Doubt Part 2: Description of a Doubter

Hello Friends,

This post is a continuation of my last post on doubting; a part 2 of sorts so if you haven’t read part one I would suggest going back and reading part 1.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James describes what a doubter is like. He gives three descriptions.

  1. A doubter is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind

A doubter is not controlled by the wisdom of God but rather by his own emotions, by what those close to him say, and by popular opinion.

I don’t know if this is what James had in mind when he uses this simile of a doubting man and a wave of the sea, but it reminds of a story in Matthew 14:28-33.

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,  he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I love this story because in it you see the mixed emotions and struggling faith of Peter. Peter had faith enough to ask Jesus to command him to come into the water but his faith dissipated when we was right in the middle of the storm and he starts to sink. This is an incredible picture of what the life of a doubting believer in the middle of a storm of suffering looks like. And when Peter is sinking what does he do? He desperately sees his need, even in the midst of his doubt and cries out for his Lord to save him. And Jesus IMMEDIATELY reaches out and took hold of him and saves him.

But while Jesus is saving Peter he gives, what I imagine to be, a gentle rebuke along with a soul searching question. First he says, “O you of little faith.” Jesus points out Peter’s lack of faith and then asks him to evaluate the root cause of his little faith by asking him “why did you doubt?”

This is an incredibly good question for doubters struggling in their faith. I think sometimes we focus on the little faith part of it, and ask “what can I do to have a stronger faith?” and we try to believe harder, read the right passages, search for better more emotionally satisfying answers for the problem of our pain and suffering, or the problem of hell, or the problem of sovereignty and human will or whatever problem your doubting seems to revolve around.

Instead what many of us should be doing is examining our sin of doubting and asking ourselves, “why do I doubt God?” And at its root we will almost certainly find pride, fear, and/or, anger. As long as those sins remain our faith will always be “little”. The first step to strengthening our faith is facing our doubting and the sins of pride, fear, or anger that often lurk beneath our doubt.

Now I don’t want to miss the point if this story. Because the main point of this story isn’t Peters faith and doubting, although I think we can learn about faith and doubting in it. The point of the story is that Jesus is who he says he is and can be trusted! He is the Son of God! He is God! All wise. All powerful. And as we see in this story, ever gracious to those of  us who see their desperate need for Him in the midst of our doubting, and call upon him to save us not just from the storms of life destroying us, but from our own doubting within those storms.

  1. A doubter is double-minded.

When we ask God for wisdom, but doubt that God is wise or doubt that he is wise enough to keep his promise to grant us wisdom we are double-minded. It’s a very literal description of what’s going on in the mind and heart of a “believing-doubter.”

James uses this word “double-minded” again in chapter 4.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

I will not take the time to break-down this whole passage right now, but I want to draw your attention to verse 6 where James says that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. After he makes this truth statement he gives a list of what we are therefore supposed to do in light of this truth and the last thing on his list is for the double-minded to purify their hearts. This is part of where I get the biblical connection between pride and doubting- which is double-mindedness. If God opposes the proud and we are therefore supposed to purify our doubting hearts and minds it would make sense that pride and doubting are connected and each feeds the other.

And so how do we purify our hearts from our double-mindedness? The answer is in verse 6 and vs. 9-10….we humble ourselves before God in repentance (we become wretched and mourn and weep; a picture of what we become and what our response should be when God gives us a glimpse of the heaviness and seriousness of our sin and pride against a holy God) And when we do this, when we humble ourselves in repentance, His immeasurable grace is poured out upon us, and in his grace HE provides the faith we need to reject our doubting.

  1. A doubter is unstable in all his ways.

The nature of a doubter is that he is driven NOT by the solid, stabilizing, unchanging truth of God and his character, but rather by his own emotions and thoughts, and by the thoughts of those he might deem as being wiser than God (scientists, Hollywood, friends, false teachers etc.). People change, our emotions can wildly change, and when we doubt God we become unstable, tossed by the winds of suffering, tossed by the winds of current popular opinion, and tossed by the winds of our own shifting emotions. When our minds, beliefs, and allegiances are unstable, our actions and attitudes and all our ways, will reflect that instability.

