It’s natural to make assumptions about people. Sadly, what we tend to assume is often negative. Personally, I have seen how very easy it is to do this, and I often pray that God will stop me at the first thought of any kind of critical or self-righteous feelings toward others. We all know that it’s wrong according to Scripture for us to think this way about others. It doesn’t reflect how Jesus is. Even if these perceptions are technically accurate, they may be uncharitable or shallow, and probably don’t take into account all the factors behind why a person acts or responds in certain ways.
I think this common human weakness of assuming the negative or drawing negative conclusions indicates how important it is that we actively and continually work to take on the mind of Christ. It takes a conscious effort to avoid defaulting to these negative tendencies. We often think we know what the situation is and that we can assess it correctly, when in reality, we see only part of the full picture.
Can we know what is going on in someone else’s thoughts or heart? Can we look into a person’s soul and ascertain the private details of their life? Of course we can’t.
When a person’s motives are unknown and we don’t agree with their actions or perspectives, or they rub us the wrong way, it’s easy to conclude that their motives are more likely to be wrong than right. However, when we look to Jesus and allow Him to guide our thoughts, He can help us to see things as He sees them.
We know how wrong criticizing others is. We know it displeases God and is contrary to His Word. However, as the apostle Paul said, “I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.”1
Overcoming our sinful human nature is an ongoing process. Being immersed in this world also influences us and we need to bring our attitudes into alignment with Jesus’ teaching. This is part of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”2
We can all recall times when our words were judged wrongly or unfairly by others, or our actions were misinterpreted and our sincere efforts were rejected out of suspicion or preconceived attitudes. That hurts. It can be very discouraging. Or we can remember when something we did or said was just an awkward or clumsy attempt to be understood or loved or acknowledged, yet others judged us as intentionally trying to hurt them or someone else. Since we know how that feels, perhaps we need to look at others and realize that they could be feeling the same way, and if so, we have an opportunity to help alleviate their pain.
Whether the person we are criticizing is right or wrong, we are wrong to allow a critical mindset to influence us. I know I’ve been guilty of making snap judgments about people, and often those judgments turned out to be wrong.
So I started trying to change this negative habit into a positive one of asking for God’s mind on the situation. He reminds me to play a sort of game, the Compassion Game, of thinking about possible scenarios or reasons why what looks negative to me might actually be someone’s cry for help. Perhaps with God’s guidance I might be able to meet that need in some way. The help I can offer may sometimes be primarily through prayer, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
The Bible instructs us to think on the good things, the things of good report, the beautiful, the kind, the loving things, and to exercise compassion and mercy rather than assuming the worst.3 The more I practice letting God guide my thoughts to the good, the more I move toward making this reaction a habit.
Another way to develop this habit of seeing the positive is to implement what someone wisely said, “You learn something most thoroughly when you teach it.” As parents and grandparents, when we are with our children and grandchildren, we can use the experiences that we have had as teaching opportunities. Teaching children to play this Compassion Game not only helps them develop a tender heart for others, but it also teaches them humility and understanding, as well as about prayer and how to use it to make a difference in others’ lives. It can help them learn how to treat others the way they would want to be treated, and even how to look at their own struggles and shortcomings in a more positive way.
The Compassion Game is a game you’ll probably start off playing solo, but the blessings and benefits grow even more as you share what you’ve learned with others.