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.

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…”

Blue carpet with title

One morning, not so long ago, I spent some time praying before my day got started.

As is my habit, I brought before the Lord my family and friends and those whom I know have heavy burdens just now.

I glanced at the clock, it was time to get moving. I had things to do and breakfast to eat.

To close my time of prayer, I took a moment to kneel as I asked Him to be Lord of my day.

It was at that moment, as I knelt, that I saw them.Bugs on a carpet

First, I saw one little red-ish speck on the carpet, then I saw another. Leaning closer I realized they were bugs.

To my dismay, one careful survey of the surrounding area revealed several more bugs of the same type.

They weren’t fast bugs, nor terribly scary ones. It had surely taken them quite some time to get to where they were now. They looked almost like mini caterpillars, so small that, had I been standing, I likely wouldn’t have noticed them.

If there were so many of these bugs scattered across the floor, then naturally I had to assume there was a source of food nearby. Clearly they must have a well-fed flourishing colony.

I surveyed the carpet again. The scattering of bugs appeared to radiate from one particular cabinet.

Bugs on a rug

Immediately I could guess their food source. That cabinet had previously spent many years as the cat food place. While we had a dog, it was necessary to place the cat food on top of this cabinet to keep the dog from eating it.

My cats, unfortunately, were rather messy eaters. When they ate dry cat food, they always left large amounts outside the bowl. Despite our greatest efforts, some of that cat food fell down the back of the cabinet.

There was little doubt in my mind that it was that old spilled cat food that nourished these little bugs. To them, it was a feast allowing them to multiply. To me, it was an old unreachable space that had not fully been cleaned out.

Later that day, the effort was made to move this heavy cabinet so as to reveal the hidden and unreachable places behind it.

After a thorough vacuuming and cleaning, the spot was declared good and the heavy cabinet put back in place.

So what? Why do I share this morning’s adventure? Because it got me thinking.

Do I have hidden and unreachable places in my life that need to be revealed and cleaned?

It is a convicting question. I can recall times in the past when God has brought to light things I hadn’t dealt with, which in turn had begun feeding bugs. Things that I didn’t realize or remember were there until I started seeing bugs and, with God’s help, found the source – a process which sometimes took months or years.

No matter how many bugs I got rid of, if I never found the source – the thing that was feeding them – I would forever find more bugs.

The cabinet in my house behind which the old cat food lay was heavy and hard to move. When I trace the bugs in my life to their source, I may find something similar. The source may be blocked by something I can’t move myself. Often only God can clean and heal those areas.

How then, am I to notice these bugs in my life?

More often than not, it must be God who enables me to spot the bugs in my life.

I believe it is primarily when I walk closely with the Lord with a humble heart that He reveals these bugs to me and guides me to their sources.

When did I spot the bugs in my house? When I knelt to pray.

Had I walked through the same room remaining on my feet and busy going about my day, I would never have noticed them.

I believe there is a lesson there for me. Yes, I need this reminder.

More often than not, it is when I take time to pray that God reveals to me the bugs that must be dealt with in my life.

May I more often join David in praying:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24 CSB)

Indeed, “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 CSB)

Paint covered hands and the words: My Hands Have Too Much Paint

I need to wash my hands first

“Are you finished?” I ask a preschooler as I point to the bright picture in front of him.

His hand pauses mid-air, still holding his sponge.

“Um… Yes.” He puts the sponge back in the paint tray and smiles up at me.

“You did a good job on your painting.” I remark. “I like how hard you worked on it.”

His smile brightens as I lift the wet painting and move it to the drying rack.

I glance at his hands. “Looks like you need to wash your hands.”

He looks at his red and green fingertips. “Yeah.”

“Come on over,” I invite, “I’ll help you wash.”

As he moves toward the sink, I glance at the other preschoolers to ensure they are still fully engaged in painting.

Satisfied, I hold his hands to help him climb onto the stool without touching the walls.

I turn on the water and encourage him to wash his hands.

He lets the water run over his hands. The paint is still there.

He looks at me. “It’s not working.”

“Here, I can help you.” I take his hands in mine and start rubbing.

Immediately, his hands look more coloured. Rather than just red and green, his hands now have black and blue as well.

I frown, then look at my own hands.

Sure enough, I’d forgotten that I had accumulated a thick layer of paint on my own hands.

“Uh oh,” I say, “I forgot to wash my hands first. You rub your hands.”

