Assess Your Doubt
The doubt of wonderment will drive you to God with normal, situational questions of faith and, because it does, it will strengthen your rest and reliance on him. The doubt of judgment will progressively weaken your faith until, in practical terms, you don’t trust God anymore, and either you will feel alone in your travail or you will look elsewhere for hope and strength. It’s practically impossible to suffer without doubt, but it’s critically important to assess what kind of doubt has taken residence in your heart.
1. Fight the Devil’s Lies
When you are suffering, you have to force yourself to pay attention to your private conversation, that is, the words you say to yourself that no one else hears. We are always talking to ourselves about ourselves, life, God, others, meaning and purpose, relationships, trouble, solutions, hope, the past, the future, etc. Because of this constant internal conversation, we influence ourselves more than anyone else does, because we hear what we have to say more than we hear anyone else. Here’s the question that everyone suffering needs to ask: “Has my suffering caused me to begin to believe things that are not true and therefore say things that are not true to myself?” You need to question your own assumptions. You need to argue with your own heart. You need to confront evidences of unbelief in your private conversation. Fighting the Devil’s lies means being aware of the talk of your own heart and defending your heart against any perspective that would call into question the wisdom, love, goodness, grace, and faithfulness of God. Pray that God would give you insight into your own heart and the strength to fight this spiritual battle even in moments when you feel profoundly weak. Have you allowed the lies of the enemy, whispered to you in struggle, to sow seeds of doubt about God?
2. Count Your Blessings
There is no more powerful tool against debilitating doubt than gratitude. It is exactly at the point when you are tempted to think that you’re not blessed that counting your blessings is the most important. A thankful heart is the best defense against a doubting heart. Recounting evidences of God’s presence, his grace, his faithfulness to his promises, his provision, and the reliability of what he’s told you in his Word reminds you of God’s goodness, and because it does, it protects you against the lies that tempt you to judge him as less than good.
No matter how difficult and long-term your suffering has been, there are blessings to be found. As a defense against doubt, it is really important to give yourself to quiet moments when you look at the trail behind you and what is now around you for evidences that God is good and worthy of your trust. In other words, do what the old hymn says:
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.1
If you can’t do this alone, ask someone who knows you and lives near you to help you. It is an important spiritual blessing for every sufferer. Have you taken time today to recount the many, many blessings that are yours as God’s child?
3. Daily Confess Your Struggle to Believe
In your struggle with faith you don’t have to give way to the fear of guilt or hide in the humiliation of shame, because Jesus carried your guilt and shame on the cross. God is not surprised by your struggle. He knows the condition of the world he’s placed you in and how those conditions impact you. He’s never surprised or disgusted by your weakness. Instead of criticizing you for being weak, he comes near and reminds you that his grace is up to the task and, in fact, does its best work in those moments when you feel most unable.
So as the battle of doubt and faith rages in your heart, you don’t have to run from God; he graciously welcomes you to run to him. When you humbly confess your struggle to believe in the midst of your suffering, God welcomes you with arms of love and blesses you with his presence, power, and sustaining grace. Since Jesus took all your judgment, God doesn’t respond to you with judgment but with the faithful, tender love of a father. He welcomes you to be honest, and he will always respond to your confession with mercy. In your struggle of faith, do you run from the Lord or to him?
4. Get Busy
I find the content of 1 Peter very interesting. Peter is writing to people who are suffering through very difficult things. You would expect this letter to be one of sympathy, comfort, and encouragement, and although these themes are in 1 Peter, they surely don’t dominate the content; what Peter gives to his struggling readers is marching orders. This little letter, written to sufferers, is a call to pursue everything God called them to and blessed them to experience between their conversion and their homegoing.
Rather than speaking just to the feelings of his readers, Peter addresses their identity as the children of God. He calls them to base their actions, reactions, and responses not on what they are suffering, but on who they are as the children of God in suffering. This letter is a call to Godward, gospel business. It’s a call to get busy doing what God has called you to do and to celebrate who you are as his children. Sympathy is an appropriate response to suffering, but the danger there is that too much focus on suffering has the potential to magnify its impact on the way you think about yourself, God, and your suffering. So it’s wise and loving to encourage sufferers not to let difficulty define them and the way they live. Godward, gospel-centered busyness has the potential to remind you of who you are as a child of God, what your potential is even when you are suffering, and the things that God has called you to that are eternally bigger than you and what you are facing. The temptation when you are suffering is to do just the opposite, that is, to quit pursuing all the good things God welcomes you to and calls you to do in his name.
Don’t run away from your Lord. Determine to run to him.
Good biblical busyness is a powerful defense against debilitating doubt. The more you give yourself to the devotional, discipleship, and missional things God calls all his children to, the more you will be reminded of the enormous blessing and eternal importance of what it means to be a child of God and a part of God’s unstoppable mission of redemption. In your busyness you will experience God’s presence and power, and you will have the joy of looking back at the good results of the work you have done in God’s name. And the experience of these things will work to weaken doubt and strengthen faith. Has suffering robbed you of your enthusiasm to do the good things God calls all his children to do?
5. Encourage Other Doubters
One of the most powerful ways to be encouraged is to encourage others. Perhaps my own story would be helpful here. As I was suffering profound weakness after undergoing many surgeries, and as I lived with the burden of wondering what would happen next, I met individually with young pastors each week. My goal with each meeting was to encourage these pastors who were struggling with the hardship of being young in ministry and pastoring struggling churches. There were mornings when the last thing I wanted to do was have that meeting. There were moments when fatigue seemed to make the next meeting impossible. There were times I did cancel, but in the midst of my struggle, I was determined to be faithful.
What happened morning after morning in these meetings is that I left encouraged. As I recounted to these young pastors who God is, who they are as his children, the amazing wisdom of God’s Word, and the wonderful work that God has called them to, not only would they remember, but I would remember too. I told my young friends again and again that while I was ministering to them, they were ministering to me. God, in his goodness, was using something I found difficult to encourage my heart. What was hard for me to do (encourage others) became the very thing that God used to encourage me.
Who near you needs encouragement? Who near you has lost their way? Who is about to forget their identity as children of God and quit doing things that are good for their heart and life? You are uniquely positioned to help because you have a personal experience of what they are going through. You can speak into their struggle with sympathy and authenticity. You know the You can remind those near you that they are not alone and, as you do, remember that you are not alone either. You can remind those near you that their suffering doesn’t define them and then rest in the fact that it doesn’t define you either. Every good thing you say to another, God will use to encourage you. Who near you needs the very encouragements that you daily need yourself?
6. Let Doubt Drive You to Jesus
I have said this before but will reinforce it here: in your moments of doubt, don’t run away from your Lord. Determine to run to him. Here is his welcome to you:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30)
Your battle is not just the difficult thing you’re facing but the impact of the difficulty on your heart. Suffering can leave you spiritually damaged. Suffering can decimate your faith and leave you with life-altering doubts about the goodness and power of God. So in your suffering, doubt is a battle worth fighting. Remember, you never fight this battle alone but with the strength that is yours because of the presence and power of the One who gave his life so that you would have everything you need even in the darkest of moments in this fallen world. Cry out to your Lord. He hears; he really does. Run to him; he cares and will not turn his back on you in your moment of need.
- Johnson Oatman Jr., “Count Your Blessings,” 1897.
This article is adapted from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense by Paul David Tripp.
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