“Don’t forget in the darkness what you knew to be true in the light.” I heard God say that to me as clearly as if He was physically present and looking me right in the eye. I was on my balcony in Nicosia, Cyprus, an island in the Middle East where I lived for two years right out of college. Every evening I would go out and see the breathtaking mountain ranges to the north of my apartment. But one evening at dusk, it was so overcast, so foggy, that it was as if the mountains had disappeared. I knew in my head it couldn’t be possible, yet for a split second, I wondered what had happened to them. I doubted their existence. Just then God said, “Don’t forget in the darkness what you knew to be true in the light.”
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 19 “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” 29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Can you imagine being one of the disciples? I mean what would it be like to have a front row seat for the miracles Jesus performed? They saw storms calmed, people raised from the dead, lepers cured and 5000 people fed in a miraculous picnic. These men woke up every day to an adventure. They saw the power of God at work every day. Supernatural feat after supernatural feat, and yet, they still wrestled with doubt. They still wrestled with unbelief.
As the story opens, we see that some of Jesus’ criticizers, some of his enemies were on the scene. There is some kind of argument going on. Jesus comes onto the scene and asks what the fight is about and the father of the demon possessed child explains that there had been an exorcism gone wrong. He brought his son to the disciples and they failed to deliver him from this oppressive, demonic spirit. Perhaps much to the disciples’ dismay, the teachers of the law who had been antagonists of Jesus saw this botched attempt at a miracle. It must have been very embarrassing for the disciples to be so powerless in the face of their detractors. They were unable to free this boy from the demonic grip in his life. They believed they could and had done it before, but now they couldn’t. Somehow the paralyzing force of doubt had crept in and it was like a fire hydrant, distinguishing their faith.
Jesus says to them, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” (Mark 9:19, NIV)
Based on this Mark 9 text, I’d like to make three observations about “doubt.”
1. First of all, Doubt is Common.
When God told him he would be a father in old age
When she heard she would be a mother in old age
When God told him to return to Egypt to lead the people
When told he would be a judge and leader
When told he would be a father in old age
Many of the people God used to accomplish great things started out as real doubters. With all of them, God showed great patience. Honest doubt was not a bad starting point as long as they didn’t stay there.
As the Gospel of Matthew closes in chapter 28, the crucifixion has taken place and now Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Jesus meets with the disciples and gives them some final instructions. After walking with Jesus and living with him for three years, and after having a front row seat to the Messiah’s miracles, verse seventeen says: “17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Jesus, the One who had done miracle upon miracle who had been killed and placed in a tomb was now standing in front of them. Yet, some of them couldn’t quite synthesize what was happening. His appearance, even though he told them He would be raised from the dead, his appearance didn’t make sense to some. Maybe it was because they had already written the script of the future in their head. Maybe they didn’t think they’d ever see Jesus in his body again. Maybe his appearance didn’t fit their expectations of what should have happened. Maybe some were still holding on to some expectation that Jesus would overthrow the government and establish an earthly kingdom. Maybe because what they expected didn’t happen, doubt crept in.
We humans are good writing scripts in our heads and coming to the conclusion that if a situation turns out any different than we planned, hoped, or prayed that something is wrong or that God has moved out of our town. I can get myself into trouble in my marriage by expecting Thom to do and be things I’ve never mentioned. Because I think he ought to or hope he will, I assume that whatever script I have developed in my head will be played out. How many of you know those plans in my mind are often just a good fiction book. Too often we have fixed expectations about the circumstances of life, which means we are often disappointed and that disappointment can quickly lead to doubt.
The only way to know someone doubts you is because they express it. The Scriptures lead us to the conclusion that some people expressed doubt in Jesus. The verses that follow this expression of doubt in Matthew 28 are amazing. You see Jesus knows how weak we are, and He still makes an investment in us. While we may not fully believe in Him, He believes in what we can do in His name, and He still commissions us and gives us the responsibility of taking His name into the world. Listen to what he said to the disciples on the heels of some of them expressing doubt. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Why do you think Jesus said he’d be with them always? Because he knew they’d be tempted to doubt that they could do what he had commissioned them to do.
Can you imagine going to a job interview and telling the head of the company you doubt their business plan will work only to have him or her hire you for the job? Even in the midst of their doubt, God signs them up for His work.
Doesn’t it give you comfort to know that God is so secure in His plans for you that He doesn’t dismiss you or drop you just because you doubt Him? I love that we can see our inadequacies and fears represented in those Jesus chose to be his disciples. One in particular is known and remembered most often just because he WAS a doubter.
