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Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any, but keep your doubts to yourself, for I have enough of my own.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
The Lord had just heard that His herald and friend John the Baptist had been beheaded. The news moved Jesus to seek time alone; He withdrew to a desolate place. But news traveled fast and a large crowd followed Him on foot. Overlooking His own needs, He felt compassion for them and healed many.
Evening came and His disciples were concerned that the crowd, which had swollen to 5,000, had nothing to eat. They suggested that Jesus send the crowd away. "But Jesus said to them, 'They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!'" (Matt. 14:16). How were these men going to feed 5,000 people with their limited resources? When confronted with what appears to be an impossible task, how do we typically respond? If we don't believe we have the resources to do it, doubts quickly turn to unbelief. The truth is, without the presence of Christ in our lives, we won't ever have the resources to do God's will. We can perform what appear to be Christian duties in our own strength and with our own resources, but nothing we accomplish by that means will last for eternity.
It is human nature to consider only our resources when confronted with any task. In the things we can do, we have no or few doubts. The disciples assessed their resources and reported that they had only five loaves of bread and two fish (see Matt. 14:17).
"Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds" (Matt. 14:19). The 5,000 were fed and the disciples even picked up left-overs-each man had a basketful. What an object lesson! Did they learn from it? Were all their doubts erased?
After sending the multitudes away, Jesus sent the disciples across the Sea of Galilee and then went up on the mountain to pray (see Matt. 14:23). Later in the night, the disciples rowed against a storm, getting nowhere. Jesus walked across the water to the disciples, and Mark records, "He intended to pass by them" (6:48). Jesus intends to pass by the self-sufficient. Do we want to row against the storms of life and hope to survive by our own strength and resources? We can go ahead; God will let us. We can row until our arms fall off, but eventually the storms will bring us down. Or we can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. The disciples called upon the Lord and the water was calmed. Mark records:
They had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened (6:52).
Why Do We Doubt?
When the disciples first saw Jesus walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost; they were afraid. Jesus said, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matt. 14:27). The impulsive Peter was so relieved and excited that he asked Jesus to command that he come to Him on the water. Jesus said, "Come" (Matt. 14:29), and Peter did. At least he did for a few steps, until He took His eyes off Jesus and felt the effects of the wind. As Peter started to sink, he cried out for Jesus to save him. The Lord stretched out His hand and said, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31). Why did he doubt? Why do we?
We need to put this in perspective. The twelve disciples witnessed Jesus heal the sick, feed the 5,000 and calm the sea. He demonstrated His authority over demons, diseases, death and nature, and still they doubted. When the resurrected Christ appeared to many people, many of them "worshiped him; but some doubted" (Matt. 28:17, NIV). Even John the Baptist struggled with doubts and sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?" (Luke 7:19). Jesus responded:
Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them (v. 22).
Is it any wonder that people doubt today when we haven't seen or witnessed any such miracles? Jesus said to doubting Thomas, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:29). What we have today is the witness of credible people who have seen, heard, touched and were transformed by the love of God. We also have the testimony of believers for 20 centuries, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth (see John 16:13).
What Is Doubt?
Doubt can be defined as the absence of both assent (agreement) and dissent (disagreement) to a certain proposition. It is the lack of commitment to believe or not to believe. For example, Thomas had not seen the resurrected Christ when it was reported that the others disciples had seen Him. Thomas said, "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (John 20:25). When Thomas made this statement, he was not doubting. He already had made his decision-"I will not believe." His colleagues' words were not enough to sway him. He wanted physical evidence.
Doubt is when the evidence of pro and con is evenly balanced. Such doubt is a prelude to belief or a precursor to unbelief. The journey of faith begins with doubt-such doubt is not unbelief. Unbelief is a conviction about something or someone, which is in itself a belief. To say "I don't believe in God" is a conviction that there is no God, which is a belief. Therefore, doubt does not imply unbelief. It simply means that one is unconvinced.
Jesus consistently condemned unbelief whenever and wherever He found it. Yet He tolerated doubt, because it was transitory-a nonpermanent state of mind. We must be careful, however, because the word "unbelief" in the Bible can refer to doubt. That is probably the case in Mark 9, in which the desperate father asked for help:
"If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, "If You can?" All things are possible to him who believes. Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief" (vv. 22-24).
Jesus didn't condemn the boy's father for doubting; He just assured him that all things are possible with God. The man's cry for help for his unbelief is better thought of as doubt.
Thomas became convinced when the Lord said to him, "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing" (John 20:27). The evidence overwhelmed Thomas. He moved from unbelief to belief, saying, "My Lord and my God!" (v. 28). Thomas was confronted with something more than physical evidence, since it is doubtful that any of the disciples told Jesus what Thomas had said. His response indicated more than a belief in Jesus' resurrection. Proclaiming Jesus as Lord (Kurios is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament "Jehovah") and God (Theos), Thomas declared his belief in the divinity of Jesus.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
Have you ever noticed that nobody lives by doubt? We live by faith in someone or something, or we don't live very well. Doubt leads to inaction; belief moves to action. This is partially what James was referring to when he wrote "I will show you my faith by my works" (2:18). What can you show for your doubts; and how much is accomplished by those of us who lack confidence in anyone or anything?