Compassion and Wisdom

I want to close out this discussion of doubting with a few passages that speak of God’s inscrutable wisdom as well as his compassion and grace to restore his children who doubt. I will not comment on these passages, I want to simply let them speak for themselves and pray that God would use his Word to convict, teach, and speak grace to you.

Romans 11:33-36

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Isaiah 28:29

This also comes from the Lord of hosts;
he is wonderful in counsel
and excellent in wisdom

Isaiah 33:5-6

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness,
and he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

Psalm 94:8-15

Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11     the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Isaiah 10:12-13

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
and plunder their treasures;
like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.

Micah 7:14-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
and they shall be in fear of you.

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

Isaiah 55:6-13

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Jude 1:17-25

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 2:1-5  

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

I Corinthians 1:18-31

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

II Corinthians 2:6-16

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Doubt: James 1:5-8

Been thinking through James 1:5-8 this week.

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James continues to give instruction and encouragement for those in trial and suffering.

The natural human emotional reaction to suffering and trial is fear, anxiety, anger, and depression which often then leads to a desperate attempt to relieve those emotions through a dozen different sinful avenues which usually only leads to more pain and suffering. Suffering can also bring about situations that call for difficult decision to be made. James knows that walking through trials in a godly way and dealing with these natural human emotions to suffering, will take wisdom. And so he exhorts these believers to ask for wisdom in the midst of their suffering.

James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it, and he follows this up with a promise based on God’s character; that God gives his wisdom generously, without disapproval or scorn. This picture of God giving wisdom to his children feels like a tender one to me. He sees the pain, he sees the difficulty and he isn’t going to kick you when your down because you don’t know how to handle a situation. He is going to walk through it with you, patiently, tenderly, and kindly.

But…there is a caveat to this verse; James tells his readers who are asking for wisdom to ask with faith and with no doubting, and then he says, for the doubting man must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord.

At first glance this passage almost looks like God is speaking out of two sides of his mouth. He first says that he gives to all liberally and without reproach, but then seems to change his tune and says, but not to doubters. Why not to doubters? Don’t those struggling with doubt need the wisdom of God the most?

These questions led me to ask myself, what is it that the doubter is doubting?

The obvious answer is that he is doubting that God will give him the wisdom he is asking for. He thinks maybe he will ask God for wisdom and God will leave him high and dry. God would have us ask with faith and not doubting that God will indeed keep his promise to give us the wisdom we ask for. I think this is true; I think that God would have us believe that he will keep his promise and that James is telling us to not doubt God’s promise of provision here.

But I think there is another way in which we can doubt God when we ask him for wisdom and it’s what hinders us from being able to receive God’s wisdom. What the doubter is doubting is that God is actually wise in his words, designs, plans, and decrees. He doubts the character and wisdom of God himself. The one who asks for wisdom but doubts that God is wise must not suppose he will receive wisdom from God because he isn’t in the position to hear God’s wisdom.

When a person doubts God’s wisdom they hear God’s words and they consider whether their own emotions or thoughts are better than God’s. This is very easy to do when suffering hits, and remember James is speaking to a people who know suffering. When suffering hits we are tempted to question God’s wisdom in bringing suffering to our lives or the lives of those we love. When a believer begins to doubt God’s wisdom and they remain in that place of doubting and questioning, pride and often anger are what creep into that person’s heart. They become a proud fool and this is why God says, a doubter must not suppose he will receive anything from the Lord; because a proud fool cannot receive the wisdom of God because the nature of a fool is that his own way is better than anyone else’s, even God’s.

Consider a few of these passages that describe fools.

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Psalm 92:5-9

How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:

A proud fool exalts his own way and does not accept that God’s thoughts and works are greater and deeper than he may ever be able to grasp or understand.

The opposite of being a doubter/proud fool is being a person who has within him the fear of the Lord. Proverbs speaks about how important the fear of the Lord is if we are to be wise and get wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 3:7

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 15:33

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.

