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How to Face the Future In Times of Doubt, Part 1

From the series Facing The Future with Confidence

Have you ever experienced times of doubt, where you faced overwhelming circumstances and found it difficult to trust God to help you? Chip provides a sure-fire antidote to apply during these times of doubt. It’s designed to bring you hope and restore your faith.

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Message Transcript

We are in a series called Facing the Future with Confidence. And there’s a study handout, why don’t you go ahead and pull that out. And as you do, I want to tell you a story. For many of you, it’s going to be a very familiar story. But for those of us that didn’t grow up in the Church, it is a wild, ancient, true story. And it has just been one where the lights came on the first time I read it. Because everyone struggles with doubt now and then.

In family and school and marriage and kids and aging parents and cancer and there’s doubt about, God, will You be there for me? Will You give me what I need? Can I make it through this?

And the way to counteract doubt is something that it took me the first ten or twelve years of my Christian life to learn. So, Why don’t you lean back, and relax, and what I’d like you to do, as much as possible, is pretend you were there. I’d like to read an ancient story, historically true. It’s about a man named Jehoshaphat. And I’ll give you the skinny on the story. He’s a king of Israel, actually, of Judah, and a vast army comes against him – and many of you, from your background, you heard this in Sunday school. I didn’t hear this growing up.

And it’s overwhelming odds: twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, to one. There is no way.

He calls his friends together, calls all the people – and a little later, you’ll see they bring their wives and their little ones, and they hold the infants in their arms. And he calls a fast, and they pray, and they fast, and they seek the Lord.

And as they come together, this is Jehoshaphat’s prayer: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You. O, our God, did not You drive out the inhabitants of the land before Your people Israel and give it forever for the descendants of Abraham, Your friend? They have lived in it and they have built in it a sanctuary for Your Name, saying, ‘Certainly if something negative comes upon us, judgment, or sword or famine,’” he says, “will we not stand and come before You in Your presence in this temple that bears Your name and will cry out to You in our distress, and will You not hear us and save us?’”

He said, Lord, the world’s falling apart, and we don’t have any hope. And aren’t You the one that gave it to us? Isn’t this about You? And didn’t You say that, if we ever got to this kind of a point – that if we were desperate, and came to this place, and cried out –You would deliver? “But now here are men from Ammon, and Moab, and Mount Seir, whose territory You wouldn’t allow us to invade when we came from Egypt.” And he goes on and talks about where they’re at, and how they got there. And then, he says, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Anybody here thinking to yourself, Boy, I don’t know what to do? But you turn off the TV and go in the bedroom, “My eyes are upon You.” We are living in radical days. What’s going to happen?

I don’t know. But it raises a big question: Is God going to be there for you? Is He going to be there for me? He ended praying, and then, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon a prophet, Jahaziel, who’s a son of Zechariah, and he stood up, and he said, ‘Listen, God has spoken, and King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem, this is what the Lord says to you: “Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. Don’t be afraid or discouraged because things look impossible, difficult, overwhelming, uncertain. For the battle’s not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow”’” – and then, he gives them instructions – “I want you to march down, and I want you to go to a certain place, at a certain time, because that’s where the enemy will be. And this is what you’ll do, and God will take care of it.”

And so, the next day they get up, and he pulls the people together, and listen to Jehoshaphat. Now, be a regular person here, okay? Don’t be a Bible story person. One of your brothers, or a cousin, went out and looked at the army, and he comes back, and he says, “We’re going to march out, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, how many are there?” “A lot.”

And then, over coffee, before you head out for this big battle, in your heart of hearts you say to one of your friends, “You think we got a chance?” And he says, “We don’t have a prayer. I hope this Jahaziel guy is right, because I’m telling you, we’re dead meat.”

Isn’t that how real people live? And so, Jehoshaphat senses that and people go out. Now, listen to what he says when he gathers the people. He says, “Listen to me Judah and people of Jerusalem. Have faith in the Lord your God. Have faith in the Lord your God, and He will uphold you. Have faith in His prophets and you’ll be successful. And then, after consulting all the people, he appointed men, and he had them lead before the Lord. And they began to praise God for the splendor of His holiness, in song, as they went out ahead of the army.”

How would you like to be in that choir? “Here, we’ve got a game plan. We’re not going to fight. You guys get ahead of us. God’s made some great promises. You guys start singing. We hope it goes well.” And here’s what they sang, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.”

And then, notice verse 22, if you happen to ever be in 2 Chronicles 20: “At that moment,” or, “as they began to sing and praise the Lord, God set an ambush against the men of Ammon, and Moab, and Mount Seir, who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”

I want to make an observation that everybody – no matter how godly you are, how well you know God – has times of doubt. If you don’t have a few doubts floating in your mind about the future of the world, or the future of your world, I would question whether you’re aware of what’s going on. And you know, some of the strongest disciples had doubts. But the question is not: do you have doubts, and do you wonder, but how do you deal with it?