John 20:24 24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus is so patient with us. He brings us up to speed when we need reassurance. Thomas hadn’t been with the disciples when he had appeared to them earlier. He hadn’t yet seen him as resurrected. Jesus went ahead and offered what he needed. It is often an experience with Jesus that will give us the peace we need to believe and not doubt.
The father in our main text confessed his doubt when he said, ““I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” What was he saying? He was saying that I vacillate between doubt and faith, but I want to live by faith. Jesus called the disciples on their doubt when he said, “19 “O unbelieving generation.” The disciples seemed to waffle between doubt and faith much of the time. Doubt is a common life and human experience.
2. Doubt can cause your faith to collapse.
At the root of doubt is unbelief, and for that reason, doubt is the realm Satan operates in because he doesn’t’ want you to believe God. He slithered into the lives of Adam and Eve with lies which were intended to get them to doubt that God was truthful and was committed to their very best. He knows if he can get you to doubt, he can put a chink in the armor of your faith and begin the assassination of your soul. How does doubt lead to the collapse of your faith?
Doubt can cause your faith to collapse because Unbelief has no power.
Here Jesus was, the master teacher. If you were going to learn anything the right way, it would be through taking your training at the Messiah’s College of Hands on Experience. Jesus had hand selected these students and trained them and gave them authority over the powers of darkness.
We read in Mark 6:7 and verse 13 “7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
But here these same disciples are and they can’t deliver this boy. Why had the disciples failed? Jesus calls them an unbelieving generation. In their doubt they were powerless. They had a great deal of personal experience in demonic deliverance, and when Jesus was gone for a little while from their immediate presence, they dropped the ball. When Jesus returned, He didn’t immediately change the circumstance and perform the miracle. He first confronted the doubt. Why? Because unbelief will never triumph over Satan. If Jesus just swooped in and made it all better, they would never exercise the authority He had given to them. If these guys were going to hold on to doubt, they’d never have personal daily victory over Satan. They’d never perform the miracles he wanted to use them to accomplish.
Jesus points to a possible way that doubt crept into their lives when he says to the disciples, “This kind only comes out by prayer.” I suggest that doubt crept in because they hadn’t been working on that personal communication with God through prayer.
Maybe they thought because they were with Jesus and had learned the “tricks of the trade” so much that they didn’t need to pray. Not only did this power failure affect their own spiritual lives, it also affected their ability to minister to those around them. I think it’s not too big of a leap to make to say that Jesus connected their doubt to a lack of prayer because when Jesus was asked why they were unable to perform the miracle, He didn’t say: “I’m the only one who can handle this kind of situation.” “If only you had said the right words.” Or “Only seminary trained people can handle things like this.” He said that their power failure was a direct result of their prayer failure.
Unbelief has no power. If Satan can get you to believe a lie or get you too distracted to pray and stay connected to Jesus, your source of power, he can keep you powerless.
Doubt can cause our faith to collapse because Unbelief does not and cannot please God. Hebrews 11:6-“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
It’s not that God has this need for applause or worship or for you to think He’s “All That,” and that’s why He asks you to put all of your eggs in His basket. But rather it is that God knows that faith is what will get us through the tests of life. Faith is what will keep us moving forward when we want to pull the covers up over our head and forget about it all. Faith is what will help us stand firm when the Devil tries to get us to cave. So you see, if you don’t exercise faith, but you retreat and hide, you won’t be doing what God designed you to do. You won’t be pleasing God because you’ll be right where the Devil wants you, defeated and discouraged.
3. Doubt is correctable.
The doubtful dad in our main text was willing to get real about where he was spiritually.
He said in verse 22 to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out.
The doubtful dad admitted that he had doubts when he said, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The way to keep growing in Christ is to keep admitting that you need to grow because you aren’t perfect. Honesty is the beginning of every lasting healing; even if it is the simple admission that you are sick and can’t cure yourself.
It is interesting that Jesus acted to heal the demon possessed boy after his father admitted his doubt and after he asked for help to believe Jesus. In that moment, the dad became vulnerably dependent on Jesus.
More often than not, before spiritual growth can take place, before faith can be increased, before we can make it to the next level, before the miracle we need takes place we’ve got to be honest with ourselves and with God. What do you think is worse? Faltering in your faith, or faking your faith? If the doubts are there, you’re not fooling anybody but yourself.
