Dealing with Doubts (xi)

3 07 2010

These final few posts are looking at 6 encouragements from the example of Jesus’ interaction with Thomas:

6) You are more blessed than Thomas

Verse 19, ‘Jesus said to [Thomas] “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”’

In typical ‘Jesus style’ he speaks a beatitude that turns human wisdom on its head. ‘Seeing is believing’ according to our regular idiom. But no, Jesus says you’re more blessed if you haven’t seen.

This verse is a big comfort to me, because Jesus doesn’t rebuke Thomas for doubting. It was understandable that Thomas would doubt. If he’d just shrugged his shoulders at the idea that a dead man had returned to life, we ought to think him naive, stupid, or scientifically ill-informed! Of course he would doubt! How much more understandable is it that we, thousands of years on, having not had the opportunity to physically see Jesus will also have doubts and questions?

Thomas was called blessed for seeing and believing. How much more blessed will we be when we, by the grace of God, overcome doubts without seeing. As is so often the case, it’s the kind of blessing we only realise with hindsight. But it’s worth holding out for.

Conclusion

Clearly there is far more that could have been said. Many books, talks, seminars, blogs have been dedicated to the subject in far more detail than this – But I’m bored now. I want to blog about something else!*

But in summary: If you are doubting, seek evidence. Take practical steps to find answers. Surround yourself with people who will help you. Ask questions, read books, listen to talks. Be disciplined about it. Don’t forget that we have a God who knows what you need even before you ask. Trust Him. Ask God to give you His peace and to pour His Spirit upon you. It will calm your troubled heart immeasurably. Use your doubts for mission. See them as God given tools for equipping you to extend the grace of God to others. Hold out for the blessing that is coming to you who overcome doubts.

In Luke 24:41 there is a similar story where Jesus reveals himself to the disciples. At the moment of revelation there is this curious phrase: ‘they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling.’ Reflect on that – They disbelieved for joy and were marvelling. I pray that your disbelief would give way to joy. That you would be struck afresh by the revelation of God that leaves you marvelling. If we knew everything, we would have no cause to trust and be amazed by this almighty God.

Let your doubts fuel your worship.

_____

*I’m kidding… sort of. But if you want to read more, why not start here – a blog by fellow Newfrontiers blogger Phil Duncalfe

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Dealing with Doubts (x)

2 07 2010

These final posts of the series are looking at 6 encouragements that Jesus offers to Thomas in dealing with his doubts.

5) Jesus sent the disciples

Look at verse 21‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’

Though it may not seem like it at the time, overcoming doubts equips you for mission. It prepares you to be sent, to pastor people, to evangelise.

What better witness to an unbeliever who is genuinely trying to get their head around the aspects of Christianity that just seem so implausible than one who has struggled and fought and emerged with answers themselves?

What better help can there be for the struggling Christian trying so hard to reconcile their faith with their questions than one who has wrestled with those very same questions, learnt to guard their heart well, and can disciple them wisely?

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.’

I love the principle in these verses: As you go through trials and God gives you the grace to endure them, you are being prepared to extend that grace to others. Dealing with doubts is character building. It’s missional.





Dealing with Doubts (ix)

1 07 2010

These final posts of the series are looking at 6 encouragements that Jesus offers to Thomas in dealing with his doubts.

4) Thomas didn’t even need to touch Jesus

In verse 27, Jesus says ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.’ And what does Thomas do? There is no indication he actually touches Jesus at all. He just answers ‘My Lord and My God!’ That was enough.

Only moments before, Thomas had been so adamant: ‘I will only believe if I touch the scars’ and yet when presented with the risen, scarred Jesus, he doesn’t even need to do that. His unbelief crumbles.

So often, when we are wallowing in doubt, it is easy to think we know exactly what we would need to be convinced out of it. I remember feeling miserable and doubt-ridden, presenting God with lists of my criteria thinking:

‘If you just do this and this… cause this sequence of events to occur… provide this bit of evidence, that’ll be enough to convince me.’

In the end, none of my lists got ticked off! But God knew what I needed: An encounter with Him that bypassed my criteria.

Was it wrong for me to seek evidence? No. Was it wrong for me to pray for revelation in specific areas? No. But what I’ve learnt is that when you are doubting, you are really not in the best position to know what will resolve your situation. Sometimes simply being in the presence of God is enough. God will do something unexpected, impossible to anticipate, and totally transform your situation.

Don’t prescribe to God the 12 steps of your recovery programme. Work diligently to find evidence, and wait on Him.





Dealing with Doubts (viii)

30 06 2010

These final posts of the series are looking at 6 encouragements that Jesus offers to Thomas in dealing with his doubts:

3) Jesus already knew what Thomas needed

Get this – Not only does Jesus provide Thomas with the evidence he needed, one look at his hands, bearing the nail marks, but he did it before Thomas even said a word!

Jesus didn’t walk in and say:

‘Thomas… why the puzzled look on your face? What can I do to convince you.

He already knew.

We have a God who knows us, who cares about us, who hears our pleas and cries in the night, who hears the deep questions we have even before they form on our lips. He knows what evidence you need, what will tip the balance to convince you and bring you back to Him.

We have a personal God who is for you. Take comfort.





