I remember growing up hearing, “pray in faith…your faith will heal [or provide for] you…” Conversely, if someone was not healed or provided for, the response was, “you did not have enough faith.” As I grew as a Christian, so did my questions. If God has a special plan for me (Psalm 139:16) and works all things together for the good (Romans 8:28), why would my faith, or lack of faith, solely dictate whether God would heal or provide for me? Is my doubt a lack of faith, or can my faith even exist without doubt? If you believe in the omnipotence of God, the question is never if God can do something; rather, why God has or hasn’t done something. When we doubt God’s plan, we must refocus our attention towards the gospel, and trust God’s all-sufficient grace will help us while God uses our weaknesses to show His glory.
I offer two examples of leaders in scripture who either had doubt, or had questions about God’s plan, and why they had to go through it.
1. John the Baptist doubted Jesus’ plan when he was in prison.
Jesus said there was no one greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11), and yet after Jesus started his ministry, John was arrested and Jesus did nothing about it. John prepared the way for Jesus, and Jesus continued his ministry while John was in Herod’s prison. John did what most of us would do ? he questioned if Jesus was in fact the Messiah. He sent messengers to ask Jesus and Jesus responded with:
4“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)
What a response! God’s Kingdom was being established (insert all the amazing things that were happening), and yet “blessed is the one who is not offended by me?” Everyone else is getting help, but the one who prepared the way, is left in prison. The word offended is translated from the Greek word skandaliz? which means “cause to sin, or make someone stumble.” Jesus was more about serving those who were lost, than he was about saving those who already knew. It was more about serving and less about conquering. John may have been looking and hoping for a conqueror to free him from prison, and doubted who Jesus was when that did not happen. In reality, Jesus was explaining that the Kingdom was being established and blessed are those who believe and follow, even when circumstances seem to be uncertain (ie. doubt).
If you keep reading, you’ll find out John was never released from prison and was eventually beheaded. In order for the Kingdom of servanthood to continue to be established, Jesus did or didn’t do things that could cause someone to doubt and stumble. When we face doubt, we have to keep our focus on the purpose of the gospel – bringing life to those who are lost. If we do, we will be blessed.
2. Paul doubted why God wouldn’t remove his “thorn in the flesh.”
Paul was one of the first Christian leaders who wrote nearly a third of our present day New Testament. You would think that God would provide him with a peaceful and pleasant life. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, however, he shared that he was tormented by a “thorn…in the flesh.”
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
We don’t know what Paul’s “thorn” was. It could have been anything from a physical ailment to persecution from his opposition to a severe temptation. In any case, the issue was significant enough to cause him consistent grief. What’s even more significant, is the fact that the “thorn” was given, or at least permitted, by God. If that doesn’t lead to unanswered questions (doubt), I don’t know what will.
So, what did Paul do? He pleaded with God. In fact, he did so three times – asking that it would be removed from his life. What did God do? He responded to Paul. In fact, he did so in such a way that He brought purpose and strength to the pain. This is so encouraging to me:
- I can plea with the Lord, for pain to be removed, without compromising my spirituality. I can process my doubt by engaging in dialogue with God.
- God will respond. I may not hear what I want to hear, but God is willing and ready to respond with what I need to hear.
- God’s grace is sufficient. I may not think God understands, but his grace is all I need as I process my doubt.
I’m sure we’ve all had moments and situations when we wondered why God would allow us to go through painful experiences. For Paul, it meant showcasing how great God is by showing how God used Paul and his weaknesses. So much so that Paul took joy in boasting in his struggle because he knew that his success, paired with his pain, would point to Christ.
9…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
If there’s one thing that Paul’s testimony should tell the church today, it’s this: God’s saving grace is fully shown when He uses broken people for His glory!
We will never fully understand why God does or doesn’t do certain things. Levels of doubt will continue to surround many of life’s circumstances. In fact, it almost feels impossible to actually live for God when the plan seems so uncertain.
The pain of losing a job, battling cancer, an unfaithful spouse, persecution, chronic illness, losing a loved one, family tensions, addictions, or…I’m sure you can fill-in the blank, are all so overwhelming that it’s difficult to see any form of good. I think the key is to step back, revisit how God has blessed us with grace, and realize that this life is temporary. God is establishing His Kingdom and when we find ourselves doubting God’s plan we have to refocus on the goal – to save the lost, and trust in God’s all-sufficient grace to carry us through when God’s plan doesn’t make sense to us.
Whether we find ourselves doubting God’s truth, voice, or even plan, we have to give ourselves enough space in order for us to process our doubts. While we do so, we can live knowing that God is waiting for us and willing to provide us with an all-sufficient grace that will help us take faith-filled steps as we grow towards maturity.
Check out Part 3 of this series – “When We Doubt God’s Voice”
Have you ever doubted God’s plan? Did you let doubt pull you closer to God or push God away?
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