Filter Your Assumptions

5.18In order to connect accurately with people, we must filter our assumptions. Everything gets filtered through our backgrounds, personalities, and preferences. We try to make things fit in with what we already know. It’s how God made us, and it’s how we make sense of the world.

We encounter something new, and our brains compare it to what exists already. It’s like one of those childhood toys that has lots of shapes to be fit through matching holes. The circle will only fit the circle hole. The star will only fit the star hole. But we certainly try to fit it in all the holes until we figure out the right fit. We do the same with information. It’s called assimilation.

When something doesn’t fit, we have to make a new connection. It’s called accommodation. We have to accommodate for the new information we have. We need a new category or relationship within our mind.

When we’re not willing to put forth the effort accommodation requires, we’ll assimilate instead, limiting or ignoring the newness and the reality of the incoming information.

We make assumptions, and those assumptions can be good as they help us make sense of the world around us. However, when we become lackadaisical in our assumptions, unwilling to examine and accept the truthfulness of the situation, we respond incompletely and incorrectly. Sometimes, the only one hurt by our response is our self. We don’t fully experience and grow from the new information. We don’t create new connections, which can later impact incoming information that would have benefited from the previously created path.

Many times, we aren’t the only one hurt by our response. We impact others, because many of our interactions and experiences involve others. When we settle for assimilation information instead of considering and possibly accommodating information, we impact relationships. What can this look like in every day life?

  • As you’re talking with someone, she jumps on what she thought was your last word. You weren’t done, and what you wanted to share was important to you. She reminds you of your sibling who you felt never listened to you and didn’t respect you. You assume this person feels the same way about you and you emotionally retreat, unwilling to continue to engage in a relationship that won’t go anywhere. In reality, she might just be excited about what you said. She feels a connection and wants to continue talking.
  • You catch of glimpse of someone sitting across the table at a business meeting. She looks mad. You assume she doesn’t like the idea you shared a few minutes ago. You know you need her buy-in to make this work, so you start scrambling for a way to tweak your plans to meet her expectations. In reality, she might love the idea and is thinking through the ways she can move mountains to make it work. Her intense expression is about focus, not disapproval.
  • When your friend cancels for the third time in a row, you feel abandoned and ignored. You remember being hurt in friendships in the past. You wonder why you ever exposed yourself to the same potential hurt again. You wish the friend would just be honest and tell you she doesn’t want to hang out anymore instead of acting as if she cares. In reality, your friend really does care. She has a lot going on in her life, but she doesn’t want to burden you with the details. She has difficulty sharing. She’s avoiding you but it’s not because of you; it’s because of herself. She needs you more than ever.

Our assumptions come from what we’ve experienced before. Someone reminds us of our…mom, dad, boss, friend, co-worker, brother, sister, grandparent, neighbor, and so on…either positively and negatively, and we make a connection. If we test the similarity, and it proves to be true, we can let the connection help us respond in the future. But if we don’t test the similarity, and it proves to be a false assumption, and we’re unwilling to process the different information, we’ll miss out on the connection God wants us to make.

God teaches us through relationships. He teaches us about him, ourselves, and others. God is truth, and everything he does is based in truth. If we’re not seeking truth, even when it’s difficult, we’re not truly seeking God’s will. We don’t get to decide what’s true and what’s not based on our preferences and experiences. God does.

Don’t assume you know everything. Don’t assume you even know what you think you know. Filter it all through God’s perspective. He’ll reveal what you need to see and how you need to respond.

Make them ready for your service through your truth; your teaching is truth. (John 17:17)

Know Your Motives

5.16We can’t see others’ motives, but we certainly respond out of our assumptions of them. We’re certain we can tell if someone is angry, irritated, frustrated, indifferent, or excited. Of course, we get clues from their behavior, but because we all have individual personalities, guessing motives can become a dangerous game.

To be honest, we can struggle to know our own motives. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of pure concern for someone when we’re actually responding in jealousy or nosiness. We can think (or rationalize) we’re responding out of justified anger in a situation when we’re actually responding in unjustified retaliation or frustration to a person with whom we have an underlying, ongoing issue.

If our distorted views, preferences, and baggage can get in the way of the accuracy of our motive assessments, how can we get a better perspective, know ourselves better, and respond to people and situations in appropriate, authentic ways?

We need to see ourselves, including our motives, the way God sees us.

That means we have to invite God to challenge us and change us. It’s not an easy process, at least not for us. For him, it’s not difficult at all. He knows us. He created us. He fills us with himself, the Holy Spirit. But do we really yield fully to him? Not without intention.