Releasing his hands and moving my own hands underneath, I quickly rub the paint off them.

A glance at my hands tells me they’re paint-free now.

I take his hands once more. “Let’s try again.”

This time, as I rub his hands, the paint easily comes off. It takes a little longer because of the black and blue paint I’d inadvertently added, but soon his hands are paint-free too.

I hand him a paper towel and help him climb down.

“You go play,” I say.

“Ok,” he calls as he hurries off.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. So often, when helping my preschoolers paint, I get paint on my own hands. Rather than wash my hands every few seconds, I simply rub the paint until it’s dry so I can continue helping other children.

This wouldn’t be a problem, until I try to help them wash their hands. The water restores the paint on my hands and, suddenly, I’m making their hands worse rather than better.

This reminds me of something Jesus said.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

I needed to wash my hands before I could be of any use in helping the child wash his hands.

The same is true when we’re trying to help someone. My heart has to be right with God before I can effectively help anyone else get their heart right with God.

Does God use imperfect people? Absolutely! I’m one of them.

It is not that we must be perfect and have everything figured out. No, but we must have our hearts right with God.Hands with paint on them

As David said, after he’d sinned,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”   Psalm 51:10,13 ESV

Paul, too, talked about something similar when he said:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”  Galatians 1:6 NIV

With these verses in mind, I must be intentional to seek God first. My relationship with Him must be right in order for me to be effectively able to help those around me.

Oh, that I would keep my hands continually washed clean so that I can be useful for helping others.

Bible and mug by lake

Am I filling myself with the things of God or is something else taking that space?

I am a preschool teacher. As a preschool teacher, there are many tricks of the trade which help my day go smoother with happier, healthier children. 

Many of those tricks involve snack time. Using a straw for yogurt drinks cuts down on the number of catastrophic spills. Cutting grapes eliminates a choking hazard. Sending only healthy snack options results in the child choosing to eat a healthy snack rather than choosing a sugary, unhealthy option.A juice box

One classic snack item, which has its own host of tricks, is the juice box. Many of those tricks involve how to open or hold it without spilling. Not spilling a juice box is indeed a skill for preschoolers to learn!

Beyond that, a useful trick for getting some preschoolers to eat more of their snack is to not give them a juice box at all. Let me explain.

Over my years of teaching preschool, I have seen three significantly different patterns of behaviour in children who have juice boxes with their snack. 

First, many children will only drink one or two sips from the juice box before setting it aside. This leaves the vast majority of the juice wasted.

Second, some children are able to coordinate drinking their juice with eating their snack. They will drink most of the juice and eat a good portion of their snack before snack time is over.

Finally, I’ve seen a number of children who, upon seeing the juice box in their snack, get excited. They drink and drink and drink until every last drop of the juice is gone. Then, having drunk the whole juice box, they look at the rest of their snack, perhaps apple slices or bread and cheese, but aren’t the least bit interested because they already feel full.

These children drink so much juice, often artificially flavoured with added sugar and colour, that they are not eating the sturdy healthy food they need to grow strong. From these children, we can learn a lesson.

The other day, I was reading in Isaiah 2 the explanation of why God rejected His people at that time:

    “They are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers …

    Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures;

    their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots.

    Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands,

    to what their own fingers have made.” Isaiah 2:6b-8 ESV

After reading these verses, I paused. I asked, “What am I full of?”

Am I filled with the things of God, or something else?

This question brought to mind another verse:

    “[God is] always on their lips but far from their hearts.” Jeremiah 12:2b NIV

Instead of “heart,” some other translations say “mind” or “conscience.”

Regardless of how much I talk about Jesus and know all the right answers, what is taking up the space inside me? Is Jesus in my thoughts? When my mind wanders, does it wander to the things of God?

Far more often than I’d like, my thoughts wander some other direction.

Is it bad to think about other things? Certainly not! There are many good things in life that require much thought. The problem comes when those other things are filling me, leaving no room for thoughts of Jesus, just like my preschoolers who drink so much juice that they aren’t the least bit interested in solid healthy food.Two babies drinking milk from bottles

In 1 Peter 2:2(NIV), Peter urges:

    “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…”

Other translations say “desire the pure milk of the Word.”

Am I desiring the things of God? Am I seeking to be filled with Him?

While there aren’t any shortcuts to being filled with the things of God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, with other Christians, and in worship are critical.

So for today, I’ll make it my goal to drink just a little less juice and a little more of that pure spiritual milk.