A man was running late for his plane, and so he didn’t have time to eat. He quickly bought a pack of his favorite chocolate chip cookies at the airport and was relieved to make it to his plane just in time. He got to his seat and put the cookies and his briefcase under his seat.
His relief was short-lived because he happened to be seated next to a mother and her toddler, and as frequently happens, not long into the flight, the toddler began throwing a fit. Soon, to quiet her child, the mother reached under the seat and brought out the pack of chocolate chip cookies. She opened it and gave one to her child and then took one for herself, smiling at the man as she did. He was stunned! Here she was not only eating his lunch but also rubbing it in his face by smiling at him! After finishing their first cookies, she and her child took another and set the pack down on the chair. Fuming with anger, the man immediately took the remaining cookies out of the pack for himself and started eating them, after which the mother turned and smiled at him again.
After the plane finally landed, the mother and her child filed past the man as he sat in his seat. “Have a nice day,” she said to him. “Yeah,” he rudely replied. At which point, he reached under the seat for his briefcase and found something else as well – his unopened pack of cookies! The implication of it then suddenly dawned on him; the mother and her child hadn’t eaten his cookies, he had eaten theirs!
Now, put yourself in that situation. Honestly, would you have done anything all that different? Perhaps you think you would have controlled your anger. Consider that he did somewhat contain himself in that he didn’t have an ugly, emotional outburst at this woman. He held his tongue, and he may have been somewhat proud of that fact, until the reality of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks! In this case, he was holding inside unwarranted anger based on an invalid assumption.
As we learn to properly examine our spiritual condition, let’s spend some time examining our assumptions. We make assumptions all the time, in our relationships with each other and in our relationship with God. We are continually reminded to promote peace within our lives and in all of our relationships based on truth and understanding. But we instead have a tendency to assume a certain reality that is very different from the full truth of a matter. When misunderstandings occur, like the story above, our assumptions have the potential to get us into all kinds of trouble. Sometimes walls become erected between us without us even recognizing it, and walls can be hard to tear down. Therefore, a major wall or barrier to proper relationships, whether it be with God or other people, is our proclivity to make assumptions (or, as another writer put it, “unchecked perceptions”), often leading us to jump to incorrect conclusions. It probably wouldn’t be a prolonged mental exercise for you to think about problematic relationships in your life, all possibly due to various assumptions made long ago or perhaps even still being made.
First, let’s focus some attention on our relationships with each other and then we’ll shift gears and focus on our relationship with God. We’ll examine both of these in the context of how our assumptions can dramatically affect these relationships.
Making Assumptions About Each Other
There are many stories throughout the Bible detailing this character trait and its consequences. Go back to the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden. Eve made some incorrect assumptions and ended up at a wrong conclusion. The powerful being that deceived her, Satan, has a mind of deceit, paranoia, and automatically taking the negative path; and his influence worked on her. Later, in the book of Job, you can also see a bit of how Satan thinks when he is talking to God regarding Job’s character. Satan took a negative path, made assumptions, came to wrong conclusions, and made false accusations. In Job 2:5, for example, Satan tells God to “strike him down and he will curse you to your face.” Revelation 12:10 says that Satan continues to accuse all of God’s people.
Because Satan still works against us, and because we as humans continue to fight aspects of the same carnal nature, it’s a daily struggle in this life that we must work hard to overcome. It’s such a pervasive characteristic of humanity that it becomes really easy for us to do, and most of us do this far more than we realize! God considers it as folly. It’s not surprising that God’s Word then teaches us how to overcome this tendency in our relationships. There are several passages from the book of Proverbs that speak to this. For example, Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is a folly and a shame to him.”
All of our conclusions have to be based on facts that we get from one source or another. To draw true conclusions, those facts we get have to be accurate and sufficient. Accurate means that they’re correct. Sufficient means that there are enough of them. Our assumptions get in the way of that process. There are many ways that we do this, such as:
Reading into situations
Speculating about the future
Thinking the worst
Reading people’s minds
Hearing only one side of the story
Everything I just listed is, to one extent or another, making assumptions and coming to conclusions without all the facts. But again, we have tendencies to do this. The result is that we hurt the feelings of innocent people, create undue stress, waste time, cause misunderstandings, make wrong choices, create obstacles, and cause others to miss out on opportunities. That is quite a list of consequences that harms everyone involved. Going back to the man on the plane, he totally misunderstood the situation, created undue stress and anger upon himself, and treated others poorly.