When this dad got honest, he discovered something greater than he had experienced to that date. It’s awesome that when we face up to our faltering faith, when we admit it because that is when we give God room to do only what He can do. Notice what Jesus did not do: He didn’t say, “Sorry, you don’t have enough faith.” He didn’t say, “Muster up some more faith and come back later.” He didn’t say, “A miracle can only happen if you have a certain quota or level of faith.” No, Jesus went ahead and healed the boy.
Think back for a few minutes over this past year. Can you think of some time when your faith didn’t rise to the occasion? Are there some areas in your life where you haven’t been honest with your doubts, you’ve been faking it? Have you brought it to Jesus and laid it at His feet and said, “I believe, help me in my unbelief?” Are you willing to let Jesus take over and grow you to a deeper level as you face and wrestle with your doubts? Maybe what you are going through right now has been designed by God for the sole purpose of increasing your faith. An increase in faith means doing greater things for God. It only stands to reason that God would put us in situations to grow our faith. Maybe your faith can only be increased if you commit to being decreased. Maybe you need to commit to letting go of those expectations that you’ve conjured up in your head. You need to take an eraser on the script that you’ve written and hand God a blank piece of paper so that He can write the story He desires for your life. Maybe what you need to do today is just turn the burdens you are carrying over to God and ask Him to help in the areas you are weak. When you turn it all over, that gives God room to work. We need to quit pretending to be the Potter and be what we are, clay.
There was a couple who took a trip to England to shop in a beautiful antique store to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery, and especially teacups. Spotting an exceptional cup, they asked, “May we see that? We’ve never seen a cup quite so beautiful!”
As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke, “You must understand. I have not always been a teacup. There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay. My master took me and rolled me pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone,” but he only smiled, and gently said, “Not yet!”
Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. “Stop it! I’m getting so dizzy! I’m going to be sick,” I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, quietly, “Not yet.”
He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself, and then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. “Help! Get me out of here!” I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, “Not yet.”
When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! “Ah, this is much better,” I thought. But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible! I thought I would gag. “Oh, please, stop it, stop,” I cried. He only shook his head and said. “Not yet!”
Then suddenly he put me back in to the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened, and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf where I cooled and waited and waited, wondering, “What’s he going to do to me next?”
An hour later he handed me a mirror and said, “Look at yourself.” And I did. I said, “That’s not me; that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!”
Quietly he spoke. “I want you to remember this,” he said. “I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life. If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”
How is doubt corrected? By putting yourself fully in the hands of the Potter. God will mold and make you and expose you to just enough pressure of just the right kind that we may be made into a flawless piece of work to fulfill His good, pleasing and perfect will.
You start doing that by accepting that unexpected and unpleasant things are a part of life. Instead of trying to make a change, make God in charge. Instead of pressing the panic button, press the prayer button. Instead of believing fleeting thoughts or thoughts contrary to the word of God, believe your beliefs. When you are tempted to doubt, believe your beliefs and not your feelings.
Do you remember Peter’s attempt to walk on the water in Matthew 14:29? Jesus had put the disciples into a boat and told them to go ahead of him to the other side while he went up into the mountains to pray. A storm arose, and Jesus came down the mountain and started walking on the water toward the disciples. I’m assuming Jesus knew they’d be afraid in the boat in the storm, so Jesus walked on the water toward the disciples. Peter asked if he could meet Jesus and walk on the water as well. Jesus told him to come, and so Peter started walking on the water. Between walking on the water and clinging to Jesus, Peter began to sink.
Many people focus on Peter’s failure, but the truth is, before he failed, he succeeded. The key to that success, even though it was brief, was to keep his eyes on the Lord. The minute he looked at the wind and the waves, the minute he looked at the cancer and the bank account, the minute he looked at the temptations and behavior of the “in crowd,” the minute he focused on his circumstances rather than His Savior, he began to sink. But Peter quickly corrected himself. His doubts and fears were short lived because he cried out in Matthew 14:30, he wasted no time in crying out to the Lord for help. He didn’t wait until the waters were up to his neck. He didn’t wait until he went under. The Scripture says as he was beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
Verse 31 says, 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” The chapter ends there, but I can see some of the other disciples kind of smacking Peter on the shoulder when he got in the boat, trying to look all confident and collected saying, “Yeah, Peter why did you doubt?” To which Peter, a little embarrassed, but stronger for the experience might have simply said, “At least I got out of the boat.”
Doubts are common. It’s true that they can lead to the collapse of your faith, but doubts can be corrected if you act quickly by crying out to Jesus and put yourself in the hands of the Potter. Don’t forget in the darkness what you knew to be true in the light. As majestic and unmoving as a mountain range, Jesus is there, ready to hold and help you through any situation.