Season of Uncertainty

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Doubt and uncertainty are not the same thing. Too often, especially in the church, these two terms get muddled together as if we are talking about the same things. But they are very different. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, whereas uncertainty is a natural part of faith.

That feeling we are all feeling right now is uncertainty. Uncertainty is that feeling of not knowing and not being able to predict with any reasonable accuracy what will happen next. We don’t know what will be closed. We don’t know what the governor will order to be shut down. We don’t know when schools will reopen. We don’t know if our friends and loved ones will get COVID-19. We don’t know how all of this will play out. Not being able to see what’s next is the soil where faith can grow. This is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Uncertainty is very different than doubt. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about when schools will reopen; it’s not trusting that the school board will make a wise decision. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about what the government will keep closed; it’s not believing they have our best interest in mind. Do you see the difference?

When we translate this into our relationship with God, the difference between doubt and uncertainty is glaring. Having moments of uncertainty in our faith just means we don’t have all the answers. It means we still have a lot to learn about how God operates in the world and what part our sin has to play in the outcome. Uncertainty is a normal and natural part of a life of faith, but doubt is not.

The Bible never celebrates doubt. It never says that doubt is normal and natural. In fact, it says the opposite. It says that doubt is destructive and corrosive to a life of faith. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about various aspects of the Christian life; it’s calling into question the nature and character of God. Doubt causes us not to trust that God is good, loving, and kind. Doubt causes us to not trust that God is forgiving, just, and gracious to us. While uncertainty questions circumstances, doubt questions God’s character. In humility, uncertainty admits our limited understanding while doubt tries to put God on trial.

It’s been popular these days in some Christian circles to celebrate doubt, but this is toxic to a life of faith. Faith is more than believing in God. Faith is more than believing a set of theological truths about God. Faith is believing God. Faith is trusting in the nature and character of God. It is believing in His goodness and faithfulness to us. Faith is trusting God, whose goodness is unchanging, even when our circumstances change.

We are living in a season of uncertainty. But uncertainty doesn’t have to lead to doubt. Uncertainty can be the rich soil where faith blossoms. Faith is choosing to look at the world through the lens of trust when our physical eyes can’t yet see. When we let uncertainty lead us into doubt, doubt soon becomes cynical unbelief. Cynicism is a sure sign that the roots of doubt have dug into a person’s heart.

I have found that seasons of change bring uncertainty, but they also bring upgrades. Birthing is like that. Pain and uncertainty precede new life. Last fall, my 2005 Honda Accord broke down. I had so many good memories in that car. It was harder to let go of that car than I thought it would be. But God gave me an upgrade. God provided for me a much better car that has greater seating capacity and more power. This car analogy is just a shallow example of a deeper truth. The pain and uncertainty led to an upgrade. Good Friday preceded Resurrection Sunday. This is what God will do if we let Him.

The Toxicity of Unbelief

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” … Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 

John 12:36-37

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:12 & 19

Living in a culture that celebrates doubt can cause us to forget all the warnings from Jesus and from the rest of the New Testament against unbelief. Scripture does not paint unbelief as something that everyone should embrace as a “normal” part of life. Instead, unbelief is regularly warned against as something that is toxic and damaging.

Imagine you are in an ancient army, fighting a foreign enemy for the sake of your King and the Kingdom to which you belong. Battle can become wearisome. Armor can get heavy. There are always casualties of war and that, by itself, can be discouraging. But imagine you press through all of this to continue to fight valiantly for your King.

Now imagine as you enter the battlefield one of the soldiers behind you says, “You know, I’m not sure I believe in our king anymore. I’m not sure we even have a king. Further, I don’t think that army over there is real either. I have serious doubts that we are even in a war. This army that you talk about us fighting against, maybe it’s just a figment of your imagination. Yesterday I was talking to this nice merchant who sells furs, I think her name was Lucy, and she told me she’d pay me a bonus fee to go home. I’m tired anyway, so I think I’m going to take her up on her offer.”

What is your response to your fellow soldier? Are you inclined to coddle them with, “Oh, I totally understand. It’s normal to question whether the King is real and whether that army over there is just a fictitious mirage. Take your time and go home. We’ll be here bleeding and fighting if you ever think you might want to return.” Is that what you’d say? I hope not.

