Overcoming Doubt - A Chapter from My Upcoming Book - "Wandering with God"
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Due to the world's current state of change and uncertainty, I am sharing the chapters on *"fear" and "doubt" from my work-in-progress: Wandering with God: Overcoming Obstacles to Find Joy in the Journey.
I hope you find some peace, hope, and strength in reading them.
“When it comes to our own walk with God, we can have faith, and still have doubt. Faith is getting out of the boat and walking on the water even though you have doubts.”
- Michael R. Licona
You might be thinking that doubt is a lot like fear, and you’d be right, but the difference is substantial enough to explore.
We fear bad things, but we doubt good things.
The doubt appears when you’re just about to follow God into the murky unknown—something you know you can’t accomplish without him. You’re on the verge of leaving your Egypt, but the enemy is dogging your steps, and the only thing you can see ahead of you is the desert. You’ve planned for the trip, gathered your gear, and started to walk when doubt sneaks in the back door and tries to ruin your hope.
God’s not really going to show up.
Who do you think you are?
Do you really think you heard him?
You should just go back.
God frequently asks you to take a first step before you even see him begin to move. You have to take a risk, put yourself out there, show your proverbial hand. If God doesn’t come through, the whole world will know. You’ll be a fool, a failure, a pariah, or even possibly, dead.
I’m reminded of that scene near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy needs to cross the chasm. He remembers the clue: “The Path of God—only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth.” He knows the path should be there, but his eyes say it’s not. He takes the step anyway—his need is great, and time is of the essence—and it turns out the path was there all along. He just couldn’t see it from his perspective.
It’s that “hope in what you do not see” Paul talks about in Romans 8. God wants you to believe. Not just to say you believe, but to continue believing—and acting like it—even when you’re in the dark. Anyone can believe if they’ve seen God blaze the trail before them miraculously, and sometimes, he does just that. But God knows if your faith is only in signs and wonders and flashy demonstrations, you will eventually stray. You will fall for the next neat trick, and any impressive display will turn you away from him.
So, he asks you to trust when the signs are still unclear all you have is the whisper of his still, small voice. There are many biblical examples of this.
In John 4, the nobleman asks for his son to be healed just after Jesus says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” Jesus answers the nobleman, “Go your way; your son lives,” giving him no sign or proof, and the man obeys. Don’t you imagine he was tempted to say, “But how do I know, Lord?” Don’t you think he feared arriving home and finding his son was no better, or perhaps, even dead? But still, he journeyed home in faith, hoping on the promise he was given.
In Joshua 3, God instructs the people to follow the priests to the banks of the Jordan where the waters would not part until the soles of their feet were already in the water. That means six-hundred thousand people stood, packed and ready to pass through a place where there was no way.
Don’t you wonder what they thought—what they felt? Were they passing furtive glances between one another, uncertain God would come through? But he “made a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
And what about in Luke 5:4 when Jesus said to Simon Peter—a stranger at this point—“Launch out into the deep, and let your nets down for a catch.” Jesus called him to the deep. Not to the shallows. Going to the deep required time and effort—time and effort they had already expended.
“But we have toiled all night and caught nothing, Lord,” Peter said. I can imagine him shrugging here before he continues, “Nevertheless, at your word….”
I love this picture. How many times have I cast my net and come up empty? I’ve sat down to write, and there are no words. The well is dry. I should give up, go home. I can’t do this.
Nevertheless, at your word….
Don’t launch out because you’re bucking up your courage and think you’ll give it another go or because general wisdom tells you not to give up or because you’re not willing to fail. I do that more often than I’d like to admit, and it only leads to disappointment and exhaustion. Peter didn’t just step out of the boat to join Jesus walking on the water. He asked Jesus to tell him to, then waited for an invitation. He knew it may not be God’s will for him to step out on the boat. But at his word, Peter took the leap of faith.
If the Israelites had tried to free themselves from Egypt and struck out into the desert before checking in with God, they’d have been crushed, drowned, starved, and alone.
But when you follow, at his word, Jesus shows up. “Launch out into the deep,” he says.
“But I just came from there, God,” you think. “It was useless. I tried all day/night/week/year. There are no fish; there are no words; I have no strength, no hope, nothing to give.”
But hopefully, we catch our doubt and say, “Nevertheless, at your word…
I will let down my net…
I will pick up my pen…
I will speak life to my children…
I will take the next step….
And though you doubt, God comes through. Your nets are full—more fish than you’ve ever seen. The page fills up—words with depth and heart I know couldn’t have come from my depleted soul. Your children relax into your arms despite all the words spoken in anger. The next step reveals the bridge you could not see from where you were.
Doubt is only a problem when you let it turn you away from Jesus. When Peter joined Jesus to walk on the water, he was fine until he turned to face his circumstances instead of looking at Christ.
But even then, when you step out in faith but still wrestle with doubt, there comes a tender reassurance.
Jesus stretches out his hand and lifts Peter up when he begins to sink.
Jesus appears to Thomas and says, “See my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe….”
Jesus frees the tormented child in Mark 9 when the father says, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
There are times when doubt results in rebuke. Sarah was scolded for laughing at the idea of having a child, while Abraham was encouraged when he expressed doubt. Zechariah was reprimanded and struck temporarily silent for questioning how he and Elizabeth would conceive, while Mary was given an explanation when she asked the same thing of herself.
Maybe these were differentiated because Sarah and Zechariah doubted whether God could do a thing, rather than whether he would—limiting God to the confines of human possibility.
Whatever the reasons, I’m sure the hearts and motives behind their doubts were a factor.
What I do know is this—God rejoices when we believe. In Romans 8, Abraham is counted as righteous because he believed God.
In John 6, the people ask, “’What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
I think we often see this “belief” as a passive acceptance of Christ’s identity, but when we take it in context with the way Abraham “believed God,” it is about living your life in such a way that “believing him” is evident. We trust his promises, and we take those leaps of faith when he gives the word.
Later in John 6, Jesus says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
When Peter focused on the danger around him, he began to sink, but when he looked to Jesus, he was raised up out of the waves. The Israelites chose never to look back to God, but to live in constant fear of their worldly situation. They wanted earthly solutions, and they were not allowed to enter God’s rest because their unbelief led to disobedience, hardened hearts, rebellion, and ultimately, a total departure from God.
Hebrews 11—the “Faith Chapter”—is a rollcall of the faithful elite—all praised for believing in what they could not see. But I take heart in the fact that many of the people listed in this chapter had biblically documented episodes of doubt.
Your doubt may cause you to sink in your circumstances, but unlike the Israelites,
it doesn’t have to keep you there.
Temporary doubt is inevitable; we are human, but Jesus will “lose nothing of all God has given him.” He reaches out his hand, and all you need to do is to look to him and take it. He will raise you up when you turn back to him. He wants you to believe, but his grace covers your doubt. Never hesitate to turn to him, and “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.”
Doubt is Satan’s effort to derail you when you’re on the verge of taking that leap of faith. He wants to destroy your hope!
God often asks us to take the first step without any outward assurance except his call. That step is often uncertain, difficult, and sometimes, even dangerous.
Don’t wait for signs and wonders if you know you’ve heard his voice or felt his leading.
But don’t head out into the wilderness or try walking on water if he hasn’t called you there! You’ll only end up broken and exhausted.
God may call you to something you’ve already been doing unsuccessfully. Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing until Jesus told him to “launch out into the deep.” Don’t resist a call because you “already tried that,” and it didn’t work.
Doubting does not keep you from walking in his will unless you remain in it. If you reach for him, he will take your hand and lead you back every time.
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