The Gift Of Doubt…
I. Introduction: Mt. Everest
A. Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world above sea level, stands triumphantly at 29,023. That’s nearly six miles into the sky, the same height that many commercial airplanes fly. Everest is located in the famed Himalayan mountain range in between Nepal, China, and Pakistan which boasts a majority of the earth’s tallest mountains. Since it’s discovery in 1876 and its first ascent in 1953, Everest’s peak has been summited nearly 2,000 times, at the cost of over 200 lives. George Leigh Mallory, one of the most famous mountain climbers in British history who also lost his life near Everest’s peak, was once asked why anyone would ever attempt to climb the treacherous mountain. Mallory replied caustically, “Because it’s there.”
B. But you don’t really climb Everest—you endure it. Teams lay siege to the mountain for over two months, getting their bodies acclimatized to the low oxygen levels and establishing a series of five camps up the mountain stocked with oxygen tanks, tents, and food. During this time, the climbers endure debilitating weight loss, the dangerous effects of high altitude oxygen depletion on the brain, temperatures as low as -60F, and wind speeds as high as 100 mph. In the so called “Death Zone” above 25,000 feet, climbers’ brains function at the elementary school level, highly fit climbers gasp for breath after each step, and there is almost no chance for a rescue if trouble arises. Climbing Everest is like being on the moon, a desolate wasteland of rock and ice devoid of plants, animals, and other signs of life.
C. Nevertheless, as you climb Mt. Everest, the difficulty of the land actually helps you to the top. No one is tempted to hang around high on Everest’s slopes; no one would ever consider laying down a foundation, building a house, or having an extended picnic on the frozen slopes of Everest. Rather, climbers want to get to the top and get back down as quickly (and safely) as possible. The harshness of Everest actually propels people up the mountain because it causes them to make a decision—either go up or go back. But one of those decisions is made.
D. We are going to be learning together about doubt, what it is, how does God react to it, and how we are to respond to it. Doubt can be similar to the slopes of Everest—it is foolish to sit down and remain in doubt, to do nothing about it; to do so is debilitating and will eventually consume you. So, with doubt as with Everest, you have a decision to make—either give up on what you are doubting, or pursue it even more strongly.
E. For many, doubt can often feel like being in Everest’s Death Zone. Doubt can creep into the mind and heart of even the most faithful follower of Jesus, bringing with it overwhelming shame, paralyzing fear and uncertainty, and frustration that spills over into every sphere of life. Doubt, as imposing to one’s faith in Jesus as Everest is to an aspiring mountaineer, can sometimes stop believers in their tracks, stunting their spiritual growth and sometimes even forcing them away from Christ their Savior.
F. But is the feeling of doubt itself really a foe to be battled; is doubt really something to be responded to with silence, shame, and secrecy? Could doubt actually be a misunderstood gift from God Himself? Could doubt actually propel us to new heights of knowing & loving Jesus, becoming like Him, and representing Him in this world?
G. Maybe God allows us to experience doubt, not to punish us, not as a sign that He is upset with us, but rather to spur us to seek Him, that we might know Him and live. Maybe God allows us to doubt—and can use it for good—just as He allows other forms of suffering and can bring good from them as well.
II. Main Scripture Passage: Mark 4:35-41 (Calming of the Storm)
A. Let’s turn to the Bible and see if we can learn anything about doubt. Please open your Bibles to Mark 4:35-41.
“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples,
‘Let us go over to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.
There were also other boats with him.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.
The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’
They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
B. I have read and heard this story read many times in my life, and I always just noticed the skeleton facts of the event: Jesus and His closest friends got in a boat, a storm came up and caused Jesus’ friends to get scared, they asked Him for help, He helped, then kind of yelled at them for being scared, and His friends were amazed at Jesus’ power and authority.
C. So I’ve always thought wow, Jesus is amazing, the Son of God, God Himself with power over nature! Wow. And Jesus doesn’t like it when we’re scared and lack faith in Him; that is, when we doubt Him. Okay great. Lesson learned, moving on the next chapter.
