Just As I Am – Introduction
Today we’re going to talk about something rarely talked about in church – Doubt. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the truth is, we all experience times of doubt from time to time. And because it’s not something usually talked about in church, we may wonder if it’s sinful or wrong to doubt. We may even ask ourselves, does God really accept me Just As I Am?
“Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”
~Miguel de Unamuno
Many of us experience doubts at various times, but we rarely talk about them. It’s as if, somewhere deep inside, we feel guilty about doubting. Perhaps our doubt even causes us to doubt the depth or sincerity of our faith. And, if truth be told, I have to admit that, like everyone else, I’ve had my share of doubts. Every day I face questions for which I don’t have an answer. In fact, I found a wonderful quote from Pastor Ray Pritchard at Keep Believing Ministries. On his blog he says, “I don’t know how a person can be a Christian and not have doubts from time to time. Faith requires doubt in order to be faith. If you ever arrive at a place where all your doubts are gone and all your questions are answered, take a deep breath and relax because you’ve arrived in heaven.”*
It’s important to realize the doubt is not sinful or wrong. Quite often, it can be the catalyst we need to launch us further on our journey into spiritual growth. And, quite often, our doubt is expressed through questions. In reading Pastor Pritchard’s thoughts, I find I agree with him. There are three categories of doubts – Intellectual, Spiritual, and Circumstantial.
Intellectual doubts are the ones generally raised by those who are not Christian. Sometimes, even those of us with faith may ask the same questions as we journey toward truth. Questions like: Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Spiritual doubts are within us. We may ask ourselves: Am I “really” Christian? Do I truly believe? Why is it hard for me to pray? Why do I feel guilty? Why don’t I “feel” close to God? Does God really love me? Do I really love God?
Circumstantial doubts are centered around our physical lives – and they come from all of the “whys” we ask ourselves. Why did my granddaughter die? Why did my marriage break up. Why was my child injured? Why did I lose my job? Why can’t I find a husband/wife? Why didn’t God stop the abuse? And on and on.
For me personally, I sometimes struggle with questions like, “Was opening the church the right decision and Am I effective in my role as Pastor?”
These are the questions that meet at the crossroads of our spiritual faith and the pain that can occur as part of living in this physical world. A lot of the time, these are the hardest doubts. They often stem from deep hurt, and we tend to sweep them under the rug because we feel ashamed or guilty over having them. We may judge ourselves, or feel that others will judge us. We may even ask ourselves, “what will they think if I confess my doubts…will they think less of me?” And because of our fear of judgment, we may not deal with the issues raised by circumstantial doubts. When that happens, the circumstantial doubts become spiritual doubts, and eventually become intellectual doubts. That’s the point when we walk away from our faith altogether.
I. The Nature of Doubt
As we examine the topic of doubt, there are some things to keep in mind:
“1) Many people think doubt is the opposite of faith, but it isn’t. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Unbelief refers to a willful refusal to believe, while doubt refers to inner uncertainty.
2) Many people think doubt is unforgivable, but it isn’t. God doesn’t condemn us when we question him. Both Job and David repeatedly questioned God, but they were not condemned. God is big enough to handle all our doubts and all our questions.
3) Many people think struggling with God means we lack faith, but that’s not true. Struggling with God is a sure sign that we truly have faith. If we never struggle, our faith will never grow.”*
On his blog, Pastor Pritchard* posted some comments from his readers. Let me share some of them – maybe some of them sound like you:
A pastor shared this experience:
There came a trial for me and my wife when we knew that the Lord was using difficult circumstances to mold us, but we felt as if He had abandoned us. I’ll never forget that moment, standing in our kitchen weeping and feeling so very guilty for even thinking that the Lord had abandoned us.
Since then, the Lord has brought us through many smaller moments of faith stretching, each time using a brother or sister in Christ to remind us of His promises and to help us lift our eyes of faith once again. It is so important to come along side of a struggling Christian and share your faith with them when they have little of their own.
Another pastor said this:
As I write this, it is Sunday morning 11:30 AM. I’m supposed to be in church…preaching. I’m not there today. Yes, sometimes it is hard to keep believing.
And someone else wrote these words:
Frankly, it is a relief to me to read these entries…sometimes I think we (my husband and me) are the only ones who are struggling in this way.
Then there was this thoughtful response:
I am one of those people who have always found it hard to “keep believing”. I envy those for whom belief in and love of God seem to come so easily and so passionately. For a long, long time, I struggled with feelings that something was wrong with me, that I was somehow spiritually inferior… until I read: “When they (his disciples) asked him (Jesus),‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.’” John 6:28-29 NIV.
If I am rightly dividing my Greek dictionary, that word “work” means: toil, labor, work. Work is hard, and Jesus said that it is work to believe. Finding it hard to keep believing does not mean that I don’t believe. It means that believing is hardly ever an easy, enjoyable, rather passive activity for me. In the moments of my life, I find that I am constantly having to come against doubts, the world’s lies and the devil’s accusations; I often have to let go of my illusions (and delusions) about God, evaluate and refuse incorrect feelings, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes it is a sheer teeth-clenched act of will for me to keep holding on and moving forward in faith, obedience, and the power of Christ.
