We’ve been spending some time learning to communicate within our marriages according to the principles set forth in Scripture, so before we start talking about our tendency to presume and assume, lets recap a little of what we’ve already learned.
Marriages damaged by intimate betrayal have so many obstacles to overcome in order to heal, and learning to communicate well is often one of them. In the first week of this series we laid down a very basic foundation on which to build the rest of our concepts, and then took a week to set our hearts right with a commitment to focus on ourselves, applying what we learn through this series to ourselves first by removing the logs in our own eyes before we try to remove the specks from our partner’s eyes. Last time, we finally started to really dig into the issue of communication by learning how important it is to listen; both to God, and to our spouse. We learned that true listening is about a genuine interest in understanding the heart of our partners, not just about hearing the words they say. We learned that when we have really listened, it will change the way we respond. We will DO something with the information we’ve learned as we listen.
This week we’re expanding on that idea by talking about two practices we all tend to do that are major hindrances to good listening. We presume and assume. Like, a LOT! And you know what they say happens when we assume, don’t you? Well, let’s just say it’s asinine. Assumptions and presumptions make fools out of everyone involved, they waste everyone’s time, and they block communication. So let’s look at what the Bible has to say about our tendency to presume and assume, and figure out what we can do to better align ourselves with the heart of our Lord.
What Does it Mean to Presume and Assume?
Perhaps before we dig into Scripture, we should lay out a few definitions, just to be sure we’re all on the same page.
Both words imply the taking for granted of specific information, or the accepting of something before it is a reality. When we presume and assume, we’re believing a thing either will happen a certain way, or has already happened a certain way without having the facts to know for sure that it has or will happen that way.
The difference between the two is that assumptions are based purely on a gut instinct, where presumptions are based on some sort of past experience or information that makes the presumption likely to be true.
So, for instance, if my husband walks in the door from work just about every day at exactly 5:10, then at 5:05 I might presume that he will walk in the door in 5 minutes. However, if he does not walk in the door at that time, I might assume that he has had a car accident.
While it may seem like presumptions are not as dangerous as assumptions, in reality, when coupled with our sin natures, both practices have a way of greatly hindering intimacy in a relationship and tend to destroy communication.
That One Time Assumptions and Presumptions Nearly Wiped Out a Third of Israel
*Please take a moment to stop and read Joshua 22 before going any further.
Let me, real quick, set the backdrop for this account. The people of Israel, after spending 40 years wandering around the desert in punishment for their rebellion against the Lord have finally entered the promised land under the command of Joshua – a strong and courageous man of victory. About a third of the people (those from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh) had been given land on the east side of the Jordan River and technically could have stayed there and refused to cross with the rest of Israel to fight the inhabitants and claim the promised land. But they didn’t do that. They left their families and possessions behind and traveled with their kinsmen to help them in battle.
At the start of this chapter, the fighting has finally ended, and Israel has successfully claimed the land. Joshua releases these men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to go home to their families. But just before they cross the Jordan, these men decide to build a huge alter as a reminder to the rest of Israel that they are still a part of the nation. They fear that as time passes, they’ll be forgotten on the other side of the Jordan and be excluded from God’s people.
When the rest of Israel hears about the alter, they ASSUME it had been built as a replacement of the Lord’s alter at in front of the Tabernacle at Shiloh and PRESUME they did this as an act of rebellion, like their ancestors, who did not want to follow God’s instructions to the letter.
As a result, they muster the entire army and are prepared to head out and wipe out their relatives for their presumed rebellion.
Thankfully, they decide to send a delegation first to talk it out. And even though they come at their family members, not with questions, but with serious accusations based on wrong assumptions and presumptions, God is gracious, and the whole group is able to set it all right and everyone is able to leave satisfied.
How often do we do nearly as much damage as could have been done here based on our own misguided presumptions and assumptions?
The Heart of the Matter
I believe what this issue boils down to is pretty much the same as what we talked about last time when we talked about listening. Let’s look again at Proverbs 18:2, this time in the English Standard Version:
Proverbs 18:2 (ESV) – A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
Just as a lack of interest in understanding is at the heart of our tendency to be bad listeners, I believe it is also at the heart of our tendency to presume and assume. We want to tout our own “wisdom” by expressing our own opinions, but so often we end up looking like utter fools because we’ve simply gotten it wrong. Unfortunately, too often, the damage we do in the process breaks apart precious relationships, many times, beyond repair.
Proverbs 17:14 – Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out.
Proverbs 14:16 – The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.
Proverbs 12:23 – The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness.
Proverbs 13:16 – Wise people think before they act; fools don’t – and even brag about their foolishness.
Proverbs 15:28 – The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.
I could go on and on posting Proverbs about the importance of being cautious before we open our mouths, but I think we all get the picture. To presume and assume is to believe we know more than we actually do. Plain and simple. It is absolute foolishness to open our mouths and assert those ideas before they’ve been verified. Yet, we ALL do it. We trust our perceptions more than we trust just about anything else. Often times, even more than good hard facts! We forget this VERY important truth, at least, when it applies to ourselves:
John 7:24 – Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.
How different would our communication be if we operated from a place of trusting GOD to reveal truth rather than trusting our own ability to discern a situation? What if we really understood the deceitfulness of our own hearts, and stopped trusting our desperately wicked instincts?
What if, instead of constantly trying to judge the secret motives of our spouses, we simply learned to trust God to dole out justice according to what we all actually deserve? What if we allowed Him to teach us how to make clear boundaries to keep us safe that depend simply on the concrete actions of others, not on our assumptions about their motives? What if, as we learned to trust God, we stopped to take the time to LISTEN to each other without having decided ahead of time what is in the other’s heart?
I believe if we did these things, we could change the world! Or, at least, our world!