I have been noticing lately in my own life how joy and assurance comes not from introspection and an intense investigation into my faith, but rather by looking to Christ. There seems to be a subtle yet significant difference between placing faith in my faith, and turning the eyes of faith to Jesus Christ. In his excellent little book, When the Darkness Does not Lift, John Piper instructs one who is counseling a person struggling with doubt to encourage that person to stop looking at their faith and start looking to Jesus. He writes,
Or, second, we might say, ‘Stop looking at your faith, and rivet your attention on Christ. Faith is sustained by looking at Christ, crucified and risen, not by turning from Christ to analyze your faith. Let me help you look to Christ. Let’s read Luke 22 through 24 together. Paradoxically, if we would experience the joy of faith, we must not focus much on it. We must focus on the greatness of our Savior.
It is easy to begin to turn inward and look at our faith for assurance, especially since we understand the vital role faith plays in our salvation and sanctification. Yet, experience tells us that constantly looking inward usually doesn’t help—it often leads to despair and even more introspection as we search and search our hearts for sincere faith. All the while, we are missing the crucial truth that sincere faith looks to Christ and rests in Christ; it doesn’t look to and rest in itself.
This is why reading the Bible, listening to Christ-exalting preaching, hearing the Scripture read, and talking with other Christians about Jesus (not just about books, or our Christian responsibilities, or even our own struggles, although these are good things to talk about) is so important: these things are designed to turn our faith toward Christ. And I also should add that those of us who know that we tend toward unhealthy introspection should be careful to not spend too much time alone and make special effort to regularly fellowship with other believers individually and in corporate worship. Otherwise, we risk becoming ensnared in a downward spiral of despair and hopelessness as we fall prey to a preoccupation with ourselves and, ironically, our faith. God has designed that we look to Christ with the help of the community of believers (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Therefore, anytime we find ourselves sinking into the depths of doubt and despair, this must drive us to the body of Christ, not away from the body of Christ. Even Piper’s counsel is given in the context of community and relationship. It cannot be otherwise. Our faith will be nurtured by looking to Christ, and we will be enabled to look to Christ by the encouragement of Christ’s people, the Church.
So if you are currently feeling the weight of doubt and confusion, and it seems as though God has deserted you; although you may feel like being alone, it is probably best that you are not—at least not for very long. Get yourself around other Christians; get yourself to church; call trusted Christian friends—seek out others who will help you look to Christ so that your faith might be renewed and your joy might be again made full.