If you call yourself a Christian, it is quite likely that at some point or another you either have encountered a person who does not believe as you do or a friend who is going through a season of doubt, and they just aren’t sure anymore. When these things happen, sometimes it can catch us off guard. What are we supposed to do? How can we help? Is there a way to help, or is it just something you kind of ride out? It can be tricky to figure out, but hopefully the following sections can help you as you begin to navigate these waters.
There are many different reasons people don’t believe, and each case is handled a little differently so I’ll introduce you to a few of my friends I have met along the way. My first friend’s name is Nass. He and I met in middle school. Nass was new to the neighborhood and didn’t know that many people. He lived with his Mom, older brother and younger brother. His Dad still lived in Algeria and is still not a part of their life today. His Mom stood for women’s rights in Algeria; and after her youngest son was kidnapped because of her outspokenness, she told her husband they needed to leave. He wouldn’t, so she did and took the kids.
Nass and I hit it off right away. We talked a ton about Algeria, silly Americans, middle school and then high school drama, but we also talked about faith; and he was one of my favorite people to talk to about faith because, while I was a Christian, he was a practicing Muslim. Sometimes these are the people you run into, people of other faiths. He doubted a lot about my Jesus, but he was one of the closest friends I ever had because we could be real with each other and ask each other questions about the other’s faith. It was a learning space; neither wanted to try to “evangelize” the other; we wanted to learn and better understand.
Sometimes I tell people that and they say, “Sure, but you had to have wanted to evangelize him. Didn’t you want him to know truth?” and the answer is yes! Absolutely! But for whatever reason I just knew I didn’t have to go about it that way. God was working in his heart while I was just sitting there, being real, asking questions and answering his.
I think sometimes this is the best way to “deal with” a person of another faith. Walk through life with them, be yourself, and let God do the rest. Eventually, when I invited a bunch of my friends to youth group in high school, he came with us. Then he came again, and again and finally, three years later, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. I wasn’t even there when it happened! But I got to be one of the people who brought him a little closer to God.
I love what Bill Hybles taught one Sunday. He shared that every person is on a scale, let’s say from -10 to 10. Zero is where you meet God for the first time and ask him to be your Lord and Savior. We all start in different places, largely based on our background. Let’s say Nass started at -7; he had a lot of doubt about Jesus; he just didn’t think he was God’s son sent to cleanse us from our sins. Those conversations we had for one year pushed him to maybe -6, but then maybe someone else or something else brought him to -4 and maybe it was the three years of youth group that slowly moved him from -4 to -1 and maybe it was the church camp I missed, but he went to, that finally helped him see God for the first time. Finally, he hit zero! Christ! He had overcome his doubt to the place he was willing to believe. But we don’t finish there; now we spend the rest of our lives growing and discovering more about God.
What’s cool is that you may never be the one to sit down and pray with them a prayer of acceptance, but you still have a huge role to play! The truth is, only God knows what is happening in the hearts of all the different people we interact with every day of our lives. And that is amazing!
Next I think of my friend Jean. We were roommates for two years. We went to a Christian school together, but she didn’t consider herself a believer the way I did. For two years she would randomly ask me questions when I was knee deep in homework, papers or even finals. Good questions! Questions that made me stop, close down my computer and think. We would talk. I would tell her what I could, passages I thought might be helpful, or I told her I didn’t know. For two years she kept me from getting work done! Then one day she talks with an RA who encourages her to take that step to pray and ask for God’s forgiveness. Then she didn’t even want to tell me! Our RA made her tell me! But that’s the thing…
Sometimes your role is to sit there and get tough questions randomly thrown at you from doubters, and other times you pray with the person, you push them to do what they have been putting off. You are the one who speaks truth into their life and says “Stop stalling! Stop making up excuses! You will never be a perfect Christian, nobody is. You never have all the answers you think you need, there are too many! And you never know where God is going to take you, so let’s sit down and do what you should have done a long time ago.”
There are other reasons to doubt too. Sometimes you begin to doubt for reasons like my friend David. He grew up in the faith, understood all the ins and outs of being a believer, was an amazing leader in our youth group. Then one day something changed; he stepped down from his leadership role, started acting completely different. Finally he shared with our group that he was just struggling with doubt. He shared a deep and dark secret that his father that he is long separated from had molested him as a child and he was trying figure out why a good God would allow something like that to happen.
