Of Faith and Doubt: Part II
How one can overcome the fears, worries, hurts, and doubts of life and have more faith!
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" Matthew 14:31
Matthew 14:24-36, John 6:16-24, and James 1:5-8 tell us, Yes, you can-by Faith!
We have three passages that deal with storms, being tossed in the sea of life, and confusion, dealing with issues of faith and doubt before a loving God who rescues us. After Jesus was interrupted from His needed rest and went to minister to over five thousand families, teaching and feeding them, He sent them on to continue their lives and put into practice what they had learned. We are not told what the long term effects were on those people who were so eager to find and follow Jesus and be fed by Him. Did their lives change? Did they become Christians after Jesus' resurrection, adding to the Church, or, did they just go back to their lives with a great story to tell, but with no impact, no application, and no real meaning? Jesus then returned to His rest and His much needed solitude with the Father. He sent the disciples across the lake; He would make His way to them later. Then a storm came to upset their will and faith, just as we face in our lives today. The question is will we learn and grow from it or be turned back? Will our lives be character-driven and glorifying to Christ or will we be splashed to anger and bitterness?
We need to recognize that we live in a sin-infested world that gives birth to our storms; life is not perfect and is certainty not fair. Life rarely seems to make sense, yet we also need to realize we do indeed have a God who is there and who cares! As Christians, we also need to know that in our journey of life, storms will come as storms always do. Either you are in a storm, coming out of a storm, in the middle of the eye of a storm, or surrounded by a storm, even when you are not seeing it. We all will experience rough times, either because of our disobedience or because of the effect of the misdeeds of others on us. Since most of humanity is interconnected by just two or three degrees of separation, all actions and decisions affect others, either for the good or for the bad. But, even in the storms of bad choices and sin, or the fallout from others, Christ is the One who takes us to shore!
During our sojourn and the tyranny of life's urgent matters, we will have times of waiting and confusion, when nothing seems to happen, mixed in with times where people and pressure converge, creating stress that we may never have faced before. We end up thinking that Jesus has left us, as the Disciples must have felt at times when Jesus went away to pray. After the feeding of the multitude, Jesus took a break; as they waited, they wondered what was going on. Where was He? Where could He have been? Why was He not helping in this crisis? There had been such a high point, a great happening that could not be explained-an unsolvable problem solved. Yet, here a storm came, a great storm of stress while a storm of weather also sought to consume them as they crossed the lake. They faced a great physical as well as a faith challenge. The Disciples must have wondered what had happened; they may have expected more miracles, a start of a new epic and age, and a great Kingdom (which it was), yet they went quickly from a high point to such a low point-mentally, spiritually, and physically, both in geography (as in elevation) and in the measures of success in life and ministry like many of us today. It seems that Jesus sent them from the mountain top experience of joy into a major storm-from fame to threat to danger (Matt. 14:24-36; John 6:16-24).
Then, in the middle of a dark night, a storm came up abruptly to toss the lake to such a magnitude that it frightened even sea-hardened fisherman. Jesus went to the rescue of the disciples, cutting though the storm, and literally walking on water to them. The disciples are astonished, seeming to have forgotten the impossible nature of their Teacher even after a magnificent miracle. They once again left out faith and trust and only saw their situation. Then they realized, for a time, that this was Someone to be feared and worshiped, a fact we sometimes miss in our storm-tossed seasons. When all seemed lost, Jesus came; He literally walked on water to them in the midst of a storm that had them stuck in the middle of a lake, perhaps even facing death. We all face fame and joys; we also all face threats and perils, and when it seems that no one cares or is looking, Jesus will come. Yet, did he ever leave? No! We have to see that Jesus does not leave or forsake us; He never left. He is here, always here, even when it is hard to see Him (Isa. 43:1-5).
We all need to be rescued, and the great news is that our Lord Jesus cuts through life's obstacles and miraculously intervenes in the storms of life. He is here, and He says to us, "It is I; do not be afraid!" Because of our Christian faith, we have Jesus who rescues us. We have to see that have been saved from our sins because of Christ! He reaches out to us; all we need to do is respond to Him by taking His hand (Psalm 69). Jesus is telling us don't be afraid, because we have a promise of God as well as freedom from fear, as our Lord is our partner in life and faith. This also means to keep the faith-keep it going; hang in there; step up and do not give up. This was a great comfort for a people who were thinking of leaving the Church in the early days of the first persecutions and for us in our confusing times. Our confidence is in Christ and not in situations or fears, so we need to encourage one another not to be afraid-to put our confidence and trust in the Lord (Deut. 31:6-8; Josh. 1:5; 2 Chron. 15:2; Isa. 10:24; 12:2; Jer. 30:10; Psalm 27:1; 37:28; 56:11; 118:6; Phil. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:15; 4:16; 11:23, 27).
