, burned alive, and crucified for what they believed. They held fast to the truth that by their on strength, they would never see God, but by following His example, they would be with him in paradise.
But wait. Isn't looking like Christ the definition of becoming a cliche? Something that is so commonly repeated that it begins to lose its meaning? Well, yes, but really more no. When has looking like Christ ever lost power? Never. Only when we begin to take try and matters into our own hands does the way we live start to look cliched. When we blindly step out as a Christian, are we doing so in faith that God is our only hope, and that we can't do anything meaningful apart from him, or are we doing so because someone else wants us to? A parent. A brother. A friend. Their faith cannot be yours, and if you rely on someone else's faith to sustain you, then you will surely fall and find you are unable to pick yourself up. Your friend isn't Jesus, no matter how much they may look like him. "Let the one without sin be the first to cast a stone," and yet he never threw one. Instead, he reached down and said, "You are forgiven. Now go and sin no more." Your friend can never say that, he can never be your salvation. So if you find that you blindly say the prayers you hear others saying, walking like them, talking like them, but only ever stopping there, you really need to take some time to consider what it means to truly be a Christian, to be a follower of Christ, not a follower of Paul, or Barnabas, or Apollos, or Ba'al, or any other man or idol. When you think about your faith, don't tell yourself the answer you know to be true because you heard your pastor say it once on a Sunday morning. Search yourself for the answer you don't want to admit to yourself, the one that tells you that you don't know it all, that there is still so much that God wants to show you once you decide to stop living in the facade of Christian brotherhood and start living in the family of Christ. There is an immense power that can only come when you decide to break out of the mould of Christianity and step into a real and true relationship with Christ. It will change you. God designed it to be that way. So do it.
But I want to take a minute to go back to music. I was talking about secular bands who found mainstream success by not being mainstream. But there are also a lot of bands that have found mainstream success while also proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. Since I began walking with Jesus nearly three years ago, I have started to see so many bands I have always loved, whose lyrics are all from the Bible. Among the hard rock/metal bands that aren't just Christian popular, but are legitimately popular are: Killswitch Engage, Thrice, As I Lay Dying, Demon Hunter, and countless others. But there are also many bands that I have found recently that are a little less popular, but in my opinion are so unique in their approach to Christian music that they blow me away. For Today, Eowyn, HB, to name a few. And the thing with all these bands, like Nightwish and Opeth, is that they make music because they love making music, and yet they also love the Lord, and they make their music for the Lord.
A few years back, Michael Gungor wrote a blog post about the the problem with much of today's "Christian music", and I would highly recommend you go read it. But in particular, there was one bit that I really liked:
You can’t remove the anger from screamo and have it still be screamo. It’s the soul of that music, whether that soul is good or evil is not the point, simply that it is the soul. So when you remove the soul from music and transplant the body parts (chord changes, instrumentation, dress, lights, and everything but the soul…) and parade it around with some more 'positive' lyrics posing as Christian music, then what you have is a musical zombie.
~ Michael Gungor
And let me tell you, I have tried listening to plenty of bands that have tried this, who started with the vision of wanting to make something for God, and though they had good intentions, they failed to see that God doesn't care if we worship him in this way or that; he wants us to worship him with the bodies and gifts he has given us. And for some, music just wasn't their gift, and so when they try to make music, they fall far short of what they expected. In a sense, this then becomes self worship, where one desires so much to please God in a way that he didn't design them for, that they forget the reason they worship him in the first place. This subject really is something I plan on expounding more on later, but for now suffice it to say that these people wanted to be like they worship leaders they love, rather than wanting to be like Jesus.
So then, this is my charge to you: go back to the lyrics I posted above, and pray through them. Don't read them, ignore them, wrestle with them on your own, and have nothing change. Take them to God, and ask him why you say what you say. Ask God to reveal to you why you pray in the way that you do, why you address him in the way you do, why you worship him in the way that you do. Spend some time really digging into yourself to find out exactly why you have faith that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, and I know you will come out with a deeper intimacy with Jesus and a stronger faith than you ever realized was possible. There is always more that you can learn, and your faith can always grow stronger, but only if you stop becoming the cliche this world tells you is acceptable, and become transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you are conformed to the image of Christ, not just a puppet who is dressed like him.
If you want to see some more Christian cliches, check out these videos. They are pretty hilarious