Many of us who doubt struggle with decision making, but those of us who have great faith are decisive and take action. For example, Joshua, a servant of God, was such a great leader because he never sat on the fence. When an angel, appearing in the form of a man, stood in front of Joshua with a sword drawn in his hand, "Joshua went to him and said to him, 'Are you for us or for our adversaries?'" (Josh. 5:13). The angel identified himself as the captain of the host of the Lord and commanded Joshua to remove his shoes, for Joshua stood on holy ground. Joshua did so. He believed and obeyed.
Joshua also taught his belief to others:
Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (24:14-15).
Great leaders do not waver in unbelief. Some doubters may think they are leaders, but nobody is following them. Can any of us imagine a team on the sidelines in a close game listening to a coach who can't decide what play to run next? Where's the inspiration in that? The problem is, people will follow someone of strong conviction regardless of what they believe. If that person or cause is passionate enough, people will follow. Why do people like Hitler come to power? Hitler was decisive and filled with confidence. Germany's terrible state in the years following World War I demanded leadership-someone who could get the country back on track to world dominance. Hitler persauded his followers to believe that they were a superrace-to their detriment and that of the world.
Athletes usually believe their coaches if their coaches have proven themselves superior in their sport. Coaches don't have to be former champions themselves-they can be just as effective as leaders or more so if they have produced champions or championship teams. Athletes will do whatever their coaches say, because they believe their coaches are right. When coaches challenge techniques and suggest changes, athletes will adjust even if at first it feels awkward. We move from doubt to belief based on the track record of our leaders. When we truly believe in an authority figure, we will follow in complete obedience.
On the contrary, when doubt pervades an individual, it is called skepticism or definitive doubt. The skeptic despairs of ever knowing truth with certainty. This is the downside of postmodernism. In secular education and the media, the idea that no absolute truth exists is the prevailing philosophy-which is essentially the same as saying there is no God. This idea leads to ambivalence, which is just another form of doubt. An ambivalent society doesn't care. Ambivalent people are emotionally flat. They have no convictions and no purpose for living.
Who Are the Blessing Snatchers?
The reason doubt pervades society is because doubt is easier to establish than faith. The devil has the easier job. For instance, defense lawyers don't have to prove innocence. All they have to do is establish a reasonable doubt and the jury is obligated to acquit the defendant. On the other hand, to convict someone, prosecutors have to prove that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
If we want to paralyze a society, then all we would have to do is create a little doubt. The message believed by the ineffective, inactive and insignificant is, When in doubt, don't do anything. Most doubting people aren't doing anything of consequence.
Doubt is fostered by the father of lies (we will look at his role in chapter 7), and he has a lot of helpers. The following are examples of how the world is filled with blessing snatchers:
I see you bought a new suit. I bought one there and a sleeve fell off.
You bought a new car from that dealer? I did and it was a lemon.
So, you've become a Christian. Now you have an enemy you never had before. I tried it once, but it didn't work.
We planned a picnic, so it will probably rain again.
A pessimistic attitude can also snatch blessings and it has been estimated that 95 percent of the world's population are pessimists by nature. Pessimism is supported by the world's system. Weatherpersons report a 30 percent chance of rain tomorrow, but they seldom if ever report a 70 percent chance of sunshine. The news anchor reports all the bad news, but he or she seldom reports any of the good deeds done daily by the faithful. The media can't resist reporting about a fallen pastor, but it almost never shares the good deeds that the vast majority of godly pastors are doing every day. This can't help but create doubts in the minds of those who are undecided.
On the contrary, optimists think they live in the best of all possible worlds-and the pessimists are afraid they are right! The pessimist asks, "What do I stand to lose if I do?" The optimist asks, "What do I stand to lose if I don't?" The pessimist sees the problem in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every problem. Pessimists feed on doubt.
The following story illustrates this idea: Word got around heaven that the devil was holding a fire sale. Some of his best weapons were on the auction block. A couple of curious angels thought they would check out some of the items to see what the devil was up to. Of course, the primary tools of his trade-temptation, accusation and deception-were not for sale, even though they sat prominently on display for all to see. What was for sale on the pedestals included petty gossip, jealousy, arrogance, gluttony, lust and many of the devil's other well-known tricks that have defeated many of God's children. Satan's pitchmen were anxious to widely disperse them in God's kingdom for others to use.
One of the angels noticed that one pedestal was empty and asked the little devils which tool was missing. "Oh, that is discouragement," a little devil said. "We can't keep it in stock, because it is in constant use and our most effective weapon. Most of God's children already own it anyway!"
What's the Real Deal with the Power of Positive Thinking?
It is a sin to take away other people's courage when they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them (see Phil. 4:13). Those who sow seeds of discouragement will reap the harvest of doubt. Dale Carnegie once said:
If you want to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment, use encouragement. Make the fault you want to correct seem easy to correct; make the thing you want the person to do seem easy to do.... If you and I will inspire the people with whom we come in contact to a realization of the hidden treasure they possess, we can do far more than change people. We can literally transform them.
Excerpted from OVERCOMING DOUBT by Neil T. Anderson Copyright © 2004 by Neil T. Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Chapter 1||The Nature of Doubt||13|
|Chapter 2||The Nature of Faith||29|
|Chapter 3||Reasonable Faith||42|
|Chapter 4||Certainties and Uncertainties||60|
|Chapter 5||On the Right Path||78|
|Chapter 6||Doubt and Mental Health||93|
|Chapter 7||Taking Every Thought Captive||107|