Part of what fearing the Lord means is that we acknowledge that God is the greatest, wisest, and most important being. Greater than the opinion of others and greater than our own opinion and greater than our emotions. If we ask for wisdom, our hearts must be solidly convinced that God is infinitely more wise than we are, and that the God who brings suffering and discipline into the lives of his children does so in complete wisdom and goodness. When we doubt the wisdom of God, we do not fear God, and we cannot receive his wisdom, not because God is not genuinely offering it, but because our hearts will not and cannot receive it. And so James says, the doubter, the one who doubts that God is wise, must not suppose he will receive God’s wisdom.

So if you are a doubter, if you find yourself in a place where you are asking for God’s wisdom but your heart is doubting and questioning God’s character, what should you do?

Let me share my personal experience with this. I have often been a doubter. I have struggled much of my life with doubting the wisdom of God’s design for gender, marriage, and sexuality. I will not describe this struggle right now, but there are season in my life when this struggle has been heightened and this struggle always brings suffering. In my suffering and struggle I turn to God for wisdom, but often in my asking for wisdom, my sincere asking is also mixed and muddled with doubt; I doubt that God really knew what he was doing when he made me, and designed these things. I have doubted his wisdom and goodness.

So as I have approached God in this way; filled with doubting, God has mercifully revealed to me that when I doubt I become a proud fool who cannot receive his wisdom. He has tenderly whispered to my heart, “Why are you asking me for wisdom when you doubt that I am perfectly wise in all my doing and designs?” “Do you believe I am wise Melissa? Or do you think you are wise?”

So I have come to realize that as long as I hold onto my doubting and the pride that underlies my doubting, I will live in turmoil indefinitely, and will not be able to receive the wisdom and help from God that I need to live with my struggle and suffering this side of heaven, in a godly and peaceful way because in my doubting I have become a proud fool who cannot receive wisdom. I have come to realize that my ultimate wrestle is not with the remaining brokenness of my sexuality or gender, or the suffering that sometimes brings, but my ultimate wrestle is with the pride that underlies my doubting and hinders me from receiving wisdom from God so that I can live wisely and I might add, joyfully, in my struggle and suffering.

So if you find yourself asking for wisdom, but doubting, I would encourage you to turn to the Lord, admit to him your pride and ask him to grant you a heart of repentance. Do this often, do this daily, do this every time you get into his Word, do this every time you pray.

The good news is there is an abundance of grace for the doubter who will humble himself before God, fear Him, and begin his journey towards wisdom he desperately needs to live in this difficult world full of trial. James gives us this warning because he knows there is hope for the doubter who will see his doubting for what it is; pride, and humble himself before his gracious and kind God who desires to walk with us through our suffering and who desires to provide the wisdom and joy He knows we will need.

Counting the Joy; James 1:1-4

I am studying in James! I will be posting my thoughts on James as I work through this book. They will not be eloquent or polished or brilliantly organized…they will just be my thoughts. 🙂

James 1:1-4

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A Better Home

James is writing to Jewish Christians who have a long history of persecution and being dispersed amongst the nations. Even after Christ’s death and the establishment of the church, God’s people, God’s church, continues to be a persecuted and scattered people. But God’s promise in Ezekiel of what he will do for his people stands!

Ezekiel 16:16-20

16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’ 17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

So we see Paul is speaking to a people who are no strangers to suffering, trials, and temptations but who also come from a heritage of people who knew that the countries where they sojourned were not their true homes and who had their sights set on a better country, a heavenly one.

Hebrews 11:13-16

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Believers today, all over the world, are also no strangers to various kinds of suffering and live as exiles who are looking forward to a better country! James is going to encourage and instruct these brothers, as well as us today, in how to face trials and temptations in a godly and hope-filled way.

Counting It all Joy?

James tells these fellow believing brothers to “count it all joy” when they meet various trials and he tells them to do this because they know God us using these trials to give them a steadfast faith and to bring them to spiritual maturity.

