Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3 (CEB)
In 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, we are asked to fast artificial light. This fast comes to us out of the depths of a dark and lonely prison cell. John the Baptist, who once commanded great crowds in the wilderness and carried the light for God, now sits broken and chained in a dark, dirty, dank dungeon far below Herod’s great palace. John, who first recognized Jesus as Messiah from his mother’s womb is now asking the question, “Are you for real?”
This question brings me to my knees each time I study it. It brings me to my knees because, my friends, I’ve been there. There are moments in each of our lives where our surety of faith born in the light of God’s goodness and grace gives way to uncertainty in the darkness of disappointment and disillusionment. God’s promises of health, protection, love, and stability haven’t materialized as we expected. Life threw a curveball and we grounded out in the dirt.
A couple of years ago, I took a “leap of faith”. God and I had been discussing a career change for a few years, and I was finally taking the plunge. I gave up full-time employment to become a freelance writer. I gave up a salary package, benefits, vacation time and tax refunds to pursue this calling. I knew that if I jumped, God would provide. For over a year and a half the floodgates were opened. Work poured in and I basked in the glow and wonder of God’s ability to make this new life happen.
But then, the streams began drying up. The floodgates of opportunity closed. The famine that I knew was part of this journey began, and I felt betrayed. Where once was sureness, now was doubt. Did I follow the wrong path? Did I misunderstand? Did I neglect part of a bargain I didn’t know I’d signed? Did I miss the fine print?
Over the past several months, I’ve found myself asking God, “Are you for real?”
One of the things I love about Chole’s book is that she gives me permission to ask God tough questions. Her reminder of John the Baptist’s question to Jesus brought peace to my troubled soul. Because John was one of the few people in Jesus’ sphere who got it.
From the beginning, John knew who Jesus was and what his own role was to be in spreading the good news. John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus–to be the supporting actor, so to speak. And John was totally okay with this. In fact, when his disciples attempted to start a turf war with Jesus, John cut them off. John clearly says, “I’m not the Christ, but the one sent before him.” (John 3:28)
So if John, whose entire life was devoted to preparing the way for Jesus, asked Jesus if he was for real, then I think my own questions of doubt are okay.
So the question remains, “Are you for real?”
Look at the response John gets from Jesus.
“Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.” Matthew 11:4-6 (CEB)
I feel a great love in Jesus’ response. Notice he doesn’t rebuke John’s doubt. He doesn’t dismiss John’s question. He doesn’t say to John, “Well, if you really knew me you wouldn’t ever question.” No…Jesus responds with kindness, compassion and love. He says to John, “Look at what I’m doing. The work you started is coming to fruition. I never want you to doubt because of me.”
Do you see the great beauty in Jesus’ response? Do you see the depth of love? I feel like if Jesus were sitting before John in his prison cell he would have taken John’s face in his hands and looked at him with eyes brimming over with compassion. As Chole writes so eloquently in her book:
Jesus’ calm response to John echoes to us today: “Recall what I have done in the past. Accept me as the Great I Am of your future.” (pg. 16)
I don’t know what crises of faith you might be experiencing today–what promises you have yet to see fulfilled in your life. But know this, your disappointment, your doubt, you disillusionment is okay. God can handle it. But first, you have to bring it to him.
Today, tell God what you’re feeling. Ask him if he’s for real. And then, listen to the loving way he speaks to your fears. As Chole writes, “accept [God] as the Great I Am of your future.”
Blessings and Peace,