This is also about the tests of faith and thinking that both the Disciples and we face. First, they were given a problem that humanly could not be solved-how to feed a multitude of people with no resources or means. We face a multitude of decisions each day. Here, they were going from being overly busy and popular to being alone and in dire danger. Likewise, we have ups and downs in our perception of our faith. Next, they faced a major decision: would they commit to Him or follow the noise of the crowd? The question Jesus gave them was "why did you doubt?" Then, Jesus reached out his hand, and then they were willing to take him. Once the fears were gone, the Disciples were willing to look to and trust in Jesus. This must be a beacon for us so we will understand that we need to do away with our fears and frustrations and allow more room for Christ in our boat of life! This is a necessary step of faith that is easy to do when we can see; however, we usually cannot see in a storm. We cannot wait until it clears up; we have to step out and obey His precepts, regardless of the weather or what others say. Do not let doubts and fears adjoin to the storm; see Jesus cut across the storm so you can see His hand! We must obey with joy (Matt. 14:24-36; John 2:5; 6:16-24)!
How did we get into doubt?
We experience doubt when we do not exercise our faith. We will be consumed with disbelief and distrust-the opposites of God's call and plan for us. We will lose our trust and hope that God is in control! When we do this, we will lose or miss out on seeing God come through with His promises! We will become stuck in our fears and disappointments instead of seeking Christ, finding out what happened, what we can do to learn from it.
Allow me to define this for you: Disappointments come from a collision between our expectations and experiences and ignoring the signposts of God's promises. This collision results in either a life wrecked by self-pity and resentment or one that can lead to triumph. The choice is ours and the key to it all is where and to whom we look for our hope! This is about our circumstances and how we look at our Lord. How we see adversity and His sovereignty will totally affect how we learn and deal with it (Phil 1:27-30).
Our unanchored stress and disappointment, along with detachment from looking to God will take us away from seeing His signposts of precepts. Thus, we ignore God's plan and are dumped in the middle of a tempestuous sea (Job 23:10; Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Thess. 5:16-18). We cannot just expect God to get us through without any effort on our part. To grow, we have to struggle and work it out (Phil. 2). It is the struggle that helps us-that builds us and forms us. Without it, there is no growth, no real impacting faith, honest character, genuine patience, or maturity (Prov. 3:5-6; 20:30; Job. 36:5; Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 1:9; 1 Peter 1:6-7). When we do not rely on God, we are really neglecting ourselves because instead of helping Him out, we are insulting Him!
We may not doubt Who God is, or the tenets of our faith if we are authentic Christians and have a real confession of faith. We may, however, doubt His providence in our daily lives. I struggle with this. James 1:5-8 tells us that we are missing our object and misplacing our loyalty when we doubt. That is, when we face hardships, we should look through them so we can see our Lord. But what do we tend to do? We just stare at the situation, become overwhelmed and frustrated, and then the doubts come. We do the same with our loyalty as we cling to circumstances instead of our Lord and Savior.
James is addressing Christians who are relying on themselves and not really wholeheartedly seeking after God. We can become-as he states-double minded and unstable, being unstable emotionally and in thoughts like a split personality or schizophrenia. We will be like a person who has two souls in conflict, two desires that cannot be reconciled, and two masters who ask different things at the same time: "I want my will and God's will." This just cannot be! It can also lead to doubts, and cause us to be inconsistent in our faith and lifestyle which is a form of hypocrisy, and is greatly condemned by God. It is saying one thing and thinking or doing another, which also causes our indecision and being stuck. It is not being willing to make up your mind and go in the right direction. How can you be sure you are not unstable? Make your decisions based on God's values and not your ideas or indecisions. How do our decisions affect others? How are they relational and beneficial to others and God's glory (1 Chron. 12:33; Psalm 12:2; Matt. 6:24; James 4:8)?
Being unstable may sound familiar. From my personal and pastoral experiences, this is how most Christians live today. Jesus implores us to literally beg for wisdom because we are empty inside ourselves. If we do not seek wisdom, but remain in our own thinking, we will be un-tethered like a small boat without an anchor in a storm, tossed and tumbled in the waves of stress and life. We will literally be unstable mentally, relationally, and spiritually without our Lord's direction! I do not know about you, but I have found myself in this sea of confusion too many times.
