Monday, January 21, 2013

Resting in the Paradoxes

I've just finished reading Blink, by Ted Dekker.  It's fun, but I got headaches as often as his main character did, trying to juggle all the possible futures bouncing off the walls of his super smart brain. 

The spiritual theme of the book wraps itself around the mind-boggling concept that human beings have free will, and that, through prayer as well as through their active choices, they can change things, even though God is sovereign.

How can both things be true?  If we really have free choice, doesn't that rule out the possibility that God is sovereign?

This is the kind of dilemma we run up against whenever we try to figure out most everything about the nature and character of God. 

How can He be both totally God and totally man? 
How can He be three and yet only one? 
How can He be holy and allow evil in the world?

The struggle is like holding onto mercury.  Whenever we think we're getting close to solving the dichotomy, we discover we've lost part of the truth down a black hole. 

In fact, I would venture to guess that every heresy that has ever challenged the true biblical version of the Christian faith has resulted from an attempt to reconcile one or another of these paradoxes. 

But they cannot be reconciled in this life.  In the extra-dimensions we'll inhabit as immortal beings we may find they come together, but in the meantime, we need to be content to live with the puzzle pieces unconnected.

That means we quit trying to figure it out and live as if both are true.  We act as if our choices matter, about what we do and what we decide to pray for.  But we trust that God, in His sovereignty, can weave the strands of our imperfect choices into the tapestry of His perfect will.

In doing so we acknowledge, with awesome wonder, that we matter.  We are not puppets.  We can change the world.  This recognition will give great incentive to our actions and great power to our prayers.

At the same time, we are able to relax in the security of knowing that an all-powerful and all-loving God, like a mother eagle, swoops under us when we fall, carries us on his wings when we grow tired, and cheers for us when we learn to soar. 

We can rest in the paradoxes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ten Steps To Dealing With Doubts

I'm going through a crisis of faith.  It seems every time I pick up my Bible I find another frustrating question I can't answer.  It's uncomfortable, but I'm not worried.  I know doubts can be a steppingstone to a stronger faith.  I'm going to come out on the other side of this valley in a better place.  

But there are specific steps I need to take to do that.  If you're having the same kind of struggle, here are some suggestions from a kindred spirit:

Dealing With Doubts:

1.  Don't ignore or deny your doubts.  Turn around and face them head on.  Otherwise they will niggle away at your faith and keep you from the joy God wants you to experience in relationship with Him.  Be proactive, and be totally honest with yourself and with God.

2.  Investigate the reason for the doubts.  Is there a spirit of rebellion or pride behind your questioning?  Are you involved in a habitual sin that is pushing you away from God?  If so, confess those sins.  (I John 1:9)  You might find your doubts instantly dissolve when you do this.  If they don't, go on with the following steps.   

3.  Bring your crisis of faith to God in prayer.  Don't just whine about it to Him in passing as you go through your day.  Speak to Him deliberately, preferably on your knees. Lay all your dark thoughts out before Him and release them.  Ask Him to take them and bring good things out of this experience.  (If you have any reservations about doing this on your knees, go back to number 2, above, and dig deeper.)

4.  Recognize Satan's involvement in your doubts.  The Devil is the doubt-seed planter.  He did it first in the Garden of Eden, and he continues to do it today.  Doubts are not necessarily a bad thing.  God gave us minds and He expects us to question things.  But Satan would like to take that good thing and twist it.   When your doubts come, he sees a vulnerable place in your spirit and he will move in to distort God's truth.  Confront Him.  Tell him to get lost, in Jesus' name. Then deal with your doubts before God alone.

5.  Recognize the effect of the world's culture on your thinking.  Satan exerts enormous power and influence in our world today.  Everything in your humanistic environment is designed to push you away from faith in God.  Be on guard.  Face the fact that your world is going to constantly challenge your faith.  You're swimming upstream.  Be prepared to resist the current.

6.  Accept your limitations.  Recognize that many things in life, and in God's Word, will not have answers you can understand this side of heaven.  Accept that fact.  God is too great to be understood totally by minds that are housed in physical brains and restricted to a four-dimensional awareness.  It just won't happen.  Now we see through a glass darkly.  One day we will see face to face.  Anticipate that day!

7.  Focus on foundational Truths.  There are basic, undeniable realities.  It may be hard to accept that God is good when we focus on the evil in the world around us.  But there is no explanation for the good things in our world if there is no good God.  A mother's love.  A baby's smile.  A kind word.  A beautiful sunset.  These things have to come from somewhere.  There is a God and he is good.  When that one issue is settled, we have a secure foundation to stand on while we deal with other questions.

8.  Go to the Word.  Though this step is number 8 in this list, it is the most important one in the process.  God's Word is the antidote to doubt.  Questions may come as you read the Bible, but the solutions are there too. The Holy Spirit is beside you, wanting to lead you into truth.  Ask him to show you passages that you need to see. He may lead you to specific answers to your questions, or He may not.  But if He doesn't, He will lead you to a place of peace and trust in your good God.

9.  Remember your past.  If you have been walking with God for a long time, you have a rich history of His blessing in your life.  If you have just found Him, you have the fresh memory of how He revealed His love to you.  These experiences are roots that can go down deep into the soil of God's love and nurture your faith.  Let it happen.

10.  Anticipate the end result of your struggle.  It will end, and many good things will come out of the process.  Your relationship with God will be deepened through the experience; Your faith will be strengthened; and God will bring you into a place of richer ministry because of this crisis. You will be better prepared to encourage others in the faith.  The end is worth the struggle.

Where to go in the Word to deal with doubts:

The Psalms are a great place to run to when you're feeling besieged by anything, including doubts.  If your doubts are specifically about the Bible, meditate on Psalm 119.  There is something supernaturally reassuring about David's declaration of his faith in God's Word in this Psalm.

Old Testament stories.  The stories of people in the Old Testament who endured doubts and difficulties are encouraging.  Read about the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, and David.  Take heart from their experiences and the outcome of their difficulties.

Hebrews 11.  The lives of faithful saints are summarized in this chapter of Hebrews.  The writer admonishes us to remember those who have gone before us when we are discouraged.  They persisted in their belief in God through hard times and were rewarded in the end.

Above all, through it all, remember this admonition:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! 

Hebrews 12:2,3 in The Message