Sometimes, for long times, I find myself just shutting down until I’m ready (humbled enough) to do business with God again and seek His face and counsel. On top of all that, every victory seems to be followed up with a more challenging set of circumstances. For me, it never ends. I get weary and I have to fight discouragement all the time.
And I’m okay with that now – because I think that, messy as it often is, Scripture affirms that I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I am doing, what is for me, personally, the hard work of believing. I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling.
Unfortunately, many times it becomes cyclical. We experience doubt, then we feel guilty. Out of our guilt, our doubt grows, which only serves to deepen our guilt. The truth is, we all have different experiences. And we don’t have to feel bad if our experience doesn’t match someone else’s. And we shouldn’t feel guilty, either. In fact, it’s good, and it’s healthy, to talk about our struggles; and support each other without judgment. We are not all the same, we will each experience different questions and doubts, and we all experience our faith differently – and that’s as it should be.
II. The Doubt of John the Baptist
Think about the story of John the Baptist. Remember, Herod threw John in jail. I’m sure John was frustrated, and maybe even a little confused by his incarceration. While in prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus, asking a very important question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:2-3). Remember, John 1:29-30 tells us when John saw Jesus approaching he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one of whom I said, ‘The man who comes after me is yet ahead of me, because He was before me.'” In verse 34, John continues, ” And I saw and testifies that this is the Son of God.” Obviously John knew who Jesus was. So, how could a man who was so certain of who Jesus was also experience doubt? Because he was human – just like you and me. Is it really any wonder that, as he sat in prison, not knowing whether he would ever be released, he would experience questions and doubt?
I’m sure we would, too. But, at least when he sent his disciples to Jesus, he instructed them to ask the right question – Are you the One or should we expect someone else?
It’s comforting to me to know that even someone as sure of his faith as John could experience doubt. Maybe I’m not so bad after all. But, even more important is how Jesus responds. He says, “…Go and describe to John the things which you see and hear. The blind see and the lame walk and lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead rise up and the poor are given hope. And blessed is he who does not stumble on account of Me.” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:4-6) Notice that Jesus doesn’t put John down, try to shame him or mock him, or chastise him in any way. Jesus’ words are reassuring and provides John with what he needs in order to renew and strengthen his faith. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Tell John that I am the Christ,” “Tell John that I am the fulfillment of the messianic prophey,” “Tell John I can walk on water,” or “Tell John that my teaching puts the Pharisees and Sadducees to shame.” All of this would have been true, but He didn’t say that. He simply says to go back, tell John what you have seen, and that in His name, those who hurt are being totally transformed.
We would all do well to remember Jesus’ example when one of our brothers and sisters in faith, or even we ourselves, are experiencing doubt. We should respond to questions of doubt with love and support, and without judgment or guilt.
III. Doubters Welcome
Jesus goes even further – though John may doubt Him, He doesn’t doubt John. As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus speaks to the crowd. He says, “…Jesus began to speak to the people concerning John, ‘What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed which is shaken by the wind? if not so, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Behold, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ houses. And if not so, what then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face to prepare the way before you.’ Truly I say to you that among those who are born of women there has never risen one greater than John the Baptist…'” (Aramaic, Matthew 11:7-11)
As John’s disciples are leaving to carry Jesus’ message back to John, Jesus praised their master/teacher. I’m sure along with Jesus’ message they told John of Jesus’ praise. Even though he’s still in prison, Jesus doesn’t doubt him. Even though he struggles with uncertainty, Jesus is certain of him. And even though he may be unsure of Jesus, Jesus is sure of him. Close your eyes and picture the scene and you can almost hear Jesus saying, “Tell John that he may have doubts about Me, but I don’t doubt him. He’s still my guy, he’s still a member of the team, and I still believe in him.” Jesus knew John, and He knew that underneath those doubts there was genuine faith. And it’s the same message for us – despite our doubts and fears, we’re still on Jesus’ team and He still loves us.
Our signs and advertising say, “Where everyone is welcome.” Everyone includes those who may have doubts – even us! I agree with Pastor Pritchard when he says:
“Above the front door of every church in the world, we should erect a two-word sign: DOUBTERS WELCOME. That should be the church’s message.
If you have doubts, come inside.
If you have questions, come inside.
If you are uncertain, come inside.
If you are a skeptic, come inside.
If you are searching for truth, come inside.”
IV. Five Ways to Move from Doubt to Faith (Quoting Pastor Pritchard because I like how he expressed his thoughts)
“Doubt is not sinful but it can be dangerous. It can also be a spur to enormous spiritual growth. It’s what you do with your doubt that matters. Here are five suggestions about how to handle your doubt.