Do you doubt that God will lead you in a big decision for the future? Do some of you, in light of what’s going on – do you have doubts about your financial future? Do some of you have a marriage, or a child, or a family situation, and you really doubt God’s going to come through for you?

Or is it more personal? Do some of you doubt, honestly doubt, maybe you’re struggling with an area of temptation, or sin, and you really want to do what God wants you to do, but down deep, you just don’t think God’s going to give you what you need to ever conquer that.

1988, is I experienced the three greatest doubts of my life – I’ll develop them a little bit later, but scenario number one, I’m on an evangelistic basketball team with a fellow named Tom Randall, and another friend named Glenn Miller. There are five of us in a Jeep. We pull up outside, a guard, and there are two young high school guys – about seventeen or eighteen – with submachine guns, guarding it. They’re anti-American, and they’re drunk. And they’re saying very anti-American things, and they’re angry at us.

And one guy with a submachine gun, pulls it right at me and Tom Randall, and a few guys, and I think, This is it. I’m going to die. And I doubted whether God would deliver me. And I’m praying, Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, help, help, help, help, help. And Tom said, “Let me handle this.” I said, “Brother it’s yours.” And he got out and started talking.

Later, the coach – Glenn Miller – would get completely dehydrated, and he would be lying on the side of a pool, hyperventilating. We get him to a hospital, if you could call it that. It was a gurney, with a sheet, and a dog laying in the corner, and there was a doctor. And they had glucose, but only glucose for an IV but no potassium. He said, “You can go into the city; it’s about fifty or sixty miles away. I don’t think he’ll live that long, but he might. Or you can go thirty miles the other direction. They might have an IV with potassium, but I’m not sure. You guys have to decide what to do.” And I doubted whether my friend would live.

And finally, when we got back to Manila, there was a coup – that happens in the Philippines a lot. And so, someone took over the government, and they said, “Everyone stays here for the next three or four months.” What? I had a wife, and four kids, whom I thought I was supposed to be back for soon. And I doubted God’s sovereignty, and I doubted – Why are You doing this to me? And, What’s going to happen to them? And what you’re going to see is that God lead me to do something that Glenn and I did on a number of trips.

On the long trips – we spent a couple of summers in South America – we would memorize a small book of the Bible: Philippians, James. But on a short trip, like this – ten to fourteen days – we would take a classic psalm or two and memorize it. I memorized Psalm 145. I didn’t know it was the classic psalm on praise. But through each one of my doubts, God took passages from Psalm 145, and I got to experience the same thing Jehoshaphat experienced.

And if you want to get the big idea of today, go ahead and look on the front of your notes: praise is the antidote to doubt. I do not understand it all, but praise is the antidote to doubt. When you doubt: is God going to come through for me? When you doubt about the future, and retirement, and one of your kids; when you doubt – what’s going to happen with terrorism, or, are my loved ones going to be safe? Are one of my kids going to die? When you have those feelings that overwhelm you of doubt about God, and the future, and His faithfulness, and His sovereignty, and His goodness, the antidote is praise.

Now, here’s a confession: I didn’t grow up in the Church, and so, I never opened this book until I was eighteen. When I started to learn how to pray, I learned quickly to share my needs, and cry out to God. And then, a little bit later, I learned to do intercessory prayer, because I thought, I’m getting something done. I’m asking God, based on His promises, to help this person, and that person, and this situation. And I saw God move. But my confession is, I was probably a Christian ten to twelve years before I ever understood the power of praise. I didn’t even know that story about Jehoshaphat was in there.

Do you ever wonder why that’s in here? Here’s an overwhelming situation, and God has a king get a choir to sing praises to His name, and, the moment the praises begin, a deliverance occurs. You think that was just thrown in there, like the Holy Spirit didn’t have anything to do that day and wanted to fill up 2 Chronicles? Had chapter 19 done, and chapter 21, and needed something to stick there, in 20? I don’t think so.

But here’s what I learned, also, about the average Christian is a lot of us don’t know how to praise. We know how to cry out for help. We know how to intercede. And my confession was, I didn’t know what biblical praise looked like.

And so, I want to help you learn how to praise God so that you can face your doubts in a way where God will break through in your experience exactly the same way He broke through in my experience in Manila and He broke through Jehoshaphat’s experience in Judah.

These are the very last words we hear of David. We’ll never hear any more from David. These are his last words recorded. And if you had time to study Psalm 145 carefully, I think emerging right out of the text would be four steps to biblical praise. Verses 1 and 2 give us step number one, which is: choose to praise God.

