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Believing and Doubting

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James 1: 5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
A recent sunset in the Boonies.
What do we do when we need wisdom? To whom do we turn?

Based on what I know about myself, and what I see in others on social media and in real life, there’s a real tendency in us human beings to look to people around us when we need help. We hope to find someone smarter than us. We go, in fact, to everyone and almost anyone else, it seems, but God.

James says this is not how we ought to be living, as believers. If we are keeping in step with the Spirit, He’s the one we need to seek first for wisdom. The wisdom that God supplies may direct us to go to other counselors as well, but the Spirit of Jesus ought to be our First Call.

It’s comforting that according to James, God doesn’t beat us up or mock us for not knowing what to do. He gives generously. He is glad for us to consult Him. He knows how we’re made. He knows we are but dust. He knows we need help.

I like to think that my Father is just waiting for me to approach. He’s my Papa, sitting in a big chair when I come in to talk to Him. He leans down eagerly to help His child, happy to do so, not finding fault.

James says that when we ask we must not doubt.

I don’t know about you, but I wrestle with doubt all the time. It’s not so much doubt that God CAN answer my prayers. It’s more doubt that He will.

As I was thinking about doubt, the story in Mark 9, the story of the boy possessed by an evil spirit whose father brought him to Jesus, came to mind.

Beginning in verse 21 of Mark, Chapter 9:

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said,  “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up

Clearly, in the father, we have an individual who is keenly aware of his own struggle with doubt.

But Jesus doesn’t turn him away. In fact, Jesus gives him the very thing he asks for.

Which seems to be in direct contrast to James’ words that one “must believe and not doubt” and that “That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.”

So, how do we reconcile the two?

The story in Mark chapter 9 provides hope for individuals like me who struggle with doubt from time to time.

What did the father of the little boy do that made all the difference?

First, he came to Jesus, and asked for help. Choosing to bring our struggles, our needs, our problems to Him demonstrates that we DO have faith, whatever our measure of faith might be.

Second: He was honest about his struggle to believe. It’s not like God doesn’t KNOW that we struggle with doubt from time to time. Pretending to believe by saying all the “right words” doesn’t change the true condition of our hearts. Since He already knows where we are and how we feel, why not be honest with our Father?

I think there’s a place for saying, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” I don’t think God condemns us for having doubts, as much as He longs to be approached with love.

I think James is recounting the condition of one trapped in doubt, (“like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”) not reporting a punishment that we receive for doubting.

The fact that the father showed up at all with his son, the fact that he asked for help: these show a level of belief, of faith. He chose the right person to go to for help. What makes this man NOT unstable, is that he was able to honestly confess the condition of his heart to the Lord, and then ask for help overcoming his unbelief, all the while acting on the faith that he honestly had.
I wish that when writing this verse, James had given a nod to people like me, who struggle with unbelief from time to time, yet who press on in their relationship with their heavenly Father.

My struggle isn’t with whether or not God exists, or whether or not Jesus is His Son. These, I believe to be true. Nor is my struggle with the power of God to effect change. I know that He can.

My struggle is with believing that He will do the things that I ask Him to do. Because some prayers that seemed to me that ought to be totally within the will of God have gone unanswered. Dear people I have loved have gone unhealed. And so my struggle comes from the hurt place left by unanswered prayer.

Sadly, God is not my genie in a bottle, that I can direct, who gives me exactly what I want.

He’s God, and I’m not.

Which should be of GREAT relief to the rest of you.

So, to come full circle: take your concerns, your problems, your questions, to the One who gives generously, without finding fault. He is longing to spend time with you, to walk in fellowship with you. Confess your unbelief – He knows all about it, anyway. And ask Him, by the power of His Spirit, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, to help you overcome your unbelief.