Unmet expectations, heartbreak, disappointment, skepticism, and despair—all old friends of a distrusting heart. While the connotation of these words leaves one feeling hopeless, the startling truth is that many of us experience the ramifications of distrust on the daily. We are quick to only depend on ourselves, as if on auto-pilot, and it eventually ends in ruin.
In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer says:
“Ultimately, nothing in this life, apart from God, can satisfy our desires. Tragically, we continue to chase after our desires ad infinitum. The result? A chronic state of restlessness or, worse, angst, anger, anxiety, disillusionment, depression—all of which lead to a life of hurry, a life of busyness, overload, shopping, materialism, careerism, a life of more…which in turn makes us even more restless. And the cycle spirals out of control.”1
The more I reflect on this brokenness and see it play out in my life and the lives of others, the more I wonder, how do we actually break the cycle? And are we the ones in charge of actually breaking it, or are we asked to lean and depend our way out? What if the way out is not the hustle, a steely determination of will, but instead, trusting God?
Trust, I have realized, is a very difficult concept to get a hold of and practically apply, even though it is essential for following Jesus. It is abstract in the English language, unable to be realized by the five senses, which tends to make us humans uncomfortable and antsy. So often we hear from others, from church messages, from the Bible, and from ourselves, to “trust God.” And that is amazing and true, and usually, I nod my head in agreement and have about two and a half hours of successfully meditating on the idea…but the next thing I know, I am waywardly spinning off in my own thoughts and desires again— far from a position of trust.
Why is it that it is so difficult to functionally live out this gospel truth, this essential tool for following Jesus?
Why do we find within ourselves this deep desire to trust, but so many roadblocks when actually working on applying this leaning posture?
Why are we frozen in fear when asked to step off of the canyon ledge of the unknown, and what makes the difference in us actually being able to cross it with Jesus?
Here are three things I have learned about trust this past year as I have actively been questioning and praying for the Holy Spirit to help me walk it out in daily living. This is by no means an exhaustive list. In many ways, I think, trusting is a mystery (which is what makes it beautiful).
1. Trust transcends the senses. It is about moving forward without seeing.
A common passage that we find in the Bible on trust is in Proverbs chapter 3. For as many times as I have read the chapter, upon slowing down to really meditate on it and memorize it this past spring, I felt as if I discovered a whole new facet of following Christ. Trusting often feels very uncomfortable because we typically feel blind to what will happen, which disorients us from realizing the reality of our present standing with Christ. And our present standing—where our feet are rooted—is where real trust is born.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”Proverbs 3:5-8
The passage begins with the word “trust,” meaning to lean on, confide in, and allow oneself to be protected by. It is immediately followed by the word “in,” which is an interesting word to consider. When we trust, it is an act of remembering we are on the inside—we are trusting IN God, from within the home and family that he graciously adopted us into. Trusting feels more palatable when we remember that we are already safe and provided for in Christ.
Then comes the line that feels difficult for me: “with all your heart.” This is the big ask, the moment of realization that God does his best work when he has ALL of us to work with, not just a section of our day or a few hand-picked desires. Choosing to surrender to a God who is greater than us is what our hearts were made for, and praying for this perspective is the only way to get past our brain’s argument that to survive we must control and cling.
The passage continues in advising us how to trust with all of our hearts, encouraging us to “not lean on our own understanding.” God asks us to lean into his understanding, not our own. To not let our hearts be overwhelmed with what is impossible in our own strength, but instead to let our hearts be filled with wonder that nothing is impossible for him. This is the surrender of our will, the laying down of the infamous “why” question. It is very difficult to not know “why,” especially when trying to rationalize suffering and fear, but I really think that the Holy Spirit wants to help us ask a better question. One that is rooted in the certain, indisputable reality of Jesus’ hands carefully restoring broken hearts. Not so much, “Why is this happening?,” but “How can I lean into the reality of your love for me, Jesus?”
Furthermore, we read that trust is about “acknowledging God;” about really knowing who he is and being willing to change and grow because of that, not being “wise in our own eyes.” There is a necessary moment when trusting where we must first remember that our vision is blurry and flawed, we have a deep need for Jesus, and we tend to get in our own way all too frequently. When we remember this we can then experience the beauty of “fearing the Lord and turning away from evil,” which will be “healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” How amazing that trusting God heals us. It refreshes us completely. What a mercy! So, we glean from the wisdom of this passage that trusting God really is impossible on our own. It is only possible when we turn our eyes and hearts towards him, looking to his understanding, care, and character instead of what our eyes physically see.
