On June 12, 1987 at 2pm, Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany and said, “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Historians tell us that the speech had very little news coverage and that Reagan’s challenge fell on deaf ears. The wall was 12 foot high and had been erected in 1961 but the ideological gap between East and West Germany was immense. Simply taking down the wall could never happen without years of preparation, and that would most certainly never happen…or so they thought.
By October of 1987, East Germany was so disrupted by major protests and civil disobedience, that the communist regime decided something must be done to ease the tensions. East Germans demanded the freedom to travel to West Germany, and not have their movement restricted. So, the Communist Party leadership decided to meet these demands, and came up with a set of regulations designed to ease the process of traveling in between the two Germany’s.
The Communist Party finally agreed on a new set of rules for travel early in November. Then on November 9th, the Berlin Communist Party leader set a press conference to discuss these new regulations. Shortly before the conference, he was given a note that detailed how the new regulations would work. What the note didn’t contain, however, was the exact time when they would go into effect.
So after he announced the changes at the press conference, the journalists asked when they would go into effect. Caught unprepared, and with no obvious future date, he responded with “As far as I know, it takes effect immediately, without delay”. Immediately, waves of people stormed the Berlin Wall border crossings, demanding to gain access into West Berlin.
Vastly outnumbered, confused and with no clear orders, the East German border guards tried to hold off the crowd but eventually they gave in. Soon after, all order broke down and no form of regulation that restricted movement was capable of being enforced. Within the next few hours and days, the process of destroying the Berlin Wall was in full swing. Because of one ‘little misunderstanding’ – one mistake, the Berlin Wall fell and there was no way to stop it.
As we all know, most misunderstandings don’t have such a happy ending. Over the simplest of things; people’s feelings get hurt, relationships fall apart and friends become enemies. Sometimes it is because of what someone said – but just as often it is about what was not said.
In 2002, Chicago University Psychology Professors Boaz Keysar and Anne Henly did a study on communication. What they found was that nearly half of all communication, 46%, was often misunderstood. One of their statements was, “When it comes to communication, people overestimate their skill.”
Keysar writes that we all have a false sense of clarity, he calls it an ‘illusion of control’. We know what we mean to say, even if we say it wrong. And the trouble is, people generally speaking, do not listen well. In fact, it is amazing we understand each other at all!
The reason this is so important is because we were created by God, in His image, as social beings. You may recall, in Genesis chapter 2 when God created the first man (adam means man in Hebrew), he was lonely. In Chapter 2:18 God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
We were created to be in intimate relationships; both with God and others. And so, we want to be known and to really know others. It is part of our make-up. The last thing we want is to be misunderstood and yet, this will always be an ongoing battle in our lives.
No one understands this more than God. In what we believe to be the earliest book of the Bible, Job, there is an awful lot of misunderstanding going on. Job’s life is a mess and so his friends come to comfort him. The best thing they did was to just sit quietly and grieve with him.
You see, they have no idea what he is going through or why it is happening to him. So, they gave him a lot of bad advice and even accused him (and/or his kids) of doing something wrong to offend God. Finally, Job cries out in frustration to God. He wants answers for all the injustice he has endured.
Then God speaks in Chapter 38:1-4, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: Who is this that darkens my council with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”
Job must finally admits in 42:3, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” The truth is, humans struggled throughout Old Testament times to understand God and often got things wrong. We see this fully when Jesus came down.
Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase “You have heard it said, but I say.” He was using a rabbinic phrase – the word “say” (amar) was used by the rabbis to mean “interpret” — in terms of giving the proper interpretation of the scriptures and how to apply them to the laws.
In other words, Jesus was saying, ‘You misunderstood. You got it wrong. Here is how you are to interpret what I (God) said.’
In Proverbs 25:11, King Solomon writes, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Interpreted; a well-spoken word is a thing of beauty.
While Jesus spoke in ways that amazed many, it is shocking how few actually heard and understood him at the time. He was misunderstood, right from the beginning. John 1:5 reads, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it.”
