Stop Assuming the Worst

Stop Assuming the Worst

Pastor Ryan Lenerz looks at Joshua 22 and shows how we can hear something, tell ourselves a story, and jump to assuming the worst when assuming the bets can actually help us mend fences in our relationships.

FENCES: Stop Assuming the Worst

Joshua 22

In the previous message we looked at how we are to resolve conflict with others rather than let it fester.  In this follow-up message, I will be focussing on what I think is the #1 cause of our conflict with others, assuming the worst.

If any of you are like me, you have been in countless situations where you were arguing about something with someone and you weren’t even sure how you got into the argument in the first place.  Likely it was a minor issue, but somebody made an assumption about the other person. Suddenly, one person felt offended, they became defensive, and the fight was on. It’s amazing to me how quickly we can go from smooth waters to rough seas in our relationships with others.

Just a few weeks ago this happened to me with a church member.  I asked a friend of mine here, somebody I know well, joke with, and have no reason to doubt, to help me in a ministry. I gave some ideas of what I wanted done and how she could move forward.  The next day, that person replied to my email with what she thought would work best, and it deviated from what I asked for in several regards. And my immediate response – TRAITOR! How could she do this to me?  Doesn’t she trust my leadership? Does she think she knows better than me on my own area of expertise? I was making all these terrible assumptions about her intentions. And in my frustration I was venting to my wife about how people NEVER do this and ALWAYS do that and my wife in her infinite wisdom said, “Ryan, just call her.”  But not wanting to deal with the conflict, because like you, I hate dealing with it, I said “No.” So my wife called me a big baby and told me to just deal with it! 

So I made the call that night, and guess what?  I had told myself a story about this person’s motives and feelings about me that were completely untrue.  I jumped to thinking the worst about this person’s intentions, and this is a good friends of mine, no less.  And after that call, when everything was cleared up, I felt SO MUCH BETTER. And this little story exemplifies both Part 1 and 2 of this message on Mending Fences.

  1. We need to have the humility, maturity, and love to deal with our conflict rather than let it fester
  2. Often our conflict is the result of us assuming the worst about someone, more than actual disagreement

And the thing is, I know I’m not the only one who makes these crazy jumps in our mind about our friends, our spouses, our co-workers, people we serve at church with, our pastors, the list goes on and on.  It’s as though in the moment of miscommunication we forget all the goodwill this person has shown us and we make them out to be our opponent. Our spouse of dozens of years can come home, have a bad day at work, snap at something we say, and BOOM, “There he goes again, he’s ALWAYS like this.  I can’t believe he doesn’t trust/care/love me.”

Assuming the Worst Almost Leads to War

And the reason I know I’m not the only one to experience this is because it’s part of the human condition.  It’s part of being in relationship with others in this broken, sin infested world. We see it all the way back in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve, the first people on this earth sin.  And I can guarantee you that they made a lot of assumptions about what God was going to do to them for eating that apple and that’s why they hid. They didn’t want to go address the conflict with God, they wanted to run from it because of what they thought he would do.

The best example of assuming the worst about someone that drives a wedge in a relationship and how to deal with the mess it creates can be found in Joshua 22.  And I have to tell you, I love that I can take a message about relational conflict and use a little-known Old Testament story to drive the point home.

Before getting to Joshua 22, I have to give you the setup to the story.  Towards the end of the 40 years that the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, they began to approach the land of Canaan, the land God Promised the Israelites as an inheritance.  And in the book of Numbers, we are told that on their way there, they defeated several kings on the East of the Jordan River. Two and a half tribes of Israel liked this land they were passing through and asked if they could inherit this land on the east of the Jordan River.  And Moses allowed them to do this, so long as they promised to go out and help fight with all of Israel to take over the Promised land on the west side of the Jordan. The entire book of Joshua chronicles the Israelites going through this land and defeating all the people in the area so they could take the land that God had promised to them.  And now we come to the end of the book of Joshua, after all the land has been conquered.

Joshua 22:1–5: Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

So basically, Joshua is telling them, “Job well done, guys.”  He’s relieving them of their duty and reminding them about their covenant to serve God with all their heart and soul.

Joshua 22:9–12: So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, …

When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan … they built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.

And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar … the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

WOW!  That sure turned in a hurry.  Right after being reminded to only worship God, they build a giant altar.  And the rest of the Israelites, the ones who were just fighting shoulder to shoulder with them, immediately get ready to go to battle against them.  Obviously, they are making some assumptions about why this altar was built.

But before engaging in war, the Israelites sent Phinehas the Priest and a leader from each of the 10 tribes on the west of the Jordan to share their concern.  And they said:

Joshua 22:16–18: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! And are you now turning away from the Lord?   “ ‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel.

Do you see the story they are telling themselves here?  They are assuming the altar that was constructed was to worship other gods and was an act of rebellion.  And really, the only reason they care is because they are afraid God will punish THEM for the sins of these other tribes just like God did years earlier when many people sinned by worshipping Baal and God wiped out 24,000 Israelites by a plague.

Joshua 22:21–28: Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: …

“No! We did it for fear that someday your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’

“That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord … Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’

“And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

Now we’re getting to the truth.  The altar wasn’t one to worship other gods at, but one to serve as a reminder that God’s people are living on both sides of the Jordan river.  And notice, both sides did what they did out of fear caused by bad assumptions. The 10 tribes on the west were afraid God would punish them for the sin of the other tribes.  Meanwhile the altar was built in the first place because of a fear of being forgotten and removed from God’s blessing.

