Living with Self-Doubt

Peter joined Jesus walking on water, until his fears caused him to sink, "Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'”(Matthew 14:31). This indictment of Peter could be made of me as well. Self-doubt consistently appears to be a co-worker of mine who will not mind their own business. And I work alone! Maybe this isn’t the right place to say this—maybe I shouldn’t even be stating this at all—but as a pastor, I consistently have some doubt in ministry.

Let me be clear, I do not doubt that I am where I should be, nor do I doubt the relationships and work God is doing here. But I seem to struggle with the doubt that God is calling me into a place in his Kingdom for which I feel ill-equipped. Maybe “ill-equipped” is harsh, but I’m not going to downplay the feelings.

God calls the ill-equipped

I never imagined doing ministry with my life, and if you ask my parents they would affirm this as well. We had always thought God was calling me into law enforcement or even being a lawyer—but being a Minister of the Word and Sacraments? Standing before a body of believers and teaching them, instructing them, guiding them, and walking with them? Not a chance. Not only am I not the type of person who drinks in the flowing waters of Greek and Hebrew, but I’m pretty sure that if I were Catholic I would have nominated my Greek/Hebrew professor in Seminary for Sainthood! I’m fairly certain that I passed those classes because she had sympathy for me and looked at my answers and thought, “Ohh, that’s cute. Kelly tried! Partial credit!”

God equips those he calls

But it doesn’t stop there with my doubt. I constantly doubt the skills I have not only to parse a sentence, but I also consistently question my instincts on where my sermon is going. I consistently doubt what the Spirit is moving and where God is moving me. More often than not I find that I am questioning what I've written, doubting the strength and sincerity of my message for Sunday, doubting that I am tying in the context with listeners, and simply questioning if I have EVER been given the tools to do what God is asking me.

God knows better

I have cried out, "God, what in your green earth were you thinking in placing me here!?" I’m pretty sure I could have used MORE seminary classes, MORE time with my professors, MORE time with internships, and I’m pretty sure there is someone else who could do this job better than I could! This may all be true, but God holds the plan and he has called me to this role.

God calls for trust

It is frustrating for me that there are so many beautiful texts in scripture that speak of doubt, which is really good for encouraging the person who is NOT in a season of doubt!

James 1:6 says, "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."
Matthew 21:21 says, "And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen."

But should you find yourself doubting what God is doing, where you are, and the work he has for you, and then read texts like these, and Jude 1:22 and Matthew 14:31, the next thing you know, if you’re anything like me, you’re doubting yourself even more! We can be thankful for Mark 9:24 where a father asks of Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Healing took place where only a germ of faith was found.

Doubts multiply

Self-doubt can be the persistent nagging voice that questions why you are here and the abilities God has given you. Doubt is the mythical Lernaean Hydra that seems to grow a new head of doubt once you deal with one of the doubts already present! And I can’t be the only one in this world who feels that a doubting kingdom-worker (even a pastoral one) is pretty unproductive!

Self-doubt rests with us

I think we need to understand that doubt is not the same as a lack of faith or trust. Because here’s the thing—the opposite of faith is NOT doubt. The opposite of trusting in God is NOT doubt. One either trusts in God or doesn’t. One simply has faith in God or doesn’t. Doubt has to do with YOU and your fears alone. God knew Peter could walk on water, and Peter confirmed he could when he listened, obeyed, and focused on God.

Trust God's plan

Even though I fear my skill set and abilities are not enough, God does not, because he is the one doing the equipping. And the beauty of all of this is that God, in some amazingly magical, only God-can-do-it way, God takes what His Spirit is doing in me and makes it so that it is exactly what needs to be said and heard. That’s one of the most amazing feats ever!

Trust God's capabilities

I think you and I get so caught up in our own shortcomings that we forget that God doesn’t need much—in fact he doesn’t need anything--to make something (lest we forget that the world was created from nothing)! God doesn’t need me, but has asked me to trust HIM even when I doubt ME. And if we’re going to be honest, it is much easier for me to trust God that he is doing something with the work he has called me to than it is for me to find trust in me. His track record is WAY better than mine. And for all the doubt I have in me, God has yet to let me fail. So, if I’m really honest, I know God is faithful and miraculously powerful, even if my doubt in me comes shining through.

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at

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