I recently committed to a 30-day complaint fast. One of my friends asked if it meant I wasn’t receiving complaints. Not quite!

At first, God worked through the complaints I was verbalizing. I don’t consider myself much of a complainer, but my life is definitely not void of complaints. As soon as one would slip through my lips, I’d sigh. I asked several people to help me stay accountable, and they didn’t hesitate to do so. Plus, I tried to write down as many infractions as I could. Curbing my verbal complaints didn’t seem too uncomfortable. I began to think the fast wouldn’t be quite as difficult as I thought it might be.

As with any fast, the goal wasn’t just to abstain from something to show self-control. The point was to draw closer to God. Instead of focusing on a complaint, which usually indicates a space between myself and my expectations of something or space between myself and someone else, I turned my focus to the space between me and God. And as the fast continued, the space lessened…and I felt his presence with a fresh conviction. He moved from challenging my verbal complaints to my attitude of complaint. He connected what I wanted to say with the attitude that spurred it. He confronted me with some attitudes not consistent with his will. It became a bit more uncomfortable, but at the same time, I enjoyed learning about attitudes that could impact my relationships with God and others.

Then he took it a step deeper. He began to prune my heart. It’s not something I could rationally connect, as I could my attitudes and spoken words. I didn’t understand everything he was pruning from my heart, but when anything rooted in a complaint at all would begin to surface, I felt a spiritual tug. As I yielded to him, I trusted him to get rid of whatever it was that a complaint might be rooted within. I didn’t have to completely understand. I didn’t have to know the why or how; I was content to know the Who.

We can’t always know the why or how, but we can always know the Who.

We don’t need all the information. We don’t need to understand everything. When we think we do, we simply distort the reality and accuracy, such as in the case of our motives. When we know and trust God, we know enough. We need to actively and consistently yield to him so that he continues to reveal himself to us and prune and grow us.

It’s worth the “ouch.” God has pure motives.

Trust the Lord with all your heart,and don’t depend on your own understanding.Remember the Lord in all you do,and he will give you success.Don’t depend on your own wisdom.Respect the Lord and refuse to do wrong. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

 

Change Never Gets Old

5.15Change can be tiresome. It can also be exciting. Change can stunt growth, and it can produce growth. Change can be abrupt, and it can be painfully delayed. Change can be helpful, and it can be hurtful.

It all depends on the perspective.

When we assume the perspective of change is ours, we’re going to respond with frustration, anger, anxiety, exhilaration, celebration, and just about every emotion in between. We’re going to measure the change against what we want. We’re going to consider our comfort. And we’ll respond to the change and set our expectations of the change accordingly. For this reason, the same change can result in very different responses from a variety of people.

It seems natural to assume our own perspective with respect to the change. After all, we know what impacts us most. We know how we’re affected. Even when we’re concerned with others, we’re assuming a perspective with which we can empathize. But it’s not our perspective or even others’ perspectives about which we need to be most concerned.

God is the only one who completely sees the change: why it’s needed, how it should occur, and what the impact will be.

When we yield to God’s perspective, change will never get old, because it will always be with purpose. We won’t always understand the change, but when we trust God through the change, we settle into it as a process instead of an event. We don’t isolate change of a situation. We expand our perspective of the change to consider how it fits within a bigger picture.

Even when we feel differently, we can be certain of God’s sovereignty through change. He will sometimes change something more quickly or slowly than we prefer. He will change something we liked or not change something we don’t like. But God’s way of change isn’t centered on our response. He cares too much about us and his kingdom. He cares about the specifics but always within the context of the big picture. We can trust him in all things, including change.

When we fully trust God, we will not tire of his way of change. We won’t be intimidated by it or anxious about it. We won’t complain. We will praise.

Lord, I trust you.I have said, “You are my God.”My life is in your hands. (Psalm 31:14-15)

Beyond Your Comfort

5.13Who do you do life alongside? Who do you reach out to, encourage, invite, meet, involve? Where is your focus? When you’re in a group of people, do you stick with the people you know, or do you look around for people you don’t know? Do you stay in your comfort zone or step outside it? Is your response about you and what you’re accustomed to or what you want, or is your response and focus about reaching out to someone, meeting him/her where they are?

Where we focus is where we’ll go.