I’m going to suggest that praising God isn’t something that just happens when you feel like it, and when God does something great, and you automatically respond. That’s a good time. But I want to suggest that it is a choice. You need to choose to praise God. Verse 1, “I will exalt You My God the King; I will praise Your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever.” Do you get it?

Circle the little phrase, I will in verse 1, I will in the second half of verse 1, and then I will in verse 2. That’s not, “I feel like I’ll exalt you. I feel…” What is it? “I will” is a choice. When you feel low, when you feel troubled, when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like you can’t make it – that is the time to choose to praise God.

I had a great friend named Bill Carter. He had a very difficult medical situation that required – he had high blood pressure that put him in the danger zone. And he had medicine that, when he took the medicine, it brought his blood pressure down, but it caused severe depression. But because of other things, they couldn’t give him anything for the depression.

So, here’s a guy who’s living with feelings of depression all the time. And I remember, one day – he was an elder in the church, the first church I got to pastor – and he said, “Chip, I didn’t learn, until I battled with this, the power of praise.”  And he said, “Physiologically, actually,” he said, “I would go sometimes, I’d have to go out of my office, go into the car, and I would spend time in worship. And I would praise God, and praise God, and affirm His attributes, and worship Him. And as I would, the depression would lift. But,” he said, “I never felt like praising Him. It was a choice.”

Now, some of you may be thinking, Okay, it’s a choice, but how do you do it? Is there some mystical way of praising God that I don’t know about? The psalmist is going to teach us exactly how to praise Him, in verses 3 through 8. Step number two is: verbalize specific evidence of God’s greatness.

Here’s where you start – verse 3: “Great is the Lord; and most worthy of praise. His greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend Your works to another; they will tell of Your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of Your awesome works, and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They will celebrate” – or literally, the word is, are they will eagerly utter – “Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.”

Do you have a pen? Circle the following words, because I want to make an observation. In verse 4, circle the word commend. Then, go down, and circle the word tell. Below that, speak, meditate, tell, proclaim, celebrate, joyfully sing. What do these words have in common?

Every, single one of them has to do with verbalizing, verbalizing, verbalizing, saying, telling, proclaiming – what? He’s teaching us how to learn to praise. When you get up in the morning, and you can’t get going, and you know you want to choose to praise, and you don’t know what to do, you verbalize specific things. But what do you verbalize?

Look at the end of each sentence: the acts of God. Notice what it says – verse 4: “Your works,” “Your mighty acts,” “Your wonderful works,” “Your awesome works,” “Your great deeds,” “Your abundant goodness,” “Your righteousness.”

He starts and says, “Great is Yahweh. You’re most worthy of praise.” That’s the umbrella statement that everything comes under in this section. And then, he says, “Your greatness no one can fathom. But I want to get my arms around it.”

How do you get your arms around it? You remember, and think back on His mighty acts, His mighty deeds, the specific things that He has done. Seven different times those deeds are listed, and then, seven different times he tells, proclaims. You verbalize, or literally write down or proclaim the specific acts and deeds God has done in your past, or in His past with His people.

Have you ever noticed, when you read the Old Testament, when people were in a jam, they always go to the same place? Read the psalmist. He’s in a jam, he’s in a jam, he’s in a jam. What does he do? “I remember, Lord, when You brought us through the Red Sea!” Right? He always goes back to historical, specific events.

And this has been something that, for years, has been so helpful for me.

That’s why David, when he teaches us how to do biblical praise, he says it never gets dynamic until it gets specific. And the way to get specific is to list, and verbalize, and tell, and proclaim very specific things God’s done in your life.

I encourage you to go out, and grab a cup of coffee, and a napkin, and a pen, and write down specific things God has done in the last seven days. If you get stuck, go back to thirty days. Sit around the dining room table today, and say, okay, in the family, if you’re sitting with someone or with a friend, “Let’s talk about answers to prayer in the last month, the last year.” And start writing them down. And then, you look at them.

And that will lead you to the third step, and that’s: focus on God’s character, and adore Him.  His specific acts lead us to apprehend who He is. And that’s what praise is.

“Thanksgiving” is about giving thanks for specific things, deeds God has done. “Praise” is not the same as “thanksgiving.” “Praise” is a focus on the “who,” the worship of “who” has done it. “Thanksgiving” is on “what” He has done. But there’s a clear correlation.

Jot down, in the corner of your notes, Psalm 103, verse 7 – a great, great psalm. And right about verse 7, there’s a hinge verse: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” Very interesting. He remembers, he does biblical praise there: “Forget not all your benefits.” And then, verse 7: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” And then, he goes on to praise God for His character.

