In the 2008 movie “Doubt” critically acclaimed actress Meryl Streep played the role of a Catholic school principal who questions the relationship between a new priest and one of their students. While no definitive proof is given as to the guilt of this priest (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Streep’s character is absolutely convinced and pushes for his dismissal. Throughout the film Streep is shown as confident and assertive in her position and accusations. Yet, in the final scene of the film she quietly breaks down with another nun as she confesses, “Oh sister James, I have doubts. I have such doubts.” Sister James seems startled by this confession but quickly moves to comfort her superior.
I believe some are surprised to hear that Christians have doubts. Yet, doubts arise occasionally (sometimes persistently) in the life of faith. Some act as if this is the inevitable end of Christian living, but the Bible says otherwise. Paul warns about those who have a constant desire to learn without coming to a concrete body of truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Knowledge has an intended end; namely, to come to know the ultimate reality of God. Jesus promised liberating truth that we can know (John 8:32). While we have mercy on those who doubt (Jude 22), this is not the desired existence of the Christian. Doubt can be an insidious cancer in the life of faith. While skepticism may be the new norm in our secularized culture, it isn’t to be the perpetual state of the Christian.
But, the sad reality is that our struggle with doubt often inserts its way into our most personal moments of faith. Prayer seems to be one of the greatest victims. As we are surrounded by the ubiquity of the material world, we are constantly tempted to trust in the tangible. It is because of this tendency that James writes:
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 reminds us that God doesn’t appreciate, or answer, doubt-filled prayers. This troubles me because I know how much of a prayer wimp I am. My personal prayers are filled with more doubts than I’d like to admit. I assume that many of you reading this article would love to have a more confident prayer walk with the Lord. That being said, here are three truths we must possess in order to destroy doubt in our prayers.
Absolute Confidence in God’s Inevitable Good
My sweet daughter isn’t the bravest of the bunch. She is often scared of trivial things (bugs, heights, water, etc.). I remember one time when I was encouraging her to overcome her fear I simply asked, “Would daddy do anything to hurt you? Doesn’t daddy love you?”
Sometimes we are so focused on the objects of our fear that we forget to trust in the inevitable good God has planned for us as His children. Paul encouraged the Roman Christians by reminding them of this hope:
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” –Romans 8:28
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things”—Romans 8:32
As you pray, realize that, while your request are in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:13), His ultimate purpose is to grant you eternal, unending good. In fact, even difficult times can work an unspeakable good in our eternal inheritance (2 Cor. 4:17).
Absolute Comfort in God’s Immeasurable Love
Have you ever needed something from a friend or neighbor but you were afraid to ask? Maybe you feared they would question your motives or resent you asking. Maybe you thought they would judge you for not preparing in the first place. Regardless, our hesitancy in asking often comes down to whether we believe that person cares for us.
Sometimes our prayers are filled with doubt because we fail to remember just how much God loves us. While we know intellectually that Jesus died for us, and thus expressed God’s love (John 3:16), we often fail to fully grasp the implications of that love. Again, Paul reminded the Romans of the comfort we have in the unconditional love of God:
“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Romans 8: 37-39
Imagine for a moment the one person in your life that loves you. You know, without a doubt, that this person’s love and care for you will never end. Maybe it is a parent, your spouse, or your children. You are undeserving and yet find comfort and peace in that sweet love. Now stop and realize this person’s love can’t touch the depth of God’s affection for you. I find confidence and comfort in prayer when I remember how much God loves me.
Absolute Conformity to God’s Eternal Purpose
Doubts often arise in our prayer when sin is present. When James wrote his letter, he rebuked the recipients for their wickedness which influenced their prayer life (James 4:1-3). It’s difficult—impossible—to come to the Lord of glory with confidence when there is persistent, willful sin in your life. I speak from personal experience.
In Romans 8, Paul ties our personal conformity to Jesus with God’s predestined glory for his people:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. –Romans 8:29-30
Being conformed into the image of Jesus, as we trust and obey him, is an absolute doubt killer. Without faithful living, faith filled prayers can’t exist.
Christian, don’t let anyone convince you that living a life of doubt, constantly questioning your faith and the truth of God, is preferable to living a life of absolute confidence in the grace and righteousness of Jesus. The happiest life is the one lived in the shadow of Calvary—conquered and confident through the blood of the Lamb.
And in that truth, there is no doubt.