Person sitting on snowy brick wall holding Bible behind title: "Oh The Irony of It"

What to do when we have doubts about God

Have you ever noticed how many things in our lives are ironic?

What got me thinking about this? A walk I went on not too long ago. Well, it wasn’t actually the walk that got me thinking, but rather, what happened on my walk.

You see, we had some winter weather come through the night before. The following day, I headed out for my usual walk around the block. Some of the sidewalks were snow-covered, but they didn’t have ice underneath, so I stepped confidently. When I reached the road, however, I didn’t think to change my stride to account for the black ice hidden beneath the thin layer of snow. Suddenly I slipped! I landed hard on my elbow and hip. Quickly I picked myself up. Nothing was broken, but I knew I’d be sore. Sheepishly I brushed the telltale snow off my pants and jacket while I glanced around. No one was in sight to have noticed my tumble. More cautiously, I finished my walk without further incident.

Once home, my elbow and hip were starting to burn. So what did I do? I put ice on the injury ice had caused. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony!

(It has been several weeks, and multiple new layers of snow, since the incident. I can assure you that the bruising is gone and I am fine. Also, I have adjusted my walking into winter mode, and thus have not fallen again.)

This incident got me thinking. What other ironies exist in life that we typically don’t stop to think about?

Here are some I have thought of. If you think of others, feel free to share them in the comments below.

One way of fighting a wildfire is by using fire – a backfire or controlled burn. That is, when the firefighters work ahead of a fire that is out of control, they pre-burn a section in a controlled way. By doing so, when the out of control fire arrives, it has no fuel to continue forwards.Two skunks

When learning ways to keep a skunk away, I laughed when I discovered that the answer includes using smell! I am not an expert in this, but apparently they dislike the smell of ammonia, mothballs, and citrus. Who would have guessed that I can use smells to chase away the very creature renowned for its bad smell?

Then there’s the question of how to get more physically fit and in shape. If the person is otherwise healthy, the best way to gain more energy is by using more energy.

There’s also the idea that one of the best ways to learn something new is by teaching it to someone else. More often than not, teachers learn more about a topic than those they are teaching.

The Christian life is full of ironies as well. Here are a couple of them:

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24 NKJV)

And:

“[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-9 NIV)

If you try, I’m sure you’ll think of more.

One last irony I want to close with is an important reminder for us all.

When I have doubts about God, the very best thing to do with those doubts is to take them to God in prayer.

It is easy for me to fear that perhaps God will be displeased by my doubts so I should try to hide them from Him (as if hiding anything from God were possible). At times like that, I must remind myself of Jesus’ response to Thomas and to John the Baptist. At one point or another, they each faced doubts about God.

“Now Thomas… one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’

A week later His disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.’

Thomas said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:24-28 NKJV)

Jesus was not angry, but patient in His response to Thomas’ doubt. I like how Spurgeon puts it.

“[Jesus] takes Thomas on his own ground, considers his infirmities, and meets them precisely as they are, without a single word of rebuke until the close—and even then He puts it very lovingly. The whole conversation was, indeed, a rebuke, but so veiled with love that Thomas could scarcely think it so. He speaks to him as if nothing had occurred to give any cause of offense…” (C. H. Spurgeon – A Memorable Interview)

Then I look at Jesus’ response to John the Baptist. John was in prison. Evidently, he was feeling doubts about Jesus, the One whom he had earlier boldly declared to be the Lamb of God (John 1). Thankfully, John the Baptist knew what to do with his doubts. Since he couldn’t go to Jesus himself, he sent two of his disciples with this question: “‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'” (Matt. 11:3b NKJV)

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” (Matt. 11: 4-6 NKJV)

Yet again, Jesus didn’t rebuke John’s doubts. Rather, He gave him just the reassurance he needed.

On the days when I have doubts about God, may I have enough faith to do the ironic thing by taking my doubts about God straight to God.

Spray paint and cell phone

A few days ago, I needed to do some spray painting. I gathered old cardboard, the little flower pots I planned to paint, and the spray paint can.

I switched into old jeans and a t-shirt and took my watch off to keep it clean.

Outside, I set everything up. Then I looked at my phone.

I was expecting a text soon to which I’d need to reply. Therefore, I couldn’t leave the phone inside and miss the message. However, I certainly didn’t want to get paint on my phone!

I slipped it into my back pocket. That wouldn’t work. The pocket was too short leaving part of the phone exposed.

Pulling it out, I studied my phone. One end of the phone had the cameras and the headphone jack. Paint on the main camera would prevent me from taking pictures, but I often enjoy using my phone camera. Spray paint over the reverse camera would make Zoom calls impossible. Not good. As for the headphone jack, I don’t use headphones often, but losing the option wouldn’t be favourable. Therefore, I slipped the phone back into my pocket with the camera side down. That would keep it safe.Cell phone charging

But wait! The part of the phone now exposed was the power cord plug-in! That would never do. If the phone can’t be charged, then none of its functions would be usable!

