What doubts about God the Father do you have? These are undermining your faith, and today we’re going to find a way to overcome them.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matthew 13:57-58 NIV)
What if you lived in Nazareth when Jesus came into town after he had become famous for his healing and preaching ministry?
Matthew 13:54-58 shows the disbelief of people who thought they knew Jesus but their preconceptions interfered with their faith. “He’s just the carpenter’s son,” someone said in disgust. “Who does he think he is?”
Joseph had passed away long ago, and still they describe Jesus as “the carpenter’s son”. Was Jesus so unnoticeable as a carpenter in his own name that he hadn’t even earned a good reputation as a business owner?
Nazareth was a small town. Everyone knew each other. Why were his neighbors so surprised at his wisdom when he gave a teaching in the synagogue? Had he been just a quiet, unappealing young man before the Holy Spirit filled him at his baptism? It’s hard to imagine Jesus as someone who was “just” so ordinary that no one expected greatness from him.
“And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (verse 58).
Imagine that it’s a few months prior to this scene, and you are traveling outside of Nazareth to visit a relative in Capernaum. During your visit, you hear that Jesus has been preaching on a nearby hillside. Your relatives and their friends tell you about healings they had experienced, and you see the evidence. You know they are not lying or exaggerating. So you go to the hillside to see this Jesus for yourself, and when he teaches, you notice that he speaks with authority. You can sense love and truth behind his words.
Then you return home to Nazareth. You tell your neighbors what you had witnessed in Capernaum. But they don’t believe you. In fact, they scoff at you for falling prey to superstitious nonsense.
“Don’t you remember playing with Jesus when he was a little boy?” they ask. “He’s no different than you and me. And remember how ordinary he was, learning the carpentry business from his father Joseph’s side? And what about that time you asked him for a favor and he walked away?”
How would their disbelief affect your beliefs? Do the doubts of others ever undermine your faith?
The influence of spiritual prejudices
So far in this book, we’ve been digging up the misconceptions we have about Abba-Father that originated in human failures. Now let’s look at preconceptions. Preconceptions originate in prejudices that we’ve been influenced to believe. How affected are you by spiritual prejudices?
Let’s continue with our Nazareth story to find out.
Imagine that Jesus arrives in Nazareth and you rush out to see him because you’re sure that he’s going to work miracles like you had witnessed in Capernaum (there’s one preconception). But nothing supernatural happens (reality has contradicted your preconception). You hear a rumor that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (see Mark 6:5), but you hadn’t witnessed this yourself. How do you feel about Jesus now? Did the clash between preconception and reality confuse you? Do you feel angry? Disappointed?
How do you feel now about the conversations you had when you returned home from Capernaum and told people about Jesus? Do you feel embarrassed? Belittled? Inferior? Wrong? Are you doubting yourself?
Jesus is walking down the street, passing by shops, probably on his way to the town well. It’s a busy place. Will you go to Jesus and ask him for an answer to your prayers? Or will you shy away, afraid that the townspeople will scoff at you again. Do you even believe that he will give you what you ask for? Or has your confidence in him changed?
Look, there goes a crippled man who’s brave enough to approach Jesus. Hope exhilarates you, because now you and your neighbors will see proof that Jesus really does do miracles! But no, what’s this? The man is arguing with Jesus, and Jesus turns away from him. Jesus looks sad. Surely it’s because he’s unhappy about the man’s condition. So why is he walking away from him? Apparently, Jesus doesn’t really care about him. This would explain why people are rejecting him.
Today, all of us have sought help from Jesus without getting it. If Jesus could walk away from a crippled man, why would he answer your prayers? Isn’t that one of the reasons why you struggle with doubts?
The world says that Jesus is not divine. Many of those who do believe in his divinity proceed to live as if God doesn’t really care. It seems like he sees our pain and walks away. The alternative is more disturbing: He sees our pain and stays, but apparently he’s okay with our suffering, so he does nothing.
And if Jesus doesn’t care, then neither does the Father who sent him.
We know that this is not right, but we struggle with it. We too readily conclude (in our hearts and in our actions if not also in our thoughts) that when our prayers are not answered, it’s because God doesn’t care. Or he doesn’t care enough. Every disappointment, every long waiting, every novena and marathon of prayers reinforces that God’s caring only goes so far as to say, “It’s better for you if you don’t get what you’re asking for.” He’s the stern father who makes us mow the lawn in the hot sun when our friends are inviting us to go to swimming in their refreshing, crystal clear pool.