Now let’s look at how this whole thing came to a final resolution:

Joshua 22:30: When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community –  the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased.

So they returned home and reported to the Israelites everything that happened

Joshua 22:33:. They were glad to hear the report and praised God.

Now we may shake our heads in disbelief at this story, but it is SO US!  We do this exact same thing. We see somebody act a bit differently than normal and we assume they are mad at us.  Or we see somebody in public or in the church foyer and they turn and walk away and we tell ourselves all sorts of stories about why they did that.  And it might just be BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T SEE YOU!

You see, I believe Satan, our enemy, loves to watch us doubt one another and create conflict where none exists.  And we inflict this pain to ourselves because we don’t feel secure in the other person’s love for us. We assume the worst because we doubt, we don’t fully trust, because we’ve been hurt before and now that’s what we assume of everyone.

How to Stop Assuming the Worst

But God wants so much more for us.  He wants us to be free from the doubt and insecurity that plagues us and causes these negative assumptions.  He wants us to enjoy and be blessed by all the relationships he has put into our lives. And so we need to find a way to get beyond our negative assumptions of others.  We have to move beyond past hurts and times people have broken our trust and stop carrying that into every future relationship in our lives.

So what should you do when you think there’s a miscommunication or you feel yourself making assumptions about a person and their actions or words?  You should follow the model setup in our story about the Israelites:

    1. Address the situation – like Pastor Brent taught last week, you cannot let conflict fester or it will only get worse as you keep making more and more negative, and wrong assumptions.
    2. Share both sides of the story – This can be challenging, but both people need to feel like they can safely share what they think is going on from their perspective.  This is not a time to be defensive, but to be humble and receptive.
    3. Feel relief from the clarity – Now that the tension has been resolved and the assumptions are swept away, both of you can feel better and your relationship will be deeper as you proved to one another than you CAN BE TRUSTED.
    4. Praise God  – I think this is a step we forget, but the Israelites recognized that God was worthy of praise for helping them resolve this mess.   We should thank him as well when our conflict is cleared up.

I know I have walked through this exact process many times in my life.  One time I remember clearly, I just felt like my relationship with a co-worker was off.  I felt like they were being snippy with me and I was wanting to retaliate by being snippy back.  The problem was, I didn’t even know what was wrong. I was simply offended, being defensive, and was not enjoying the working with this person.  So I made a point to go talk with the person and humbly say I thought things felt off and wanted to make them right. It was a hard conversation for me to get up the guts to have, but it felt so much better after talking about it. And you know what? My relationship with that person became much deeper and trusting as a result.

Know who’s on Your Team

Now, after saying all these things, if you find that you are the type of person who is often feeling offended, often assuming people are against you, and relationships are just a struggle, I want to encourage you to think about who are the people who are ON YOUR TEAM.  This concept of thinking about your support system, family, and friends as your team came to me as I was training to be a foster parent. In the training, they tell you to reassure a troubled child that everybody is on their team. Their parents, the DHS worker, the therapists, the teachers, the foster parents – everyone is there to be a HELP to the child.  They are all on the child’s team.

The problem is, in the middle of conflict, we forget who is on our team and just like the Israelites, we make opponents out of teammates.  So let these statements soak in and hold on to them when you want to assume the worst about somebody:

Your Family and Spouse

Your parents care about you.  They may say and do things you don’t like, but they’re not trying to hurt you.  The same can be said about your kids. They’re young, they don’t know any better.  But they aren’t your enemy – they care about you. When you’re in an argument with them, remember that.  This is especially true of your spouse. He or she may say things that bug you or make you feel challenged, but don’t assume the worst and retaliate.  Instead, address it. Talk about it. And let your relationship grow as you learn to trust one another as teammates.

Your Church

This is what makes church different than the world.  We are all to show the love of Jesus to one another, to be a picture of unity in a fractured, fighting world. Yes, we may disagree about how to do things or how to handle situations, but we cannot forget that by being a part of the family of God, we are teammates.  We should have the same ultimate goal – to see more and more people come to experience the amazing love of God. So when you feel like something isn’t right with someone, rather than making assumptions and making an opponent, lets let unity lead as we talk through our differences.

Your God

I think this last statement is one we may not think about, but is one some of you may struggle most with.  God is a God of love, a God who wants to be in relationship with you. He’s not a God sitting in the clouds judging all that you do, trying to determine whether to bless or curse you.  When you mess up, there’s no need to hide like Adam and Eve, assuming he will strike you with lightning. He loves you. Trust his love. Stop assuming the worst about him and what he will do to you for your mistakes.  Instead, approach him and talk about your struggles. And feel the incredible relief of God’s deep forgiveness.


God created each one of us for relationship with Him and relationship with one another.  But part of our sinful nature is that we make these relationships a lot more challenging than they ought to be.  We can create mountains out of molehills. Start a civil war against those we triumphed in war with. Our insecurity and doubts lead us into all sorts of negative assumptions that steal our joy and strain perfectly good relationships.  But God wants more than that for us. He wants us to know how to deal with these situations when they rear their ugly head rather than letting them fester. And he wants us to trust that our family, our friends, our church, and our God is on our team!  They are here to help us, not to tear us down – so let’s stop assuming that of them.

I encourage you take a moment to consider how you might mend your fences and put these relational conflicts behind you.  It’s time for us, as followers of Jesus, to show the world the right way to resolve conflict and live at peace with those around us.


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