D. But upon reading the passage over again and thinking about it more deeply, something caught my attention. There seems to be more to Jesus’ disappointment and anger at the disciples than simply their doubt, their fear…
III. Getting Into the Boat With the Disciples (And Getting Wet in the Process)
A. When we read the Bible more and more and attend church regularly over many years, it is easy to become overly familiar with certain events in the Bible to the point that we do not learn from them anymore. But I would like to share with you something that is helping me to dig even deeper into Scripture to mine its powerful truth and wisdom, to get to know God even more closely. Let’s try and get into the sandals of the disciples, let’s try to get into the boat with them, so to speak, and read between the lines, trying to understand what it was like for them to be in that boat, during that storm, with Jesus asleep right next to them. Let’s start by understanding that…
1). As part of the Jewish faith and culture, Jesus’ first disciples 2,000 years ago were part of the greater Jewish people who had experienced a 400 year drought in hearing from the LORD through miracles, the prophets, the written Word, etc. From the end of the Old Testament 400 years earlier, God had been relatively silent with His people. So, for the disciples, had the great expectancy and hope for the Messiah worn off? Had these disciples forgotten God’s promises, had they begun to think that God had forgotten them, and had they become absorbed completely in the day-to-day logistics of life (work, family, adapting to oppressive Roman rule, etc.)?
2). And let’s not forget that the disciples had only been following Jesus for a very short time—our passage this morning takes place in the fourth chapter of Mark. Also, let’s remember that the disciples left everything and everyone they knew to follow Jesus, not because of a great lesson He taught or because of great miracles He performed, but rather, because He simply asked and invited them to do so. Jesus Himself simply walked up to them one day and invited them. What effect must this have had on them, this face-to-face encounter with Jesus, looking Him in the eye, seeing His expression, the love and determination in His eyes, the gentle seriousness of His gaze and the way He so effortlessly wore His mission on His shoulders?
3). What consequences did they face for their decision to follow Him, specifically in terms of social status, career, family, etc.? What happened to their fishing career? Did the family of James and John own the business with their father Zebedee? What happened to that business when the two strapping sons walked away? What did their relatives and friends say? Did the twelve have any idea what they were getting themselves into?
4). What was it like for them to spend lots of time with Jesus day in and day out, listening to His teaching, seeing His miracles, seeing the reaction of people to Him, seeing how He handled situations from the miraculous to the mundane? Did the disciples notice how little Jesus slept, and how much time He spent alone with the Father in intense talking and quiet listening?
5). Were the disciples starting to get amazed as they followed Jesus, starting to get excited about who He might be? Were any of them starting to think that maybe, just maybe, God hadn’t forgotten them and that He had finally sent the Messiah to restore Israel and overthrow the Roman dictatorship?
B. Now let’s fast forward to getting into the boat with Jesus—what have they just been doing the entire day? They had already seen Jesus perform miracles, had spent the entire day in the hot sun listening to Him teach the ever-growing crowds about the kingdom of God. How do they feel? How hungry are they? When Jesus directs them to sail across to the other side of the sea of Galilee, did their maritime experience give them an ominous sense that they are heading into a dangerous situation on the water?
1). What is the mood of the disciples as they got in the boat and operated it as Jesus dozed off in the back of the boat, Himself physically exhausted from ministering to the multitudes? What did they talk about with Him sound asleep? Did they notice the storm coming up? Did they already begin to argue about who was going to steer, who was going to work the sail, who was the best fisherman, who was going to address the people at the next dock or port, who was Jesus’ favorite, etc.?
2). Did they, in the absence of the crowds in those precious quiet moments before the storm erupted, pause to reflect on their decision to leave everything and follow Jesus? Did they regret their decision at all? Did the dark thoughts of selfishness creep in to their thoughts as the boat began to get rocked more and more by the rising waves? Did they rehearse in their minds the accusing looks and slanderous words of their family members who blamed them for the failure of the family fishing business ever since they dropped everything to tag along after this Jesus character? What did Peter’s wife think of all this? How did he plan to support her now?
