Struggling with Disappointment and Doubt | Luke 1:8-23


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:8–23

The singing season of Christmas begins in the silence of a childless home. It becomes even quieter with the doubts of Zechariah.

While Zechariah is offering incense to God in the temple, an angel appears to him and tells him that he and Elizabeth will soon give birth to a son to be named John. According to the angel, this son “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (verse 17).

The angel’s words allude to Malachi 4:5–6, which foretells the ministry of a prophet “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” John is that prophet. (And Jesus Christ is the Lord!)

You might think that the angel’s good news would fill Zechariah with joy. Instead, when the angel appears, Zechariah is “gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12). This seems to be the natural reaction of human beings to heavenly beings (see Luke 1:29–30 and 2:9–10, for example). But Zechariah’s fear gives way to doubt. Here’s how Luke describes Zechariah’s reaction to the angel’s message: “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’”

Have you ever struggled with disappointment and doubt? Have you ever wished that God would part the clouds and send a message directly to you, to comfort you in your situation? Many of us seem to think that we would have more faith in God if only He were a bit more forthcoming about His existence and plan for our lives.

Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel dispels such illusions. Through Gabriel, God spoke directly to Zechariah. He spoke directly to the issue of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s childlessness. He offered hope not only to them, but to all Israel (and to us as well). But Zechariah doubted anyway. And so, the angel struck him silent.

Why did Zechariah doubt? Because he put greater faith in earthly realities than in heavenly revelation. He trusted his experience more than God’s message. He believed that childlessness was his lot in life, even when an angel from heaven told him otherwise. Reason told him that he and his wife could not have a son, but reason did not factor God into the equation and so became irrational.

God speaks good news to us as well. Let us believe his Word, so that our silent fears and doubts may give way to joyful song.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

The Songs of Christmas, Part 1

 

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • We publish our Q&A with Preston Ulmer, lead pastor of Doubters Church in Denver, Colorado. I like this quote especially: “When I was in college, serious doubts about my faith drove me into depression and anxiety. After having a season of doubt and leaving the faith personally, I found someone willing to disciple me, patiently helping me reconstruct my faith. Through the seeking and doubt, I returned to the faith and found God to be an unchanging God who I could commit to even in the face of uncertainty.” Isn’t it amazing how God uses our personal experiences–whether good or bad–to shape our ministry to others?
  • Chris Railey asks whether experiential is the new contemporary: “Emerging generations don’t want to sit and listen; they want to participate and experience, and this in many ways is the essence of Pentecostalism.” Amen to that!

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Wednesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Karen Huber offers advice about how pastors can make sure their kids don’t run second to their ministries.
  • Yours truly reviews Multipliers (rev. ed.) by Liz Wiseman. Although this is a secular business book, I think it has application to church and nonprofit ministry contexts.
  • We note a Barna study indicating that 1 in 4 pastors struggle with doubt, especially early in their ministries.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’ by Anthony C. Thiselton


Anthony C. Thiselton’s Doubt, Faith, and Certainty is not a practical book. It does not teach Christians how to overcome their doubts, increase their faith and achieve certainty. Instead, it examines the definitions of each of those three terms, painting a complex, nuanced portrait of them using the colors of Scripture, theology and philosophy.

The author is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England. He is best known for his books on hermeneutics or interpretation, especially The Two Horizons. In addition to his hermeneutics books, he has published New Testament commentaries and several volumes on theological topics.

Thiselton opens the book by noting, “It is a practical disaster that in popular thought some view all doubt as a sign of weakness and lack of faith; while others, by contrast, extol doubt as always a sign of mature, sophisticated reflection.” Something similar could be said of the terms faith and certainty. By contrast, Thiselton’s “simple message” in this book is that “none of these terms has a uniform meaning, or has a uniform function in life. They have a variety of meanings.”

Doubt, Faith, and Certainty’s purpose is to tease out their various meanings and functions. While defining terms is not, in and of itself, a practical enterprise, Thiselton states that it nevertheless constitutes “an immensely practical and potentially liberating pastoral and intellectual issue.” Read the book for yourself to see whether and how that’s true.

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Book Reviewed: Anthony C. Thiselton, Doubt, Faith, and Certainty (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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