How many of us think we really know what makes each other “tick”? Do you know why people are the way they are? Do you know all their life’s trials, either past or present? While we should not reason away people’s bad decisions nor cast aside righteous judgment, we should, at the same time, always be mindful that there are usually many unknown factors that led them to make certain decisions.
Stop Jumping to Conclusions
So, don’t make assumptions and don’t jump to conclusions! How can we be taught not to partake in this proclivity? Let’s start with thinking about our relationships with each other and considering three closely related points that can help us.
First, we simply need to acknowledge that many of our conclusions are based on nothing more than assumptions. This may sound simple, but it’s actually quite difficult to put into continual practice. We jump to conclusions when we interpret assumptions to be facts. That’s what the man on the plane did. When the woman took the cookies from under the seat, he assumed they were his. He interpreted his assumption as a fact – “they are mine.” If people are looking at you while laughing, do you jump to the conclusion that they are ridiculing you? Frequently, that assumption is interpreted as a fact; “They are ridiculing me.” This becomes especially difficult if a particular situation or person has “wronged you” previously, as our nature often leads us to immediately assume the worst. Many times, however, such an assumption “comes back to bite us” in that it was a totally wrong assumption that caused undue stress on a relationship.
It’s a bit challenging to assign definitive, practical steps to help us overcome this proclivity, other than taking the tools of prayer and study very seriously. The tendency to make assumptions is very much tied to an overall outlook on life. That outlook can be dramatically affected by prayer – asking God to help us use His spirit to look at people and relationships in a positive way. Likewise, the study of God’s Word should put us in a certain frame of mind. Depending on what we’re reading, it can bring a humility to our outlook that can have a lasting effect throughout the day. Humility involves acknowledging our tendencies to make mistakes. Both prayer and study can help us combat reacting to situations based on assumptions. Changing our mindset is very much a spiritual matter that requires spiritual solutions.
Second, after acknowledging our tendencies, make an effort to get informed. Acknowledging that our conclusion is an assumption, we know that it needs to be verified and that the only way to verify it is to collect all of the relevant and reliable facts we can. If the man on the plane had acknowledged that his conclusion was an assumption, he would have looked under his seat to verify it. If someone is laughing while looking your way, perhaps it would be appropriate to simply ask, “what’s so funny?” Getting informed, collecting all the relevant and reliable facts that we can, will help lead us to a correct conclusion.
An example concerning this point can be found over in Deuteronomy 13:12. Here, Moses was instructed to appoint leaders among the people. These leaders were being taught how to judge.
Deuteronomy 13:12 If you hear someone in one of your cities, which the LORD your God gives you to dwell in, saying, (13) “Corrupt men have gone out from among you and enticed the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ – which you have not known” – (14) then you shall inquire, search out, and ask diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was committed among you, (15) you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city.
These leaders were to carefully investigate the matters brought to them. Their assessment was to be thorough and impartial. Their judgment was to be a reflection of God’s mind regarding the matter, not based on the human mind or human emotions. Notice God uses three phrases here, “you shall enquire, you shall search out, and you shall ask diligently.” He didn’t just say, “go ask a few people” or “go talk with their leaders only.” No. He used three expressions to emphasize how important it is to really, really, carefully investigate a matter. Obviously, the consequence in this example could be dramatic, but then again, the consequences of our incorrect assumptions can cause a tremendous amount of damage as well.
Here is another Proverb to consider: Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter …
In other words, there are some things we just won’t know at a particular time, and there is always a perfect reason for that.
Continuing in verse 2 … But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
The Complete Jewish Bible says, “… kings get glory from investigating things.” That’s how a king becomes a good king. They take the time to carefully and thoroughly investigate a matter fully before making a judgment. Make sure you have all the facts and that you have done everything you can to get a complete and unbiased assessment. The people of God are in training to be leaders in His coming Kingdom, so we should take to heart any training that teaches us what a leader should do.
Finally, having collected all the relevant and reliable facts that we can, we now connect them rightly together. God’s spirit gives us a powerful help to do this well if we ask for it and exercise it regularly. This is a spirit not only of a sound mind that is able to reason and think well, but most importantly, it’s a spirit of love. It was stated earlier that our assumptions need to be verified by facts, but they should also be based on faith toward the positive and a heart filled with mercy and forgiveness.
In 1 Corinthians 13:7 Paul here says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.”
