by Paul Anderson
Pre.sume (pri-zoom) v. 1. To take for granted; assume to be true in the absence of proof to the contrary. 2. To engage oneself in without authority or permission. Latin praesumere (prae-before + sumere-take).
It sounds innocent compared with pride or greed or lust, certainly not one of the seven deadliest sins, not something that would arouse God’s anger. And yet David prayed, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!” (Psalm 19:13). Presumption, assuming something is true or right or good or necessary, can dominate our lives. Why? Because presuming is leaving the Spirit out of the equation. It is assuming that we naturally think and act like God. It is, in fact, independence of the vilest nature. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, after all.
David was a warrior from the time he was a teenager. He knew how to fight and he knew how to win-whether against bears or bullies. And yet when the Philistines challenged his new kingship in the valley of Rephaim, he asked the Lord if he should fight them. God responded affirmatively, and David defeated them. The Philistines, however, tried again; they were down but not out. David could have assumed that God’s word to him would be the same as last time, but the man who was not afraid to take on a lion, the man for whom fighting seemed as natural as caring for sheep, asked God what he was supposed to do. He did not “take for granted.” He did not praesumere, take before the evidence was in. He lived in dependence upon the real Warrior, the One who fought his battles for him.
How easy for us to presume in areas of strength and adequacy. We all need God, sure enough, but not as much in areas where we can function sufficiently, or so we may think. But Jesus said, “Without Me, you can do nothing!” That is approximately zero. God doesn’t look for originality or creativity-He wants conformity. That is why Jesus gave Him so much pleasure; He only wanted to do His Father’s will.
HOW ARE WE OFTEN GUILTY OF PRESUMPTION?
Listen to these comments. Ask if any of them are presumptuous:
“The Stewardship Drive worked well last year. Let’s do it again.”
“I think we should have a sermon series on the family. That’s what some of
the other churches in town are doing.”
“We really need to build. We’re getting cramped.”
“He served well on the Church Council. We should probably ask him again.”
“I think she should go to the U. of M. That’s where I went.”
“It’s going around. Everybody’s getting it.”
“Let’s go to D.C. Last year we took a vacation out west.”
“Just take this. It sure worked for me.”
These statements may reflect a portion or all of the truth. On the other hand, they may represent earthbound thinking that leaves no room for heaven’s input. Presumption overlooks the fact that God has an opinion about life. It assumes that good old common sense is sanctified enough to discover the will of God without seeking it. Common sense is a helpful tool, but it is insufficient for walking in the Spirit. It too easily assumes that a good idea is a God idea. Just because something worked before does not mean it will work again. The God who says, “Behold I do a new thing” is not
obligated to the past. Yesterday does not determine tomorrow. But we who fall into patterns and routines can make them into ruts-and miss the action of the Spirit. How foolish to think that God will automatically bless our plans because we have creative ideas. Good ideas are a great hindrance to the kingdom of heaven coming into our midst. David, the warrior king, didn’t need a good idea to defeat the Philistines. He did something far better than to just consult his generals for a strategic battle plan-he wisely consulted God.
WHY ARE WE OFTEN GUILTY OF PRESUMPTION?
We listen to people more than to the Lord. The true servant of God listens to heaven before listening to earth. “Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard” (Isaiah 50:4-6). There is a price to pay for listening to God, as Jesus found out. He didn’t dance to the tune of the religious leaders, and He paid for it. But He wanted the favor of God more than the favor of man.We want to be popular rather than prophetic. When we “go with the flow”, we may find ourselves in the wrong river. Jesus irritated the Pharisees, but He pleased God. Elijah had a way of standing before God before he stood before people. Then he proclaimed it as he saw it. It wasn’t always popular, but it was right. We think we know enough to go on our own. Maybe we needed God more when we started teaching, but things have changed. We have developed our skills. In truth, we don’t realize how desperate we are. We need to keep singing the hymn, “I need Thee, O I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee…”
HOW CAN WE OVERCOME THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION?
- Start by realizing the danger. Presumptuous sin can dominate our thinking, it can block true vision, and it can squeeze out revelation. The prophet announced, “Not by might nor by power” (and we could add ‘nor by cleverness or originality or creativity or enthusiasm or charisma or leadership skills’) “but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”
- Confess the grievous sin of presumption. Perhaps this prayer could get us started: “Dear Father. I confess that I have all too often assumed Your will without paying the price to find it. I have wanted to know You without seeking You. I acknowledge that Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and Your ways are not my ways, but I have easily assumed that they are. I have often been guilty of consulting people more than You. I have made plans as if they were divinely inspired, then moved ahead without even including You in the plans. I have asked You to bless my good ideas rather than surrendering my ideas and discovering Yours. I repent of my foolishness and pray for the Spirit of Your Son to guide me into all truth. I give up my plans, my ideas, my opinions, my agenda, and my dreams. Please give me Your plans and Your ideas instead, so that by Your grace, I can succeed in the places where I have failed and that I may be faithful in the places where I have been unfaithful. Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.”
- Practice the art of listening to God. When Mother Teresa was asked how she prayed, she answered, “I listen.” “Then what does God do?” asked the inquirer. “Oh, He listens too,” came her reply. The God who inclines His ear to us, and for whom the prayers of the upright are a delight to His ears (Proverbs 15:8b), the God who listens with greater concentration and focus than our dearest friend on earth, also has words to say to us. He would take us into His confidence: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). A pastor was asked how to learn to hear from God. He answered, “Quit talking.” I had heard that prayer was two-way communication with God, but it sure looked to me as a young pastor that we did all the talking and God did all the listening. When I interned at Trinity Lutheran in San Pedro, I prayed every morning with Larry Christenson, the senior pastor, and a group of men. There were times of silence interspersed with the prayers. Occasionally Larry would write something down. I wondered if he was writing a note to pick up milk on the way home. Perhaps he was. But as I found out later, he and the other men were listening to a God who knew how to talk and who was more than willing to speak to those who listened. It became one of the delights of my Christian life to discover that I too could hear the voice of God. It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes I presumed to know His will when I didn’t, but I also found out that by simply listening and tuning in to Him, I could grow in recognizing His voice.
- Be especially cautious in the areas of your strength. Presumption happens most where we think we know the most. It’s one thing to cry out to God in the face of defeat or in the midst of great weakness or temptation. It’s another thing to call out when we are riding the wave of blessing, when we are on the top and not on the bottom. And that demonstrates why David had such a heart for God. It would have been so natural for him to take action into his own hands against the Philistines. And he could have done it with a spiritual rationale. But as he often confessed, “The Lord is my rock, and my
fortress…my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3). He didn’t trust in his own sword or in what he knew from the past about battle strategy-he trusted in the Lord. Success too often leads to presumption. Now we’ve learned how to do it, now we can pray for the sick, now we can give anointed Bible studies, now we can lead people to Christ, now we can plan even better programs-and we who started in the Spirit end up in the flesh. Far better to stay connected to the vine so that what is produced in our life is the fruit of the Spirit and not our own fruit.