Charmaine knows that it’s important to balance our lives. She learned to alleviate her sufferings with laughter and singing along with songs on the radio and even dancing to the rhythm of the music. But eventually, everything became too serious. She wondered: “How do I have fun without feeling guilty, without thinking that something bad will happen after?”
Her questions are rooted in doubts about the true nature of Abba-Father. She explains: “It is so difficult for me to totally trust him, to surrender all to him. You see, I was called names as a child by my siblings and cannot remember ever being defended by either parent.” Their lack of concern was reinforced by the many wrong messages of her father’s alcoholism and abusiveness.
This translated into doubts about God: “I did not trust him completely. I could not believe in his goodness. Something bad must happen. I believed that he said one thing but would do another, especially when bad things would happen.”
Developing a personal relationship with God has not come easy for her. She says, “By his grace I am developing one. There are lots of things I have to let go of: my pride, my will, self-righteousness, impatience, and feeling that I am running out of time and I must change now. I never blamed God for the things that went wrong in my life. I believed that the faults were all mine and thus I had to fix me.”
We all need to work on overcoming our sinful tendencies, day by day, until the end of our earthly lives, as part of growing closer to Abba-Father. However, did you catch the contradiction in her statements of belief? This contradiction is a clue to where she needs to focus her healing.
“By God’s grace…”, she said, and then, “I have to fix me.”
What is God’s grace? It’s the gift of his activity intervening in our troubles. A gift! We cannot earn grace. We receive it. When we meditate on God’s concern for us, we open ourselves to his grace. Our self-improvement needs to be done in partnership with Abba-Father. Our desire to be holy needs to be tied to his desire to bless us. And because of that desire, he gave us the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who changes us (after we’ve given him permission to do so). He needs only our cooperation and determination to improve.
Charmaine wanted to know: “How do I have fun without feeling guilty, without thinking that something bad will happen after?” Let’s look at these two common misconceptions separately.
The suspicion that something bad will always follow happy times is best handled by overcoming fear, as prescribed in the previous chapter. The fear that good times turn into bad times is common in families that have suffered abuse. If you have this fear, go back to Exercise #2 of Day 6 and do it again for this fear.
The guilty feeling that comes from having fun is cured by understanding the fun-loving nature of our Father.
Did your human dad (or father substitute) play games with you? This question has two connotations: (1) emotional games such as “I’ll reward you with my love and attention after you finish your homework, and better yet, after you get an A+ on the exam”, and (2) fun games such as sports, cards, board games, video games, and swimming in a refreshing, crystal clear pool.
Trust is built when people play fun games together. The camaraderie of it forges a bond like nothing else can.
For our trust in Abba-Father to deepen, we need to discover that he knows how to have fun. He’s the Daddy who says the lawn can wait and then he drives us to the swimming pool and splashes in the water with us.
Have you noticed the activities of this fun-loving God in your life?
It’s an accurate image of God the Father. Who do you think invented fun? God, of course! He designed his children to have a playful spirit.
One of my favorite activities for relaxation and restoration is boating. When the dolphins play — and they definitely have a spirit of fun — alongside our boat, it’s a gift from Abba’s playfulness. When the seagulls follow us, gliding on the air above the wake behind the boat, they’re hungry and they’re watching for lunch to splash up from the churned water. And it’s fun to watch. Abba called those birds over to our boat.
When we owned our own boat, Ralph often joked that, when we’re on the water, I’m a storm magnet. We’ve been caught in the rain and thunder and lightning too many times, but God has always kept us safe.
It’s an exciting adventure when you know that you’re doing it with a fun-loving Abba.
One of my favorite memories is only a favorite because of how funny it was. We were boating on the far side of Tampa Bay when a severe storm formed. The squall line between us and home port was too dangerous to pass through, so we headed for the nearest dock to tie up to so we could ride out the winds and torrential rains in safety.
However, the dock belonged to a wealthy man who came running up to us, getting drenched by the rain. He was worried, I guess, that we were going to damage his dock. After we showed him how well we had secured the lines, he invited us to come into his house. Wow, how hospitable! we thought. As it turned out, he only wanted to keep a close eye on us. He ushered us into a room directly off his patio. He gave us a couple of towels, turned the television on to a continual weather report, and sat there quietly watching it as we waited for the storm to pass. I thought it was hilarious that he should think that Ralph and I might be thieves.
Since he was not interested in conversation, he never learned what kind of people we really are. He remained clueless about us, but God knew us and God still laughs with me whenever I think about this story.
Today’s Exercise, Part 1:
Charmaine discovered that Father God “has the heartiest, most robust laugh ever.” When he rejoices, he really rejoices!
