Sometimes, I have a hard time hearing the real truth or intention of God’s Word. I tend to negatively interpret what God is saying to me and interpret things from Scripture that God never intended to communicate. This is a problem because my negative interpretations disrupt my relationship with God keep me from experiencing His love for me.
For example, I do not take it very well when the Bible tells me to be thankful. I don’t disagree with the idea. I acknowledge that I need to be thankful and yet when I read that command in the Bible I don’t have a very positive internal response.
The first part of the problem is that I feel like it’s an accusation. I feel that God is telling me through the many authors of Scripture that I’m dropping the ball in the gratitude area of my life and that I need to get my act together. While that’s obviously a bit of a misinterpretation, I don’t think that I’m the only one who has had that thought while reading those commands.
God’s instructions can come across as a little too demanding, especially in a culture of people who aren’t big fans of following directions in the first place. I don’t want to just point fingers at my culture and past though. I want to get to the heart of why I interpret those commands the wrong way so that I can get the truth that God is trying to get into my heart.
Being thankful is not the only command that I struggle with from time to time and yet I think it offers one of the best examples of how I misinterpret Scripture.
A Hard Left into Hearing the Wrong Thing
When I hear Scripture telling me to be thankful, I interpret it as a guilt trip. Growing up, I heard the message from many adults that I misbehaved simply because I didn’t appreciate my circumstances and what others had done for me. While it’s true that a lack of appreciation helps lead many of us astray, it’s not very fair to tell a kid they would surely behave better if they appreciated their teachers more.
That’s a bit of an oversimplification because we all have a sinful nature that makes us do things we hate and even really good kids misbehave from time to time. I felt like the adults in my life were telling me that if I was only more grateful I would be a better kid. That made me feel like I was a naturally a failure and the only way to improve was to be more grateful for my elders.
Simply put, the adults in my life used my lack of gratitude to guilt me into working harder and putting on a better performance for them. These guilt trips have affected my adult life in a very negative way.
These days, I have trouble reading Scripture sometimes and I especially struggle with the command to be thankful because I hear a guilt trip instead of God’s loving invitation to a better way of life. Sometimes I read Scripture and what I hear sounds something like “Okay, you need to live by this standard that is impossible for anyone but Jesus, don’t feel good about yourself until you achieve that standard, and don’t forget to be thankful for the impossible standard that I’ve given you.” I know this is not what God is trying to communicate through the Scripture and yet I have to push past this some of the times that I read the Bible.
There is a saying that guilt is a bully and conviction is a friend. I don’t know if my parents, teachers, and coaches knew they were using guilt trips to correct my behavior. That doesn’t really matter, what does matter is that Jesus is the one who takes my guilt upon Himself and is NOT the one who points fingers of blame.
The guilt I interpreted as a kid makes me read the Bible like a coach yelling about what I’ve done wrong and demanding that I do better next time. In truth, God uses Scripture to help show us how to keep from falling. God is not a coach who stands above me and yells for me to get up.
God is a friend who reaches down and pulls me up and helps dust me off. He gives me the commands of Scripture the same way a loving father teaches his son how to ride a bike or change a tire. There is a reason why Paul starts most of his letters with encouragement and then ends them by reminding the churches to encourage each other.
Even when he is reprimanding or rebuking them, he does it in a loving way and encourages them at the same time by expressing his confidence in them. Paul says multiples times (Ephesians 4:1, 2 Timothy 1:19) that we need to live according to our high calling. While I have always read this and thought that God is pointing out that I’m a failure, He’s actually inviting me into something more grand and wondrous than I can imagine.
I thought God was saying ‘Hey, you’re dropping the ball’ and He was actually saying ‘Hey, do you want to join the ranks of the broken made beautiful’. There is a dramatic difference between those two statements because the second one is an invitation and not a criticism of my performance. In the same way, I used to read about how I can do all things through Christ (Phil 4:13) and thought that God must think that I’m worthless.
Now, I see that God was inviting me into the most important work of all time and simply telling me what I needed in order to get the job done. When I stopped thinking that God was just pointing out all my mistakes, the truth of Scripture started to break through my calloused heart. How we read the Bible is just as important as how often we read it and it’s important to examine how we interpret God’s letters to us.
I think you might be surprised what you’ll find if you ask God to help you understand His word and examine it with others to get another perspective. Seeing God’s Word in a new light can help bring light into the dark parts of our heart and free us from the chains that hold so many of us down.
Image Copyright: Rene Ehrhardtby