Sunday, August 9, 2009

SOAP: Dealing With Doubt

SOAPSCRIPTURE: John 1:29-35 [NLT]; Mark 6:17-20 [NLT]; Matthew 11:2-3 [NLT]; Matthew 11:11 [NLT]; Matthew 11:4-5 [NLT]; Matthew 11:6 [NLT] {link}

OBSERVATION: Even John the Baptist had doubts.

APPLICATION: Dealing with doubt can be quite difficult. Life itself is full of trials and hardship, and even for the most devout followers of Christ, it can be difficult.

John the Baptist was one of the most devout Christians to ever live. The cousin of Jesus Christ, he came before Christ to announce his arrival into the world, to prepare the way of the Lord. Though he didn't know who the Lord was until he saw Him, he was prepared to make the announcement when the time came.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the One I was talking about when I said, 'A Man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for He existed long before me.' 31 I did not recognize Him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that He might be revealed to Israel."
32 Then John testified, "I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon Him. 33 I didn’t know He was the One, but when God sent me to baptize with water, He told me, 'The One on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that He is the Chosen One of God. John 1:29-35 [NLT]
Full of faith and without a moment's hesitation, John the Baptist proclaimed the Son of God.

Herod was king at the time, and he trusted and respected John. He knew that John was a good and holy man, but when Herodias -- Herod's sister-in-law / niece / wife (yes, really) -- wanted John arrested, Herod obliged her.
17 For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip's wife, but Herod had married her. 18 John had been telling Herod, "It is against God's law for you to marry your brother's wife." 19 So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod's approval she was powerless, 20 for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:17-20 [NLT]
Herod had John the Baptist arrested and thrown into the deepest and darkest of his dungeons, where Herodias would hopefully be pleased, but John would still be safe, regardless of his lack of freedom.

John, at this time, was going through the greatest trial of his life. He had done the work of the Lord, going before Jesus and preparing the way for Him, Baptizing in water in the name of God, and proclaiming the Messiah when Jesus arrived. John even Baptized Jesus Christ. Why, then, would God do such a thing as to have him thrown into prison by Herod? Had John been wrong? John began to doubt.
2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 "Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?" Matthew 11:2-3 [NLT]
"Are you the Lord? Are You out there, God?" In his moment of doubt, John called out for God.

What do we do in our times of hardship? Do we pray, "God, get me through this. Just get me out of this, and make everything okay." Are we so centered on ourselves that we can think of nothing else? Or do we pray, "God, I can get through this. If this is Your will, I can do it. Just tell me why, Lord. Why? I just want to understand why I'm going through this." As if God owes us any kind of explanation. It is not our place to understand His ways, but maybe we ask Him anyway. Or do we find ourselves wallowing in doubt, as John did, and say, "God, why have You abandoned me? Are You there?"

John sent his followers to Jesus with that very question, because he had his doubts. Maybe he was wrong when he proclaimed Christ as the Messiah. Maybe this was his punishment. So his followers went to Christ and asked Him, "Are you really the Messiah?"
4 Jesus told them, "Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.Matthew 11:4-5 [NLT]
Did God answer John's request the way he expected? Did He say, "Yes, I am the Messiah?" Did He explain to John why he was suffering such hardship? Of course not, because it was not John's place to understand the ways of the Lord.

But Jesus did answer John's request, just as God always answers our prayers. Jesus, through John's followers, told John the Baptist to do three things.

Look Back: Jesus says, "Look at all that I have done for you. Have I not always been faithful to you?"
11 "I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist...Matthew 11:11 [NLT]
"There is no one greater than John the Baptist," Jesus said. This was no punishment for making a mistake.

Look Around: Jesus says, "Look all around you and you tell me if I am the Son of God."
4 Jesus told them, "Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5 the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.Matthew 11:4-5 [NLT]
"Have you every known anyone who could do such things? Surely I am the Messiah."

Look Ahead: Jesus says, "Look to the future, for today is just a fleeting moment in time."
6 "And tell him, 'God blesses those who do not turn away because of Me.'" Matthew 11:6 [NLT]
"Do not lose faith," Jesus says. "For those who remain faithful will be blessed."

The month of July and this first week of August has been a trying time for me at work, with frequent visits from Vice Presidents in the company and the termination of my own supervisor. Many long days and longer weeks. Through it all, the Lord has been faithful. He has given me the stamina to push through the hardship and succeed. He has been with me -- very near to me, in fact -- and He continues to show me the way. I started this trying time with the first prayer I mentioned above, "God, help me to get through this." Though I also prayed for my now unemployed former supervisor, my thoughts were very much on myself and my family. But thankfully, I never turned to the second or third prayers, "God tell me why," and "Are You really there?" My prayers progressed to things like, "Please, God, be near, and help me through this. Use me as an example of Your grace," and then, "Thank You, Lord, for being so near to me through this."

That's not to say that I've never had doubts in my life. We all have doubts at some point or other. And God knows that we will. He doesn't tell us that we will be punished for our doubts. Quite the opposite, in fact, He tells us that He "blesses those who do not turn away." It's a wonderful, frightening, humbling experience to feel God so near. I don't deserve it, but am so thankful for it, and so thankful that I didn't turn to doubt.

Look back. Look around. Look ahead. How do you deal with doubt?

PRAYER: Thank You, Father, for being with me and guiding me through this difficult time in the workplace. For being so near and so faithful. For humbling me. For giving me the wisdom to turn to You instead of turning to doubt. Use me, Lord, and my experience, that others might come to know such nearness to You.

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