We, as Christians, need Christ and His wisdom to take us through all of the avenues of life, especially through the hard times of stress and suffering. If we do not seek Him and His precepts, we will not have wisdom, and we will never learn from our mistakes and experiences. So, we will just repeat our errors and keep ourselves oppressed in our fears and setbacks. We will never grow and, in fact, we just may keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. How sad it would be to go through a tough time and not get anything out of it! It would be such a waste, an empty experience void of meaning or benefit for us, or for others around us. Without wisdom, we will neither learn His precepts nor have His wisdom and help. We will not be infused with faith; therefore, the ways of ourselves and the world will toss us about until we drown in anxiety and despair. Our life will have been a vapor that had little meaning or benefit-a life wasted instead of a life triumphant. What is the key? It is learning that our hope is in the Lord, not in our expectations (Psalm 25:4-5; Mark 9:17-27; John 16:33; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 11:23-27; Heb. 12: 6-10)!
How do we get out of Doubt?
This may sound trite and quip, but it is what we are to do and when we do it, it works! We are to accept God's plan for our life and then ask for wisdom to deal with it. This means we do not seek what we think or want, or what others who are less mature have to say; rather, we are to seek God and His Word to give us the knowledge to grow and to get through. God assures us that when we seek Him, He will respond. When we ask for help and wisdom, Christ will give it to us! The key is to ask-in faith. Be in prayer and be trusting and faithful. This shows a confidence in God's power that without a doubt, He is there and He will help. For, if we doubt, we will not have confidence, and we will be tossed, by our struggles, to the point that they may drown us.
We must seek the help of wisdom, not just knowledge and information; wisdom is practical, spiritual insight from God's values and then application of His righteousness and truth. We are to learn from this and be wise. Be understanding; ask God for comprehension, His perspective, and then cooperate with Him. This means not just asking why, but how we can learn and grow. It is also a response of being godly, how we can please God in character and maturity (Prov. 1:2-4; 2:10-15; 4:5-9; 9:10-12; 1 Kings 3; Heb. 5:14).
James tells us to ask God, meaning to beg God passionately and with reverence, realizing we are helpless and in great need. He is the source of wisdom and what we need; He is the One we are to go to for all aspects of life-good times and bad! He will grant our request as long as it is sincere and in His will (1 Kings 3:5-9; Prov. 2:6; Luke 11:9; James 4:2; 1 John 3:21-24; 5:14-15)!
If we do not trust and obey but just rely on our feebleness or the misguided insights of others, we will be tossed. In other words, we will be unstable, immature, and weak in faith. We will remain in our fears, frozen in our self-made prison of misplaced desires, lust, sin, and misfortune. And yes, we are to seek the council of others, but from smart and godly people, not our foolish friends and people whose lives are just as messed up as ours-or worse. We only become un-tossed by pursuing the Anchor of who Christ is in us. It comes down to what life is about-and life is about pleasing God, not pleasing one's self! It is about abandoning our desires and focusing on Him! His plan is far better than our desires! (Eph. 4:14-16)!
Again, life is about who Christ is and what He did for us, and building our faith accordingly. With authentic faith, our object and loyalty is Jesus Christ. He is what we hope for; He is what is to be seen! Faith is the promise of God that gives us the hope and confidence to receive, act on, obey, and trust God's promises because God is sovereign and trustworthy. Faith will help us perceive the world by what its potential is; not just by the suffering we experience and see. This helps us be implanted with hope (Matt. 6:33; John 14:9; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8; Hebrews 11:1).
We may not understand our problems or ever get a reason for them, as Job did not; however, we can still trust in Him who gives and saves-who loves us, and is "caring" us through! Do you accept His caring? It is sad how so few Christians, when faced with problems, will really seek and rely on God. They tend to only see their situation, cowering in bitterness and anger, even aiming that anger toward God. They do not see that He is, indeed, in control (2 Cor. 4:7-12). Thus, many Christians withdraw into isolation, bitterness, and denial, and avoid His true love and plan for them. We have to learn to learn; we have to grow so we can grow. If not, we stagnate and our circumstances will sink us. We have been given victory. That is what the Christian experience is all about: our victory over sin and despair by what Christ has done on our behalf. If we do not declare the victory, we will only see defeat. Even though we already have the victory, we will be defeated!
Doubts should not derail us unless the Holy Spirit is telling us we are going in the wrong direction. To know the difference, be in prayer. Take comfort; the impossible becomes the possible in Christ! Doubt will hinder you greatly in your service and growth in Christ; doubt can actually cancel out your prayers and His work in you! We are not called to be perfect, as He uses our weakness and failures, but doubt is like putting our shoes on backwards; we will be uncomfortable, hurt, and not go very far! We have to see how much God loves and cares for us, so we do not need to doubt! Have sin and discouragement got you by the heel or throat? Seek out why you doubt. Is there good reason, or are past experiences and fears hindering you (Matt. 21:21-22; Luke 11:10)?