A. Admit Your Doubts and Ask for Help.
That’s what John the Baptist did. God is not fragile. He can handle your doubts, your fears, your worries, and all your unanswered questions. He’s a big God. He runs the universe without any help. Your doubts won’t upset him. Tell him your doubts, cry out and ask for his help. And don’t fight the battle alone.
Go to a Christian friend, a pastor, an elder, a deacon, anyone with a strong faith and godly insight. Ask them to walk with you as you face your doubts honestly.
B. Don’t be Afraid to “Borrow” Some Faith.
Several years ago woman came up to greet me after the morning worship service. “You probably won’t remember this,” she said, and proceeded to tell me a story that, in fact, I did not recall. Some months earlier she happened to see [me] while she was going through a very painful divorce. She briefly told me the story and said that she felt like she was losing her faith. On the spur of the moment, I replied, “That’s fine. I’ve got plenty. You can borrow some of mine.” I said it and then forgot about it. But when the woman recounted the story, she told me how much that had helped her. She had indeed “borrowed” some of my faith to get her through the hard time. Not only did I not recall the conversation, I must have had plenty of faith right then because I didn’t miss it when she borrowed some of mine.
I’ve told this story several times and each time heads nod. If “borrowing” someone’s faith doesn’t make sense to you, then just skip this point. But if it does, then keep it in mind. When you find yourself filled with doubts, go find someone filled with faith and “borrow” some of theirs. It works.
C. Act on Your Faith, Not Your Doubts.
That’s what Noah did when he built the ark. That’s what Abraham did when he left Ur of the Chaldees. That’s what Abraham did when he offered Isaac. That’s what Moses did when he marched through the Red Sea on dry ground. That’s what David did when he faced Goliath. That’s what Joshua did when he marched around Jericho. That’s what Daniel did when he was thrown into the lion’s den. That’s what Nehemiah did when he built the wall.
Don’t you think that all these great heroes of the faith had their doubts? Of course they did. They didn’t know in advance how everything was going to come out. But they took a deep breath, decided to trust God, and they acted on their faith and not on their doubts. Do the same thing and your faith will continually grow stronger.
D. Doubt Your Doubts, Not Your Faith.
This simply means that you should not cast away your faith simply because you are in the deep valley of darkness. All of us walk into that valley from time to time. Some of us spend a great deal of time there. But when you find yourself in that valley where all is uncertain and you are sorely tempted to give in to your doubts, fears and worries, remember these two words. Keep walking. Just keep walking. Nothing is gained by camping out in the valley of darkness. The only way out is to keep on walking. Every step forward is a way to “doubt your doubts.” Soon enough the light will shine again.
E. Keep Going Back to What You Know to Be True.
This, for me, is the most important point. After considering the sufferings of this life, and the perils and tribulations of following Christ, Paul concludes Romans 8 triumphantly by declaring, “For I am persuaded.” And he declares that nothing in all the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:12 he says, “I know whom I have believed.”
Some things you think.
Some things you hope.
Some things you know.
In times of trouble, keep going back to what you know to be true. When I hit my 50th birthday five years ago**, I realized that I believe less now than I did 30 years ago. Back then I thought I had everything totally figured out. Life has a way of knocking us down a few pegs. That’s certainly happened to me. So on one level, I don’t have total certainty about all the details of theology. In a sense, my knowledge is both greater and smaller than it was three decades ago. But what I know, I really know. I have a handful of convictions that cannot be shaken. I would include in that short list these truths: God is good, Jesus is Lord, the Bible is true, life is short, every day is a gift, people matter more than things, fame is fleeting, this world is not my home, and even hard times are meant for my benefit. And at the core of my faith is an unshakable belief in the sovereignty of God.
He’s God and I’m not. He is sovereign over all the details of my life, and I can trust him completely even when those details seem to be spinning out of control.”
Closing Thoughts – Just As I Am
Doubt is normal – it is not wrong, it is not sinful. Even some of the greatest believers, like John the Baptist, had doubts. But God loves us anyway. The closing line in our hymn today proclaims God’s promise – and it’s the same promise God makes to us. John 6:37 assures us, “Everyone whom My Father has given Me shall come to Me; and he who comes to Me I will not cast out.” (Aramaic) God doesn’t turn us away. Just as our hymn today reminds us, we can come to Him just as we are. So, I invite each of us to come to Him – come to Him with our doubts, our fears, and our questions – and guess what…He’ll love us just the same. And so it is…Amen.
- John 6:28-29
- Matthew 11:2-11
- John 1:29-30
- John 1:34
- Romans 8:38-39
- 2 Timothy 1:12
- John 6:37
*I’d like to acknowledge and thank Pastor Pritchard and KeepBelievingMinistries for his outline and thoughts on today’s topic.
**I personally hit my 50th birthday two years ago and couldn’t agree more with how Pastor Pritchard describes his feelings.
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