The other day I was sitting on my bed. I don’t have a headboard, so the head of the bed is right up against the wall. I was sitting at a right angle with my back against the wall with my hands behind my head and my legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles. My eyes were closed. I was trying my best to relax and enjoy the serenity of the otherwise empty apartment. I had just read about the importance of silence and solitude in the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero, and I thought I would test out this contemplative discipline which was somewhat foreign to me. Sure I’ve heard of monks taking a vow of silence, and I knew a pastor who was doing a dissertation on the discipline at one time, but, other than casual relaxation, midday napping, or prayer and devotional time, I never actively participated in a contemplative discipline as a means to get closer to God. Maybe I have never done it because I usually have no problem getting lost in deep thought without intentionality. But, regardless, there I sat. Chillin’.
I was thinking about things like my present circumstances, what the future might hold for me and my wife, and how, looking back, it seems that certain things have just fallen into place to get to where I am now. I was thinking about how God prepared me for my current life situation with my past experiences, and the different ways in which He may or may not act in the future. I was appreciative, content and hopeful. Then, it crept in.
I was sitting there, minding my own business when it entered. It casually invited itself and almost got through undetected. It even took me a minute to recognize it. I wasn’t expecting this uninvited guest, but DOUBT inserted itself into the situation.
If you read my blog post from last month, you’ll know that I wrote about God’s provision, and the fact that He knows our needs and our future, even though we do not. Well, I was thinking about specific ways God may provide for my family in the near future as well as potential sacrifices we may have to make. I was thinking about how pleased I would be if God worked out a specific area. Then, for a split second, I thought, almost out of nowhere, “Well, if it works out that way, it’s because I manipulated the situation. I played my cards right, and I’d be getting rewarded. God didn’t open any doors. I did it myself.” Before I could even replay that thought in my head, my next thought was, “Well, if it doesn’t work out the way I think it should, that should prove to me that God just isn’t there for me, or maybe at all.”
Keep in mind, the sole purpose of me taking this time of silence and contemplation is to try to focus on God and get closer to Him, and now, I seem to be undermining the whole operation. I went back over both thoughts in my head a couple times before it actually hit me that doubt had crept in. As I worked it out in my head, I realized that doubt had monopolized BOTH potential outcomes in the situation. No matter what the outcome, I was giving myself an out to deny God’s move as an answer to prayer in my circumstance or deny that God has a better plan than mine and will provide in a different way which I am currently unable to see.
Although this can be frustrating, this is nothing new. If I’m being honest, many times I have specifically prayed for something, God answered the prayer, and I immediately had the thought to deny God’s role in the outcome. This wasn’t even the first time I thought specifically about God’s provision for me throughout my life, and immediately began to doubt God’s care for me in the future. It is perfectly normal to have thoughts of doubt creep in to your brain. Heck, even Jesus’ disciples had doubts. For example, Peter, who would become the leader of the early church, doubted while he was walking on water, and began to sink. You might say, “Yeah, I’d be afraid to try to walk on water, too.” But the thing is, not only was he watching Jesus walk on water, Peter got out of the boat, started doing it, then began to doubt after he had already started to walk on the water and while he was watching Jesus do it. Not only that, Peter went on to deny Jesus three times on the night of his death. Even the people closest to Jesus who listened to what he had to say daily and witnessed him heal the sick and perform other miracles doubted.
However, although it is natural to have those moments of doubt and questioning, it is important to identify those doubts for what they are. In his teaching on doubt, Andy Stanley says that when people doubt their faith, there are two main questions to which their doubts boil down. They are: “Is it worth it?” or, “Is it true?” In my experience, usually the question “Is it worth it?” comes down to whether or not I am willing to make some sort of sacrifice of personal preference or direction to follow God’s will for my life in that area. An example of this could be simply sacrificing time doing something I enjoy, like watching a Penguins game, in order to spend time in prayer or studying the Bible, or it could be something as large as changing a career path, or something personal like committing to give up an activity or habit which God disapproves. Other times asking, “Is it true?” has been questioning either whether God is there at all or if He will do what He says He’ll do in His Word. Jesus’ twelve disciples also came to this crossroads of faith after Jesus taught a difficult truth which led to many of the larger group of disciples to decide to no longer follow him. John 6:67-69 has the exchange
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God."
Even though it is normal to have doubt creep in and ask us, “Is following Christ worth it?” or “Is what Jesus says true?” we need to answer those thoughts with the question, “If not Jesus, to whom shall we go?” Essentially, if we choose to not follow Jesus, we are choosing to follow someone (that someone could even be oneself) or something else, and we have to ask ourselves if that is the better option than following Jesus who offers fulfillment, accomplishing great things for God, eternal life, and living life to the full, to those who have faith in Him. This is not to say being a Christ-follower will be easy, or you won’t have to make sacrifices (or even the ultimate sacrifice), or you won’t have moments of uncertainty, but, rather, it means you trust God to be bigger than those difficulties and you trust He will give you strength to endure the challenges you face. The disciples remained faithful despite their doubts (well, all but one, and look what happened to Judas), and God used them for a greater purpose. They began a movement that started from the fairly small localized Jewish religion into a movement that has spread the gospel of their risen Christ globally and has had an unfathomable impact on humanity over the last 2000 years. These people had no idea what God was going to accomplish through them, as they worked through their doubt but chose to follow Jesus.
Believe me, I know it is difficult to not let doubt creep in. It is natural to have it cross our minds. We can make up reasons to doubt anything. That’s the easy part. But just because we doubt something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And, just because we haven’t figured everything out doesn’t mean we can’t choose to follow Jesus while we’re going through the process of figuring things out. Realizing that is the hard part. At times, doubt can help us grow stronger in our faith, or it could influence us to abandon it. But, if we identify which of the two questions from above doubt is really asking us, it is easier to realize that the ultimate question is, “Am I willing to follow Jesus, and if not, whom or what will I follow?” We can then weigh our options. Is it better to trust the promises God makes to those who have faith in Him? I think so. Is it better follow something else and always wonder what God could have accomplished in your life? I doubt it.