Some translations say, “Love believes the best.” It holds out hope that things may be different from what they seem. That is a loving approach. It starts by us saying, “Wait a minute. I know that this might look a certain way, but let’s hope that that is not what is really going on. Let’s hope that we misunderstood and that when we get more facts, we will find that that is not really the case.”
This is where the right approach actually begins; catching ourselves before we make negative assumptions by actually starting off making positive ones! It starts by not jumping to the conclusion that something is already wrong or that a person is of a wrong mind or spirit. It begins by hoping that it isn’t true, that it is not the case. Endeavor to show positive faith in the power of a relationship, even a brief encounter. The more you do that, the more likely the other person will treat you fairly and not make negative assumptions regarding you.
Making Assumptions About God
Now, let’s switch gears and focus some attention on our direct relationship with God. Giving proper credit, quite a bit of information in this next section is borrowed from the very insightful book “Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks” by Douglas Rumford.
To begin, let’s first consider that there is probably no greater bearing on our relationship with God than how we interpret the course of our lives. We can pray fervently, and we can study His Word fervently, but often the most meaningful and impactful is what actually happens to us and how we interpret God’s direction and involvement. The reason for this is simply because we like to think of ourselves as creatures of reason and logic, and we tend to toss out what is improbable or what blatantly rails against that reason and logic. This, however, greatly affects how we deal with trials. It’s so easy to fall into discouragement and despair regarding our struggles when God is actually going to accomplish the improbable with your life. Sometimes He works in mysterious ways, surprising us with what may seem as outlandish and unpredictable strategies to accomplish His work.
Just think for a minute of all the incredible stories from the Bible and just how outlandish some of them are!
Saving the human race by having Noah build a huge boat. Could God have accomplished the goal through other means? Yes, but He did it this particular for reasons that we won’t fully know until we ask Him.
How about feeding the Israelites with Manna? That’s an interesting solution.
Using a prostitute, Rahab, to protect the Israelite spies. Really? Why her?
Asking a leper to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river to be cleansed of Leprosy. Seven times?
Using a small group of ordinary men to become powerful witnesses to Jesus Christ’s life as human on the earth?
And by extension, using a small group of ordinary (or perhaps even less than ordinary) people in this end time to accomplish a work that God tells us is so great that we wouldn’t believe it if it were plainly told to us.
Are any of these solutions remotely close to what you would choose to do in order to solve such a problem? Why does God often accomplish things in such unexpected ways? Well, one reason is that it directly challenges our assumptions! He knows that is our proclivity.
Let’s look at a well-known example of this from God’s Word and see what we can learn about God’s many methods of working in our lives. Again, back in Genesis. Let’s turn over to Genesis 17, beginning in verse 15:
(15) And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. (16) I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (17) Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (18) And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (19) God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
Skipping over to Genesis 18, beginning in verse 9, (her God appears to Abraham again, along with some angles)
(9) They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” (10) The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. (11) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. (12) So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (13) The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ (14) Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” (15) But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
Now, in case you didn’t catch it there is quite a bit of laughing going on here, and it’s not joyful laughing. It’s quite sarcastic, actually. While not done perfectly, these are people who had been obedient to God’s call. Why did they laugh at God’s proclamation? They had obeyed, had certainly been blessed, and were very wealthy. But regarding the promise of a son, well, apparently, there were just too many obstacles to that. Their nature is not unlike ours, and so their laughter can reveal many of the assumptions we commonly make regarding God and His plan for our lives. Let’s look at three of them:
First, we assume that God will work within a certain time frame.
We may not be aware of it, but when God makes promises to us, we like to set an alarm clock. We set a certain amount of time we’re willing to wait for those promises to be fulfilled. God says that whatever we ask for in his name He will give to us, right? We might be praying for physical healing, or for a job, or even for God calling a spouse or other family member. Whatever it is, when the clock reaches a certain point, and things don’t happen the way we hoped, it can lead to a certain amount of questioning and even bitterness. We can think that maybe God isn’t listening, and we start “laughing” whenever we hear messages about God’s promises to His people.
Think about Sarah here. It had been 24 long years since that first promise from God had been made. Probably much of that time was trying to conceive a child, but finally just giving up. Now, here comes that promise again. We can jump all over Sarah, but if you had been waiting that long and now there was no physical way to fulfill that promise, you would probably laugh too. A certain amount of bitterness had set in, probably many years prior to this second proclamation of the promise. “Look, I know you’re God, but in case you didn’t notice, my body doesn’t work that way anymore!”