At first glance this seems fairly straightforward, but when we are in the thick of pain, trial and loss, what does it actually look like to “count it all joy?”

First, I want to say what I DO NOT think James is telling us to do or be when he tells us to “count it all joy” here in this passage.

  • I do not think James is telling us to simply see the bright side of a situation.
  • I don’t think this is a call to be positive thinking optimists who see the glass as half full instead of half empty.
  • He isn’t telling us to produce or manufacture happy feelings about whatever emotionally or physically painful situation or persecution we are facing.
  • And James is not telling us to play some mind game by denying the real pain, sorrow and hard reality of a situation or persecution.

We aren’t masochists who invite or delight in pain, and we aren’t deluded into denying the very real difficulty of emotional and physical pain in this life.

So what DOES it look like for a believer to “count it all joy” when we face hard things? How do I “just be joyful” when I am in pain?

Romans 6:11 and Genesis 15:6 might shed some light on this concept of what it means to count something to be true even when it doesn’t always feel like it is true, or when we have not yet realized or experienced the full reality of what we are to count as true.

Counting our Various Present Realities

Sometimes when we “count” something to be a certain way, it doesn’t always feel or seem to be the way we are counting it as. For example, we, through Christ, are counted as being righteous. However, when we look at our present lives, it doesn’t always seem to fit the reality of what we are experiencing. We don’t often feel righteous because we all still experience the reality of indwelling sin in our lives. And yet in Romans 6:11 we are told to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Christ Jesus. We are told to put on and live in that reality of the righteousness that Christ provides for us, over-against the also present reality that we still wrestle with indwelling sin as we see in Romans 7.

When Abraham believed in the Lord, the Lord, counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Was Abraham in his present reality righteous? Was he sinless? No, he wasn’t, but God counted his faith as righteousness for him.

We as believers are often called to live in between conflicting present realities.

So, when we are told to count something that feels like the opposite of joy, as joy, we aren’t being told to deny reality of the hard things, or to deny or ignore the pain of those hard things, any more than we are being told by Paul in Romans 6:11 to deny or ignore our remaining sin. In fact, John in his first epistle, warns against such deluded thinking (I John 1:8-2:2). Rather we are being told to set our sights on a co-existing but stronger reality of the joy that is to come; the same joy that we can taste and experience in part, right now, in much the same way that we taste and experience the freedom from sin and fruits of the Spirit in our lives, despite our continued wrestle with sin in this life.

As we continue in James we will see the reality of joy that comes to us from the work God is doing through our trials and temptation to produce steadfastness of faith, character, and spiritual maturity. James is telling us to count the reality of what God is doing through our trials, and the joy that comes with that, as greater than the reality of the pain of the trials themselves.

Counting our Future Reality:

As we have seen above we often live between two competing present realities as believers; imputed righteousness vs. remaining indwelling sin, the joy that God brings through his using trials in our lives vs. the pain and sorrow that we still experience in the midst of those trials. But we are told to count ourselves as righteous, and count the joy of what God is doing in us over-against the sin and pain we still experience. And one reason we are able to put on that righteousness and to put on that joy, is because of the future reality that God has promised. We see this future reality summed up by Paul in Romans 8:18-30.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Here we see the final redemption;  the final freedom from our sin natures, and the glory that is to be revealed to us. Part of that glory to be revealed, Paul tells us in vs. 30, is our own final perfection and glorification, and THIS is the joy we are to count; this is joy James speaks of in his epistle; the joy of God perfecting us and the glory of God to be revealed through that.

So let us count the joy! As we squarely face the pain and suffering of life let us set our final gaze on the joy of perfection and glory to come both through, and at the end of our sufferings on this earth. And as we count it all joy the Holy Spirit will indeed instill in us a joy from God that comes, and remains, and exists alongside our pain and suffering. This abiding joy the Spirit gives us is but a taste of the joy to come! So take heart! And count the joy!


