Doubt, The Silent Killer

In January of 1986 my dad had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and without the ability to speak. It was to be my introduction to the world of heart disease and the devastating effects of what are sometimes called the silent killers of hypertension, stroke and heart attacks. In general, these conditions are either created, or exacerbated, by a poor diet and a lack of aerobic exercise. They are called silent because they most often go undetected until it is too late.

Over the years, I have discovered a kind of spiritual heart disease that is also created by a poor diet and a lack of exercise. And it too is often a silent killer. This is because we either don’t recognize its existence or consider it to be a natural part of the human condition. Therefore we don’t do anything about it. In any case, we seldom realize the devastating effects that it has on our faith and our ministry to others.

Doubt is the heart disease that I have in mind here. We know that we are called to live by faith, trusting in the character and promises of God, but doubt always seems to rise up, especially in the midst of adversity. The discovery part for me took place when I looked back in my own life and saw how tolerant I had become of doubting the Word of God. It was almost like I believed that there wasn’t any way to live without some level of doubt and that God didn’t really expect me to be completely free of doubt. It was a belief that I had never articulated but it existed nonetheless.

Over the next couple of weeks the Lord took me through some verses that have really helped me in my battle with doubt and unbelief. The journey began in Mark 11:22-24 when Jesus tells His disciples, “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you.” It is clear from what Jesus says here that it is not only possible for us to believe without any doubting but that doubt puts the answers to our prayers in jeopardy.

This truth is reinforced, and amplified, by the brother of Jesus in James 1:5-8 when the apostle James writes, “if any of your lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men generously, without reproach. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect to receive anything from the Lord, being a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.” No doubt James had heard Jesus teach on, and then demonstrate the power of, having faith in God and he tells us that when we are walking in doubt we should not expect to receive anything from God. Though hard to hear, this admonition brings to mind the words of Hebrews 11:6, “and without faith it is impossible to please God.”

For many of us who battle doubt and unbelief these words of Jesus and the apostle are difficult to receive because we know that we are not able, in ourselves, to believe and not doubt, especially when living through the storms of life. In His grace, the Holy Spirit brought to mind another passage of Scripture. It came from Matthew 14:22-33 and it is the account where Jesus walks on the water and invites Peter to get out of the boat and join him on the water. “And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water. And He said, ‘Come.’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me.’  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The contrast is clear as crystal. When Peter responded in faith (believing that if Jesus commanded him to come that he could walk on water), he was in fact able to walk on water. But as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the wind (and the waves) he became afraid (doubted) and began to sink. In practical terms this means that we must have a good spiritual diet and we must enter into opportunities to exercise our faith. We must become people of praise and thanksgiving who recognize that Jesus is the answer for every situation in life. We need to meditate day and night on the Word of God (Joshua 1:8) and allow God build our faith in His goodness, His faithfulness and His ability to answer our prayers. We must avoid filling our minds with the values, beliefs and discontent of our culture that comes with watching hours of television, reading newspapers and surfing the Internet. Finally, we need to get out of the boat, where life is comfortable and secure, and we need to respond to the invitation of Jesus to walk on the water. May we together grow in our trust for Jesus and His word, leaving no place for doubt, a silent but ruthless enemy of our faith.