Reluctantly, I switched it the other way around. Now the power plug-in was protected. I would be disappointed if the camera got damaged, but I owned a different camera I could use. What I wouldn’t have was a working cell phone if this one died.

Thankfully, I didn’t get any paint on my phone. I was paying enough attention to not touch it when my fingers were sticky with paint.

The lesson

Why do I recount this little story? Because there is a lesson here for me.

Similarly to how I needed to choose which part of my phone to protect, I must choose every day what parts of life I protect the most.

To some people, taking the time to think about which way to put my phone in my pocket may seem excessively cautious and pointless. Likewise, I sometimes neglect to put thought into what I want to prioritize in my life. It seems unnecessary to take time to think about prioritizing when I could be using that time to accomplish something instead.

The challenge is, like with my phone’s power plug-in, if I fail to guard the most important parts of my life, everything else will suffer.

So what parts of my life should I guard?

What the Bible tells us to guard

To find the answer, I did some research. I searched for the word “guard” in the Bible. Here are some of the verses I found.

I must be sure the way I am living does not involve evil. 

“The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.”  (Proverbs 16:17 ESV)

What do I use to help keep my way pure and good? The Bible.

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your Word.”  (Psalm 119:9 ESV) 

My heart needs tending to as well.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

Here’s something I must guard against.

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.'”  (Luke 12:15 ESV)

What’s the highest priority?

Okay, but which is most important? With my phone, the power cord plug-in is by far the most important thing to guard. What about in my life?

Here’s Jesus’ answer:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38 NIV)

If I am careful to guard God’s position as the first priority in my life, the rest will fall into place so much better.

God will help me

Easier said than done! Thankfully, God will help me guard my life according to His ways. I can trust Him to do so.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? 

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 121:1-2,8 NASB)

Fog clinging to spider web

 

A few years back, I had the opportunity to live in Germany for a time. The place where I lived included a sizable yard. Often in the mornings, I would stroll through the yard enjoying the freshness of the air before the day got started. One corner of the yard even offered a view of the nearby lake.

Then one morning, as fall crept near, a fine mist greeted me. A low dense fog hung in the air so thick I could feel it. The sky was grey and the view of the lake was gone. The grass in the yard, though cut short, quickly soaked my shoes and pant legs. The whole world seemed damp and grey and mysterious.

As I strolled through the yard that foggy morning, I saw something I’d never seen before. The hedge that lined one fence was spotted with spider webs!

I’d walked along that very hedge countless times, never noticing a single web, but now they stood out vividly!

Puzzled, I moved closer. I stooped to study one. To my astonishment, every strand of the web held tiny droplets of mist. As a result, the web was illuminated against the green of the hedge.

While spiders are certainly not my favourite critters, I couldn’t help but appreciate the intricate beauty of these glistening webs! At the same time, knowing just how many spider webs existed on those hedges was a little unnerving.

Later that morning, I was able to slip outside for a few minutes again. The world seemed completely transformed. The sun shone warm and friendly. The sky was blue. Not a hint of the mist from the morning remained. Not a single spider web shone with droplets. The beauty of it was gone. Only my memory of the stunningly intricate webs remained. (Until the next morning, that is, when the fog again hung low.)

So why do I share this memory now? What significance does it have?

Sometimes in my life, it feels as though a fog looms near, grey and heavy. Such fog makes it hard to see what I’m doing or where I’m going. Yet in the midst of the grey-ness, the fog illuminates something in me.

Just as the fog illuminated the spider webs, so in my life the fog sometimes brings visibility to things I had not seen before. Perhaps those things will be stunning webs of intricate design. However, they may be ugly, messy strands of cobweb sending a shiver of disgust down my spine.

       

The Bible uses a different illustration to explain that the way we’ve spent our lives will become visible one day.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15 ESV)

Perhaps the foggy seasons in my life are God’s way of giving me a sneak preview of how I’ve been living? Have I been using my life to build what has lasting beauty, or have I been building with straw and hay, mere cobwebs that will be swept away?

When the fog illuminates those unseen parts of my life, may I remember to bring every concern straight to God. He can help me learn to build what has lasting beauty so that, when the fog rolls in, I may not be ashamed of what I see.

Then I can join Paul in saying:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(If you want to see the incredible spider web photos I used in their original state, you can view them on Unsplash here.)

Closed sign and the words: "Not Forgotten - God Has a Purpose"

Have you ever had a part of your life that seemed to sit unused and useless for a long time? Have you wondered if God has a purpose for it?

At a busy shopping centre I often drive by, there is a restaurant. For many years it was a pizza place. People came and went, enjoying the food and atmosphere. I ate there a couple of times. 