My guess is that most of us would tap into our inner Master Sergeant and begin to challenge our fellow soldier to stay in the fight. We would remind him not to be deceived by Lucy’s lies and not to give up. We’d remind him of how much we need him supporting our flank and how being tired should never lead us into unbelief, no matter how tired we get. The King has called us to war and the Kingdom needs us to be all in! It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the King’s army, even when it’s hard.

Let’s call unbelief what it really is. It is deception. And the end result of unbelief is cowardice. It’s choosing the comfort of the couch over the challenge of the battlefield.

Proven Faith

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

1 Samuel 17:8, 10-11, 26, 28-29, 32

Faith in the Living God and courage to do what He’s called you to do often looks like arrogance and conceit to those who live consumed with fear and doubt. David did not have faith in his own abilities; he had faith in the God of Israel and God’s ability to use David. People with this kind of faith come across as arrogant to those who struggle to trust God and don’t believe God can use them for great things.

But David had more than faith in God and confidence that God could use him. He had experience in trusting the Lord and seeing the Lord use him.

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:33-37

It wasn’t just that Eliab struggled to trust God. It wasn’t just that Eliab doubted how God could use him (In other words, he didn’t have an identity grounded in the Lord). But it was also that Eliab didn’t have experience trusting in the Lord in difficult situations and seeing the Lord come through for him. David did.

For David, this wasn’t blind faith. This was proven faith. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again as David stepped out in faith. Goliath simply represented the next step of faith, not a “giant” leap.

The problem with many of us is not that we don’t possess “giant level” faith. The problem is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith behind-the-scenes when no one else was around. We haven’t been taking the smaller risks to trust in the Lord and see Him come through. This is what prepares us for the day of battle–the day where giant faith is needed.

In other words, the real issue isn’t that we don’t have the faith to face a Goliath. The real issue is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith to go after a lion or a bear. We haven’t been willing to take those risks when we were in charge of sheep, and we wonder why we can’t take charge of an army and face a Goliath.

David was full of faith and confident in how God could use him because of all the risks he took leading up to this moment. Goliath was simply the next logical step. What seemed impossible to the rest of the army just seemed reasonable to David.

It’s not blind faith that makes the impossible seem reasonable; it’s proven faith. Tested and proven faith–faith that’s been seasoned with real experience–is what is able to face down impossible situations. Proven faith is something that grows in the life of a person willing to continually take risks that require trust in the Lord. It’s a lifestyle, not something that is mustered up in a crisis.

Stepping up and stepping out with proven faith will often look arrogant to those who have confused doubt with humility. For too many Christians, humility looks like uncertain timidity, waffling doubt, and the fear of what other people will say. But is that the humility we see Jesus live out? Is that how we would describe Jesus? Timid? Waffling in doubt? Afraid of what people will say? No way! And yet Jesus walked in absolute perfect humility.

What David did to face down Goliath took tremendous humility because it required him to trust not in his own strength and ability but in the Lord. So what looked like an act of arrogant conceit to his brother was actually radical humility on display. This teaches us that radical humility may, at times, look like meekness, yet at other times it will look like bold courage. David’s action was radical humility in bold courage form. David had to trust that the Lord would come through for him. He also had to trust what the Lord said about him. He had to trust that God could use him powerfully. David risked his life based on that trust. That’s true humility.

I’ve seen this same accusation of arrogance and conceit in the Christian community launched against people stepping out in proven faith and bold courage for the name of Jesus. We have whole churches, and sometimes whole denominations, full of Eliabs. Timid uncertainty–waffling doubt–is not humility. Most of the time it’s a symptom of unbelief.

Eliabs mask their fear and unbelief by calling it prudent wisdom. They only want to do what seems reasonable, measured, safe. Is that how the New Testament describes the life of following Jesus? Safe? Reasonable? Measured? Not even close.

I don’t want to be an Eliab. I want to be a David, don’t you? I want to walk in bold, proven faith. I want to step out and take risks for the name of Jesus regardless of the whispers and gossip it creates around me. I want to lay my life down and trust the Lord. I want to believe what He says about me in His word, and I want to trust Him for big things. Don’t you?