3). Did their thoughts start to bounce like pinballs over the suffering and struggle they had endured since following Jesus, this Man Who had no money or home, no salary or retirement benefits or healthcare to offer them…at least in the earthly sense, this Jesus who Himself had no place to lay His head and Who was dependent on the grace and generosity of others as a traveling itinerant preacher. Do they know that Jesus is already both famous and infamous, that some of the leading religious officials are already starting to talk about killing Jesus? If that is how they treat the leader, what does that mean for them, the followers?…
4). As the storm starts to get furious, do they begin to get frustrated with Jesus as they look at Him calmly sleeping while they struggle at the oars and with the sails? Do they begin to regret this decision to leave everything and follow Jesus, knowing that they never would have gotten in this boat at this time of the day during this season of the year if they had been in charge? Were they kicking themselves for not speaking up when Jesus, a mere carpenter and one inexperienced on the waters, decided to take a boat ride to the other side of the lake? Are they starting to panic, realizing that the waves are already too much for the little boat? Are they beginning to fall apart mentally as the ropes burn their hands and as their image of Jesus is shattered, shattered by the “fact” that they are finally in the presence of something even more powerful than Jesus: the storm. Are they beginning to realize that they might in fact die here while their Master sleeps? Is their fear turning into anger as they deride Jesus in their minds and hearts for having a lot of “book knowledge/head knowledge” but not enough “street smarts” to protect them from this storm? In their minds and hearts, do they begin to question Jesus’ character, integrity, wisdom, and love for them as they shout unsuccessfully at Him to wake up? Do they curse Him in their hearts as they give up on their sails and their oars and each other and even their Jesus, slumping down into the curve of the boat, yelling at Jesus the fateful words that woke Him up and finally got His attention:
‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’
No, you really don’t care about us, do you?
You probably never cared about us, did you, Jesus?
We never should have left everything for what, for this, for You…
See, it isn’t really a question, it isn’t really an innocent inquiry as I have read it in my mind so many times before. You see, I always read this question as if a child were asking a question like, “Why is the sky blue or why is grass green?” Those are innocent questions that show a desire to learn, a desire to understand, a holy curiosity, if you will. Sometimes questions are really statements. We’re not seeking an answer; we’ve already made up our minds. And I think the disciples, when they asked this question, already had their minds made up. Sleeping in the rear of the boat during this storm while the disciples slaved away trying to steer the boat safety “proved” that Jesus wasn’t as great as He acted, didn’t love them as much as He said, couldn’t deliver all that He promised…
You see, I don’t think it was the disciples’ fear or doubt that angered Jesus; I don’t see in this passage that it was the disciples’ fear over this furious storm that provoked His indignation.
All of us feel fear—it is an emotion created by God that oftentimes protects us. For example, I am afraid of dying recklessly and needlessly due to carelessness or a poor decision, to the point where I will not drive my car 100 miles an hour on the road at night in icy conditions with my lights off. My fear actually prevents me from doing that, and it is my fear that therefore helps me make the wise decision.
Soldiers in combat will tell you that courage is not the absence of fear; rather, courage is the ability to do the common under uncommon circumstances; courage is the will to choose to carry out the ordinary in extraordinary situations. The Mom who does the Heimlich maneuver on her choking child is scared in that situation, but with God’s help she does what needs to be done to save her child, in spite of the fear. I don’t think God would counsel a Mother in that situation and say, “Well done! But you shouldn’t have felt fear. We have to work on that. Next time, smile and even laugh with mirth as your child’s face turns blue.” I don’t think God would counsel the soldier after a bloody battle, “I’m so proud of you for diving on that grenade to save your squad—good thing it was a dud, huh? But I did notice some fear in your heart as you did that. We’ll work on that the next time you sacrifice your life for the sake of others. B+, son; let’s go for an “A” next time!” No, I don’t think that’s the lesson there for the Mom or the soldier.
So I don’t believe that it was the fear of the disciples that Jesus scolded—I think it was what they did in response to the fear. I don’t think Jesus was at odds with what the disciples were “feeling”—I think He was agitated at what they did in response to that feeling.
