Doubt’s Diversion

doubt 2

Acts 12:15 “You’re crazy! ” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel! ” [16] Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded.

Should we acknowledge the impossible when praying to a God for whom nothing is?

I met Randy last night on the river-walk in Jacksonville.  He’s a homeless vet in a wheelchair.  To some extent, he was looking for pity.  I didn’t give him much.  As I began to esteem him a special creation of God, he became more recalcitrant and resistant to the truth that a brighter future was possible.  I listened to him. I counseled him. I encouraged him. I prayed for him. But even then, as I left, his bitterness toward life was preeminent: “When I die and come back, I’m coming back to this city as a crow and I’m going to pluck every eye out of every person!” After 20 minutes, I had gotten nowhere.

After 16 years of ministering to people experiencing struggles like Randy, it’s as easy for me to say, “Some people seem impossible” as it if for them to say “My situation seems impossible.”

In this passage we’re taught something about impossible; that doubt is its acknowledgement.

Can you recall praying for something with doubt? I know. The question seems oxymoronic but it happens more than we’d like to admit.

Our prayer is often interrupted by the voice of worldly doubt.

“God, heal my friend of stage IV pancreatic cancer.”
No one ever makes it out of this alive.

“God, I need money for rent this month.”
Money will never just fall out of the sky.

“God, save Randy. Transform his life.”
This man will never change.

But should we acknowledge the impossible when praying to a God for whom nothing is?

Doubt – the acknowledgement of impossible.

And whatever we acknowledge, we accommodate.

Do you acknowledge the police have authority? You accommodate the law.  Do you acknowledge love is needed for a healthy marriage? You accommodate your spouse.  Do you acknowledge a bear could be dangerous? You accommodate the bear and get out of his woods!

Our actions accommodate what we acknowledge.

And the action that accommodates doubt is prayer with no real expectation; prayer without really believing.

To some extent that must have been the case on this day.

Herod had murdered James and it pleased the Jews. So, he arrested another apostle, Peter, and scheduled his execution for the morning.

I imagine in the fervent prayer the apostles were offering up for Peter that crucial night (v.5), some of it must have been, “Spare him, God! Save his life!” Yet the background mental noise was

No one ever escapes Herod’s grip.

They doubted. I know this because the presence of doubt is the absence of expectation and they had no expectation of seeing Peter that night. Even when Rhoda ran into the living room proclaiming, “Peter’s at the door!” they didn’t believe her.

None of us knows exactly what they were praying that night, but one thing we know for sure. They had no real expectation of Peter being set free.

But God was going to set him free, regardless of their doubt.  And it should be no shock to us if, in heaven, we learn that one or more of the disciples that night felt a tug during his prayer; a compelling from heaven to go down to the city gate to meet Peter.  Or maybe God whispered “I want you to go tell the guards who are watching over him that I’ve sent you and they need to set him free.” 

But doubt prevailed. To them, it was impossible that Peter would be set free and so they had no inclination to be a part of the impossible. Doubt may have diverted them from being a part of what God wanted to do.

How many times has doubt diverted you from being a part of God’s impossible? For me, “Too many” is the answer.

I prayed for Randy last night. I prayed with expectation that the wounds of his body and heart would be healed, that God would convict, that Randy would yield, that he would be transformed. For Randy, I expect it.

Doubt acknowledges the impossible. Faith expects it.

Don’t be diverted.







A Silver Lining Perspective


Acts 11:29   So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea.

The silver lining to every cloud is that you can see the cloud.

Mary Anne Noland died this year. Her obituary read, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016.”  Sometimes the future looks too bleak to deal with. I’m sure a frustrating election wasn’t really what brought Mary to her end, but it is true that when the ominous and unavoidable approaches, it can seem futile to resist or even mitigate.

Can we really do anything about the political climate? About corporate corruption? About national debt? Poverty?  As dark storms of life approach, it becomes more likely to adopt a laissez-faire approach to life.  Sometimes we just look at the oncoming clouds and wonder where the silver lining is. Might be worth considering that the silver lining to every cloud is that you can see the cloud.

In Acts 11, Agabus the prophet speaks and the disciples see the cloud. A famine was coming.  But because these new believers in Antioch were steeped in faith, they saw the silver lining. Rather than shrugging their shoulders helplessly or panicking and Y2K-stockpiling, they had hope and not just for themselves but for others. They put that faith, hope and love into action.  Before the famine struck (in about 47 AD), they sent food and supplies to their friends in Judea. Think about that. They met a need before the need arrived!

Sometimes when I note the increasing chaos, the moral decline, political corruption, I wonder if those who prophesy doom aren’t true prophets. The Bible does speak of a dark day to come. But regardless of the tribulation that approaches, we must remember this example set by those in Antioch, the first to be called Christians: When you see dark skies approaching, be thankful you can see them and then let your faith, hope and love for others drive you to do something.