Why do we respond to circumstances the way we do? How we respond does not depend on the facts of the situation. It depends on our interpretation of those facts. Consider the following situations that we all have probably faced many times.
Fact: Traffic is unusually congested and you are late for an appointment.
Possible Responses: Get angry and complain about all the cars on the road or be excited about the extra time to keep singing your favorite praise music.
Fact: Despite knowing that you have just arrived home from a long list of errands on a hot, humid day, your children do not help carry in all the groceries.
Possible Responses: Yell at the kids for being lazy or remember that you are really serving Jesus and carry in the groceries by yourself, joyfully.
Fact: You are watching a news story about a political candidate who is, yet again, found to be lying.
Possible Responses: Roll your eyes in disgust and mumble, “You are such an idiot” or remain peaceful knowing that Jesus is sovereign even over crooked politicians.
We Are Not Victims
Not every person who faces the same situation responds the same way. Some get angry. Others do not. The facts do not force how we respond. Cain, when warned by God about his response, still chose wrongly (Gen. 4:1-16). In each situation, we choose how we respond. This is an incredibly helpful insight.
We are not victims of our circumstances. Although the circumstances may in fact be very perplexing, and by all human reasoning a sinful response could be understandable, we still have a choice. We are never in a situation where we are forced to sin.
Example: Response to Suffering
I am thinking of my daughter who has suffered with seizures now for about eight years. We have seen a number of doctors and medical professionals. We have tried a variety of therapies, supplements, restrictive diets, and medications but none have worked (so far). The spectre of another seizure always looms. We can guess when one might occur, but they are still somewhat capricious. She has had seizures in public, including one time at a dance with other teens and another time at a ministry event where I was speaking. One seizure occurred in the company of her best friends.
If anyone had a “pass” (humanly speaking) to gripe about being dealt a bad hand in life, she certainly would have a good case. To the world, she would have reason to doubt God’s goodness, perhaps even his existence. Yet, she takes it all in stride. I have never seen her get angry or lash out about her situation. She certainly has never questioned God’s goodness. In fact, as I have written before, she has said, “I would rather have my seizures and what I have with God, than to not have the seizures and not have what I have with God.”
She can respond this way because she is interpreting her circumstances based on what is true. She is not emotionless nor does she have a high threshold of pain. Instead, she knows that God loves her. She knows that one day he will heal her. She knows that he is the source of her peace, not her health. Perhaps most compelling of all, she knows that God uses suffering to do his work in his people. And there has been ample fruit of how he has used her suffering to help sanctify her as well as her siblings…and her parents.
The meaning that she attaches to life is based not on her circumstances but on God alone. Her endurance honors the existence of a loving, sovereign God. I could only hope that I could be as good of an interpreter as she is. I face far less but am very quick to interpret wrongly. I struggle not to have a meltdown in traffic or in the long line at Walmart because I misinterpret these events as personal attacks on me, rather than opportunities to be reminded that I am not god and that I need to rest in God and find my satisfaction in him alone, not in my being able to accomplish all I have in my far too ambitious plan for the day.
Helping Good Interpretation Through Questions
A good way to help each other with interpretation is to ask questions that expose the desires that are ruling the heart in the circumstance.
When you feel yourself about to respond wrongly, try asking, “What is important to me, right now?” “What am I worshipping right now?” “Where is my hope centered right now?” “What does how I am responding to this situation reveal about what I need right now?” “How has Jesus already met that need for me?”
Good interpretation helps us cut through the smoke of war and to get to the heart of the matter so that we can gain victory that is already ours in Christ.
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