It doesn’t start with Goliaths. It starts with sheep. It starts with lions and bears. What risk is God asking you to take? What steps of radical faith is He requiring of you in 2020?

Some Doubted

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Matthew 28:16-17

Some doubted!?! Let that sink in! They stood in the presence of the resurrected Jesus and still doubted. What? This is the same Jesus that casted out all manner of demons, demons who couldn’t stand to be in His presence. This is the same Jesus who healed all manner of diseases. This is the same Jesus who conquered sin and death.

To me it begs the question, “Why wasn’t doubt obliterated in His presence?”

I believe the root of this reality is that Jesus refuses to override our free will. Our faith will never be forced. God is not a coercive or abusive God, forcing Himself upon people. Instead, God patiently waits for our “Yes.” It doesn’t have to be a big yes. It can be as small as a mustard seed. But He won’t force Himself upon us.

This means the opportunity to doubt will always be there. Even if the resurrected Jesus stood right in front of you, you would still have the option of doubting. You will always have that option. We will also always have the option to believe and not doubt. This is the beauty of it all.

If people can still doubt Jesus even when His miraculously resurrected body stands right in front of them, then people will find reasons to doubt any sort of miraculous event. The spirit of unbelief is a demonic weed that will find any crack in your heart and set down roots as soon as possible.

Faith is choosing to trust. And no matter what we face, no matter the impossible situation in front of us, we can always choose to trust God, to trust His character, to trust His nature. He is worthy of our trust.

Have the seeds of doubt found a way into your heart?

The Wise and Learned

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 11:25-26

Pride and arrogance shut down our ability to receive and hear from the Lord. Jesus praises His Father for hiding the secrets of the Kingdom of God from the wise and learned. Access to the deep things of God doesn’t come through theological education or years of bible study. It comes through intimacy with Jesus, the kind of intimacy where we operate in faith like a child.

This is the danger of formal theological and biblical education. I was a biblical studies major in college. I went on to seminary to get my Masters of Divinity. I value theological education and I am so glad that I learned all that I did in those settings. But if one does not maintain faith like a child in those settings, it can become a trap.

I saw so many friends lose their faith in those schools. I saw so many other friends embrace doubt and skepticism. I saw classmates start to reject the very scriptures that they had previously built their lives upon. I saw identities change from “children of God” to “wise and learned.” And then they’d wonder why God felt so “hidden” from them.

In part, this happened to me. I fell for one of the enemy’s oldest tricks. The temptation is to exchange information for intimacy. The more information I got, the less intimacy I thought I needed. And while I didn’t come close to losing my faith, I did lose my confidence in the truth of scripture. By the time I left seminary, my faith was riddled with bullet holes of doubt, skepticism and cynicism. I didn’t understand how toxic it really was until years later.

It took a radical disruption from the Holy Spirit and a process of Jesus renewing my mind in order to set me free from the demonic chains of unbelief. As I had encounter after encounter with the living God through the power of the Spirit, my skeptical mind was washed clean. I had renewed faith in the reality of the Kingdom of God on the earth, the truth of the gospel, and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

A woman spontaneously spoke a prophetic word over my life months before the radical disruption of the Holy Spirit began. She said to me, “You will walk in the power of God like the disciples leaving the upper room, but lean not on your own understanding.” This word over my life has become true, but the chronology of it was reversed. I had to first “lean not on my own understanding” before I ever experienced the power of God.

In order for God to reveal to me His power, He had to strip away what I thought I “knew.” He had to strip away my titles of “wise and learned” and had to return me to child-like faith and trust in the Lord. These deep truths of the Kingdom are hidden from the wise and learned but revealed to little children.

Are there parts of the Bible that you’ve rejected because you are now wise and learned?

Where does God need to return you to child-like faith?

Consequences of a Miracle

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus expected people who had experienced or witnessed miracles performed by Him to respond in repentance and faith. Every time Jesus would heal a broken body, cast out a demon, cleanse a leper, or raise the dead it was a sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God on earth. Repentance and faith are the natural responses to the invasion of the Kingdom.