If we focus on the situations and the relationships with which we’re most comfortable, we might invest deeply, but we will miss out on the opportunities of new situations and relationships. If we only brush up against people and are never willing to get to know people on a deeper level, investing ourselves in them and letting them invest in us, we’ll miss out on the accountability, challenges, and growth of friendships.

Relationships atrophy without investment.

Without intentional authenticity, confrontation, and commitment, we won’t grow in relationships, which means we won’t grow as God intends. He created us for relationships, and we learn a lot about him as we live out his will among others. He’s not going to keep you in your comfort zone all the time. You’ll have some people who just seem comfortable to get to know. You’ll continue to invest and want to spend more and more time with the person. Sometimes, that’s great, but God sometimes brings that person into your life for a limited season so you get a snapshot of the possibilities of relationships. It doesn’t mean that person will be in your life for an extended time. In fact, if the comfort of the relationship becomes a crutch for you, making you unwilling to reach outside of it to other people, it can quickly become unhealthy. If the ease of the relationship becomes a measurement standard by which all future relationships are compared, it can quickly become unhealthy.

God only has one standard for relationships: himself.

He determines the when, how, what, and why of the relationship. He guides us to connect or disconnect, but in order to hear and respond to him, we have to remain connected to him. When our focus is on God, we know when we’re supposed to stay and talk to the great friend standing in front of us and when we’re supposed to leave the comfort behind and walk across the room to introduce ourselves to someone new. When our focus is on God, we know when we’re supposed to invest deeply into someone’s life even when it demands a sacrifice of time and effort and when we’re supposed to trust someone to invest in us as we authentically share.

Relationships involve you, but they’re ultimately not focused on you. They’re focused on God and his will for the relationship, and until we fully yield, we won’t have the relationships he wants us to have. He will create a rich myriad of relationships in your life–some will be long-term and some will not, some will take intense effort and some will seem easy, some will be tied to location and circumstances and some will seem to transcend distance and situations. But in order to begin and develop the relationships he wants for you, you have to take your focus off yourself and your assumptions about those around, be willing to step outside your comfort zone, focus on God, and respond to his timing and guidance.

God is preparing you beyond your comfort zone. Take a step of faith.

The Importance of Following

5.11If you’re a Christ-follower, you know the emphasis is on following Christ. I mean, who would ever try to become a leader of Christ, right? But what about a leader for Christ? That seems like a no-brainer. Of course, we want to be leaders for Christ! Well, except for some who shrink back from anything that might resemble a leadership role. Whether it’s because of insecurities or past baggage and judgments from others, being a leader is daunting or seems inconceivable. But as I challenge in an authenticity presentation I regularly share, we’re all leaders. Someone is always following us even it’s not because of a formal leader-follower relationship. People are always watching whether we think we’re worth watching or not.

Even in the church, there’s an emphasis on leadership development and leadership trends. God instructs his followers to be a light and example for others. He calls us to live differently and impact others’ lives for his glory. In the process, we’re leading others, but…it all starts with following.

What if we focused more on the following of faith than the leadership in faith?

If we’re following God, we’re going to lead others well. If we’re following God, we’ll be an example to others. If we’re following God, we’ll shine his light. If we’re following God, we’ll live differently than those around us. If we’re following God, we’ll impact others’ lives for his glory. But if we start with leading others–even with the intention of doing so within God’s will–we will eventually distort leadership. We will begin to veer off course, impacted by what others recommend more than what God commands. We’ll begin to look for things that confirm the ways we’re comfortable leading or the ways that make the most sense to us instead of conforming to God’s way.

Even if we have no intention of taking our eyes off God as we follow, when our focus becomes leadership, we’re in danger of distorting what God intends for our purpose and impact.

  • How well are you following God?
  • How important is following God in your daily life?
  • What leadership lessons have you learned that you might need to set aside because they are either inconsistent with or a distortion of God’s teachings?

Pay attention to the assumptions you make throughout the day, how you’re responding, what you’re assuming, and how willing you are to invite God to challenge and change the way you follow.

It’s not about you. It’s about God. Are you willing to set yourself aside and fully follow?

Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me…” (Mark 1:17)

Un-Expecting Expectations

5.9Do you prefer fill-in-the-blanks or open-ended questions? Which would best describe the way you live out faith?

When we live out our faith with fill-in-the-blanks, we look for what we expect to fit. Sometimes we don’t even look at the context of the blank. We just know a blank is coming, and we sift through what’s coming into our lives to find what best fits. We know something must go there, and we don’t want it to be blank for long. We’d prefer the answers be handed to us on an answer key or shown on a large screen right in front of us. Fill-in-the-blank living can create a lazy interaction. Yes, we’re still engaged in doing something, but we’re jumping from one statement and blank to another, skimming what comes in between.