Then one day a sign appeared on the door. The lights went off, and eventually, they took their logo down. They were closed.

For quite some time, the building sat empty, even as other stores and restaurants around them stayed busy.

Then someone bought the place. Construction vehicles started showing up. From the outside, we couldn’t see much change, but inside things were being improved.

They put up a new sign, then announced their opening.

For a while, people came, but soon the parking lot looked empty again. One day a sign appeared on the door saying it was closed.Car parked in empty parking lot

Again it sat month after month with a closed sign. The lights were off and the parking lot abandoned.

Several years went by as the building sat empty. Countless people drove past it daily on the busy main roads, but no one stopped to go in.

True, the building was in the far corner of the shopping centre but it was very visible from the main roads. Why did it sit empty for so long?

Fast forward to March this year. With the coming of COVID-19, many businesses were temporarily closed. Shopping malls sat abandoned and restaurants empty.

One place, however, began to see action.

The parking lot of that long-abandoned building began filling.

First, some work crews showed up, then tents were erected outside.

Every time I saw it, I wondered who was moving in. Were they simply using the parking lot? Had another restaurant bought the place? I watched for clues.

Before long, I saw line-ups of vehicles outside. This particular building was surrounded on all four sides by a parking lot. The line-up of cars began at the tents and wound all the way around the building. What were they doing?

Then I found out. My city had set up several COVID-19 testing drive-through sites. This was one of them.

The long-abandoned building now had a purpose. Its parking lot was beautifully suited for the task.

Now, instead of sitting forgotten and unwanted, this building was helping save lives. 

I believe God sometimes works this way in our lives.

Sometimes He gives us skills and abilities or previous experiences that seem to sit idle and unused for a season. We wonder why they exist. Could it be that God has a purpose for them?

Perhaps one day God will point to that part of my life or your life and say “Now is the time. I want to use you this way.”

The Bible gives some examples along these lines. Examples of situations when something seemed random or worthless, only to later become evidence that God has a purpose in everything He does.

It was some time after Esther was made queen that the king passed the law against the Jews. Only then did Mordecai say to her “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14b CSB)

Similarly, when David finally became king after fleeing from King Saul for years, I’m sure he found his experience from serving as Saul’s armour bearer useful. (1 Samuel 16:21)

Do you sometimes wonder what purpose God has for you?

Thankfully, we can trust that He knows what He is doing. God has a purpose. We don’t need to worry if there are talents or experiences in our lives that seem forgotten and unused right now. Just like the building, at the right time, God will use them as He sees fit.

As He said to Peter “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  (John 13:7 NIV)

Flowers, Bible, and title: "God is with me"

 

For many months, or perhaps even a year or two, I had a piece of paper on my wall on which I’d written the verse, “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

I had scribbled the words across the paper using crayon while teaching a Sunday school class. I debated throwing it out when the class ended. Instead, I folded it and slipped it into my bag. When I got home, I decided to stick the verse on my bedroom wall. I used a little sticky-tack to do so.

Over the following months, that verse was often a refreshing reminder and a needed encouragement. God was with me. When things got challenging, I wasn’t alone. He would help me. What an important reminder.

Gradually over time, the little piece of sticky-tack began to lose its stickiness. Then one day, I bumped the paper. It fell behind a desk and bedside table. I could not reach the paper to put it back up without moving the furniture and everything on top. Deeming that too much work, I left the paper where it was, knowing that one day I would find it again.

Several months went by.

The little piece of sticky-tack remained on the wall, reminding me of the absence of the paper. 

With the paper no longer there, I wasn’t frequently reminded of that beautiful verse: “Fear not, for I am with you…” (Isaiah 41:10a ESV)

As is often the case, life got busy and I became accustomed to not seeing the verse.

Then one day, as I sat in my room typing, I looked over at that little piece of Isaiah 41:10 written on yellow papersticky-tack and realized that I hadn’t thought of that verse for quite some time. Indeed, that very day I had been feeling a need to be reminded that God is with me.

This led me to ponder how sometimes in life, I easily and unintentionally slide from a place of closeness with God. I come to the point where I rarely remember to think of Him throughout the day. I forget that God is with me.

Sure I may still go to church on Sundays and read my Bible and pray, but I’m not mindful of His presence with me. My mind doesn’t keep jumping back to the things above. Songs of praise are rarely spontaneously on my lips.

Somewhere along the line, the frequent reminder of God’s presence with me slipped out of sight and I wasn’t intentional to put in the effort to bring it back. Like the paper, I let it slide and then, in the busyness of life, forgot about it.

Oh, that my heart would be inclined toward God and that my thoughts would often run to things above.

As Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (ESV)

Today I dug out that paper and put it back up. This time I put it in a frame so it’ll be less likely to fall again. I want to keep in mind that God is with me. He has not left me alone. He will help me, and I am His.

“Fear not, for I am with you…”