Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Mistake of Reading Between the Lines

  "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."
Colossians 4:6

How often do you find yourself in the position of being misunderstood?

You attempt to make a point on a specific issue but discover that your words failed and others misconstrued what you were trying to say.  Instead of accepting your statement or question at face value and replying logically and with reason, they look for unspoken and hidden agendas behind your words.

The responses you get can vary.  You are either seen as lacking knowledge, judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, hateful, or a host of other accusations.  If you attempt to continue to drive home your point by reorganizing your words, what you thought was only a soul-searching question can erupt into a full-blown argument.   In order to avoid that result, you walk away discouraged and defeated, dropping your point into the ash heap of unanswered and unresolved societal or spiritual conflicts.

It is understood that we don't all think alike when it comes to our world view and, unfortunately, that is even evident in how we express our faith.  Each of us are built in different ways, and the most revealing of that truth is when we attempt to discuss spiritual matters with others.  We won't always agree on everything that grabs our attention, but at least we can choose to respectfully consider what others are attempting to convey.  And the best way we can do that is by not inserting something into the discussion that was never intended to be there.

A recent conversation with a dear and beloved brother in Christ made me realize that I am not alone in this problem.  He is also experiencing it.  The problem we both have faced is that negative reactions and condemnation can come from Christian family members and/or friends.  He was accused of being "too devoted" to Christ (I was stunned.  Is there such a thing?!).  It was subtly insinuated that I was being hateful and not understanding how God works through others (at least, it appeared to be aimed at me).  We expect to get negative reactions from the secular world.  But when we are called to task by a professing Christian who has misunderstood what it is we are attempting to reveal, it becomes a bigger problem.  The end result can be painful for those of us who are only trying to bring certain things to light, things that may have a direct or indirect effect on others and how they view them, and asking others to consider our point and respectfully inject their own thoughts.

However, what is even more troubling is when our point is understood and we then find ourselves being preached at, directly or indirectly, for asking it in the first place.  I am not perfect, and if the issue at hand is deserving of correction on my part, then I will thankfully and gladly accept being steered back onto the right course.  There have been times when it has been necessary because of my ignorance over certain things.  I am grateful that the LORD has placed others in my life who keep my feet firmly planted.  But when conviction propels me to press home a troubling issue, I expect different reactions from those whom I value as trusted members of the family of Christ.

I am probably the worst offender of having knee-jerk reactions, being forced to recant and apologize.  I read so much that I have formed a bad habit of quickly skimming over things, looking for the meat of what is written, and sometimes not deeply considering what is there before I react.  But one thing I am truly working on is to not make the mistake of reading between the lines and misunderstanding what it is someone is attempting to convey.  When we do that, we become the judgmental ones.  Instead of asking for clarification in order to properly respond, we allow self-righteousness and arrogance to overcome us, forgetting that we are speaking to someone who is also supposed to be valued and trusted to properly handle and dispense the Word of God.

Because of the current problems that are raging around the world, we are often forced to read between the lines, looking for the truth behind what is being told.  What the secular world is allowing us to see can confuse or misdirect us, leading us off the righteous path and onto one that is full of dangerous pitfalls.  The enemy never tires from his deceptions; never growing weary of luring us away from the truth, and his greatest weapon is the church.  Therefore, we are commanded to stay vigilant (Matt. 7:15-16), to exhort (Col. 2:1-3) and, yes, even to correct a brother or sister who has strayed away from truth and is in danger of being deceived (1Thes. 5:14-15).

In order to be able to accomplish this, we must all be united in one spirit and with one mind.  And this uniting should be the most obvious in our conversations with each other.  Each of us have been given the amount of wisdom that God wants us to have.  No more.  No less.  But if a brother or sister poses a important question that reveals the difference between what you have been given and what they have received, it is our responsibility to share the knowledge we have in order for them to gain further understanding.  We should never read something else into what they have presented to us.  And we should never become Pharisee-like in our response by assuming we have greater understanding than they have.

Our reaction should be full of the love we are expected to convey to them, never elevating ourselves above them or lording our self-perceived wisdom over the conversation.  If we would employ the apostle Paul's exhortation in the beginning verse of this post, there would be far less pain inflicted on others and less division among us.

Unless the point being made by others is clouded with unspoken words or obviously off-track, stop reading between the lines.  But if you must, at least have the courtesy to see the point being made.  If you will do that, you may discover that they have wisdom that can be passed onto you as you engage in the conversation.

A pure and honest discussion full of grace and "seasoned with salt" is far better than one that has the potential to break the unity we should have with each other.  Stop allowing the enemy to control the time we spend talking about the things of God.  Pause and consider, then enter into the conversation with a clear mind and heart that is focused entirely on what God may be trying to teach all of us.

Only then will we be able to truly say that nothing was left to conjecture or speculation, but resulting in fruitfulness and for the benefit of us all.

No comments: