Build faith and doubt strategically in the times ahead
Things have become more complex. As lockdown restrictions have eased in Sydney, life has become that much more complex. And it's hit for me in the simplest, and yet most everyday of ways.
For months on end, we were not allowed to see people outside of our own homes (or were allowed to in very limited contexts). And then suddenly, as long as we are vaccinated, we are faced with all sorts of new decisions we've not had to make in months: who do I spend time with? How do I manage to fit it all in? How much is too much? What kind of pace do I, or we, need to set coming out lockdown? How much of my lockdown rhythms do I want to keep? What do I want to give up?
And this is to say nothing of the decisions we need to make around going back to work on-site, church on-site, childcare on-site, and all the other things we didn't have to think about at all during lockdown.
It's exciting, it's so good, and yet it can be tiring and even overwhelming at times. I've heard it said to me many times, and I've said it as well - I want to make sure that the way out of this lockdown is well paced, and doesn't simply become "busy busy busy" all over again. It was our recent guest speaker Sam Chan who noted that the normal Sydney lifestyle, so "busy busy busy", is part of what can make us so anxious.
So how do we move forward well?
"By faith" has been our mantra in this blog over the weeks leading up to lockdown restrictions easing, and on into these last few weeks of new freedoms. And today is no different. Today, I want to focus on the key "by faith" resource that God promises us that is essential for navigating the complexity of our times, and any times for that matter.
That resource - the wisdom of God!
In the book of James we read of an inspiring and much needed promise with respect to navigating life complexity. In James 1, we read:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." (James 1:5–8)
There is loads of helpful assurance as well as challenge packed into these few short sentences.
First, the helpful assurance.
God's promise of wisdom here is overflowing to those who ask. Now we'd do well to understand a little about what wisdom actually is, and how it relates to our lives, to capture the significance of this promise in James 1.
A helpful place to study wisdom is the biblical book of Proverbs. Without going into the book, a great summary of what wisdom covers is given by biblical theologian John Goldingay, where he notes wisdom literature like Proverbs focusses:
"..more on everyday life than history, more on the regular than the unique, more on the individual (though not outside of his social relationships) than the nation, more on personal experience than sacred tradition."
Further, Proverbs asks and speaks to this question:
"...what a person is like to live with, or to employ; how he manages his affairs, his time and himself."
Putting these insights into the context of James 1:5, we can say that God gives generous insight in everyday life, our regular rhythms, our individual decisions, and our personal lived experiences. God gives generous understanding in order to live well with others, to manage our affairs, our time and ourselves well in His world. Now who doesn't need this? Especially right now! And the promise God makes is to give this insight and understanding generously, without finding fault!
Secondly, the challenge. The challenge is - what unlocks this gift is put plainly in James 1 - believing and not doubting. James is actually going for both sides of the faith coin. One side is believing, the other side, not doubting. Let's quickly unpack these two sides:
Believing - is specific and focussed here for James. It is believing in who God is who makes this promise to us. It is not a state of emotion, it is not a worked up state of intellectual or other confidence. It is a calm assurance that God is who He says He is, and will do what He says He will do. Hebrews 11:6 is helpful here - "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Our God rewards those who diligently seek Him. Wisdom, here promised in James, is one such reward!
Not doubting - so we are clear on what is meant by doubting, James gives us a word picture of waves being blown here and there by the wind. And He further describes doubting as being "double-minded" and "unstable" in one's actual lifestyle. Such insight helps us narrow down what we're talking about here when we talk about doubting. It is that specific frame of mind that is pushed and pulled everywhere, doesn't settle, decide, or rest on who God is, and constantly chops and changes and shifts mindsets. This kind of doubting is not the kind that questions in order to become convinced, clear, and decided. It is the kind of doubting that is too scared, worried, or troubled by actually having to make decisions and choose a course of action, and so constantly flits about without any direction or clear purpose.
I can see that we need to respond, if we want to build our faith up and walk forward with God's wisdom, in at least two ways:
Build clarity - Around who God is for you. Who God is for your specific situations, your specific complexities, your specific concerns and challenges. Which means, for example, you & I need to know that we know that we know that God is: our protector in situations of risk; our provider in situations of real or possible lack; our peace in situations that are anxious; our power in situations that can make us feel powerless. These are just examples - but each and every one is a specific understanding of God, gathered from knowing and understanding His character through His word, that counters the specific concerns of our lives and days.
Doubt strategically - this may sound strange, but hear me out. Don't let doubts, and the anxieties that come with them, throw you into a tail spin. And if they do, get some help from outside of yourself to: 1) identify the doubt that is on your mind; 2) make a plan for understanding who God is in the area of doubt you're experiencing; 3) prepare to apply this understanding that you develop to prayer, and daily memorisation, to counter doubt pushing and pulling you into a indecisive and unstable path.
As we continue to manage the complexity of this season of life in Sydney, we've got a generous God who's got wisdom to give us without faulting those who ask Him - believing and not doubting.
I'm with you, seeking this wisdom and countering doubt with confidence in who God is!
Written by Ps. Rob.