The Wilderness Wastelands of Doubt

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INTRODUCTION

One of the “poster” scripture for the purpose of Mission in every believer’s life and in the church we belong to is the Great Commission which we find in Matthew 28.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Matthew 28:19 (NIV)

I was reading this scripture and there was something that stood out -that really caught my attention…turn with me if you will to Matthew 28 – I’m going to be reading beginning at verse 16,

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Matthew 28:16-17 (NIV)

Circle that phrase, “but some doubted”. That phrase kind of struck me as kind of odd. After all the events that had happened in the past few weeks….Jesus being crucified and buried and then rising from the dead – Visiting many of them in different places and different circumstances – Performing miracles as He did before His death – Sitting with them and talking with them and even eating with them. After all this, the Bible records that on that mountain they worshipped Him before He was about to ascend BUT SOME DOUBTED!! That floored me. Why would they doubt? What were they doubting? Were they doubting that this was indeed Jesus? Were they doubting that He had died in the first place? Were they doubting that what they were seeing was actually real? Or maybe they were simply doubting that they could carry on the work that Jesus wanted them to do?

The Bible doesn’t really tell us what they doubted or why they doubted but it was significant enough to be included in its pages – and even more astounding it’s included right before Jesus spoke some of His final words to them. Perhaps it was those words that finally erased some of those lingering doubts. Especially as he declared, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But seeing this phrase kind of stirred something in my thoughts. It probably leapt out at me because I don’t know about you but there are times when I have doubted. I hope I didn’t shock anyone…But really, I think some of us, perhaps a few of us identify with that statement? But some doubted.

WHAT IS DOUBT?

The dictionary defines doubt as a feeling of uncertainty, or misgivings. That is when doubt is used as a noun. When doubt is used as a verb it is defined as “to disbelieve, or to distrust”.

How many of you can honestly say that you’ve gone through life without ever doubting? You know you’ve never had an uncertain feeling…you’ve never had misgivings about something…you’ve never disbelieved or distrusted something” I didn’t think so – in fact I highly doubt it! Every single one of us has had our doubts about something at one time or another in life. We’ve had our doubts with career choices…our marriage…our friends…the car we bought…or the house we live in…and even the things we believe in. The list could go on and on. The truth is, doubt comes up just about every day of our life. We can have doubts about so many things that sometimes our lives are defined more by what we doubt (or what we’re uncertain about) than what we believe.

But I want to know what the Bible says about doubt ?

i. Jesus said that it is foolishness.

After Jesus’ resurrection there were two men traveling on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. As they were walking along they were discussing the events that had happened in the past few days. They were talking about Jesus death and burial and then the unsettling reports that they had heard about His resurrection. A man joined them and unbeknownst to them it was Jesus. Jesus probes a little and asks them what they were discussing. The men stopped and sorrowfully began to retell the tale of what had happened to Jesus. A couple things stand out in this tale that I’m sure Jesus picked up on…

1. They described Jesus as a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.
2. They divulged the depth of their disillusionment when they stated Him as one they had hoped would be the Messiah.
3. Then they expressed their doubt over the story that Jesus was alive but simply explained that His body was missing.

Jesus quickly narrowed in on their doubt and said,

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
Luke 24:25 (NIV)

I like how Jesus labels doubt…”slow of heart”

These men had the records of what was going to happen to Jesus (in fact, prior to the crucifixion Jesus had mentioned numerous times about His impending death and resurrection) and yet they still did not believe!

These men even admitted that they had heard the story from the women visiting the tomb and others seeing Jesus was alive. But they refused to believe it!

Friends what Jesus said here teaches us that having doubts about something is one thing….but living in doubt is foolish – especially when the opportunity for dealing with that doubt is right before you. I’ll pick up on this a little bit later.

Why is doubt foolishness? Because… the Bible teaches us…

ii. it is a stubborn refusal to believe

Mark records Jesus’ encounter with the disciples shortly after this when they were eating together. Listen to what He said when He appeared in their midst,

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
Mark 16:14 (NIV)

Whenever you doubt something then you are refusing to believe in something. If you doubt that God is real then you will never believe God is real. If you doubt your marriage will ever be healthy then guess what? Your marriage will never be healthy. If you have doubts about your friendship then you are refusing to believe to believe in that friendship. You may still want to believe, or even say you believe but the truth is doubt breaks the certainty of that belief….

iii. is uncertainty

If you aren’t certain about something then you doubt it. There’s something that’s holding you back from saying yes, or saying no, or saying I believe, or saying I’m ready. It is when all the “Yeah, but…”‘s come into play! Uncertainty can come from many things but most often it’s because of a previous experience we’ve had in our life that will give us doubts about our present circumstance…whatever that may be.