What if we lived out faith with open-ended questions that invite us to search? Open-ended questions aren’t as safe, because we can get off track without the structure of fill-in-the-blanks. We can easily meander down a rabbit trail or get distracted by a squirrel. Yet open-ended questions engage us. They invite us into experiences. As we learn through experiences, we apply what we learn. We feel a sense of ownership, because we’ve engaged in the process. We’re not just interacting with pen and paper; we’re interacting with the world around us. Open-ended questions lead to mistakes that seem a bit more significant than the fill-in-the-blank mess of crossing out a wrong answer. Just because we experience something doesn’t make our interpretation of what we experience or our perspective of what is accurate and what isn’t reflective of truth. The mistakes of open-ended questions can have lasting impacts, yet we continue to learn through those experiences when we’re seeking God’s truth over our own preferences and perspectives.

When we live by fill-in-the-blanks, we look for something specific. We expect something to fit, and when it doesn’t, we’re not sure what to do. When we live by open-ended questions, we explore what fits, and the answers we find through our experiences are richer and deeper.

Consider a few questions Jesus asked.

“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2)

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil thoughts?” (Matthew 9:4)

“Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Knowing what they were talking about, Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about not having bread? Your faith is small. (Matthew 16:8)

But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:18)

Jesus knew immediately what these teachers of the law were thinking. So he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8)

When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

Jesus had the answers before he asked the questions. He didn’t ask because he needed the answers. He asked because he wanted people to work through the answers. He wanted them to search for the answers, engaging in the experience of learning.

What kind of questions are you asking? The ones you can easily fill in the blank or the ones that take a bit more time, move you out of your comfort level, and sometimes create more confusion before creating clarity?

Engage in a relationship with God. You’ll find the answers you need.

Hope in God’s Promises

5.8We have hope because of who God is. No matter what is going on in your life, your relationships, and your community of faith, you can trust God is working. He is fulfilling his promises. Of course, our hearts and our willingness to obey are involved in the fruit we will see, but God’s will is God’s will, and God’s promises are his promises. He will stay true to his word no matter what we choose, because he can’t be anything other than true to his word. He is fully and sovereignly authentic, consistent, and reliable.

We have disappointments. Our lives aren’t perfect as we see them. We struggle. We feel lonely. We think we’re insignificant or not enough. Or we think we’re more than we are, and our pride gets in the way. We look at God’s promises and wonder where on earth he is and why is he not saying what he said he would do! Sometimes we misunderstand God’s promises, but most of the time, we’re trying impose our own limited understanding or our assumptions and preferences onto God’s promises. He doesn’t promise we’ll understand everything. He promises to be who he says he is and do what he says he will do.

Remember, God has an eternal perspective. He’s not bound by time, and he’s not bound by the confines of life on earth. As Priscilla Shirer said in her recent simulcast event, “Exactly what God says is exactly what God means. We need to take God at his word.”

We have hope because of who God is, who he says we are, and what he says he will do. Need a reminder? Here are just a few from Psalm 119.

Lord, you gave your orders to be obeyed completely. (Psalm 119:4)

Lord, you should be praised. Teach me your demands. (Psalm 119:12)

Lord, teach me your demands, and I will keep them until the end. (Psalm 119:33)

Lord, show me your love, and save me as you have promised. (Psalm 119:41)

Lord, I remember you at night, and I will obey your teachings. (Psalm 119:55)

Lord, you are my share in life; I have promised to obey your words. (Psalm 119:57)

Lord, your love fills the earth. Teach me your demands. (Psalm 119:64)

Lord, I know that your laws are right and that it was right for you to punish me. (Psalm 1119:75)

Lord, your word is everlasting; it continues forever in heaven. (Psalm 119:89)

Lord, accept my willing praise and teach me your laws. (Psalm 119:108)

Lord, it is time for you to do something, because people have disobeyed your teachings. (Psalm 119:126)

Lord, you do what is right, and your laws are fair. (Psalm 119:137)

Lord, I call to you with all my heart. Answer me, and I will keep your demands. (Psalm 119:145)

Lord, you are very kind; give me life by your laws. (Psalm 119:156)

God doesn’t give you insignificant, uncommitted lip service through his promises. He lives them out to completion. How are you responding? Can he depend on your trust and obedience?