His mission was to serve and not to be served. He came to give his life, not to come and take lives. Some thought him a king, others a prophet, others a military leader or an imposter.
– His family thought he was crazy. (Mark 3:21- “He is out of his mind!”)
– His neighbors didn’t recognize him as the Messiah. (Mark 6:3 – “Isn’t this the Carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? Who does he think he is?”)
– The Pharisees and teachers of the law rejected him and plotted against him to end his life. (Mark 3:6)
– His followers misunderstand him and his mission. They reject his plan (Matthew 16:22) and abandon him when he is arrested (Mark 14:50).
– When he spoke hard words, many walked away. (John 6:60).
– Many celebrated him as he entered Jerusalem but quickly turned on him when he didn’t turn out to be the king they expected. (Mark Chapter 11 and Mark Chapter 15)
Christian Singer-Songwriter Michael Card writes, “Jesus often said things that were easily misunderstood and rarely did he explain himself. As the Gospel’s progress, Jesus will become increasingly lonely until, on the cross, he’s all alone. His luminous answers were all misunderstood.”
“Why doesn’t Jesus explain himself more?” he asks. “Because Jesus did not come to explain himself: he was here to speak the truth. He was seeking the heart, not trying to win them over with what they saw with their eyes. Jesus wasn’t here to increase his fan club. He came because he wanted disciples that would live out their faith daily.”
Sadly, Jesus is still misunderstood. We want his blessings but we fail to take up our crosses and follow. We want miracles but fail to defend him when others speak his name in vain. Even though Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, many want to ignore it and live however they choose. I guess we want the saving more than the Savior.
The thing is, Jesus didn’t come to impress the world but to win it over. One pastor wrote, “They thought Jesus would resurrect the throne of David in Jerusalem. They had the wrong resurrection in mind.” I agree. They wanted transformation outside but not so much inside.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is far more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
Oswald Chambers writes in his book ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ a devotional called, “Isn’t there some misunderstanding?” He writes,
“Faith is not intellectual understanding; faith is a deliberate commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, even when I can’t see the way ahead. Are you debating whether you should take a step of faith in Jesus, or whether you should wait until you can clearly see how to do what He has asked? Simply obey Him with unrestrained joy.
“When He tells you something and you begin to debate, it is because you have a misunderstanding of what honors Him and what doesn’t. Are you faithful to Jesus, or faithful to your ideas about Him? Are you faithful to what He says, or are you trying to compromise His words with thoughts that never came from Him? “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Someone once said, “Christians have so many reasons for why they do not live out their faith; they say ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say, I am not good enough, who would listen to me anyway?’ We spend more time coming up with excuses when it would be easier to simply live like Christ and share his love.”
But we are afraid we will be misunderstood, someone will get upset with us or ignore us. An old Chinese proverb reads, “Be not disturbed at being misunderstood; be disturbed rather at not being understanding.”
And that is the key were we went to find our final solutions. If we are to remain cool and calm during times when words fly and tempers escalate, we must remember a few things.
1) Expect to be misunderstood from time to time. It will happen. It may be my fault or yours but placing blame is not going to solve our problem. Clarifying what we mean will.
1 Corinthians 14:33 reads, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”
2) The best defense is love. Don’t expect the worst. Trust that the other person cares. Recognize, we all make mistakes, misspeak and deserve a second chance. Luke 6:31 reads, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
3) Finally, Pray for those who misunderstand you. It is easy to love the people who understand you but hard to give others a break. Give it to the Lord. Luke 6:27-28 reads, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I want to end with this quote by the Reverend Warren Wiersbe, he writes, “If you live to please people, misunderstandings will depress you; but if you live to please God, you can face misunderstandings with faith and courage.”
Your assignment this week is…to resolve, or repair a relationship where you have had a misunderstanding. Or, pray for The Holy Spirit to help you overcome the barriers that block you from understanding God.
Let’s not just imagine what life might be like with less confusion, let’s actually do something about it.