When we look at a problem – heck, when we look at anything – we make certain assumptions. But which assumptions I make are determined by who I believe I am, and who I believe God is, and my choice of assumptions will very substantially affect my life and my trust in God. I need to be aware of my assumptions and I need to make careful and intentional choices with them.
For example, if I have lived with poverty all my life, then when I find $20 in a pair of old pants, then I’m likely to find a $20 want and spend it on that. I know other people whose first assumption is “Cool! Who can I give this to?” And there are people, or so I’m told, who immediately deposit the money in the bank. (I don’t know many of those people.)
And when I look at a problem – take my family budget for example – I make assumptions, but I have a choice which assumptions I make God. I have a couple of sets of data, and sometimes they disagree. I need to be thoughtful about which set of data I believe, which data I assume to be true.
We can look at the numbers on the paper (or in the spreadsheet, or in the checkbook….) and we can accept those to be the definition of reality. And certainly, there’s a level of reality there. Sometimes, though, that data, that view of reality, conflicts with another reality that I say I believe. The other data includes statements like “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
And thus the war begins.
Looking at my bills, I can see that I have certain needs, and looking at my paycheck, I can see that I have certain resources to meet some of those needs. But this new set of data, the data from Heaven, say otherwise: God promises to meet all my needs. But my paycheck promises to meet some of my needs. Which one is true?
That’s an easy question to answer in theory. “Of course the Bible is true.” But so often we live as if the Bible’s truth is limited to “spiritual subjects” or “under certain conditions” or “for those people over there,” or some other limitation. Sorry. Not allowed. Either the Book is true, or it’s not.
This is exactly what I mean by “assumptions.”
We often assume that the problems are true, and therefore if the Book doesn’t line up with that “truth,” we make excuses for God. I think that’s a mistake. I am coming to believe that God is true even though the data that I see with my eyes doesn’t line up. In other words, I’m coming to believe – and this is a great and terrible shift for me – that God is more true than my experience. It’s a battle of worldviews, really. Which view of my world is real?
So I look at my financial need, and I look at the promise of God, and one or the other has to give. I must challenge my own assumptions about my financial need. In this example, the first assumption might be about what is a “need” to me. The second might be how I have handled the provision that He’s given me. (The phrase “Don’t eat your seed” is beginning to make sense to me.)
Another illustration: The book says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” So if “all men” can’t tell that I’m a disciple, then we have another battle of worldviews. It has to be one of three things: either a) God’s word doesn’t really mean what it says, or b) I’m not living up to “love one another” properly, or c) I don’t know how to tell whether all men know that I’m His disciples.
I’m going to simplify this: these are those 3 options, stated as principles:
a) God is a liar and His promises are not true (let’s not sugar-coat this one!), or
b) I haven’t fulfilled the conditions: I’m not holding up my end of the bargain, or
c) God really is doing His part, but I am not seeing it right for one reason or another.
But we live in a fallen world, not an ideal one, so there are actually two more options, but they’re hard to deal with:
d) things happen that are not God’s will (they're someone else's will), and
e) “I don’t know.” (That is a valid answer, you know.)
Let’s get option D out of the way quickly, and I need to be direct here, because there’s a spirit of stupid that gets on us sometimes: Not everything that goes on in this world is God’s will. I hear people tell me in times of difficulty, “Well, it must have been meant to be…” It makes me want to scream, “Do you really think that the God who sent His only Son to die for you would give your child cancer? Engage your brain, you yahoo!” Let me say it again: a lot of what you and I experience is NOT God’s plan for us.
So if my experience doesn’t line up with the promises of God, there are five possibilities. Option A above – that God’s promises are not true for us – is the one that so often we think of first. Since that is the explanation that is has been whispered into our ear since Genesis chapter three: “Did God really say….?” We assume that our experience is true, and if that is true, then anything that disagrees with our experience can’t be true. That, of course, is unbelief in full flower, and it seems that it requires a fair bit of pride for to declare that my perception is more valid than God’s promise.
It seems that when I encounter stuff that doesn’t line up with what I believe God has said, that I need to ask two questions that come from the book of Acts: “What does this mean?” and “What must I do?” And if we’re serious about the questions we ask, we need to be willing to hear any kind of answer in reply. It’s hard to lay down my assumptions and approach the challenge with an open mind, but it’s necessary.
An illustration: I was part of a church planting team in Canada years ago, and we were experiencing strange things in the church when spring came, so we went to prayer. “God, what does this mean? What are you up to? What do we need to know?” We heard Him saying, “Get ready for great change this summer.” Unfortunately, we didn’t know to ask “What do we need to do?” so we went with our assumptions: God will finally answer some of the prayers for growth. That assumption fit the facts that we knew but it was not reality. That summer, the church fell apart and died, and we left the country with our tails between our legs.
One of the most difficult aspects was that we had expected such great good, because of our assumptions, and what we encountered was a great trial: seven years of brokenness. Looking back at that season, it was very easy to say, “God, you failed us!” (option a) when the reality in this case was options c, d, and e: We weren’t seeing it right (I can’t tell you the blessing He brought through this), we were the victims of some activity that was NOT God’s, and ultimately, we really didn’t know the whole story, and we still don’t, and that’s OK.
So back to the family budget. When my checkbook challenges the truth of God’s word, I have a choice: I can accept the assumptions that tell me to believe my checkbook, which is leading me to be anxious and worry. Or I can assume that God’s word is true; it tells me that He is my provider, and that I can trust Him. (It never promises, however, that I’ll figure out all of His ways!) I choose Him, even if it means that I must not believe my own experience.
I choose to believe Him, especially when I want to believe me!
So here’s a suggestion: Pray this prayer: “By virtue of my authority as an autonomous human being, made in the image of God with a free will, I choose to never (insofar as I am able) assume that God is a liar or that His promises have somehow failed me when I don’t understand my circumstances. God, please help me to see the truth of each situation I’m in, and to recognize Your hand in every circumstance.”