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.

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)

Road disappearing into dark night

Not long ago, I was driving through the Canadian prairies where the world seemed to stretch out forever, with only the occasional farmhouse to break the endless fields.

It was night, and the highway had no street lights to guide me. Beyond what my headlights illuminated, I had no idea where the road led as it wound through the darkness.

The road had many long straight stretches, then suddenly it would turn.

I glanced in my rearview mirror – pure blackness. There was no one in sight behind me.

Not too far in front, the taillights of a truck guided me onward. I appreciated his presence.

His lights showed me when the road ahead turned to the right or left. His continued progress reassured me that there was good paved road for me to drive on. The journey felt less lonely knowing that someone else was driving the same route.

Gradually, however, the truck increased the distance between us. Being on the flat open prairies, I could still see his lights, but he was a long way in front of me now.

From time to time, as I watched his lights so far ahead of me, I was surprised to see him turn sharply in the darkness. In such vast prairie, shouldn’t the road continue straight? But, no. When I finally reached the place where he’d turned, I found that the road did indeed turn.

I was sad when the truck finally outdistanced me so far that I could no longer see his lights. I felt more alone and the road was far more unknown.Left turn road sign

As I continued along, I quickly became grateful for the road signs warning of upcoming turns. Without those bright signs reflecting the beam of my headlights, driving at such speed would have been dangerous. I don’t know if I would’ve spotted the turns soon enough to steer safely around them. They would have come so unexpectedly that I would have continued straight off the road and into the nearest field.

Eventually, as I drove along, I glanced in the rearview mirror again. This time I spotted headlights! No longer was I the only one driving that way. Now it was my turn to be the one venturing into the empty darkness to show the vehicle behind me where the road led. 

What can I learn from these observations, I wondered. Is there a life lesson for me here?

Yes, I believe there is.

More often than not, as I go about my life, I do not know where or when the road is going to turn. I can see no further ahead than the few meters my headlights show me.

Thankfully, in such times, God provides guidance. He has said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” (Psalm 32:8 NKJV)

One of the ways He guides, is by planting road signs along the way. Those road signs reflect especially brightly when I have my headlights on, or rather, when I am being intentional to stay in the Bible and prayer. 

Sometimes those signs are black and white in clarity, screaming, “turn now or you’ll end up a wreck!”

At other times, those signs are harder to understand. “What is the best way to love God in this situation?”

Thankfully, there are many times when God brings someone into my life who has gone ahead. Someone who is further along on the path I am currently driving and whose example, or taillights, helps me know when and where to turn. 

Paul understood that God brings people into my life to help guide me. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)

Having said that, I must be careful who’s example I follow. It is possible that someone may ignore the signs and veer off the road, continuing straight through the fields. Or perhaps they might turn left when I need to take a right to get to my desired destination.

Ultimately, it is Jesus’ example I must be led by. As Hebrews says, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb. 12:1b-2a NIV) 

Through all life’s twists and turns, He guides me. He will never leave me.

Praise the Lord that He has gone before me, and that He sends people and warning signs to help guide me along the way!

Picture of moon and clouds

As I stepped into the cool night air, I was thankful to be living where I could walk alone in the evening with no need to fear.

I strolled a path well memorized.

Yellow lights from the windows reminded me that friends were not far. Yet I was alone enough to pray aloud.Moon and stars at night

I paused on the path and looked up. Glittering stars twinkled down at me, and the moon beamed so brilliantly that the night was not dark.

I smiled at the night sky and thanked God for its beauty. I sang a song of praise.

Then I looked up again. I noticed this time a blank spot. One section of the sky had no stars.

As I watched, the blank spot travelled across the sky. It was a cloud. I spotted several other clouds as well.

How mysterious that the stars can seem to vanish, though indeed they do not leave at all.

Then, as I watched, the moon began to fade. I saw a thick cloud slowly overwhelm its brilliance.

Something within me tightened. I didn’t want the moon to leave! Yet it did leave.

The cloud entirely blotted out the moon. The night was thrown into deep darkness.

Suddenly, I felt very alone. No longer could I see the dim outline of the path I’d been strolling. No longer could I see my own hands in the moonlight.

It seemed the moon had vanished – disappeared. At that moment, it seemed impossible to believe that the moon was there at all!

Thankfully, the cloud passed on, but a thought hung in my heart.

Sometimes in life, God seems to have vanished. Would I trust Him even when I can’t see Him?

When God’s presence is clearly seen and felt, trusting and rejoicing in Him seems nearly natural. Yet, when the clouds blot out His face, will I still trust that He’s there? Will I still rejoice in Him?

Jesus warned me that “in this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33b NIV)

I don’t know what seasons of dark clouds this life will hold. I don’t know when they’ll come, but one thing I can be sure of is that:

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you or abandon you.'” (Heb. 13:5 CSB)

I also know the end of John 16:33 in which Jesus tells me: “Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33c CSB)

Will I trust Him? Will I believe that His promises are true, even when I cannot see or feel Him?

Father, help me to trust You even in the seasons of dark clouds!