“DEALING WITH DOUBT”

JAMES 1:5-8

JULY 8, 2012

 

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            Author and pastor Max Lucado says there are snowstorms, rainstorms, hailstorms -- and then he says -- there are doubt storms.[1]  He says every so often a doubt storm rolls into his life, bringing a flurry of questions and the winds of fear.

            Sometimes the storm comes after watching the evening news.  Some nights Lucado wonders why he watches it.  He contends the evening news is usually thirty minutes of bite-sized tragedies delivered by an attractive people with soothing voices. 

            Sometimes he says the storm comes when he is at work.  On Sundays he stands before his congregation as I stand before you today, with a three-point outline in his hand, twenty minutes on the clock and a prayer on his lips that the message might resonant with the people in the pews, but sometimes he doubts if it will.

            Do you ever experience doubt storms?  Some of you don’t.  Some of you have a “David-like” faith that defies any Goliath.  You can see the rainbow before the clouds ever part.

            The rest of us are not like that.  Our Bible hero is Thomas.  Our middle name is “Caution.”  Our questions are the bane of every Sunday School teacher.  We wonder about starving children and the power of prayer and and Christians on chemotherapy and in that regard we are not unlike the recipients of James' letter.  They had doubts as well.  It they hadn’t had doubts, James wouldn’t have mentioned the subject.  Let me remind you of what James said last week.  Let’s call what we looked at last week “the precursor to doubting.”  Look with me at verse two.

 

            My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

            Notice their problem.  Their trails were not producing endurance, they were producing doubt.  These first-century Christians believed in God but their trials had inserted a doubt in their minds about what God could do. 

            I like the way Lloyd John Oglivie, former Chaplain of the United States Senate, described doubt.  He said, “Doubt is the spiritual condition which invades the valley between our problems and the realization of God’s power.”[2]  I like that image of two mountain peaks.  A problem arises ... that’s one peak.  Then we can see God’s power, that’s another peak, but between our problem and God’s power is a valley and doubt has a way of invading that valley.  James wants his readers to build a bridge of endurance between the two peaks, between the trials and God’s power, but the truth is, his readers were not doing it.  Some had begun to sink into the Valley of Doubt.   They had begun to question God’s presence and providential care.

            That’s understandable.  I think of the couple who desperately wanted a child.  They prayed fervently for a child and waited twelve years for a positive answer to their prayers.  Then one day it happened.  The home pregnancy kit magically changed to the correct color and they had a perfect, healthy baby boy.  They had kept praying and they had built a bridge of endurance between their problem - not getting pregnant - and God’s power.

            When the little guy was three years old, however, the bridge began to crumble.  He was outside playing with a soccer ball.  It landed on a crack on the sidewalk and bounced crazily to the left.  It didn’t have to happen that way.  A little more breeze, a little less force, and the ball would have missed the crack.  It could have bounced to the right, but it didn’t, and left meant into the street and the little boy never saw the car. 

            And now they are alone again, this mother and father, and doubt has entered the valley between their problem and God’s power.

            That’s what happened to James’ readers.  Something tough had happened and they couldn’t explain it and they began to doubt.  They began to question God’s love.  They began to question God’s power.  They began to question God’s interest in them.  Trials were not building their faith, making it mature and complete, trials were eroding their faith.  Doubt had entered their valley.

            With that background, let’s see what James, the half-brother of Jesus, has to say about doubt. 

 

            If any of you is lacking in wisdom (that is to say in the context here ... “If any of you are having difficulty making sense of your hardships) ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed about by the wind; for the doubter being double-minded ...

 

            The Greek word or double-mindedness describes a person who is a walking civil war in which trust and distrust of God wage a constant battle against each other.

 

            ... for the doubter being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

 

            James has two major problems with doubt.  First, he doesn’t like doubt because it makes us unstable.  It tosses us around like a cork on the sea.

            I think back to my BT days, my Before Trudy days.  I was a junior in high school and I liked two girls at the same time.  I liked Marsha Lamb and Patty Bridges.  Marsha was in my history class and Patty was in my English class and when I was with one, I thought, “She’s the one for me,” and when I was with the other I thought, “No, I’m wrong.  She’s the one for me.” 

