One of the most important lessons in ministry, usually painfully learned, is to not to make assumptions about people.
Some years back I was in conversation with the young Canadian assistant in the Boathouse in Hyde Park. He could see me managing/attempting to manage the three little Moughtin-Mumby’s. “Do you get much support from the grandparents?” he enquired. “I am the grandparent,” I replied, with gusto.
But there again, this Monday we were engaged in lunchtime conversation with the couple on the neighbouring table at Frost’s Garden Centre near Bedford, as little Neve slept in my arms. “You must have had your children very young” they asked “to be a great-grandfather!”
You win some, you lose some.
“Never assume the obvious is true,” cautions US columnist William Lewis Safire.
That could be a watchword for the Christian disciple for the simple reason that God enjoys undermining our assumptions. It is the poor in Spirit who are truly blessed – for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3). The world assumes the very opposite, that we need to be rich in resources.
Take Gideon, facing a huge Midianite army with just 32,000 men. So what does God do? Send him reinforcements? The very opposite.
The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.” (Judges 7:2).
And God does deliver victory, with just 300 men plus Gideon. It’s how God works – he is at his best when we are at our weakest. A totally new way of thinking, something we have to keep on working on.
One of my heroes died this work – Maya Angelou. She wrote: “Christians must never assume they have the walk of Christ all sewn up, but must always strive for heightened spiritual sensitivities, greater zeal for God and his works, and an ever growing resemblance to Jesus.”
All this means training our minds to think in a new way, to unlearn what the world takes for granted. This, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit working through our reading of scripture, an invaluable discipline. That is why the Bible is so very important – it shows us how God thinks.
So we read in Proverbs: “Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God. (3:5 The Message translation).
Finally, John was told that a twin-engine plane would be waiting for him. So arriving at the airport, he spotted a plane warming up outside the hanger. He jumped in and said to the waiting pilot: “Let’s go!”
The pilot taxied and took off.
Once in the air John told the pilot: ‘Fly low over the valley so I can take pictures of that hill on fire.
“Why?” asked the pilot.
John replied ”Because I am a photographer for CNN and I need to get some close up shots.
The pilot was strangely silent for a moment before stammering out: “‘So what you’re telling me is . . . . that you’re not my flying instructor?”