And what they did was to essentially accuse Jesus of not caring for them. In other words, at their moment of deepest need when all seemed lost, despite what they had learned from Jesus and seen from Him with their own eyes, they called Jesus a liar and, at least in their hearts if not in their bodies, gave up on Him and on each other. They quit, sat down in the boat and prepared to die with regret, anger, and bitterness on their minds, on their lips, and in their hearts over this Jesus Who had let them down…
That is what Jesus had a problem with, my friends, and that is the wrong and sinful response to fear/doubt that we are to avoid. But it is not the feeling itself of fear or doubt that we are to be concerned with…rather, what we do in response to it.
IV. The Question Before Us: Two Options in Responding to Doubt
A. The question before us this morning, my friends, is not if we will doubt God; it’s what we will do in response to that doubt. You see, it appears to me that we have two options in reacting to doubt:
1). Stop trusting in God, stop pursuing God, stop following God, stop talking & listening to God, etc. In other words, we can stop (insert verb here) God. Faith is a verb—faith is something we do, not only something we have—and so one path at the fork of doubt is to stop “verbing” God.
2). The other option is to continue “verbing” God—trusting Him, pursuing Him, following Him, talking & listening to Him, etc., in spite of the feeling of doubt that we have in a particular area. For example, take prayer:
a). Prayer: I don’t know about you, but there are times when I doubt prayer. I don’t doubt that it exists—most people in the world pray, including myself. I just doubt that it makes a difference, that it is worth my time, that I am doing it correctly, that I understand such a powerful act enough to do it effectively, etc. I doubt prayer, and I am a pastor! I have been following Jesus for nearly a decade, am almost finished with a Master’s degree at seminary, have been leading the 5th-8th grade ministries here for nearly 3.5 years. And yet, I doubt prayer sometimes. Nevertheless, I have two options now: I can stop praying, deciding that prayer doesn’t really make a difference or that I am too busy to pray.
Or I can continue to pray, in spite of my doubt, trusting that God knows what He’s talking about when tells us to pray, trusting that Jesus was no fool when He frequently went off to lonely places and talked with the Father, trusting that for the lasts 2,000 years, ordinary people who have followed Jesus weren’t all mistaken when they invested large amounts of time in prayer. I can continue to search the Bible for passages on prayer; I can talk to my small group or other friends who are trying to love & follow Jesus & see how they pray, or how they respond to doubts about prayer; I can ask for a book recommendation on prayer (I recommend Jim Cymbala’s book “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” by the way) and then actually read the book!; I can ask God to help me pray, seeing as how that’s one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs, to help us pray; I can make the choice to continue to pray even when I don’t feel like it. Now which choice do you think Jesus would be upset at, and which choice do you think would bring a smile to His face?
b). Or take attending church: maybe you have read the passage in Hebrews where the writer states, “And let us not stop meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Maybe you’ve read that, but you doubt whether you need to be attending church every week; maybe you’re tired and need the rest; maybe you’re annoyed by the pastor, some of the staff at church, or still can’t get over the color of the new carpet (); maybe you don’t agree with a theological position of the pastor, or maybe you have been rubbed the wrong way by another member of the congregation; maybe you have genuinely been wronged where a staff member was inconsiderate to you or did not meet a need that you had. Maybe, for one of these reasons or countless others, you are doubting the importance of going to church. Well you have two options, again: you can stop going to church, essentially telling God (though you may not say this out loud or think this consciously): “I know better than you, God—you tell us not to stop meeting together with other believers, but you don’t know what I’m going through.” Or, you can continue to attend church in spite of your doubt, discomfort, or disagreement.