She didn’t know that God’s delay was aimed at showing that nothing is impossible for God. The lesson is profound in that God took what was dead (a dead womb) and produced life through that—produced a whole nation in fact. And who would eventually come from that line of people but Jesus Christ, who showed that God can even raise to eternal life what was dead!
God’s clock is set to a completely different standard. In the same way, we look back now on Sarah and other examples, I suspect in the future we will look back on our lives now and see very differently why certain things happened the way they did for the people of God at the end of this age, and we will be very thankful for God’s direction in our lives. So, show faith and be thankful for it now as well.
Second, we assume that the work of God is limited by our inherent abilities.
We often still think according to the limitation of what is physical. We read stories throughout the Bible about incredible miracles but at the same time wonder how God could possibly use us, such weak and ineffective people at the present time, with limited skills and abilities. Sarah did the same. She thought that what God had told them was no longer possible, and once she passed a certain threshold in life, she essentially gave up. So much so, that she told Abraham that he needed to take her servant Hagar and have a child through her instead. Now, God allowed that to happen, and He can, if He so chooses, allow the consequences of our weaknesses and our faithlessness to also teach us and those after us valuable lessons.
The point is, if we’re discouraged by our lack of abilities or if perhaps, we’re overconfident because of what we believe are our great abilities, either way we’re making the wrong assumption if we think that ability is the limiting factor or determining factor in life. Now, abilities can help, and they can be used by God. But, as we like to say, God can make a donkey talk, and he could make the stones sing out if it served His purpose. So think what He can do with you if you faithfully wait on Him to reveal your potential.
Third, we assume that God’s work is limited to those who don’t make mistakes.
Going back to Sarah, is it possible that she believed that she had in some respects “blown it” with God? Now, considering the point of this article, we don’t want to assume to know exactly what she was thinking, but consider this possibility. She hears God again making this proclamation about the promise of a son, and she could be thinking, “Why in the world would God do that for me? I’ve shown a lot of faithlessness over the years. I have not endured the long trial perfectly well. I encouraged my husband to commit adultery. I became bitter and jealous as a result. I was harsh toward Hagar and her son, and now God is still going to give me a son of my own? Ha! God must not know me very well or He would know that I don’t deserve that!”
Sarah would be very much like us in that respect, wouldn’t she? She wasn’t perfect, neither was Abraham. But like Abraham, she also grew in faith through this experience and others. God was able to overcome her limitations and failures. Look at Genesis 21:1:
(1) The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son. Jumping to verse 6, And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (7) And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.
So, here we go again with the laugher. But what are we laughing about this time? It’s not only joyous laughter but also laughter that something so audacious, so improbable, impossible has just happened. In fact, it made such an impression on them that they named the child “laughter!” That’s what Isaac means. We worship the God of Abraham, Laughter, and Jacob!
The point is that if you have made mistakes in your life, don’t wrongly assume that you can’t be a mighty instrument in God’s hands. Think of King David or the Apostle Paul. Like Sarah, in both of those cases, God turned things on their head, didn’t He? He took David, the least from a family, who made some very serious mistakes and made him king over Israel both in the past and in the future. He took Paul, a man vehemently opposed to God’s way, even involved in murdering God’s people, and made him one of the most successful proclaimers of God’s way of life to the whole world.
So, in summary, we can see that making assumptions can and does have very profound effects on our relationships with man and God. We must seek out the truth. Regarding our relationship with God, we find truth in the resource given to us, His Word, which contains divinely revealed knowledge about how to have a proper relationship with Him, our creator. We then learn to know and trust Him and His methods in our lives. Regarding our relationships with each other, we learn from that same source, God’s Word, that we need to diligently seek out the truth of a matter and to also practice a certain way of thinking that doesn’t automatically think negatively.
Not only do we have to stop erecting walls, but we also have to start tearing them down. Checking these perceptions and assumptions will not only halt the construction of walls, but they can also help to break down walls that may have arisen.
Do any of us have any walls with anyone else, within families, at work, at school, in the congregation, with other congregations? What about with God himself? Let’s carefully consider our proclivity to make assumptions, and let’s practice now the skills to be good future kings by using the tools given by God to help us overcome. Hopefully, if we do, all of our relationships can improve; peace can grow and flourish.
By Tim Vail