By Brian Tipton | April 5, 2008
I once talked to a woman who had quit praying. She told me that she used to pray fervently and believed that God heard her prayers since He had answered them many times. Her faith was simple (and this is not meant to be derogatory) in that she believed that God did indeed answer prayers. But then, God quit answering her prayers. As more of her prayers went unanswered, her doubts about God grew and grew until finally, one day, she quit praying.
She had a problem with doubt and with faith. These two concepts are really part and parcel of the same thing, two sides of the same coin. Doubt and faith are jarring when juxtaposed like this; these two words form the quintessential problem of Christianity. Why does God not live up to our expectations? On the one hand, we desire to have faith and to have it grow. Faith grows based on experienced relationship with the triune God. As God keeps his promises our faith increases. But on the other hand, as God lets us down, our faith is weakened by doubt. In the middle of both of these outcomes is prayer.
Now I will be very honest with you. When I falter and my doubts increase, I quit praying. I mean, why bother? If God is not going to honor his commitment to me, why should I honor my commitment to Him? This is the way many people handle their personal commitments to one another; it is no wonder it shows up in our relationship with God.
Take a couple who is in crisis. Let’s suppose that the husband has violated some major expectation of his wife. No adultery or infidelity, but what he did or thought or did not do shook her to the core because she had assumed that her husband would behave a certain way. When he did not, the relationship was strained and its future called into question. As a result, she quits talking to him. Many such relationships end in divorce. The only way to prevent the relationship from dissolving in divorce is to keep talking and work it out.
In a human relationship, there are two, fallible people. One or both could have contributed to the degradation in the relationship. Her expectation could have been valid and he failed to live up to it. More often than not, her expectation was invalid; he could never live up to it or should never have been expected to live up to it. Once they begin talking, perhaps with the help of a third party, this can be overcome and the relationship healed.
When I quit praying it is because God did not live up to my expectations. So, I get mad and quit talking. After a while, though, I realize that God could not make a mistake or do something wrong–he is God, right? Even though I do not yet know why God did what he did or allowed to happen what God allowed to happen, I know that I will never know if I do not keep talking to Him. When I start praying again, I am angry and hurt and I let God know that. I let God know that on the one hand I believe he is God and is perfect and Holy, but on the other hand I have doubts because of whatever has happened.
I wish I could tell you that after a couple of days he gives me an answer. Most of the time he does not let me know why what happened happened. He does remind me that he loves me and that one day all things will be made right. I just have to decide whether I really believe God loves me or not.
So I keep praying.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. (Luke 18:1)
If the way to keep our relationship with our spouse healthy is to keep the lines of communication open, then the way to keep our relationship with God healthy is much the same. That requires prayer.
The only way back to faith from doubt is to pray through the doubt back to faith.