There were two things happening here. First, he was struggling through a very good and tough question. You may not have the answer, but as in any case, pray over your friend either privately or with them and encourage them to seek wise counsel. Let them know that you are there to walk with them.
The second thing going on, though, is that he was moving from a faith of his mom and step-dad to a faith of his own. It’s a tough but necessary transition that kids who grow up in Christian household have to go through. If we don’t make struggle with doubt and make the decision to believe in Jesus Christ because of our own convictions and not our families, then we never fully mature and get to experience what it means to have your own faith. As we grow in our relationships, we will all go through doubt, but it is in these seasons that we often grow the most.
Hopefully, you can relate your situation to at least one of my friends; but even if you can’t, keep them in mind. There are pieces that probably fit into your life now, and maybe down the road they can help you out with another friend. Up next you will find some of my favorite Scriptures and the words that have guided me while helping a friend who is doubting.
Sometimes we can get really overwhelmed when a friend close to you starts to doubt, but take a breath. Don’t let things get bigger in your head than they really are. Doubt isn’t a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to grow and learn more. Sometimes we become stagnant in our faith without realizing it; and when we begin to doubt, we end up spending more time in God’s word and in prayer than we did before!
This passage is a great insight into how Jesus dealt with a father who admitted he really didn’t have enough faith – he still doubted what Jesus could do with his son. Imagine how the father’s doubt changed after this encounter with the power of Jesus!
Dear God, guide me as I walk through life today. Grant me your wisdom and words to speak to those around me that I love. Help me to see into the hearts of people, to understand them and know in my heart the things they are going through. Help me to follow your example, to be patient and to act in love always; but above all else, may I act according to your will and because of the strength you have given me. Guide me always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Know that you are not alone and prepare yourself for the next time one of your friends comes to you struggling with doubt. Or you may have a doubter in your life that is pretty antagonistic about it – always attacking those who do believe. God has left us with two amazing things. The first is his Holy Spirit that guides us each day and the second is his Word. We can use both of these things to encourage those struggling in our lives. Remember that doubt is a natural part of life, and it is an opportunity to grow. Open up your Bible. Right now. Spend some time looking for accounts of people who struggled with doubt in the Bible. If you don’t know where to start…Google it. Some stuff won’t be helpful, but other things will be. Stick to Scripture though. The challenge is for you to read it, to translate it to your own life and prepare yourself for helping friends who will seek you out in doubt.
Know that you are not alone. Doubt can really get to us and to those around us sometimes. But check out this song. Listen to the words and watch the video carefully. It’s a catchy song even if it may not be your style. See what you learn.
Matthew 15:1-9 – Here we see the Pharisees asking Jesus questions, trying to trip him up. They appeared to be asking questions to better understand, but their motives were not pure.
John 20:24-29 – Jesus had patience with those who were struggling. With compassion gave a doubting disciple an opportunity to better understand.
Luke 4:1-13 – Even Jesus himself was faced with challenges, but as we can see from these verses, he did not face them alone. He was filled with the Holy Spirit!
Sometimes…we think we are being helpful when really we are not. It happens. Good intentions fall short. That’s okay! But try to know when you’re not actually helping your friend who is struggling. Maybe they need something different from you or maybe they just need a little space for now. When in doubt, just ask. Check out this funny clip from Surfs Up.
Check out this clip from Up in the Air. It’s a great example of letting things get blown out of proportion. Watch how Clooney handles the situation. How does he encourage him, what truth does he share?
Sometimes doubt finds us because of all the hurt in the world. Maybe you have been thrown into doubt because of a news report you heard, sirens going off, a friend losing their Mom or Dad (see Losing a Parent topic). Even when we or our friends doubt, we can find comfort in the fact that God is our refuge. He is the one who looks out for us and protects us and because of that we praise him.
Now take some time to reflect on this passage. See what God has to share with you.
Check out this funny clip from Meet the Parents. The boyfriend has just stumbled upon the father’s secret room with all his spy gear and somehow, the boyfriend gets hooked up to a polygraph machine and begins to be questioned.