Dealing with Doubts (vii)

28 06 2010

These posts are looking at 6 encouragements from the example of Jesus and Thomas about dealing with doubts:

2) Jesus offers them peace

Imagine the scene:

Locked door. Fear that the Jews might try to break in. Terrified of what the future might hold. And then a man, uninvited, appears inside your room! You would be terrified – no wonder Jesus needed to say ‘peace be with you!’

But actually the peace Jesus offers goes deeper than a quick recovery from a momentary shock. It is a state of deep trust in Him.

I have always struggled with the Psalms. Not all of them. Just the schizophrenic ones. You know the ones I mean? The ones that sound like a Radiohead/Bob Marley mashup – one minute it’s all doom and gloom, and the next it’s ‘Don’t worry – be happy!’

Often in the Psalms we see David weeping, shouting, cursing for the first half, and then full of joy and peace for the second. For example, Psalm 13:

‘How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? … I have sorrow in my heart all day… light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death…’

I could relate to that! In my doubting I could relate to his grief. But then suddenly verse 5:

‘But I have trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.’

Where does this peace come from? What is it that turns tears into rejoicing? I can only conclude that it comes from an encounter with God. It can’t be engineered or achieved by human effort. It can feel distant and out of reach. But when that moment comes and you suddenly realise God is there, and He extends his hand to you and says ‘peace’, there is nothing like it! It is the most phenomenal feeling – God stilling the troubled heart.

I don’t like waiting for things I have little control over. But it’s a good thing to practice. Hold out for it. Read the Psalms – all the way through – and beg God to do for you what He did for David. Take hold of the promises about Him never leaving or forsaking you and remind Him of them daily. Hold out for the sweet presence and love of God that drives away all your anxiety.





Dealing with Doubts (vi)

26 06 2010

Four temptations; the temptation to feel isolated, to share your doubts to an inappropriate level, to become stubborn or superior, and to stop going to church.

But then Jesus arrives. He doesn’t scold Thomas, or ridicule him, or even praise the other disciples for being better followers than him. But he is firm with Thomas. And his encouragement is this in verse 27, ‘Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

Is that an order? Kind of. Part order, part encouragement, but filled with passion and urgency. Note this: You don’t instruct people to do something they have no control over! In other words, Thomas really did have a choice. He could choose to carry on in disbelief, or to believe.

Jesus’ encouragement to Thomas is:

‘Don’t entertain false beliefs one moment longer! Don’t pander to your feelings of self-pity, or your self-righteous feelings of superiority. Don’t allow stubbornness to control you one minute longer. Instead, take steps towards belief.’

Let me give you six encouragements from the example of Thomas:

1) Jesus offers evidence

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for asking for evidence! He didn’t say:

‘you should just believe me! You don’t need evidence! Where’s your faith?’

He held out his hands.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions of our faith and expecting good, rational answers. Read books on apologetics, ask questions of preachers, go on an Alpha course!

Sometimes we can feel dreadful about asking questions, because we think:

‘I’ve been a Christian 12 years, I shouldn’t be asking these basic questions.’

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. There is nothing wrong with seeking answers. It amazes me how some Christians can think that apologetics and reason are somehow the opposite to true faith. Nonsense. Look at the very end of John 20, verse 31: ‘These [signs] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

In other words, if you want to know the truth about Jesus, and discover whether it’s rational to be a Christian, then this book is written for you.

Don’t despise evidence. Seek it out.





Dealing with Doubts (v)

23 06 2010

These few posts are looking at 10 thoughts on how to deal with our doubts. 4 temptations and 6 encouragements.

4) It’s tempting to remove yourself from fellowship

In the whirlwind of emotions of dealing with doubts, it is so tempting to remove yourself from fellowship with believers – to stop going to church, to hang out with people who won’t challenge you about faith.

I totally understand the temptation. When you’re struggling with your faith, the last thing you want is to be greeted by an ultra-cheerful, permanently happy, sickly-sweet-far-too-nice-to-be-true, unwavering Christian, with Footprints tattooed on their forearms and a Chris Tomlin ringtone. It doesn’t help.

But Proverbs 18:1 says ‘Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.’

When your thoughts are riddled with doubts, it is so tempting to isolate yourself. But all that does is take you away from people with sound judgment and leave you alone with your own thoughts… which are riddled with doubts! It’s a vicious circle.

Verse 19 says that the disciples first met Jesus on, ‘the evening of that day, the first day of the week…’ Easter day, which became the day of worship for the early Christian church. Then verse 26 says, ‘Eight days later…’ Eight days. By our modern standards of counting that’s over a week. A week and one day. A Kelloggs Variety Pack-worth of days. In the Jewish mindset they counted part of a day as a whole day, so Sunday was the first day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, the eighth day.

It’s the day of celebration. The first day of the week. The day that became the recognised day of Christian worship, and Jesus arrives.

I want you to notice this: Doubting Thomas didn’t meet Jesus whilst on his own, skipping church, in a coffee shop reflecting on his doubts. He met Jesus and had his doubts resolved in the corporate gathering on the day of worship.

Don’t cut yourself off from worshippers, from sound men and women that can speak into your lives. You will be like a coal taken out of the fire that quickly cools off. However painful, keep seeking God in the context of the gathered church.