Barriers to Encouragement (4)
And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14.31
The nature of doubt
Along with being unwilling to follow Jesus according to His Word, failing to understand and thus limiting God’s power, and being ignorant of His calling, doubting God and His Word can also keep us from having the courage we need to live as witnesses for Christ and ambassadors of His Kingdom.
The OED offers several helpful definitions of this verb: feel uncertain about; question the truth or fact of something; and disbelieve or lack faith in someone. We can see each of these at work in Peter as he walked on the Sea of Galilee toward Jesus.
As long as he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he did that which he had never done before, and which took a measure of courage that could only have come from God. But as the winds roared and the waves mounted, Peter began to feel uncertain about his ability to do what he was doing. He questioned the wisdom of trying to walk on the sea. And he began to disbelieve in both himself and the Lord.
All these doubts Jesus observed as Peter took his eyes off Him, looked at the sea, raging all around, and began to sink. Jesus “stretched out His hand and caught him”, thus demonstrating the power of grace to overcome doubt. Then He explained Peter’s failure of courage to continue the course he had begun: he doubted the Lord and His Word.
Doubt is a barrier to the courage we need to follow Jesus in our calling. Doubt doesn’t have to be spoken to be real. Doubt will cause us to lose sight of Jesus amid the whirl and maelstrom of fear, unbelief, distraction, and feelings of uncertainty and unlikelihood that come over us as we begin to take courage from the Lord. Doubt will question the promises of God’s Word. Doubt wants to rationalize the Word of God into something manageable, familiar, and safe. Doubt reminds you that you’ve never done anything like this before. Doubt deals out a hand of problems, challenges, and worst-case-scenarios, leading you to say, “I pass.” Doubt causes fear or unease to rise in your heart. Doubt makes you think less of yourself than Jesus does. Doubt will freeze you in your tracks in your walk with and work for the Lord.
All because doubt makes you take your eyes off Jesus and turn them instead to the things you fear.
The antidote to doubt
The antidote to doubt is to look to Jesus. Peter doubted that he could walk on the sea: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matt. 14.28). Don’t miss that if. He knew he could not walk on the water in anything like his own strength. But if Jesus commanded him, then perhaps he could do so. Doubt and possibility were churning within Peter until the moment Jesus said to him, “Come” (v. 29).
Then, his eyes fixed on Jesus, courage overcame doubt, possibility strapped on faith and hope, and Peter’s body moved in obedience to his soul toward the Master, gesturing to him upon the waves.
The way to keep doubt in check is to see Jesus.
Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.13). How could he be so confident of this? All things? Really? Paul certainly experienced that strength in many ways. He was able to endure hardship, stand boldly before kings and governors, witness to Jesus before the philosophers of Athens, fight with beasts, and preach the Gospel where no one had preached it before. We will grant, I’m sure, that such endeavors took courage that could only come from the Spirit of God, willing and doing according to the pleasure of God, exceedingly abundantly beyond what Paul had ever before dared to ask or think (Phil. 2.13; Eph. 3.20).
And here is Paul’s challenge to us: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11.1). In all these courageous undertakings, Paul was only imitating what he saw in Jesus, not only in what he had learned of Jesus’ earthly sojourn, but His reign in glory, seated at the right hand of the Father, holding the vast cosmos in place, doing all things according to the counsel of His will, and filling the world with Himself (Col. 3.1-3; Col. 1.16, 17; Eph. 1.11; Eph. 1.22, 23). And of His coming again to bring in the fullness of the Kingdom and destroy our last enemy, death (1 Cor. 15). Jesus had commanded Paul to serve Him. Paul took Him at His Word, following Him into new and uncertain situations, courageously determined to live and die for Jesus.
The more we see of Jesus, the more the Encourager within us will transform us into the likeness of Christ, so that we may realize His strength at work in and through us to live as His witnesses for Christ and ambassadors of His Kingdom, restoring the reconciled world to God (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
The power of vision
While Peter’s mind was filled with the vision of Jesus, glorious and unfazed by winds and waves, he did not doubt that he could imitate Jesus and walk on the sea. When he doubted, looking away from Jesus at the uncertain world around him, then his faith faltered and his walk began to sink.
We will be less likely to feel uncertain about our calling; question the truth or facts of God’s Word and promises; and disbelieve or lack faith in Jesus if we practice the discipline of setting our minds on the Lord Jesus – as He was during His incarnation, as He is now at the Father’s right hand, and as He will be in glorious victory when He comes again.
The grace of Jesus can overcome your doubts and create that lightning charge of encouragement that will enable you to say with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” Indeed, Jesus is reaching out to us at every moment, calling us to walk above this world’s Sturm und Drang and stretching out His hand for us to join Him in making all things new. But we won’t know the grace that gives us courage if our mind and heart are occupied with the things of this world, rather than the things of Christ.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind…” (Col. 3.2; Phil. 2.5; Phil. 3.14, 15).
Do not underestimate the power of vision. What you see is what you’ll live toward and what you’ll get. See Jesus, and then see how He can embolden your life with the courage to do whatever He calls you to do.
1. What do you think David meant in Psalm 16.8? How would you counsel a new believer to do that?
2. Why does it make sense to believe that the more we see Jesus and see of Him, the more we will be like Him?
3. How might you be able to tell when doubt is becoming a barrier to courage in your walk with and work for the Lord?
Next steps – Conversation: Make a point today to imitate Jesus and Paul by initiating a conversation about the Lord. With whom will you do that? How might you begin?
In case you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” here is a link where you can download all four parts of that study for free.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.