What funny stories do you have from your own life? Write down a few words that identify each incident (for example, “the rich man’s dock incident”).Where is God in these stories? Identify his presence in them and then imagine the two of you laughing together.
* * *
Abba wants to relieve your suffering
God designed us to enjoy life. A corollary truth is: He designed us to understand that relief from suffering is important. This is who he is. He is a healer, not a destroyer. He is no sadist. He enjoys life and he enjoys sharing his joy with us. While it’s true that Jesus spoke about carrying crosses, and it’s true that our agonies unite us to Jesus, and it’s true that hardships can lead to important lessons and purifications, Father God does not enjoy watching us suffer. He rejoices when our pain is healed.
For many years I suffered the rejection of someone who is very important to me. I lifted him up to the Lord every day during my morning prayers. In church, I offered up the Mass for him and prayed for our reconciliation. Countless friends prayed the Rosary for him and remembered us in their daily prayers. We all knew that God was bigger than the problems that divided us. And yet, two decades passed and the rejection remained as deep and divisive as ever.
Sometimes I wondered if all those prayers made any difference: What would happen if I stopped interceding for him? But the pain in my heart wouldn’t let me quit. Daily this precious soul needed to be lifted up to the Lord, so I faithfully continued to pray and hope and wait and endure the pain of rejection.
One year on his birthday, I asked God to give me a sign that the prayers made a difference. Immediately, Abba my Divine Doting Daddy began to minister to me. He didn’t reassure me that the end of the suffering would soon come, though I had very much hoped he would. But he did relieve my suffering by filling me with an awareness of how dear I am to him. He reassured me of his love for me (even though I was not doubting this). And he let me know that he appreciates my sacrifice.
You see, at the root of the rejection was my passion for serving the Lord. The devil hates me and wishes to retaliate against my ministry. Because he could not stop me from making a difference for the kingdom of God, he found an opportunity to hurt me through the rejection of a loved one. For a season I even heard the whispered lie, “If you shut down Good News Ministries, I will release my hold on this person.” Of course, this only drove me to serve the Lord with more passion.
The passion to remain in Christ does not remove the sting of being rejected. But Abba-Father compensates for that. Whatever the cause of your suffering, remember this: the Father is doting on you. He is right now reassuring you of his unrelenting love. He is appreciating the sacrifices you have made.
However, it can be difficult to feel God’s appreciation. This is not because he’s ignoring us. It’s because we don’t believe it. Where does this doubt come from?
Sometimes it comes from our misunderstanding about humility and pride. It’s prideful to think about how wonderful we are, right? But Abba-Father is telling you right now what is wonderful about you. Can you hear him? Or is “humility” interfering?
True humility recognizes that God knows us so well that he even knows what is wonderful about us. True humility recognizes that our wonderfulness comes from God himself. We were made in his image. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to grow in holiness and overcome the sins that hide our wonderfulness. True humility accepts these truths as we rely on his help.
What else causes you to doubt? Disbelief in the goodness of God? How about someone else’s disbelief in your goodness? Let neither self-focus nor self-abasement keep you from receiving and enjoying the appreciation that God is giving you. Sometimes he cannot (yet) reassure us that our prayers will be answered, but he can and does reassure us that he cares very much about how we feel.
Today’s Exercise, Part 2:
Be reassured that God cares about your concerns
Abba-Father designed us to enjoy doing works that serve as an outlet for the gifts and talents he’s given us. Are you fulfilled in your work? He also designed into us the desire to earn enough to take good care of our families. If we have financial problems, it’s not because God doesn’t care. Perhaps he’s teaching us to get our priorities right. Have we purchased more than we should because the world has made it seem good to keep buying new, bigger, and better? Or perhaps it’s the injustices of others that have caused our problems. Have we forgiven them? And have we asked Abba-Father to show us the hidden blessings that he has provided?
What are the unanswered prayers you have? What are you concerned about? Take time now to list the biggest concerns you have. Then think about: “Why am I so concerned about these?”
* * *
Next, focus in on this answer: “Because I care.” Where do you think this concern came from? God, of course! When we care about others and we want to see a problem get resolved, we are sharing in God’s true nature.
Since this is how God designed you, of course he wants to make a difference in everything that you’re concerned about. Your loving concern is union with his compassion. This union is itself a form of prayer. In fact, it’s a mutual communication of what God wants to do.