Mark records the story of a man who had a demon-possessed son. This man brought the boy to see Jesus so that the boy could be healed. In the retelling of his story to Jesus it is clear that when he first came he believed that Jesus could heal his son. But when he arrived Jesus wasn’t available (he was up on the mountain talking with Elijah and Moses) and so the man asked Jesus’ disciples to cast the demon out. But they couldn’t do it. When Jesus instructs the man to bring the boy to him, the evil spirit saw Jesus and threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth. Then Jesus asked the father how long this had been happening. The man replies,

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “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.”
Mark 9:21-22 (NIV)

Notice the man said…”if you can…” What happened to his belief that Jesus could heal his son? The disciples failed in the task and doubt crept into the picture…maybe Jesus couldn’t heal his son after all. Doubt is uncertainty.

Okay now that we have a bit of a grasp on what doubt is I want to pick up a bit on why Jesus would say that doubt is foolishness. In doing so we discover the answer to the question,

What does doubt do?

Friends, one of the first things doubt does is,

1. It messes with your mind.

A person who lives in doubt about something is a person who has a chaotic mind. How does it do this?

a. It whittles away at hope.
Going back to the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus,

We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel… — Luke 24:21 (NLT)

These men HAD hoped that Jesus was the Messiah that had come to rescue Israel…hope as in past tense. Their doubt about the truth of the resurrection and the words Jesus had spoken and the writings of the prophets whittled away at their hope until there was no hope.

Doubt does that. When you doubt that your finances will ever get any better, or that your child will ever mature, or that your parents will ever understand, or that you’ll ever drive a car or own a home or see a loved one saved. When you carry that doubt day in and day out it will whittle away at your hope for those things until there is no hope left.

b. it troubles you
Luke records the risen Christ appearing suddenly in a room that all of his disciples had hid themselves in as they were eating.

Luke 24:38 (NIV)
38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

A person with doubts carries with them a troubled mind. This is especially true when you think someone has said something behind your back or when you think you forgot to make that bill payment – or when you can’t remember if today is your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary. Those doubts will trouble you until they are resolved.

c. it causes fear
What characterized the disciples behavior after Jesus’ death and burial?

John 20:19 (NIV)
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

What a contrast to the bravado and “courage” that the disciples announced to Jesus when He declared at the Last Supper that they would all desert Him. They said that they would never leave him – that they would die with him even. And Peter! Peter denied Jesus three times when apprehended as one of Christ’s disciples. Why? Because of doubt…

Perhaps more than anything else, fear is caused by doubt. Why? Because doubt is uncertainty and whenever there is something we’re uncertain about it often leads to fear. This messes up our minds.

d. It causes indecisiveness

James 1:5-8 (NIV)
5 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. 6 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. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Circle, “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”. Doubt results in indecisiveness. A person who lives with doubts always has a hard time making a decision. Why would God not give anything to such a person? Because such a person won’t apply what they receive. In this example, when you ask God for wisdom and believe he will give it to you (remember – no doubting!) then you will be a person who makes wise decisions and stable in what you do.? Because James said God will grant your prayer. But if you doubt that God would give you wisdom (or insert anything else) then it’s not going to happen and your life will be marked by bad decisions, and an indecisive lifestyle.

Do you ever feel that things never get accomplished in your life? Or that you have a pile of incomplete tasks that keeps getting bigger and bigger? If so, then I would venture to say that you are a person who doubts. You doubt you have the time to do things, or that you can do a good job, or fill in the blank…you have doubts. It’s time to choose to believe God at His word and ask for His wisdom and stop doubting. Then believe that the decisions you make and the actions you take are with the wisdom of God. Until you deal with the doubt you will not only be uncertain but you will also be indecisive and both mess up your mind.

e. It magnifies your obstacles
Going back to the story of the father with the demon-possessed boy. The obstacle in his case was the prior experience of the disciples not being able to cast out the demon. The obstacle was magnified through his doubt until it became justification for saying that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t be able to heal the boy either.

A person with doubt will always have obstacles that become roadblocks to believing something can happen. The obstacle can be something you worry about, something your mad about, an experience that hurt you, a person that opposes you, a closed door that stops you – whatever the obstacle if you have doubts that roadblock will loom large in front of you and will consume your thoughts and will keep you doubting.

Because doubt messes with your mind it will also…

ii. Rob you of your life.

Doubt will cause you to miss out of the best things in life

Hebrews 3:16-19 (NIV)
16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Note that it was because of the Israelites unbelief (their doubt) that they wandered in the desert for 40 years and never entered the promised land. God had told them He would go with them. He had told them He would give them the promised land. He told them He would conquer their enemies. They had witnessed the miracles of God in the desert. And yet when the spies came back from searching out the land and said, “Yeah the land is fruitful and a pretty nice place and all but there are giants and there’s no hope in conquering them” – then the people doubted and their doubt led to disbelief in the promises of God. The only ones who entered into the promise land out of that group of people 40 years later was Joshua and Caleb because they did not doubt.

When you live with doubt in your life and you don’t do anything about it you will miss out on the best things in life. But perhaps the saddest thing that doubt does is..

iii. It hinders and can even prevent the work of God and His purposes in your life.

