The Reason You May Be Struggling To Believe in God

young man pulling funny face on white backgroundOver the past year I’ve had multiple conversations with people who do not currently believe in God. (I say currently, because even after walking away from a less-than-stellar conversation I pray expectantly that they one day will.) Some of these non-believers I’ve met only once and others are long-time friends. Some have never believed in God and others confess that they used to.

When I talk with these people I do my best to speak the truth in love and present the “clues of a creator God” that are all around us. I try to clarify their misconceptions and present the facts of Jesus. And I let them know that they can doubt and ask questions to God directly. I’ve written about that HERE.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve not been helping people take another step…especially those who used to believe. And not taking that step may be the exact reason people struggle believing. What’s that step?

Try being in a relationship with God.

Now before you say, “You can’t be in a relationship with God before you believe in him!” Chill out. I’m not saying that you can be made right with God and be in a saving relationship without belief.

But what if “relating” to God and pursuing him might be what brings someone to belief.

I mean get this: I didn’t love my wife before I got to know her. I met her. We started dating. Then I loved her. The relationship came before my love for her. It’s the same way with any close relationship you have, especially a relationship with God.

Even Jesus called people to follow him (be in a relationship with him) before they believed the right things about him. Belief wasn’t a prerequisite for a relationship. But through the relationship many of the people who followed him believed.

The truth is, belief in God is strengthened by a relationship with God.

The more you get to know God through relationship the deeper your belief in him will become. Telling people to “just believe” is unhelpful. And trying to believe more doesn’t make the relationship deeper. It doesn’t make it better. Belief only grows and is established when there is a relationship.

For several years I’ve counseled students that the number 1 way to grow in their faith is to have a personal, daily relationship with God. And I still stand by that.

It will be what keeps them anchored when the circumstances surrounding them go bad and they doubt God’s existence.

It will even keep them anchored when their circumstances are going great and they are tempted to see no need for God.

It will sustain their faith when the “mountain top highs” of camp dissipate after a few weeks.

It will sustain their faith when their friends cave to peer pressure at school.

But trying a personal, daily relationship with God can also potentially bring someone to belief. Not having one could be the reason they are struggling to believe.

Recently a student approached me and confessed that they were struggling to believe in God. God felt distant to them. I empathized with the student as they had been going through some difficult circumstances. Then I asked, “When is the last time you spent time with God?” This student couldn’t remember. It had been a long time. A daily, personal relationship had fallen off their radar. And then I asked, “Do you think you’re struggling to believe because it’s been so long since you’ve talked to God?” The student shrugged, feeling down and defeated. They were ready to give up on believing in God. So I tried a different angle.

I asked, “Do you remember having a best friend in kindergarten or early elementary school?” The student smiled and nodded. Then I said, “Are you still friends with them today?” The student responded, “No. We don’t live in the same city anymore.” Then I asked, “Do you believe they are still alive.” The student responded, “Of course.” And then I said, “And if you could talk to them, you’d believe even more, right?” Then the student saw where I was going. If they could believe a friend was still alive even though they hadn’t been in a relationship with the friend for over 10 years, maybe they could still believe in God. And if that belief would be made stronger if this student could talk to their friend, maybe their belief in God would grow if they began a relationship with him too.

Maybe you’re struggling to believe in God.
Maybe you believe, but your faith hasn’t been growing for some time. The answer for the skeptic and the believer is the same—try having a personal, daily relationship with God. It will be awkward at first. But don’t give up. Push through. And you just may find belief on the other side.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” We will look at that in the next blog post. Can’t wait!


It’s Okay to ask questions about God

Confused-Figure-with-Question-Marks-300x249Have you ever had a question or a doubt about God? Ever felt like you couldn’t ask it? You’re not alone. And guess what?

“It’s okay to ask questions about God.”

This is a statement I made several weeks ago to our students as we began a new series called “Unshaken.” (You can click here to listen to those messages).

When I made that statement the look on many of our students’ faces was shock. Others seemed encouraged to hear me say it, but acted as if they had never been explicitly told that before. Others seemed to already know it was okay. I’m thankful that at Bell Shoals it’s okay to ask questions. But unfortunately, the majority of local churches communicate—by what they say and/or the atmosphere they create—that asking questions really isn’t okay. And sadly, this anti question-asking stance is currently, and has for many years, been turning people away from having faith.

Two events in my life have taught me the value of asking questions and giving others permission to do the same.

First, when I was in middle school I learned that an adult I had assumed believed in God, in fact, did not. In her teenage years she started having doubts about God. She began questioning things that as a good, Christian girl growing up in the South she was simply supposed to believe. After years of asking genuine questions and searching she gave up on her faith. I remember being confused as to why nobody helped her with her questions.

Second, fast-forward to my freshman year of college when I’m struggling with my own faith. I’m invited to Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck)and after visiting for a few weeks the pastor makes the same statement I did above: “It’s okay to ask questions about God.” I was shocked! And then, weeks later, there was an entire Sunday morning dedicated to answering people’s questions. As biblical answers were given to questions, I was relieved that I could believe, released from not having to believe certain “cultural Christian” things and strengthened in my overall belief in the Christian faith.

Since my time at Meck I’ve had the opportunity to lead students. From the youth at Red Bud Baptist church in North Carolina to the youth at Bell Shoals Baptist church in Florida and other people in between, I’ve been giving permission to ask questions. And then, pointing to biblical answers, though at times admitting “I don’t know.” And the growth in people has been incredible to watch!

The cool thing is that letting people ask questions is not just something that was modeled for me by a church. Jesus himself modeled this all throughout the gospels! One of the greatest examples is in John 20:24-29 as Jesus interacts with one of his disciples, Thomas, after the resurrection. Check it out.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,   “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Now, we could talk about how Jesus appeared in a room even though the doors were locked (WHOA?!?!), but did you notice Jesus’ response to Thomas’ doubt?

Jesus didn’t give him a hard time.

Jesus didn’t avoid his doubt.

Jesus didn’t say “just believe.”

Jesus acknowledged it and helped him believe.

He engaged with Thomas’ doubt head on. And it even got a little bit messy. Thomas put his fingers in Jesus’ side and his hands!

It’s more difficult today than ever before for people to believe with so many conflicting messages coming at them. And in order to help people believe like Jesus did, we have to be willing to get a little bit messy. We have to get involved with people and listen to their doubts and questions. Be honest with them. And point them to answers.

Thomas doubted THE most foundational aspect of the Christian faith—the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15)—and yet Jesus did not condemn him or shy away from graciously helping him believe.

So here’s a couple questions:
If Jesus was okay with doubt and questions, shouldn’t Jesus’ followers today be okay with them too?
And if Thomas doubted THE most crucial aspect of the faith, is there any question that should be “off limits” for those trying to believe?
I think you know the right answers to those two questions.

There are many days that I still doubt and have questions about my faith. I don’t have it all together. And I never will. I’m a mess. And I’m thankful Jesus doesn’t condemn me. He doesn’t ignore me. He embraces me where I am. Just like he did Thomas.

It’s certainly not about encouraging people to question. And it’s definitely not about having all the right answers. But when church leaders start letting people ask questions—the questions our culture is asking—an important message is sent. That God is big enough to handle your questions. That Christianity can stand under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. That the church has nothing to hide. And just maybe, that Jesus himself is open to people like you and me who have doubts and questions.

If you or someone you know has questions about faith, below are several resources I highly recommend.

“The Reason for God” – Tim Keller
“Mere Christianity” – C.S. Lewis
“I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” – Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
“Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and “Can We Believe in God?” – James Emery White

Photo cred Here