Can we care too much and maybe even get in the way of God’s work? In truth, there is no such thing as caring “too much”. Ask this: Is it possible for God to care too much? I’ve never heard anyone complain that he cares too much. If we care so much that it hurts, we are joining Jesus in his Passion when he cared so much that he suffered excruciating pain and died for us.
Yes, caring “too much” can get in the way of God’s work, but only if we take matters into our own hands in order to stop the suffering of our passion. Or if we reject the relief that God offers because we want things to turn out differently.
He wants to answer all of our prayers and relieve all of our concerns, but usually not as fast as we want him to. He waits on the free will cooperation of everyone who’s involved. He wants the best for everyone. So, he’s already working a plan (a plan for good, not disaster — see Jeremiah 29:11) and in the meantime he’s already doing more than we can ask for or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20). A good prayer life with quiet meditation time makes it clear what this “more” while we wait.
What have you learned while waiting? What blessings have come from the wait? What have you become stronger in? And what about those who have been delaying God’s plan? What have they become stronger in?
Today’s Exercise, Part 3:
Finding proof that God cares
Next, take the list of your concerns, which you wrote about in part 2 of today’s exercise. This time re-write them into sentences thanking God that he is concerned. Use the following sentence-starter, replacing the name “Abba-Father” with whichever name for him that you like:
Thank you, Abba-Father, for being concerned about ________.
* * *
The importance of good friends who have strong faith
Most of us live in Nazareth. Our whole society is a Nazareth. To fully believe that Jesus is showing us that Abba-Father cares, we need to find other faith-filled believers and spend a lot of time with them. To have unquestionable trust in Abba’s helpfulness, we need to gather with them in prayer groups and volunteer work and social get-togethers.
Let’s return to Capernaum. This time, imagine that you’re with Jairus, the synagogue leader. His daughter has just died, but Jesus tells him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe! She will be healed.”
When you and Jairus arrive with Jesus at his house, he chases out the neighbors and relatives who are wailing and mourning. Notice how he reacts to their scoffing. “Stop wailing,” Jesus tells them. “She is not dead but asleep.” Of course they don’t believe him. They mock him. Everyone knows the girl is cold dead.
Jesus does not let anyone enter into the house with him except Peter, John and James, and Jairus and his wife, and you. After Jesus closes the door and the disbelievers are shut out, you look hopefully at this amazingly confident man. You cannot hear the wailing any more. You can only hear the breathing of each person in the room. Nothing is distracting you from noticing the love on the face of Jesus. And the peace. And his tender smile as he reaches for the dead girl’s hand and says, “My child, get up!”
She stirs. Her spirit returns to her body and she pops up off the bed. She glances quickly at the strangers and announces to her parents, “What’s there to eat around here? I’m starving.” (See Luke 8:40-56.)
To stop doubting that Abba-Father cares about your concerns, we need to leave Nazareth, pass through Capernaum, and move to Bethany. Here is where the closest friends of Jesus will become our friends. Bethany is where Jesus raised one of his friends from the dead.
Bethany can be any of the “hot spots” around the globe where miracles are common. Hot spots are locations where the Holy Spirit’s fire is vibrantly active because whole communities of believers meet regularly to feed their faith and help each other overcome doubts. Join them online if that’s the only way you can do it. In person is better.
The larger the group of faith-filled believers that surround us, the easier it is to feel the presence of Abba-Father ministering to us, speaking to us, and embracing us. Hopefully your church community is full of believers who are alive in the faith. Worshiping with them should be an experience that makes connecting to God a supernatural reality. This is the way God designed church to be; read the Book of Acts.
Unfortunately, in-person, Spirit-filled prayer groups are not always possible.
What do we do then? How do we reach the level of faith where we know, always and under all circumstances, that Abba-Father cares?
We can travel to Bethany spiritually. It’s important that we seek out friends who want the same level of faith or have already achieved it. We create a Bethany with them. The worldly people we associate with will drag us down and take our eyes off of God. They are incapable of strengthening our faith. The same is true for Christians who are weak and disinterested in faith growth. However, finding our Bethany friends and building good relationship with them will require giving up personal agendas and normal activities if they interfere with spending time with our Bethany friends. This is not easy, but it’s a lot easier than trying to reach higher levels of faith by ourselves.
In the experiences of Bethany friendships, our confidence grows. Doubts give way to increased trust. Insecurities about Abba’s love disappear under the compassionate guidance of friends who have already overcome similar doubts.
Meanwhile, there is something very helpful that you can do alone. Pray:
Holy Spirit, teach me the truth.
Lord Jesus, deliver me from the doubts and false teachings of the world.
Abba-Father, I cannot escape from them on my own. Carry me.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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