Encouraging Transparent Sharing in A Small Group Setting

Sometimes small groups can be refreshing, transparent places of real encouragement and deep spiritual growth, and sometimes they can be frustrating, pride-filled places where everyone needs their two cents to be received and their thought to be heard. Then, of course, there are the majority of small groups that land somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

I am blessed to be a part of a small, women’s, group that has been characterized by the first, however, in the past few months we have started studying a book on marriage and have found it to be a particularly difficult and personal topic to discuss in a small group church setting. Therefore, I have recently had the opportunity to think through and share my thoughts on this topic of what makes a small group a safe place to share, particularly when discussing the sensitive but important area of marriage. I have been encouraged to share this piece on my blog and make it available to others, so feel free to pull from it or adapt it to fit your own small group setting (my suggestion would be to simply go through this or a version of it with your group before you start your study). While this is tailored to the topic of marriage, many of these principles can be adapted to other sensitive topics of discussion or could be used in assisting your group to think through and examine their general sharing habits and patterns. So…here you go!

Encouraging Transparent Sharing in a Small Group Setting

Marriage is an incredibly difficult topic to be transparent about, especially in a church group setting. Marriage sits very close to our identity, and in the church it sits very close to people’s perceptions of our spiritual maturity and qualifications/usefulness in ministry.

As I have thought about this difficulty I have been thinking through the dynamics of the group, and I just wanted to take a step back before we go any further to give some thoughts and principles that can make this a more comfortable place to share struggles and can help us each think through when we should share something and when we should remain silent and share in a different context.

So….what makes a small group a safer place to be real?

  1. Simply acknowledging together that everyone’s marriage is different and in a different place. Some are thriving in their marriage, some are struggling deeply, some feel like they are just coasting and in neutral.
  2. We also have to acknowledge that most, if not all, marriages on the face of the planet are going to hit rough waters. If your marriage is struggling let this give you HOPE that you are not alone; if your marriage hasn’t hit struggles yet or isn’t in that place right now, let this give you HUMILITY and ears to listen to those who are or have struggled, and prepare yourself for when your marriage hits the storm.
  3. Acknowledge and discuss what makes it particularly difficult to share personal marriage struggles in this setting. A few I have thought of are:
  •  Fear of being judged and looked down upon.  Galatians 6:1-3 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” There is a priceless humility and tenderness that these verses portray in how we should respond to the sin of others. If we sense any pride in ourselves when we share and or when we are responding to another person we should keep silent. Humility is safe, pride is dangerous.
  • Fear of being given a pat simplistic answer for a complex and painful situation. Groups like this tend to do that just by their nature. We all want to give our two cents of what works or worked in our marriage and it can be overwhelming for a person sharing things that are deeply personal and/or painful. My exhortation to all in the group would be to think very carefully before giving someone an answer. Maybe don’t answer at all at first beyond a, “that sounds really difficult or painful, I’m so sorry,” or let them know you have thoughts you would like to share but need to think them through more. Possibly, ask more questions before answering and always seek to understand a matter more fully. Consider writing out your response first and sending it in an email or sharing it the next week. And remember, what worked in your marriage might work in someone else’s and it can be a great blessing to share what you have learned, just be sure that when you are suggesting things from your experience that have worked for you, do so with utmost humility, and do so tentatively with the understanding that their marriage is made up of a different history, different people, different child dynamic and phase, and different sin struggles etc. (Prov 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame).

Two other thing to keep in mind as we interact with our small group are that sometimes problems don’t always have a concrete, earthly answer and  that we should never make promises to hurting people that the Scriptures do not make. For example, don’t ever tell a wife that if she will simply submit to her husband, her husband will start treating her better, or will become the spiritual leader she longs for him to be. Scripture never guarantees those sorts of results for obedience. Instead offer the ever present hope and joy found in the blessing of knowing Christ and obeying him, regardless of the outcome. Offer the hope of the final redemption when we see Christ and the hope of seeing and experiencing the sanctifying work of Spirit in our lives that inevitably happens when we accept suffering as from God’s loving hand and choose to lean into the process of change that he is seeking to work in the lives of his children.