Two scriptures…

Matthew 13:58 (NIV)
58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Mark 6:5-6 (NIV)
5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

It is significant that Jesus didn’t do many miracles in these two places because of their lack of faith or the presence of doubt!! In fact in the second scripture we find one of the few instances in the Bible where it records Jesus being amazed! Usually it’s the other way around – people are amazed with Him or His work through His disciples. But here Jesus is startled or amazed at the doubt these people have. And because of this lack of faith, because of doubt God’s work was hindered in those communities.

Oh friends how much is God hindered in our homes, in our families, in our church, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our community because of doubt?

In Matthew 21 Jesus says,

Matthew 21:21-22 (NIV)
21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Notice that Jesus emphasized the qualifier here…if you have faith and do not doubt. Doubt will erode faith until it is no longer present. The principle Jesus is teaching here is this, With faith anything is possible but with doubt everything can fail.

So doubt messes with your mind, it robs you of your life, and it hinders and can even prevent the work of God and His purposes in Your life –

How do we overcome doubt?

i. Remember that God wants you to be free of doubt!
Even though the disciples locked themselves away in fear and doubt – Jesus appeared and revealed himself to them – letting them see his hands and feet and side. He did the same for Thomas who said,

John 20:25 (NIV)
… “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

…when the disciples told him they had seen Jesus alive. Then Jesus came…

John 20:27 (NIV)
27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

When Peter started sinking into the waves and cried out “Lord, Save Me” The scriptures record that immediately Jesus reached out and grabbed his hand. One of the most important principles to overcoming doubt is to remember that God wants you free from it.

ii. Doubt is conquered by the truth
The only way to overcome doubt is by discovering the truth. If you doubt something let it be a prompt to finding out the truth – deal with it right away and don’t dwell in it. Are you doubting someone’s intentions towards you? Then go and ask them – are you mad at me? Is there something I did wrong? Find out the truth. Do you doubt your marriage is healthy? Then spend some time finding out what a healthy marriage is and start living out what you discover! Do you doubt that you’ll ever get out of debt? Well maybe the truth is you need to reign in your spending a bit – or you need to get some financial help.

Seeking the truth…
Out of all the disciples on the boat in the midst of the storm only Peter got out because He said, “If it is really you Lord then tell me to come to you walking on the water.” The rest were terrified with fear thinking that Jesus was a ghost. They doubted what their eyes were seeing could be true. But only Peter sought to verify what his eyes were seeing. Truth casts aside doubt – but you’ve got to seek it.

Believe it…
Seeking the truth is fine and dandy…but once you discover it you’ve got to believe it. Too many people continue to live in doubt because they refuse to believe the truth that is right before them. Or even worse they won’t seek out the truth because they are afraid to find out that their doubts false. They’ve become comfortable with their doubts.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” He had just proven to Thomas that He was really alive…now it was up to Thomas to believe.

Friends for many things in our life the only way doubt will be conquered is by truth…and not just any truth – but the truth of God’s Words, of God’s promises, of God’s principles. And the only way to discover this truth is in the scriptures. You want to have more faith and less doubt in your life? Then become a student of God’s word. Listen to what Hebrews 4:12 says,

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. [MSG]

iii. Doubt is subdued by choice
Jesus said…

Mark 11:23-25 (NIV)
23 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Circle or underline “he who does not doubt in his heart but believe that what he says will happen.” The word “but” indicates that doubt is contrary to belief. It is an antonym and antithesis to belief. You either believe or you don’t. Doubt is subdued by choice. Maybe you have wishful thinking about some things in your life. You’d like to believe something but there’s just a little bit of doubt there. Until you cast your lot, swing your vote, and set in stone and CHOOSE to believe then doubt will rule the day and everything can fail.

Is it possible to have faith and doubt at the same time? Yes and no. A person can’t truly believe in something if there is doubt in their heart. However, every person of faith or who believes in something will entertain doubts at one time or another – we all experience the test of doubt. And in those instances your faith, your belief comes under fire. But here’s where the crunch comes – it is in those moments that doubts serve their only useful purpose – and that is to solidify and to cement the choice we make in faith. If we remember that God wants us to be free of doubt – if we seek out the truth and choose to believe it then the doubt is rejected and our faith emerges stronger and more concrete. If we succumb to the doubt then our faith erodes and eventually withers to unbelief.

Frederick Buechner in his book: Wishful Thinking says,

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

I would qualify that a bit and say that doubts can keep faith awake and growing. But only when you overcome them.

CONCLUSION

What are the results of defeating doubt in your life?

John 20:29 (NIV)
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Those who overcome and believe the promises of God even when you can’t see them are BLESSED. How are we blessed?

1. Sound mind
– sure of the truth
– full of hope
– full of certainty
– free from fear
– wise decisions
– see obstacles/problems as opportunities rather than roadblocks

2. Full Life
– your life is more complete and more exciting and on more solid ground – namely because of a sound mind and because…

3. God’s purposes and power are at work in and through your life.
– with faith anything is possible but with doubt everything can fail.
– Your faith will grow and mature

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