c). Or take belief in God in general: maybe you’ve just heard on the radio, on a t.v. show, read in a book, or overheard two co-workers conversing questioning the existence of God. Maybe you heard about the “latest study” using long, complicated words by a person with more college degrees than you have garage doors at your house, that claims to have found the “God gene” in every human’s brain that is responsible for our belief in God, the gene that “proves” that humans’ faith in God is nothing more than a psychological crutch. Maybe you hear about that and your faith in Jesus is rocked to the core, your trust in Him and your belief in Him shaken to its very foundation. Maybe you start looking around at yourself and your life and you think, “Wow! I can’t see God with my eyeballs; I’ve never seen God with my eyeballs. Maybe He isn’t real; maybe I don’t really love Him…maybe this gene is just activating a warm feeling of faith in God because I’m going through tough times, going through some hardships, going through some loneliness. Well, my friends, this happened to me a number of times during the last 9 years of following Jesus, and I, like you, have had two options: I could have either given up on Jesus and left Him, or I could continue to pursue Him despite the feeling of doubt that I had. I chose the latter. Early on after trusting in Jesus and dedicating my life to Him, I went through a period of intense doubt like this. I was a new believer, was not really connected with a local church, did not even know what a “small group” was, and barely had any friends who were actively following Jesus, who were “verbing” God on a daily basis. I didn’t know what to do. But I remembered a quote from one of those inspiration posters that says, “There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few things in life that will capture your heart. Pursue those.” As I stood at the fork of doubt trying to determine which path I was going to walk down in my response to my doubt, I knew that Jesus had captured my heart, this God who chose to leave His throne in heaven to pursue me, to rescue me, to save me, to suffer and die for me. Jesus had captured my heart, and this new study, this latest “spiritual headline,” this newest scientific fad had captured my eye. I owed it to Jesus, and to myself, to hang onto Jesus while venturing deeper into my doubt to test it, to explore it and investigate it, to find out the real truth. So in my doubt as a young twenty year old college sophomore, I turned to the Bible to help me, and I began reading the first letter of John. I read that over and over again right before class (it’s a very short letter). I realized that this feeling of doubt probably was going to last longer than a few seconds, and I figured that it would even last longer than a day or a week. In fact, this particular period of doubt lasted six months, and boy was it agony. True agony, my friends. I continued to read the first letter of John over and over, I simply begged God day in and day out to help me trust in Him, I talked my doubt over cautiously with some friends as I was afraid of actually admitting my doubt, and I even began holding the Bible at night while I slept as if it were a teddy bear or magic charm. While this last action might not be the most advisable thing, my heart was in the right place—I was continuing to pursue God in my doubt, trying to put His wisdom and words in my mind and heart and hold them physically close as well every day.
There are numerous other items in life that we doubt about God, whether
-His goodness when some tragedy happens, like a child becoming ill or a loved one dying suddenly;
-His grace and love and forgiveness when we are wrecked by guilt over our sins of the past;
-His power and ability to make us new as we seem to commit the same sins and mistakes over and over again;
-His concern over the small details of our lives to get us a new job when we so desperately need one to pay the bills, etc.
There are numerous other reasons that we can doubt God, but the question before us this morning is not whether we will doubt God, but what we will do in response to that doubt.
And this is Biblical, as well:
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus has attracted quite a crowd, quite an entourage with His dynamic and fresh teaching and with His miracles. Jesus is the public flavor of the month, and His approval ratings were sky high. And then Jesus takes His teaching—and His followers—to the next level by telling them that they will have to eat His flesh in order to receive the eternal life that He offers them…Say what!? Huh? After considering this, most of Jesus’ followers—everyone except the twelve—began to have doubts about this Jesus. They began to have doubts about whether or not they could accept such a difficult teaching. They faced the fork of doubt, and they took the first path—they gave up on Jesus and walked away. But the 12 did not. Why? Is it because they were “saints,” super-Christians whose faith was exceptionally strong? NO! Not at all. They were human just like us, my friends, and we would do well never to forget that, never to elevate them to some superhuman status. They faced the same doubts that we all face, whether in the boat with Jesus during the storm, on the trails of Galilee, or at the foot of the cross where only one male follower had the faith to go but numerous female followers dared to stand by their Savior. No, the 12 disciples stuck it out with Jesus, and even Peter stood up to answer Jesus’ question when Jesus asked, “What about you—will you leave too?” Peter responded by stating, “Where else will we go? We have left everything to follow you?”
I have had the same response to my doubt—Where else would I go? Who else is like Jesus? What other viable alternative is there?