Yet, instead of repentance and faith, many people responded only with curiosity and amazement. Unfortunately, many people still do. While curiosity and amazement are normal reactions to the miraculous, if it stops there–if it never gives birth to repentance and faith–then the condition of the heart is not where it needs to be.

If a skeptical, unbelieving heart is confronted with a legitimate miracle, that person stands at a crossroads. They can continue in unbelief or they can repent for their unbelief and choose faith. Jesus expects the latter.

We live in a culture that thinks it’s okay to justify our unbelief by continuing to ask for more evidence. We get piles and piles of evidence and still ask for more. We give our unbelief names like “caution” and “wisdom.” But we don’t admit to what it really is: a hardness of heart, a lack of faith.

Miracles, signs and wonders are dangerous in this way. They put everyone involved at a spiritual fork in the road. It’s one thing to waver in doubt having never been exposed to healings, miracles or deliverance. But once you are confronted with a miracle, there’s no more wiggle room. You either believe or you reject. You either repent for your unbelief or you walk away shackled to your unbelief. There’s no more in-between. And there are severe consequences for staying in your unbelief.

Are you still wavering in doubt and unbelief?

Have you embraced the miraculous or would you feel right at home in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?

Overcoming Unbelief

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6

Remember that John the Baptist was one of the first people to announce that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 3; John 3:22-36). John was the one who baptized Jesus in water, saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him, and heard the voice of the Father speak words of love and identity over Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). John the Baptist is the one who saw Jesus and declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!“(John 1:29).

But we also know that John the Baptist was persecuted by Herod the tetrarch because John spoke out against Herod’s unlawful marriage to Herodias–his brother Philip’s wife (Matthew 14:3-12). John was stuck in prison and probably expecting his impending death. John was having a moment where he was struggling to believe in the calling on his own life and the truth about who Jesus was. Even after all that John the Baptist had seen and heard from the Lord, his difficult circumstances were causing him to wonder if Jesus really was the one they were all waiting for. Doubt can creep in like that!

Has anyone ever been there?

Notice Jesus’s response. He doesn’t launch into a theological argument proving that He is the Messiah. Instead, Jesus lists the miracles that He had been doing on a daily basis. The best evidence of Jesus being the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was the miracles. They not only fulfilled prophecy about His life but demonstrated the tangible reality of the Kingdom of God on earth.

So why did Jesus conclude with, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me?”

I believe Jesus knew that John, and many others, had different expectations of how things would turn out. John didn’t expect, as the Elijah-figure preparing the way for the Lord, that he would spend his final days in prison. He didn’t expect his life to end by execution. And many others didn’t expect the Messiah to go to the cross.

We are witnessing here the same juxtaposition that we experience in our own lives. Jesus is opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor. And yet He’s not miraculously getting John out of prison. He’s not miraculously sending angels to bust John out of prison, saving him from execution (which we know He can and will do at times according to Acts 12 & 16).

This is the tension of the Kingdom of God growing side-by-side with the kingdom of darkness (Matthew 13:30). This tension can cause many to “stumble on account of (Jesus)“. As followers of Jesus we have to live in this tension while living in this broken world. The Kingdom of God is breaking out all over the world but so is the kingdom of darkness. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We have to keep our eyes focused on what He IS doing and not get sucked into focusing on what we think He should be doing.

I also think this passage in Matthew 11 points to the necessity of signs, wonders, miracles, healings, deliverance, and prophecy. The operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) not only strengthens the church, but it also combats unbelief. It helps people know that the Kingdom of God is a tangible reality on the earth and not just a theory, not just a belief, not just a religious principle.

When our faith wavers, sometimes we need to see the power of God on display right in front of us. We need to know that Jesus is still opening the eyes of the blind, causing the lame to walk, cleansing those with leprosy, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and proclaiming good news to the poor today!

So many Christians today who do not believe in the miraculous gifts and do not operate in the miraculous gifts are falling away from their faith. In a cultural sea of unbelief and doubt, tangible and experiential evidence of God’s supernatural power is irreplaceable.

Have you seen God do the impossible recently?