Doubt is the space between what we think we believe and what we really do believe. And it’s a space we encounter nearly every day—not only in our own lives but in the lives of the children we work with, both inside and outside the classroom.
Many of us tend to think of doubt as an intellectual problem, but really that’s only how it normally reveals itself. At its core, doubt is a heart problem. We can say we believe anything, but our circumstances, our questions, our struggles, and our responses reveal our doubts—and the true state of our hearts—in a hurry.
The fact is, our anxiety expresses itself through our doubt—and in turn, our doubt expresses itself by taking things into our own hands. Whether we say it or even consciously think it, trying to make things happen on our own says, at best, “God’s not giving me what I want (or the answer I want) when I want it, so I’d better make it happen myself.”
Good biblical integration not only engages students with the Word but also speaks to the situations they’re facing and will face in the future.
What’s more, doubt is a heart problem that’s heartily encouraged by our society. Again, we encounter it every day, and so do our kids. Of course, questioning what we don’t understand is healthy, and helps us turn facts into knowledge and knowledge into experience. Good questions help us get “from here to there.” Questioning everything, on the other hand, does nothing but “puff up knowledge” (see 1 Corinthians 8:1)—and create even more doubt. And that’s where much of our world is today.
But here’s the good news: because of all this, our doubts are the places where God needs to—and will—work in our lives if we’ll let Him. After all, He already knows every one of our doubts and our heart questions better than we do. And therefore, our students’ doubts are their biggest learning opportunities as well. As we learn to face our own doubts, and allow God to deal with our questions, we’ll be better equipped to help the children we work with to face their own doubts.
When God exposes our doubts to us, it’s time to act, and to trust God despite our questions. As He exposes our doubts to us, God is saying, “Depend on me. Let me handle it.” Let’s get a closer view of what that looks like—and how we can address it both in our own lives and in the classroom.
Jesus Confronts Our Doubt
Jesus, of course, understands our doubts better than anyone, and when we trust Him to work in our lives, He will. We see a great example of this in Mark 9:14–29, as He encounters a boy with an unclean spirit—and even moreso, in the people surrounding Jesus and especially the boy’s own father.
The father brings the boy to Jesus, after Jesus’ disciples had failed to cast out the unclean spirit. Jesus immediately addresses the doubt in his own disciples—“You unbelieving generation . . . how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (v. 19)—then asks the father to bring the boy directly to Him.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (vv. 21—24)
I love the incredulousness of Jesus’ “If you can?”. It not only carries the sense of “Who do you think I am?” but also “Don’t you understand who you are, in God’s sight?” Which is borne out by Jesus’ next sentence, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” And of course, Jesus does help the father’s unbelief, and heals his son.
So much of God’s will for our lives remains unclaimed, because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that God would really want to do something good for us.
Many times (hopefully), like the father in our story, we’re really trying to do the right thing, and to honor God through our actions. And yet, our doubt often constrains God’s ability to operate. Not that He couldn’t blow past us any time He liked, as Jesus in fact does here. Nonetheless, God wants us to believe, and is willing to withhold his temporal blessings and deliverance until we do so.
So much of God’s will for our lives remains unclaimed, because we can’t bring ourselves to believe that God would really want to do something good for us. Psalm 84:11b affirms this: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Granted, this doesn’t mean that those good things might not come in peculiar packages, but nonetheless God wants His best for us. Always.
Addressing Doubt in the Classroom
Therefore, when it comes to doubt, developing a solid biblical worldview helps both us and our students. Good biblical integration not only engages students with the Word but also speaks to the situations they’re facing and will face in the future. After all, the Bible was given by a personal God to people. It addresses the tension we face every day between the world’s ways and God’s ways—those spaces where doubt creeps in. It also addresses those places where worldviews clash, especially in any number of today’s social issues. Biblical integration helps students become more skilled and confident to live biblically, even when it goes against the mainstream worldview . . . and it will.
Obviously biblical integration will look a bit different in each course, but as you help students confront and overcome their doubts, both in their lives and in the classroom, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Remind students they’re not alone. Doubt not only cripples our ability to believe, but especially among Christians it often isolates us. We think we’re the only ones who struggle with doubt. This, simply, is not true. Every one of us hits a place where we find ourselves doubting God’s goodness and/or promises. Encourage students to be open—but again, constructive—about the doubts they’re facing.
- Remind students that it’s OK to be uncomfortable. Every new challenge, in the classroom or elsewhere, is just that: new. We won’t always figure things out right away. Therefore, encourage students to give themselves grace when they struggle, and to ask God to help them understand what they don’t yet know. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
- Remind students not to compare themselves to others. The quickest way to start doubting God’s goodness is to wonder why God has seemingly been better to others than to us. The fact is, everyone has different struggles (and doubts)—you don’t know everything someone else is going through, and it might turn out that you have it better. Which brings us to . . .
- Teach (and model) gratitude. No matter what else we’re going through, each of us has something to be grateful for. Even in the more difficult times of our lives, God is always trying to teach us something or develop our character so that we’re better able to help others (Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 4:17; James 1:2–4; et al.). In fact, everyone who’s ever overcome doubt ultimately found the positives in their situation—no matter how long it might have taken them.
- Help students set small, immediate, attainable goals. One way to overcome students’ issues with doubt is to set them up for success. Help them set smaller goals that enable them to experience success quickly, and thank God for, and which give them the confidence to set bigger goals and trust God for bigger things.
- Remind students that mistakes are learning opportunities. We all mess up. When students make mistake, remind them that instead of beating themselves up, they can and should learn from their mistakes. Encourage them also to make a plan that will help them to avoid that mistake in the future, and to include specific goals—for example, “When Peter makes me mad, I’m going to take a deep breath and count to 3 before I respond.” Share your own struggles with kids as well, where appropriate, so they can see that change is possible.
- Encourage students to keep a journal. One way to overcome doubt is to remind yourself what God has already done. By keeping a journal of prayer requests and “God sightings,” students can remind themselves daily of what God has been up to in their lives, as well as reflect on what God might be revealing to them now to address in their lives.
Let the rubber meet the road. It’s hard, but it’s also what will make your teaching and parenting most valuable.
You can, and should, be developing a biblical worldview on your own as well. Whenever doubt settles in—when you have a hard time trusting God—dig into the Word even deeper. Do your own personal biblical integration. As you read, ask yourself, “How might what’s being described here affect me?” “How can I see myself in this?” “What would God want me to do in response to this?” Let the rubber meet the road. It’s hard, but it’s also what will make your teaching and parenting most valuable. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). If God’s Word is true—and we know it is—then we can be confident that God will give us plenty to share with the kids we’re responsible for!