2. While we may not see the road ahead, we can and should look at Jesus. He is a trustworthy Shepherd.
Following Jesus in trust is about looking at him and to him. We cannot follow someone who we are not looking at. Frequently when I am overwhelmed or spiraling in distrust, I find that pausing, actively breaking the cycle with surrender, and looking for Jesus is all I need to do. Once my eyes leave my circumstances and find him, he gently and graciously leads. The power of trust comes not from our own selves or actions, but from Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith”—we simply have to remember to look at him. A passage that exemplifies this forward-looking at Jesus is found in Hebrews chapter 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”Hebrews 12:1-2
Looking at Jesus means saying no to looking at other things. This world is full of distractors, numbness, and fleeting entertainment. If we do not consciously focus on remembering God in the midst of the flurry, it is easy for us to lose sight of him and then in turn, lose our way. Your “no’s” to the world and its temptations are just as important as your “yes” to Christ. If you find yourself weighed down and entangled with sin, pause to remember God; remember the hope of resurrection and physically imagine the joy of being with Jesus set before you.
Another passage in the bible that speaks beautifully of how to trust God practically is found in John chapter 10:
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”John 10:2-5
Trusting is about knowing the character and the voice of the one you trust. It is not so much about the circumstances of trust, but simply being with the one you trust. There is an intimacy with trust; an “I will give you myself” sort of thing. God wants us to trust him because it means knowing him and realizing his devoted knowing of us.
This past week I brainstormed a list of people in my life who I really trust. I thought about why exactly I trusted them, and I realized that what I trusted was not necessarily what they do or don’t do in situations, but who they are. Who we are informs what we do. Trusting in God is the same way, it is all about looking at him and his character, and realizing from that point that no matter the exact details, his loving, merciful, and compassionate heart is what makes him trustworthy.
3. Trust is a moment by moment, day by day thing.
One of the most precious stories in the gospel of Matthew to me is the story of when Peter walked out to Jesus on the stormy sea, experiencing the full depth of both doubt and faith within a span of seconds. I used to think that doubt and faith were on opposite sides of the spectrum, but the more I have prayed about the subject, the more I have realized that they are beautifully intertwined.
Thinking that they were seeing a ghost on the water, the disciples in the boat were terrified, unsure of what they were experiencing. But Jesus, walking on the water, says to them:
“‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”Matthew 14:27-32
Peter knew Jesus; he knew that he was powerful and could do miraculous things. So he stepped out of the boat, trusting that Jesus would keep his feet steady on the water—a seemingly impossible feat. But the wind and waves, desperate for Peter’s attention, caused him to forget who Jesus was and to cling to his own ability. He then sank in his distrust. But Jesus immediately reached out to take hold of him, reminding him that he didn’t need certainty and he could still trust.
Trust and distrust, faith and doubt, can sometimes flicker back and forth very quickly. We can feel on top of the world in a moment of victorious faith, and hours later feel defeated by our habit of messing things up. Trust is a series of repeated choices, of small steps. It is not this ultimate decision so much as it is the culmination of small decisions. God is much more concerned with our coming back to him each time we leave, rather than focusing on the fact that we left. The more we choose to come back to him in trust, the stronger our hearts will be to stay awhile, and what wonderful communion results!
Sometimes it is quite daunting to trust God with a huge desire or feeling, let alone our whole lives. We know that the pathway to peace in this is surrender, but actively living that out proves troublesome. But recently I had the realization that the Holy Spirit has equipped me with enough grace and self-control to trust God with my desires and thoughts and life today. Today he will give me all that I need to trust him. Tomorrow, we begin anew with specific mercies tailored for that day. So I need not worry so much about learning how to surrender the whole massive thing, but instead the light and gentle portion of one day.
Imagine each day is like one stone, seemingly small and unimportant, but a stone nonetheless. Imagine giving God a stone at the end of each day to build whatever type of path he pleases over time—a path of trust. God doesn’t ask us to construct the whole path. He doesn’t even ask us to design it or put in the manpower to build it. He simply asks us to offer up a stone—our trust in him, that he will use to build redemption in ways that only he can. Some days are really huge stones, some are small pebbles. But he uses all that we willingly offer; he simply asks us to believe.
Application: Wait on the Lord
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and grow weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”Isaiah 41:28-31
Trusting God looks a lot like waiting on him. Waiting in the quiet. Waiting in prayer. Waiting in the Word and truth.
So Christian, wait for the Lord today.
Wait longer than you think. Longer than your idea of your capacity to wait. Wait until you are still and quiet and able to look Jesus in the face without thinking of anything else.
In that place of communion, he will renew your strength and trust. He will give you more. Let waiting on God flow slowly into learning to trust him.
Questions to consider:
- What are some roadblocks for you in your pursuit of looking to and at Jesus? Identify them and then bring them to God in honest prayer and ask for his help.
- What is a practical routine/task that you can add to your day to remember God and know him more?
- Meditate on this passage: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares 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 55:8.
- What do you think it has to do with trust? Why might it be important in creating a practical pursuit of trusting God?
- Read Psalm 131 and spend time meditating on it.
- A prayer to reflect on in sweeping moments of heightened distrust: Jesus, give us a better question than “why?” to ask when we are broken and cannot see. Remind us of your nearness, our smallness, and your suffering with us. We trust you as we are broken, as we are shattered, as we cling to the hope that one day—we certainly will be that way no longer. Amen.
1John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2019)
Image Credit: Emilee Carpenter