I love expressions. You know, the things people say so that they can drop just the right cliché at the right time and appear wise.
We’ve all got them. Some we read from a book, others came through generational transmission (from your parents, that is), and still others found their way into the storehouse of our collective memory via the world’s greatest resource of miscellaneous knowledge… email forwards.
Here are a few you might recognize:
- If you can’t beat them, join them. This works pretty well until you’re talking about the IRS. They’re really not looking for recruits.
- Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. Actually, this one works for the IRS, too. No further comment (Just kidding IRS guys, I don’t mind paying taxes to be a part of this great country… please don’t audit me).
- Give them enough rope to hang themselves. To me, this one is just a little too morbid comment on, and it just doesn’t make sense. Isn’t a shorter rope better for hanging. Not that I ever want to find out!
There are some interesting expressions in the Christian world as well. Again, some are helpful and others, not so much.
- We don’t want to get ahead of God. Really? I never pictured God as being slow, or having trouble keeping up. I get the expression, but I don’t think it’s giving the Creator of the universe the credit He is due.
- So heavenly minded your no earthly good. That’s just a Christian way of calling somebody a slacker.
- God works out everything for good. That’s a pretty nice statement, but it’s only half the story. It’s actually from the first half of the verse in Romans 8:28. However, if you read the rest of it, it changes the whole story. This cliché gets offered to people who are in trouble, or hurting all the time as a blanket statement saying God will always make everything right. But, the second half of the verse qualifies it as a promise “for those called according to His purpose.” It’s a restrictive promise to those who are following the will of God that He can take the junky parts of our lives and use them. It’s not a guarantee that everybody will live in a land of rainbows and unicorns.
Expressions can be useful, but they can also be a little dangerous. Personally, I think there should be a three-day waiting period before using one, kind of like handgun laws.
After a couple of days, and a little bit of thought, some of our trite little expressions might not seem to fit the moment so well.
Still, there is one expression I think works both in the spiritual and non-spiritual realm. And, I haven’t been able to poke a hole in it, yet.
It’s the old expression that says, “Don’t get the cart before the horse.”
Now, I’m sure there are some problems with the expression that I’m unaware of since I am not a horse, or a cart person. But, on the surface level, this expression really works for me!
I see the wisdom in making sure that we always do first things first, and working smarter not harder (hey, there’s a couple more).
One of the reasons I really gel with this expression is because I can see it quite clearly taught in Scripture. Although there are many places we could point to, I was recently reading the book of Joshua and a single verse jumped out at me that matches this expression.
In Joshua chapter 9, God’s people are taking the promised land by force. They are having military victory after military victory. As they roll across the land, a group called the Gibeonites try to do an end-run around them, realizing that there’s no way they could beat them militarily.
3 However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”
7 The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?”
8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua.
But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”
9 They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.” ’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”
14 The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.
Pretty sneaky those Gibeonites, eh?
The rest of the story shows that Joshua had to uphold the agreement, and it led to years of difficulty. God had promised them the entire land, but now they would have to share it because of this agreement.
You did catch the verse that is connected to our cliché, didn’t you?
Verse 14 says, “The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.”
They interviewed the enemy.
They made careful and astute observations of what they saw.
They even sampled/tested with their other senses what they thought their eyes were seeing.
The men, as a group, made a decision, implying that a meeting took place. They probably even voted!
The end result? Disaster.
Everything looked good, sounded good and even tasted good (or, tasted bad in this case unless you’re fond of moldy bread), and the decision seemed a no-brainer.
There was just one problem.
They left God out of the equation.
They got the cart in front of the horse.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the process of them seeing, talking, testing and agreeing. It’s just that they were looking to, speaking to and deciding with the wrong people.
Long before their test results were brought back to the committee of “the men of Israel,” they should have inquired of the Lord.
For all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, feel free to read books, attend conferences, seek advice, test the waters and use the brain God gave you. But, don’t get the cart before the horse.
Make sure in each and every decision you have that you inquire of the Lord. That means we need to:
- spend time in prayer
- earnestly seek wisdom in the Scriptures
- and, almost always… wait
Whenever you get these things out of order, it will undoubtedly make things more difficult than they need to be.
Just like pushing a rope (hey, there’s another one).