November 18, 2011

Walking by Doubt

It’s an age-old battle, the same temptation that lurked in the wilderness when the food and water ran out: “Is God among us or not?!” the people cried. Never mind that He had promised to provide all their needs—His name was after all Jehovah-Jireh. Never mind that they hadn’t gotten around to asking for the obvious: “Lord, we need some water. Lord, we’d like to have some meat, but we are content with this manna if that’s all You want us to have right now.” They were guilty of walking by doubt.

I know a person similarly prone. But this is not the way she wants to live, so this week she is making an about-face and dwelling on things that remind her of her Sovereign Lord’s right to rule and direct as He sees fit--in her life and all the ‘world’ around her. She is committing before the people of God (and her readership) to walk by faith in the God whose ways are beyond comprehending but who deigns to fill her with Himself and the very power of the resurrection, (Eph.3:16-18) and who has promised to flow like living water from her life (Jn.7:38) as she believes in His Son and abides in His words…

Toward that end, I’ve been looking closely at Habakkuk. He knew what it was to be alarmed by circumstances spiraling out of his control. He didn’t just sit there in shocked disbelief. He cried out to God about everything—Lord, there’s violence and destruction, strife and contention everywhere. The wicked are getting away with it. There’s no justice. How long do I have to keep on calling to you about these things?!

God’s answer wasn’t just what he was hoping for. No, problems weren’t going away any time soon. In fact, his own nation was about to be plundered by their worst enemy, the Babylonians. Talk about violence! “They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!” (Hab.1:9b-11)

Habakkuk’s reaction was to take all this in and reflect on what he knew to be true of God. Conclusion, ‘we shall not die’; this is meant as judgment(1:12). But still, it just doesn’t make sense?! How can an infinitely holy and pure God let this happen, let His own people be overrun by evil greater than their own? Habakkuk determined to stand and watch to see what God would answer. I love this confidence in dialog. He knew his complaints were heard even if he didn’t understand the timing of the answers and didn’t like what he did hear. He kept listening.

God’s answer: Get a pen and paper; write this down. Write clearly, this is important. Ready? And then, among other things this: the righteous shall live by his faith.’ (Hab.2:4) Yes, there was a certainty of judgment coming on God’s own people but following that were the WHOA’s (actually Woe’s) pronounced over God’s enemies. These were to be recorded. Judgment was sure. God’s people would be delivered. But in the meantime, they would have to live by their confidence in God’s Word, not by subjective feelings or impressions.

A similar prophecy had come to Israel under Isaiah’s ministry regarding the coming invasion of the Assyrians. God’s word to them was: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” Is.7:9 ESV Oh boy! This is a potent antidote for my waffling tendency to doubt! Stability will never come with my eye on circumstance, only when it’s fixed on the Lord who is Himself unchanging.

One morning this week I was reflecting on what it takes to strengthen faith. The Word of God taken to heart was clearly the top priority. (‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’, Rom.10:17). But it seems to me that I am lacking an overarching mindset that is essential to absorbing the Word in a transformative way. How do I ward off doubt when things don’t appear to be heading the right direction?

What do you do, for instance, when people make dumb decisions (well, that’s how you perceive them anyway, and consequences follow and it looks like God’s not got this under control)?  I was reading in I Kings this week, (my ‘regular’ reading, when I’m not doing bunny trails elsewhere), the story of Rehoboam inheriting his dad’s (Solomon’s) kingdom. He followed a bad piece of advice in setting policy with his subjects and next thing you know, POOF, they’ve given allegiance to somebody else and he’s lost the bulk of his kingdom. Oh NO! what’s happening!! If I’d have been his mom I’d have been in deep distress! But Scripture records: “It was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that He might fulfill His word.” (I Kings 12:19) There were far-reaching effects of Rehoboam’s foolishness but none that escaped the Sovereign plan of God. And lest crestfallen Rehoboam attempt to undo things and fix his mistake or fight his consequences he was warned: don’t do it ‘for this thing is from me.’

Now, those simple phrases give me great encouragement. They supply the missing ingredient to a mindset of faith. To walk by faith is to trust God’s sovereignty over every circumstance. No wonder it’s His will that we give thanks in every thing, (I Thess. 5:18) because He is in control and will use it for good. Even the bad things He makes to fit His design, for His Kingdom’s sake. The Lord would preserve a remnant despite the foolishness and sinfulness of faithless kings. From the tribe of Judah would come the King of Kings, first as a Lamb to die for the likes of foolish kings and doubting commoners and then as King, to invite them  to join His invisible Kingdom until it comes into plain view. He is the sovereign King weaving His plan, fulfilling His purposes in everything.

So no matter what the situation ‘seems’ I can trust Him. Habakkuk had this one nailed down. He had gone to God with problems to big for him. God’s answers were likely not the ‘salvation’ Habbakuk was hoping for-- this being carried off into captivity by a merciless enemy. Things were definitely going to get much worse before they got better. But God had a plan and it was enough for Habbakuk to know that the Sovereign God was accomplishing His purposes in His people. He does what seems an uncanny thing at this point. He recites a list of potential disasters…let me see, how bad might things get…as the backdrop for his dramatic statement of trust: “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah God is my strength.” He rested in the knowledge that God had everything under control and not only that, but that God would care for him and enable him to have the sure-footedness of a deer, to scale the heights and find there his refuge. This God is the author and finisher of my faith too.  How can I walk by doubt when He invites me to ‘tread on my high places’?

Thanks again for sharing the journey with me.  Won’t it be something when we can see how all the things God allows are woven into a shining tapestry for the glory of our Great King?!  It’ll be a sight for sore and straining eyes!


“For who is God, except the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the deer, and sets me on my high places.”
Ps.18:31-33 NKJV

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