In sum, when engaging those sharing their struggles in your small group, resist the common urge to jump to giving simplistic answers and take time to think deeply about what people are sharing before responding to them.

  • Being the first one to share the difficult thing or failure when it feels that all that is being shared so far is positive marital experiences. This is what naturally happens in this type of group as well. It’s easy to share the good and very difficult to share the failures or sins; therefore the good will naturally be shared more quickly and more frequently. We want to rejoice with those whose marriages are going well and we want to have opportunity to mourn with and bear the burdens of those who are struggling. Just keep in mind that if your marriage is going great that it’s naturally going to be the easiest for you to jump in and answer and talk about your marriage and others might find it hard to find a place to jump in and share how their marriage feels like it’s falling apart or how they struggle with God’s design for them in marriage and need help seeing the good in it etc.. So be sensitive and wary of this dynamic and seek to be selective and discerning in when and how quickly you jump in to share, giving others the opportunity to muster the courage to share something difficult.
  • Confusion as to when and what is appropriate to share in this setting regarding your marriage. When we are vulnerable about our marriages we must keep in mind that because our husbands are part of our marriages we are by default making them vulnerable along with us. We are told not to slander our husbands so we need to have an understanding as to what slander is, as opposed to sharing struggles. This can be hard to discern. Here are levels of sharing and generally their appropriate setting to help us think through wisely what sharing should look like in this context in order to constructively build our marriages and husbands up instead of tearing them down.

§  Small group appropriate (in my humble opinion):

-General sharing that there is struggle there and asking for general prayer.

-Sharing our OWN sin or personality issues in the marriage- I struggle with anger, discontentment, lust, being open in my marriage etc.

-Sharing with permission: If your husband gives you the go ahead to be an open book about the marriage then by all means be an open book.

-Sharing struggles that are more personality based than sin based with the aim to focus on your part of the struggle, not how to fix your husband to get him to be what you want him to be: for example “My husband is quiet and I struggle with feeling like he doesn’t care to talk with me.”. Being quiet is not a sin or even in and of itself negative, it’s just a common difficulty within marriage.

§  Types of sharing that takes discerning knowledge of your own marriage and spouse. (NOTE: If you feel your spouse would not like you to be sharing certain struggles in such a public context then I would suggest finding a trusted godly counselor and/or friend to talk through things. Please do this! Or feel free to share in the group that you are having struggles and need to find someone to talk with one-on-one. One of the leaders or elders’ wives will approach you with the aim to help, or get you connected with someone who can.)

-Unhealthy dynamics in the marriage in which both have sin that contributed to the unhealth of the marriage.

-Sexual struggles.

-Issues or dynamics in your marriage that you are emotionally confused or distressed about.

-Issues of physical or sexual abuse.

3 Questions

With all this in mind there are 3 Questions to ask oneself before sharing in a group setting:

  1.  Is my motive one of pride or showing off my marriage in order to glorify myself?
  2. If my marriage is going well, will my sharing be encouraging and helpful to those who are struggling, paving the way for them to struggle openly as opposed to setting up the illusion that the norm for marriages is one that lacks struggle or difficulties? (NOTE: understand that there IS a time and way to share victories and the blessings of marriage. My point is to be diligent to search your heart and motives, and to think through carefully how you share those things so that they will open the way for further more difficult sharing). Ephesians 4:29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
  3. Is my motive one of anger or bitterness with the desire to tear down my husband or do I have a genuine desire to see my husband repent and be forgiven? Piggy back question: Do I have a genuine desire to see my OWN wrong in the marriage and repent and be forgiven? (NOTE: If you DO have anger because of real pain, share THAT fact instead of the sins of your husband. Share you are hurting and angry in your marriage and in need of healing and repentance. The details of that should probably be worked through in a one-on-one counselor setting. Those listening, keep in mind that there are always two sides to a story and do not jump to conclusions or try to discern fault. Just pray for healing and sanctification. Proverbs 18:17 The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.)

