“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
– James 1:5-8
Have a go at finishing this sentence: “when in doubt….” You’ll have heard it before—it’s a standard construction for pithy epigrams the world over. The problem is that you’ll also have probably heard a dozen or more variations on the theme, some of which are certain to contradict one another: and there are dozens and dozens more, and more being coined every day. Non-President of the United States Benjamin Franklin said, “when in doubt, don’t,” while the nineteenth century’s great legal mind Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr. said, “when in doubt, do it.” Mark Twain suggested telling the truth, Robert Merrill singing loud, and Jim Rogers going public: a favorite has to be Raymond Chandler’s sage advice (presumably limited to the realm of pulp fiction), “when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
It would seem that, while the occurrence of doubt is a perennial problem, no one can agree on what one should do (or not do) when it occurs. It’s typical of the kind of negativity involved that doubt engenders such panicky ‘fight or flight’ style responses, and also typical that uncertainty follows doubt around like a hungry kitten, because doubt is a pervasive, cancerous thing. Although it seems as though doubt is passive, internalized within us, when we give in to doubt and second-guess ourselves we actively participate in our own downfall. Letting doubt sow seeds within us is an exercise in neutralizing any kind of agency and power we have, and continuing to think that doubt is something that happens to us (rather than something we do to ourselves) only makes it worse.
It’s not like surrender isn’t an option, however. What matters is who you yield to and how—and there’s a world of difference between abdicating responsibility and self-control to negative emotion and feeling, and allowing the King of Kings and Lord of Hosts to assume His place at the head of your table. In fact, completely surrendering to the Father’s majesty is a vital part of clawing back responsibility for our own lives: that sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s perfectly true. If we’re going to yield to anything, it should be to the passion and loving-kindness of an awesome God who has nothing but our best interests at heart. Showing vulnerability to majesty isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and devotion. Where giving in to doubt and fear allows you to fall prey to debilitating sicknesses of the heart and soul, stepping back in favor of God’s favor is an upgrade in everything that we are and everything that we do. It provides focus, which in turn allows an influx of stamina, power and influence from the Lord.
Spiritual focus is a threefold thing: a point between the Father, ourselves and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. We urgently need His perspective on us and on our situation: both His thinking, and His language, because how we express a thought is just as important as the thought itself. Once we’re capable of assuming that focal point, we become properly adjusted. We become who we’re intended to be in that situation, and in God. That focal point—that stance—takes us to a new place of fellowship with Him.
Paul perfectly exemplifies that focal point in 2 Timothy 1:12: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day.” Now that’s a stance! In this case, Paul was experiencing his final days. The book of 2 Timothy reads like a spiritual mission statement in many ways—appropriate from the early Christian church’s preeminent missionary—because he didn’t have long to live, and had accepted that fate as inevitable. In his circumstances, in anticipating his own death, Paul chose to take a position that allowed no provision whatsoever for doubt, for dismay or any revision of the tenets of his life that he’d lived by since that day on the road to Damascus. And while the words he chose with the help of the Father are fantastic, they really boil down to two small sentences. I know, and I am persuaded. Focus makes us categorical. In language, focus can make us economical, and yet poetical. That’s the language of the Lord.
In so many ways, our lives are determined by the level of engagement that we have with the Spirit, and with the heart of God. The fellowship that we experience protects us from the wind of circumstance, as the arm of the Father around our shoulder protects us from a chilly breeze. Without that shelter, we experience life through our circumstances: through the events that occur to and around us, and how they’re perceived on the level of the world. We are the surf, whipped up into a storm: we can be the ocean, untouched by the winds as little as a few meters beneath the surface, and for miles further below.
That being the case, it can work the other way around too: when things seem like they’re getting on top of us, it’s the perfect indication that we need to reinvest ourselves in fellowship. When we sense that we’ve lost focus, we need to refocus.
Our language and our mindset is upgraded along with our relationship, and along with our focus on what’s important: advanced to a higher level. In turn, it enables thanksgiving, allows a solid foundation for faith, and therefore trust. In focus, we count all things joy because we’re governed by a perspective that elevates our mindset in alignment with what God is thinking. We have a renewed stance in our circumstances: a certainty principle that we can base our entire lives around.