If you are stuck, then you have to take the initiative to reach out and accept His Hand; allow Him lead you out. Do not try to swim by yourself, as the waters of life are too strong; the currents and tides of desires and wrong opportunities will overwhelm you. Anticipate what may lie ahead and prepare; this is James' whole point! Unequivocally, we have to reach out for Christ and Him only! We can choose not to be bitter and rather be better! Know this: what we receive from God is good. What we receive from our self and others, with personal agendas that are not centered on God, are bad and distract us from our growth. If we are being real with our spiritual formation, we will realize our need for Christ and His continual wisdom (Matt. 5:3)!
The key is to learn to take your life and your surroundings as they are, and then strive to build them to what they can be for His glory, not just as you want. If our hearts and minds are divided between seeking God or seeking ourselves, we will become double minded and unstable. We will become spiritually and emotionally unstable and thus sink in the waves of stress and life! We will literally be torn apart spiritually and physically by our stress and worry, because we do not yield to Him. Let go and let God; allow your wholehearted devotion be to Christ and not yourself. God will not make your decisions for you; you need to seek His precepts and distil what is best for the sake of value and character; then, He will enable you to form and grow from it (Isa. 26:3; Matt. 6:33)
What do I do when I am overwhelmed?
Ask God for help; for He is able! Trust in His control! He is the God who can keep us walking above the waves, and keep us alive and going when we are under them! Go through His Word, seek what you are to learn, how you can get through, and for wisdom. If we do not learn, all those "waves" will just be a waste as they splash us into worry, anxiety, anger, and bitterness, and we may keep going through them until we do learn (Psalm 142:1-7; John 7:17; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Do not escalate your situation by complaining, or distort it by denial, bitterness, or isolation! Do not be dumb, trapped in your own anger and regret. Be smart; be a Christian who learns and grows and be committed to obedience, spiritual growth, and maturity. Instead of moaning, seek His grace to solve the situation! Do not blame, or seek fault in others or yourself; rather, get on with life and your commitment to Christ. Allow His amazing work in you! Resistance to God, bad attitudes, and anger only cause us more harm when we choose to be tossed by the seas of life without hope or purpose. Let Christ be your anchor, or else you will drown and your life will be a series of wasted opportunities. When you could have and should have grown, you will have squandered His call and put your energies into complaints and your mindsets and attitudes into bitterness and anger. We need to come to the point that we trust in the Lord, regardless of how good or how bad life is for it is temporary. What we learn will be eternal (John 7:17-18)!
Our relationship with God is not without its fears and distresses, as with any relationship. We are in a world that is filled with distress and pain and there is no way to walk through it without stumbling onto suffering and distress. You can see this in the psalm as David is angry; being angry is OK as long as we do not sin or curse God in it. In Psalm 4, as well as many other places, he begs God to answer me. In our need, where do we go? We go to God! David does so in boldness as well as in humility and respect. We can't be bold before God without having reverence for Him and we can revere Him while we are pouring out our heart, fears, and life to Him. We can go to God with an imperative, passionate, pleading prayer that is brave and bold and courageous, as long as we are also reverential. Real prayer means going to God in all times, good and bad. God will do right for the innocent, for those who suffer and are needy, and will act in His perfect time. We can drop to our knees and still commune in passion and seek His mercy. (Psalm 4; Jer. 23:6).
It is easy to step out in faith when we can see, but in a storm, we usually cannot see. We cannot wait until it clears up; we have to step out and obey His precepts regardless of the weather or what others say. Do not allow doubts and fears to adjoin to the storm; see Jesus cut across the storm so you can see His hand! We must obey with joy! Remember, our Lord intercedes for us; He comes to us, and shows us the way of faith. When we fail, He gives us His hand and places us where we need to be. The way to open this door so He can work is to put our key of trust in the keyhole. He is the door with the keyhole. He gives us the key of faith to open His treasures, and secures us through the storm (John 2:5).
If you know Christ, you have faith and you can get through anything! When we have the right relationship with God, we can have it with His people too, as He promises us His presence and guarantees us victory. God's character is perfect; He has no malice or jealousy that is wrong or misdirected. God is not trying to get you or zap you; nor is He getting His joys by making your life miserable. Rather, He loves you and wants His best for you. Therefore, you can trust and be content in Him, and when you pray to Him, you can be honest. He already knows our plight, fears, and emotions anyway; we might as well let it out, knowing He will listen and have empathy and concern (1 Cor. 1:30).
Jesus is the One who is giving relief! He hears our appeals and has mercy while we show our respect for His holiness. God promises us He will come to our rescue, but it will not always be when or for what we had hoped. His plan is best, even when we do not see it (Psalm 25:4-5; Isa. 45:13; Jer. 23:6).
© 2009, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries, www.intothyword.org/