One Last Question

After going through this with your group I would encourage you to ask “what makes sharing transparently particularly difficult for you?” Sometimes just talking about how hard it can be to talk about hard things can break the ice and open the door for this to actually happen.

Scripture to Ponder

A few passages that were in mind as I wrote this piece, along with the verse’s dispersed throughout, are: Roman’s 12:3-15 and Colossians 3:12-17. These passages both speak of how the body is supposed to relate to one another and what we are to do for each other. May our small groups reflect and live out these passages.

Romans 12:3-15

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Colossians 3:12-17

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

What God Does For His People (Devotions From Jeremiah 24:4-7)

Jeremiah 24:4-7

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

After King Judah, the officials, and the craftsmen of Judah were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzer, Jeremiah sees a vision of two baskets of figs. One basket full of good figs and one basket full of bad inedible figs. God explains this vision to Jeremiah: the good figs represent those exiles that God will set his favor on, and who he will return to the land, and the bad figs represent those exiles whom God will choose to destroy utterly.

As I read this passage I was brought to two places:

First, it briefly caused me to wrestle with and contemplate the idea that God chooses some and not others. This concept is all over the Old and New Testaments. It really is an inescapable concept that must be faced and it’s a concept that turns many away from God in anger, with a sense that he is unjust and unfair in his judgments and dealings with mankind. I don’t have time this morning to go into great detail here, but the place that I have landed that some will find simplistic, but that I have found for me to be the heart of the matter, is that first, God is God and I am not. And second, that my sin and the sins of all mankind, are much greater and more serious than any of us can comprehend intellectually, or feel emotionally. So if we had the capacity to see God as he is and grasp his purity and holiness, and then to see ourselves as standing before that holiness and purity, then we would get it. We would get that God’s glory is the rightful and final end to all his judgments and mercies and that none deserve mercy and all deserve judgement, and our mouths would be stopped before the Holy One. If we approached God and these questions of mercy and judgement with humility instead of pride, we would be undone at the idea that he has shown mercy to anyone, we would be incredibly grateful and baffled that he would grant that mercy to me, of all people the most undeserving of sinners, and we would cease to be incensed that he chooses to judge whom he chooses to judge. (See Romans 9:14-33) Much more could be said, but for now I will move on.

Second,  this Jeremiah passage causes me to move towards gratefulness and humility because of the mercies that God has shown me and his people. One of the most important parts to notice in this passage is that it is  basically a list of “I will’s.” GOD WILL and HAS done these things for his people! No room for boasting; not even a little bit. Below I have listed those I wills and have expounded on them using Scripture to highlight how God, through Christ, has fulfilled and will continue to fulfill those I will’s for his people today and in the future.

  1. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 
  • God has regarded his people as good through Christ.

 II Cor. 5:21

For our sake he made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 3:21-26  

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

2. I will set my eyes on them for good,

  • God has caused all things to work for the ultimate good of his people.

Romans 8:28-32

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

3. and I will bring them back to this land.

  • Through Christ we are inheritors with Abraham of the world!

Romans 4:13-18

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his    offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

Galatians 3:29

And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Ephesians 3:6

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

4. I will build them up, and not tear them down;I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 

  • God builds and sanctifies his church patiently and powerfully and does not tear down his own.

Matthew 16:16-18

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Colossians 2:16-19

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Philippians 1:6

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

I Thessalonians 5:23-24

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 

I Corinthians 3:5-9

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

5. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord,… for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

  • God gives his people a heart that knows him and returns to him

Hebrews 8:8,10

 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,…

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts ,and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

Hebrews 10:12-25

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds,

 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

John 10:11-16,26-28

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd…. but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

6. and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

  • God makes us his and he becomes ours

I Peter 2:4-10

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,” and

 “A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God has, is and, will always graciously choose his people, build his people, give his people hearts that follow him, sanctify his people, keep his people, fulfill his promises to his people, show goodness to his people, give his people an inheritance, and so much more. And he does it through Christ! Praise and glory be to our God.