Who else will lovingly pursue me when I fail and when I run away? Who else will love me unconditionally when I am decidedly unlovable? Who else will continue to bless me and take care of me even when I don’t deserve it? Who else is like Jesus? No one—He has no equal, He has no substitute, and frankly, He has no competition. As a pastor once said, He is the loftiest idea in literature—we humans haven’t even been able to create a character as amazing as Jesus…is there any one else who is perfect today in the world, anyone who claims to be without sin? Is there anyone who has ancient writings written about them over thousands of years by scores of authors in three different languages and multiple continents and cultures, writings that predict specific details about their life? Is there anyone who has given sight to people blind from birth, anyone who has raised people literally back from the dead, and not just people who have clinically died for a minute or two but a person who was dead and buried for days, a person who had already started to rot and decompose? And is there anyone who would die for me, a stranger and an enemy, even though such a sacrifice would not guarantee that I would even acknowledge him, thank him, apologize to him, etc.? No, there is none like Jesus…there is no one else I can turn to if not to Him…
And other faith systems try to get us to buy into their particular system of deeds, of rigorous good works intended to ascend ourselves up to God’s presence. But if I am honest with myself—and all of you—for a moment, I know that I am not good. I was designed for goodness, but now I am not, I have been stained, corrupted, and my soul is infested with termites down to the foundation. I don’t need some touch up work; I need to be broken down and rebuilt anew.
And I know that even if 51% percent of my actions were good, what about the other 49%? If I have 51% healthy cells in my body but 49% cancerous cells, I’m going to die quickly. The 51% healthy cells don’t negate or nullify the cancer ones! If even 1% of the cells in my body are cancerous, those 1% will quickly eat away at and destroy the healthy ones, expiring my body quickly and mercilessly. If I put one drop of a powerful poison in a glass of water, I dare not drink it, for even though 99% of the glass is water the poison will quickly spread throughout the entire beverage. So I know good deeds are not enough—sin is too powerful, whether in a little dose or a large dose, and the best religions and ethical codes of the world have no answer on how God will deal with the sinful part of me that wields such mighty influence in my daily life.
No, there is no other alternative to Jesus—I have left (and am still leaving day by day) everything to follow Him. It’s Jesus or bust for me, regardless of how I feel…
My Friends, when we face the fork of doubt and see the two paths before us, let us choose to trust in God even though we doubt—let us choose to trust in His promises in the Bible regardless of how we feel as well:
1. That if we seek Him with everything we have, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:11);
2. That if confess our sins, He is faithful and just and fair and will forgive us of our sins, and not only that, but He will also scrub us clean from our stains and imperfections, He will pound out the dents in our character and purify us from the toxic spreading rust of our souls by breaking us down and re-building us from scratch (re-birth), better than ever before (1 John 1:9);
3. That only those who persevere with Him to the end—that only those who hang on to Jesus through thick and thin, through good times and bad, through rich and poor times—will be saved (Mark 13:13, Hebrews 3:14, Matthew 10:22);
4. That only those who listen to His voice really belong to Him (John 10:1-6)…
5. That even if we are unfaithful, He will be faithful, for how can He deny Himself? (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
Let us cling to these great hand and foot holds on the rock of faith and continue to climb upwards with and towards Jesus, even when we feel tired, our spiritual muscles ache, and our fear over the drop beneath us and the climb yet to go above us suffocates and stifles us…Let us continue to walk on the water toward Jesus, for we begin to sink only when we stop moving towards Him.
V. So If God Is Not Categorically Angry With Us When We Doubt, How Can Doubt Be A Gift from God?
A. When it causes us to drive up the mountain and seek Him more intensely, more single-mindedly, more intentionally. Doubt can be a gift from God when it shakes us to core and disrupts our lives to the point that we drive more forcefully to God for relief, for faith, for more of Him.
1. We see this in nature. Think about hunger…Hunger is not a comfortable feeling; it’s one of the reasons why fasting from food is difficult. But hunger is a feeling hardwired into the human body by God as a signal to remind us that we need to eat. Eating delicious food is a gift and blessing from God, a treat and an enjoyable experience. Thank goodness for the alarm clock of hunger that wakes us up to eat.
2. The same is true with thirst…
3. The same is true with pain…
VI. So How Should We Respond When We Doubt God?
A. Go to Jesus: prayer, silence, and Bible reading.
B. Journal about your doubt—oftentimes writing down our worries, fears, and doubts on paper helps us to see them more accurately; they don’t seem so scary written down on the paper!