Can I just do a little aside here? Can we stop the car, on the notes? And can we have a little aside over here, and do a little review? Did the children of Israel see the Red Sea part – yes or no?  Like, are you with me today, or not? Did the children of Israel see the Red Sea part – yes or no? Did they see manna every morning – yes or no? Did they see water come out of the rock – yes or no? Did they see God deliver them, in miraculous ways, with a fire by night, and a cloud by day? Yes. Now how many of them ended up walking with God, out of that one point five or two million people, and believed Him and went on with God? Two. The acts of God will not sustain you.

There are so many of us in this room that we think, if that biopsy report would change, we would give God the glory, and everything would be okay. If we would just get a check in the mail, then everything would be okay. If we could just get a job, everything would be okay.

If one of our sons, or daughters, would come back to the Lord, then everything would be okay. I’ve got news for you! Thirty days from now, you would forget that. Now, do you want all that to happen? Sure. God’s acts will not sustain you. “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.”

Now, Moses – did he see the Red Sea part? Yeah. Did he see the cloud, the manna, the quail, the water from the rock? Yeah. But what was his prayer life like? Theirs was, “Gimme, gimme, gimme, more, more, more! What have You done for me lately?” That’s a lose translation of Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and a lot of Exodus.

What was Moses’ prayer? “Lord, show me Your glory. I want to know You. I don’t want to just see, out there, what You do. I want to know You. I want to know Your heart.” So much so, that, when God speaks of Moses, He says, “I speak to Moses as a friend to a friend, face to face.”

See, what praise does, it moves you from all these actions, and all these specifics. And then, you get to line them up, and see what God is doing. But they are all designed so you get to know who He is. And when you understand who He is for who He really is, then you adore. That’s what “praise” is. It’s adoration, admiration. It’s honoring. It’s exalting. It’s your focus on, and adoration for, the person, not just for what they do.

And so, what you’re going to see, from this section on is that from about verse 8, through verse 20, David is going to teach us: first, it’s a choice. Second, you verbalize specific things in order to make it dynamic, because it’s specific. And then, His deeds will lead you to His ways. And then, he will begin to highlight the ways of God, and he will praise Him for His goodness. Then, he’ll praise Him for His sovereignty. And then, he’ll praise Him for His faithfulness. Then, he’ll praise Him for His righteousness. And then, at the very end, he’ll invite others to join him in praise.

And when you learn to pray like that, in a time of doubt, by choice, by then listing, and then, worshipping God for who He is, what happens is – here’s why it works – your view of God explodes. And when you have a big God, you get small problems. But if all your focus and energy is on your problems, or if it’s on FOX, or CNN, and you saturate your mind with all that is wrong, and all that is difficult, then the size of your God shrinks, and you live with doubt and anxiety. Do you see the correlation?

So, let’s learn how to do it. Let’s learn how to praise Him for His goodness. He starts and says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all that He’s made.” He’s actually quoting, here, from Exodus 34:6. It’s a line that’s repeated, in classic places, all throughout the Bible. And he’s talking about God’s very character.

And His goodness is expressed in three primary ways: His grace, number one; second, His compassion – or some of your translations will say “mercy.” And then, this “slow to anger.” He’s rich in love, or hesed – lovingkindness, steadfast, loyal love.

Now, what I’ve learned over the years is that we throw grace, mercy, and loyal love around. Let’s define them, okay? What does it really mean? “Grace” is to be given something that you don’t deserve, totally apart from your performance. “Grace” is when someone walks up, and says, “Here’s a million dollars. It’s not because you’re a good person, not because you did this, or I think you will do this. No strings attached, you’ll never see me again – it’s a gift. A million dollars.” That’s what grace is.

“Mercy,” by contrast, is to withhold judgment, or penalty, of what is justly due you. This is when you mistakenly, or willfully, run through a red light, and you didn’t see the person, you crash in, you kill the person. You’re on for manslaughter. And someone steps in, and says, “You deserve to go to jail for twenty years, because you ran the red light and killed the person.” “Mercy” is, “I will not hold that against you. You will not go to prison; you’ll be set free.”

“Grace” is getting what you don’t deserve, unconditionally, because of nothing that you’ve done. “Mercy” is getting withheld what’s justly deserved. And then, “lovingkindness” is the idea of steadfast, loyal, covenant love that’s not based on your performance.

And the very first thing, when he, when David thinks back to all of the works, and the mighty acts, and the wonderful works, and the awesome works, and the great deeds, and the abundant goodness, he says, to himself, “Your goodness flows to me like unmerited grace. You have withheld from me what I justly deserve. And no matter if I’m having a good day, or a bad day, Your covenant, loyal love with me, O God, that is what I experience.” And so, David praises Him, and he says, “I adore You for that. I worship You for that. I bow down before You. I exalt You,” and he praises God for His goodness.