Dealing with doubts
Doubts. We don’t often talk about them, but I’m sure we all get them. As Christians, we’re in a great spiritual war. Wherever a little green shoot of life pops up, you can bet your last Rolo that our enemy the devil will rush to jump on it and squash it down. Over time this can leave the Christian feeling quite weighed down and almost on the verge of giving up. Very often we just take it hard square on the chin; down but not out. As we struggle again to our feet, BAM! He hits us again. So we may go through life barely holding onto our faith in Christ Jesus, battered and bruised by doubts and fears. They might be temptations to doubt God’s existence or His faithfulness, God’s love or His forgiveness, God’s power or His goodness. Or it may be that we’re struggling with a particular doctrine that’s quite hard to take and just doesn’t seem right or fair; or perhaps we wonder whether we’ve actually got it right and Jesus is the only way to God. Or perhaps we wonder if we’re actually saved. The devil hits us again and again. He’s certainly not the most imaginative, but he’s definitely pretty persistent!
We must deal with doubts and fight back. If we don’t, we’ll end up sapped of our spiritual strength, unable to do anything but coast along wherever life takes us. Of course, God is in control, He’s sovereign and will keep His own safe, but we may well be put out of action, unable to play an offensive role in the conflict all around us. To deal with doubts, we must talk honestly about them. Firstly, we should talk to God about what we know to be true about Him, and as we do so we will talk to our own heart too.
Bring out the sword of the Spirit
When Jesus was in the wilderness and He faced the temptation to doubt God, He immediately fell back on what He knew was solid ground, the Word of God. Drawing on verses from Deuteronomy, ‘it is written’ (Matthew 4:4, 4:7, 4:10), Jesus parried blow after blow from Satan.
Likewise, we should bring out the ‘sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17). Soldiers don’t go to war unarmed. Don’t leave your Bible at home, or in a cupboard; bring it with you wherever you go. I try to read my Bible every morning, and at least try to take one verse or phrase from the Bible with me into my day, to chew over and meditate on – like a bit of jerky or chewing gum to keep me going throughout the challenges of the day. You don’t know when or where your enemy the devil might strike – he ‘prowls around like a roaring lion’ (1 Peter 5:8), striking at us when we have our guard down. When we’re on holiday, we can be particularly vulnerable; we tend to relax and rest – good, sweet blessings! But they can be deadly. The devil will not let us off the hook for a single moment.
When I’ve struggled with doubts and turn to the Bible or remember a verse I’ve read that morning, I’m always amazed at the relevance of the Scripture to which the Spirit leads me. One verse that has been special to me in these times is Simon Peter’s testimony in response to Jesus’ question after many of His disciples desert Him, ‘Do you want to go as well?’
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.John 6:68-69
Only Jesus has the words of eternal life! What does His book say to the Christian? It says that God chose you, whatever your weaknesses and failings. ‘If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). He is Yahweh Tsidkenu, ‘the LORD our Righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23:6 NKJV). ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). He’ll not let you go now. Whatever you may feel, know this, that your name is written on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16), the same hands that bore the cruel nails of the cross. That’s how far He was prepared to go to save you; therefore, you can be sure He’ll never let you go!
Hold God to His promises
The Puritan Thomas Watson (1620–1686) said:
The Tyrians tied their god Hercules with a golden chain that he should not remove; God hath tied himself fast to us by his promises.
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great was rampaging across the world. He came to the city of Tyre, now withdrawn to an island off the coast after a series of sieges (see Ezekiel 26-29). Alexander offered them a deal: let him worship Hercules – known by the Tyrians as Melqart – at the temple dedicated to him on their island, and they can go free. The Tyrians refused, instead suggesting he worship in the old part of Tyre on the mainland. Incensed, Alexander declared a siege, recruited a navy, and, in a terrific feat of engineering, built a mole to get out to the island. Meanwhile, a random Tyrian bloke apparently had a vision that Hercules wished to leave the island to join forces with Alexander, so to stop their god from leaving they tied a gold chain to hold him fast.
It didn’t really work. Tyre fell, and Alexander massacred the populace, but he let off those who had taken refuge in the temple of Hercules, supposedly including the man who had the vision.
So Thomas Watson’s point is a good one! Our God doesn’t try to leave when His people are weak or outnumbered or beset by fears that He might leave them. Instead, God has tied Himself to us, so much so that He became human! Both the fate of humanity and divinity is now entwined together in the God-man, Christ Jesus. God has promised His people that ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Joshua 1:5 NIV). In reading our Bibles, we see He has left us with a ton of promises that He tells us to hold Him to in prayer. Pray that in His sovereignty He’ll use these doubts and fears for our good, to draw us closer to Him. To quote another Puritan, John Flavel (1627–1691):
The devil is aware that one hour of close fellowship, of hearty converse with God in prayer, is able to pull down what he has been contriving and building many a year.
Keep going, we’re in it together
The Christian life can be exhausting, but God will hold you fast and give you rest. Every Sunday, meeting with His people, should be that, or time spent with His people talking about what the Lord Jesus has done for you during the week. We should not only share the doubts and fears that trouble us, but also the joyful discoveries we make in God’s Word and the meditations of our hearts from the same.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.Hebrews 3:13
We should strive to build trusted friendships with our brothers or sisters in Christ, where we can honestly share our lives together. We should mean it when we ask people ‘How are you?’ or ‘Are you alright?’. There should be no stigma attached to sharing our doubts. The very fact that we get doubts is evidence that there is something in us worth attacking! We need to bring them prayerfully together to the light and truth of the Lord Jesus, He is ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6 NIV). Christ is the Good Shepherd and the one we must first of all call on; but He has also given us each other, as well as appointing under-shepherds to watch over the flock. This is exactly where good pastors who are worth their salt come in handy.
I’ll leave you with the words of one such pastor, John Newton (1725-1807), who wrote to a lady struggling with doubts:
The more you trust God, the better you will serve Him […] While you indulge unbelief and suspicion, you weaken your own hands and discourage others. Be thankful for what He has shown you, and wait upon Him for more; you shall find He has not said, “Seek ye My face” in vain.
Further reading material
- Psalm 73, Psalm 86, where similar doubts and fears are articulated in prayer.
- Any letters of John Newton you can get your hands on, see https://www.gracegems.org/Newton/John_Newton1.htm
- For when prayer is hard, see: When God doesn’t answer our prayers
- For more on Hercules and Alexander the Great, see Plutarch’s Alexander 24.3-4 and Curtius 4.3.22