Without a doubt, doubt is one of the strongest forces opposing successful prayer. If we are to overcome it and to rid ourselves of it, then we must learn what it is and how it works.
The dictionary defines doubt as wavering, being uncertain, hesitant to believe, or to distrust. The English word doubt comes from the Latin word dubitare. In his book Doubt: Faith in Two Minds, Os Guinness reveals that the Latin word dubitare comes from an Aryan word meaning ‘two’. Doubt is not failing to believe one thing strongly enough, it is believing two things in conflict. The person who doubts wavers between the two beliefs uncertain which is true and which path is the right one to take.
With respect to prayer doubt is thrown between believing our prayer will produce the results prayed for, is producing the results prayed for, or did produce the results prayed for and believing that our prayer will not produce, is not producing, or did not produce the results prayed for.
Think about Jairus. (Mark 5:22-42) His daughter lies at the point of death. He comes to Jesus and prays that Jesus would come lay his hands on her that she may be healed and live. Jesus went with him - looks like the prayer will produce and is in the process of producing the results Jairus is praying for. But wait! A woman touches Jesus and is healed from an issue of blood and Jesus stops to sort this out. Jairus’ prayer seems to be at risk of failure. His daughter is dying. She doesn’t have much time left. Any delay could prove fatal to his prayer and his daughter. Just as the delay ends word comes from Jairus’ house that his daughter had died. It really looks like his prayer had failed.
Yet Jesus told Jairus to only believe - believe his prayer was producing and would produce the results he asked for. Despite the contrary evidence that the prayer had failed, Jesus continued to Jairus’ house, raised, and healed his daughter. Jairus' prayer was successful.
Doubt is more than believing two things to be true. Doubt is an attempt to rely on two different sources or means to meet ones needs. It is an attempt to rely on God with his way of doing things in prayer and to rely on another source with the ways of this world. Os Guinness’ description of the Chinese picture for doubt describes the struggle of this attempt very well and hints at its inevitable outcome: ‘having a foot in two boats’.
We really should not be surprised at a struggle between believing based on God’s way of doing things and one based on our way of doing things.
My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:7,8)
We are used to using our ways to produce results. We measure what is possible according to knowledge and understanding based on evidence of things we, trusted witnesses, or subject matter experts, have seen and heard in the past, see and hear now, and our experience in the results produced when we see those conditions. We use that same evidence to measure the current status of our effort to produce results.
In prayer we are trying to use God’s ways to produce results. Our lifetime of measuring what is true, possible, and reliable based on our experience using our way of doing things is useless when we are trying to use ways that are so much higher than our ways. We should not expect them to be useful. In truth, our lifetime of measuring based on our experience is contrary to God’s way of doing things and works against our prayer.
God’s way is for us to believe truth based on what God says: the testimony of reliable witnesses recorded in the Bible and the word of his Spirit of truth. What God says is true - is true. If God says a thing is possible using his way of doing things, then it is possible. If God says this is how we pray a prayer to produce the results we are seeking, then that is how we pray it and it will produce the results. If God says that, despite contrary evidence, our prayer is still on track and we must continue to believe, then we pass by the contrary evidence and believe what God says.
Faith - believing that God can be relied on
to meet our needs
the means to use to produce results that meet our needs
make us able participants in the means that produce results
- comes from the seed of the Word of God sown in our hearts and bearing fruit.
current evidence seen,
our experience with evidence of things seen in the past
that our ways can be relied on for truth and results in life
that God and his means cannot be relied on
that we are incapable of participating in the means that produce results
- comes from seed entering into our hearts to choke the word and the faith it produces. It is tare faith. It works very much like faith but relies on a much lower and less reliable form of evidence for truth.
Doubt is being double minded, double hearted. It is having both faith and tare faith. It is a classic case of overseeding: sowing seed without first clearing the ground of existing seed. Each seed works to choke the other. When conditions favor one seed it will produce fruit and when conditions favor the other seed it will produce fruit. In prayer, tare faith is always tare faith and it always works to choke the prayer so that it fails to produce results. If evidence combines with tare faith to support the belief that the prayer is producing results, then tare faith steps in to take the place of faith and chokes the prayer. If evidence combines with tare faith to support the belief that the prayer is not producing results, then tare faith overcomes faith and chokes the prayer. This is particularly true when tare faith brings forth fear.