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“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24).
How can you lead someone when you are struggling with doubt? How can you answer people’s questions when you’re questioning yourself?
Doubts come up. It’s okay. Doubt is what happens when you come face-to-face with your beliefs. Doubt is how you come to truly own your beliefs.
I sometimes have my doubts. Through various media, I’m being told constantly God isn’t real, that my relationship with God is all just voices in my own head. It’s understandable if that gets under my skin sometimes. And it’s understandable if it gets under yours.
How quickly we disbelieve the reality of our experiences! I’ve seen and felt and experienced many miraculous things. I’ve talked with God. Yet, in retrospect, it’s easy to wonder, “Was that real?”
You and I meanwhile both have the responsibility to continue to disciple others.
So what do you do when you doubt? How do you disciple people when you’re having trouble believing yourself?
The first thing for me is the prayer of the father in the above passage: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This is a powerful prayer. I’ve said it in agony and in emptiness.
And every time, God meets me.
The truth is, we don’t always feel God’s presence. But feelings are not necessarily the truth. Whether we feel God’s presence or not, God is always with us. The Holy Spirit lives within us. He’s there, whether or not we can perceive it.
This is a universal Christian experience.
John of the Cross calls it “The dark night of the soul.” He says:
After a soul has been converted by God, that soul is nurtured and caressed by the Spirit. Like a loving mother, God cares for and comforts the infant soul by feeding it spiritual milk. Such souls will find great delight in this stage. They will begin praying with great urgency and perseverance; they will engage in all kinds of religious activities because of the joy they experience in them.
But there will come a time when God will bid them to grow deeper. He will remove the previous consolation from the soul in order to teach it virtue and prevent it from developing vice.
Does that pattern sound familiar? When you were a new Christian, didn’t you eagerly pursue your relationship with God? But then came a time when it just didn’t seem as rewarding as before. And it became hard to do, because you didn’t feel God in it?
There it is.
God doesn’t want you to depend on your feelings. Feelings are not bad, but they are not the whole of who you are—and they are not the whole of how you can experience God.
God wants to grow and mature you. All of you.
So that is the first thing for me: praying to God to meet me in my doubts and remembering that my feelings of God are not all there is to knowing God.
Second, you need to keep in mind that it is not your job to answer every question.
I’ll say that again: it is not your job to answer every question.
When someone has doubts, you can’t just answer all their doubts. And if you try, you’ll either sorely disappoint them, or you will make them dependent on others to answer all their questions. Both ways set them up for failure.
Rather, true discipleship is in walking others through answering their own questions. Teaching them to think and to reason and to grow closer to God through it all.
They can Google a million better answers to their questions than you can probably give. But they didn’t do that; they came to you because of your relationship. Because they value your input.
So walk with them through the questions.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus answered a lot of questions with other questions? Sometimes this was to escape the traps of the religious leaders, making them fall into the snares they had set for him instead. Many times, however, it was because Jesus wasn’t just there to answer all their questions, but to help them to grow.
So ask them questions. Walk them through every step of the question they have.
Every question has underlying assumptions. They are assuming things. They may or may not be right in their assumptions—that is true of everyone.
Questions are good. Questions are how we grasp what we truly believe. Don’t shun them. Use them!
So don’t just answer their questions; walk them through answering them. Ask your own questions.
Third, share your doubts.
I know this seems odd, but you are not and should not be on a pedestal. You are not the rock on which anyone should stand. That is Christ alone, not you.
And knowing that others—even and especially people who are pouring their lives into you—have some of the same questions and doubts is actually encouraging!
Think about it: don’t you want to know that your experiences aren’t yours alone? How much more does that hit home than when you see them in your leaders!
And what’s more, if you hold back your doubts, you are not sharing your life. Discipleship, as I’ve said before, is a life-on-life process.
Sharing your questions with those who are questioning is a deep and powerful part of discipleship!
So don’t put yourself on a pedestal. Don’t be afraid to share your own weakness, because that is part of discipleship, too!
I’d like to give a special thanks to Jamie Bennett for giving me the subject of this article. Thanks so much for helping me with this week’s idea, Jamie!