C. Talk to others whom you trust about your doubt—continue to stay in community with others. Don’t isolate yourself because of doubt! Continue to attend church on Sunday mornings, continue (or begin) to meet with a small groups. This is the reason why Christ Church emphasizes small groups so much—your small group is the perfect place to bring up your doubts!
D. Read the biographies of other Christians and see how they overcame doubt. Everyone doubts God or aspects of God—you are not the first Christian to have had whatever doubt you’re having! And there are lots of resources that record how people have dealt with and understood different doubts—read from and build on the wisdom of others—don’t try and re-invent the wheel by starting by yourself from square one.
E. Step up your intensity/involvement in serving. This might sound counterintuitive, but it is important. If we find ourselves doubting, we don’t need to “rest” the doubt; we need to work it out. When a masseuse finds a knot in your calf muscle, they do not massage your shoulders—they attack the knot and massage it. When a person gives a speech in school and fumbles through it nervously, they are not to drop out of speech class and determine that they are not cut out for public speaking! Rather, they work harder, sign up for Toastmasters, or volunteer to give even more presentations. The flaws need to be worked out, not submitted to. Similarly, if you have doubt, it might be because your faith has been stagnant, has been under-utilized. Unused muscles begin to wither eventually; might the same be true for faith? So step out into more unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, serving on short-term mission trips, visiting soup kitchens and homeless shelters, doing street evangelism in Chicago, hosting a small group in your home—step it up a notch and see how the LORD massages out the knots of your doubt.
F. Remember that your doubt does not define you—it’s not some glaring wart that God rages against everyday that you have it. It is a natural part (unfortunately) of having a sin-stained soul and living a life characterized by faith as we follow a God we cannot see (yet!) with our physical eyes. There is no ‘scarlet D’ to wear for Christians who doubt; just another trial and opportunity to grow closer to our Savior, the One who endured every trial on our behalf and who can understand and see us through the doubt we now face.
G. Choose to trust in Jesus and continue to follow Him even when it seems or feels as if He is not there—Eugene Peterson calls this “a long obedience in the same direction.” C.S. Lewis writes in his book “The Screwtape Letters”:
“Our [demons’] cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
VI. Closing—How Long Does God Ask Us to Have Faith?
In Light of the Length of Eternity, a Three Day Weekend.
A. I love math, so please try your best to follow me here. If eternity is 1,000,000 years long (it’s in fact much longer than that—it’s forever!) and we live 100 years on earth, then our earthly life is to eternity what a three day weekend is to 100 years.
Confused? I don’t blame you! But it’s true—let’s not miss the forest for the trees here: God is asking us to trust Him and continue to press on up the treacherous mountain following Him, in spite of our doubt, for three + days in light of eternity. That’s it. And He promises to help us, to never leave us or abandon us. And not only that, but He has both climbed this same mountain Himself and equipped us with everything we need to do the same.
B. Often on Everest, when a person is under intense physical and emotional duress and beginning to suffer the effects of frostbite, they will start to take off their gloves, hats, and jackets—and they will feel warm…initially. But death sets in immediately, and it only is a short matter of time before they succumb to the elements. My friends, you too will be tempted in your doubt to give up on Jesus, that somehow there is “freedom” and a renewed sense of life if you would just stop believing in Him, striving after Him, working to forgive others, fighting to save that marriage, enduring to win back that son or daughter, etc.—but don’t be fooled! Often when people give up on Jesus after a long period of striving after Him, there is a temporary sense of “relief”…but it is like those who have taken off their protective gear on Everest—the relief is only an illusion, a terrible mirage from the effects of death that now start to take control…
C. What will be your choice? How will you respond to your doubt? Will you respond to doubt by stopping your climb up, or climbing back down, the mountain of faith in Jesus? Or will you ascend deeper into your doubts, confronting them head on, the doubts that rub our spirits raw, that chaff against our souls and minds…Will you continue to go deeper into that doubt, that discomfort, that rawness, by pursuing Jesus and continuing to trust in Him? That is what matters…that is your choice.
And that is the question, my friends—you have the answer…
Please click HERE for the song “Walk By Faith” by Jeremy Camp.
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