            Talk about an unstable time in my life, and I still shiver when I think of that Christmas Eve my junior year of high school.  On Christmas Eve Marsha called and asked if she could stop by with my Christmas gift.  I said, “Sure,” and she came over with a bottle of English Leather cologne.  I’m not sure they still make it.  Do they?  Anyway, we visited and while she was there, the phone rang and who should it be?  Patty.  She wanted to stop by as well and I couldn’t think of an excuse fast enough to stop her from coming by, and she started to drive over, and I had to get Marsha out of the house as quickly as I could. Which I did, but just barely, and Patty brought me a bottle of Brut cologne, which I know they still make because they give out samples of that at Storm Chaser games, but let me tell you, trying to juggle two gals at once, made me nuts.  It tossed me to and fro and that’s what doubt does.  It tosses us to and fro between trusting in God and not trusting in God.

            Second, James has a problem with doubt because he believed it adversely affects our prayer life. 

 

            For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

 

            Norman Vincent Peale, the forerunner to Robert Schuller, preached a sermon titled “How to Make Miracles Happen.”  Do you know how to make miracles happen?  It’s simple says Peale - just expect one.

            He tells of the time he was speaking at a convention and a man came forward and tried to tell Peale about all the difficulties he was facing.  The man said, “I am a sea of troubles.”  Well, Peale was in a hurry.  He had to catch a plane and so he said to the man, “OK.  I get the picture.  Here is your answer.  Expect a miracle.”

            “What does that mean?” asked the guy.

            Peale said, “I don’t have time.  You figure it out,” and he left.

            Well, the man thought to himself, “What a crazy statement: Expect a miracle!  Then he began to realize that he had been expecting anything but a miracle, and he was experiencing anything but miracles in his life.  So he began to do what Peale told him to do.  He began expecting miracles and miracles began to flood into his life.

            The moral?  What we get out of life depends a lot on what we look for in life and doubt blinds us to what God is doing.

            Doubt, then, according to James makes us unstable and it adversely affects our prayers, and given these downsides of doubt, James offers a prescription for dealing with it.  He counsels us to replace doubt with a different picture of God.  Verse five.

 

            If any of you is lacking in wisdom (that is making sense of what God is doing), ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.

 

            Do we see God that way?  Do we see God as generous?  Do we see God as someone who delights in giving?  Do we see God as the one who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son?

            Or do we see God as a police officer, hiding behind a billboard, waiting and delighting in giving people tickets?

            Or do we see God as a slum Lord, who set the world in motion, but can’t be bothered any more?  A God who leaves us to fix our own problems? 

            Or do we see God as a busy switchboard operator who puts us on hold all the time?

            Well, according to James -- who really knew Jesus well -- God is a giver, a generous giver who promises to give us wisdom so we can make sense of what God is doing in our lives, especially when it seems as if God is doing nothing in our lives.

            Let me close with this.  Chad was a shy, quiet boy.  One day he came home and told his mother that he would like to make a valentine for everyone in his class.  The mother’s heart sank.  She thought to herself, “I wish he would not do that,” because she had watched how Chad was always behind the other children when they walked home from school.   The other children laughed and talked to one another but Chad was excluded.  Nevertheless, she would help her son make valentines for the other children in his class.  She purchased glue and crayons and glitter and for three whole weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made thirty-five valentines.

            Valentine’s Day dawned and Chad was beside himself with excitement.  He carefully stacked the valentines, put them in his back pack and bolted out the door.  His mother prepared for the worst.  She decided to bake him his favorite cookies later in the day.  They would be warm out of the oven when he got home.  Maybe the cookies would ease Chad’s pain.

            She looked out the window as the children walked home from school, and sure enough they were laughing and having a good time and Chad was excluded.  She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside.  His backpack was empty.  He had received no valentines, and she choked back the tears.

            “Mommy has some warm cookies and milk for you.”

            But he hardly heard her words.  He just marched right on by and all he could say was, “Not a one.  Not a one.”

            Her heart sank.

            And then he added, “I didn’t forget a one, not a single one!”

            I suggest Chad is like God.  We may ignore God, question God, make fun of God, but despite what we do, God’s nature is to give.  The next time a doubt storm rolls into our life, let’s think about that. 



[1] Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, (Word: Dallas, 1991), 125.

[2] Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Ask Him Anything, (Word: Waco, 1981), 98.