Cultivating Trust

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’

Isaiah 43:1-3a

In a year filled with raging wild fires, tropical storms, a worldwide pandemic, months of quarantine and mandated isolation, protests, riots, economic crises, earthquakes, shootings, and so much more, we have been increasingly reminded this year of how unknown the future is and how much evil, darkness, and corruption are present in the world. It can be so easy, in the face of all these things, to question God’s plan and His goodness. You may be thinking, “God, I don’t understand why You allow these things to happen. I don’t understand why You allow oppressors to prosper and continue their oppression of the weak and needy. I don’t understand why You allow injustice to be done. I don’t understand why You seem quiet.” And you are not alone in these thoughts.

David was very vocal with God about how he felt. His psalms are filled with vivid descriptions of injustices and sin perpetuated by the people and nations around him. He cries out to God, asking why, asking God where He was and when He would bring deliverance. And there is the key—David cries out to God, not against Him. Many of his psalms, regardless of how they start, end with a declaration of praise and/or trust in God. Others, from start to finish, are exhortations to trust in God. He lets the sin and darkness and corruption in the world push him back to God, rather than using them as reasons to put distance between and foster distrust in God.

Like a man floating on the surface of a turbulent ocean, 
he allows the waves to cast him back onto land, 
rather than kicking out his hardest 
in a vain attempt to conquer and 
still the ocean that is so much vaster than he can fathom. 
He will not make it to land 
without hard knocks and bruises, but 
he will reach it 
and he will stand
though his knees shake,
he will stand
for he is on a firm foundation.
and no matter how hard the waves pound
or how loudly they roar
that foundation cannot be shaken.

So what do we do when we are faced with stories and events and circumstances that seem so big or so ingrained or so prolonged? How do we live out trust in God? 

Read, pray, and remember. 

Read His words to His people, to you. Read the Old Testament and see His faithfulness. Read the New Testament and see the fulfillment of His biggest promise, the salvation of the world. Read Psalms. Read the prophets. Fill your heart and your mind with the Truth. As the author of Psalm 119 puts it in verses 129-131, 

Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.

Pray. Regularly step away from the noise and chaos of this world and be still before and with the Lord. Spend time getting to know this God whom you question. He is big enough to face your questions and He is oh so gentle. For our God is a personal God. In 1 Kings 19, we read of Elijah, who was discouraged after years of fighting the corruption and oppression perpetrated by the religious and governmental leaders of Israel, God’s chosen people. Afraid for his life and tired of fighting alone and seemingly unheeded, he had run into the wilderness, there to wait for death to take him. Twice, God gave him sleep and provided him food by the hand of an angel, restoring mind and body. Then he brought him 40 days and 40 nights through the wilderness to Mount Horeb. There Elijah witnessed a great and strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. Is any of this sounding familiar? After these things, he heard a low whisper. Elijah had seen God hold back rain for years. He had seen God send fire from heaven that consumed meat and stone and water. And he still had a hard time trusting God. God knew that Elijah needed gentleness, just as He knew that some people needed to see holy, consuming fire from heaven. Prayer provides a place for us to repent, rest, rejuvenate, and refocus. Prayer grounds us and reminds us of who we are, who God is, and how we relate to each other and our fellow human beings. This is why we are often exhorted to pray, as in Philippians 4:6-7,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Remember. Set up ebenezers, monuments to God’s faithfulness to you in the past to remind you of who He is in the midst of current trials. We are forgetful and fickle, quick to question God’s goodness when our plans are thwarted or when trials are prolonged. This is one reason why 1 Corinthians 13 says to love is to keep no record of wrongs, because the wrongs always seem to carry more weight than the rights. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves and each other of God’s faithfulness and goodness. Ebenezers may take the form of a gratefulness journal, pictures of answered prayer, a playlist of songs that represent times when God met you, or stories that you share with others so they can remind you. And memorize Scripture, because that which is in your heart is what will come out of your mouth. Memorize Scripture so that you can confront the lies of the enemy with Truth, just as Jesus did during his temptation in the wilderness.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Trust needs to be fought for. It isn’t something we can fall back on if we don’t actively practice it. It is a spiritual discipline that we need to cultivate and exercise on the easy days so that we may be ready for the hard ones. The more we read and memorize God’s Word, the more we pour into our relationship with God through prayer, the more we remember, the faster our instinct to respond with trust will become. We will still have days and weeks and even longer when we will have to fight hard to choose trust. Trust must become a habit before it comes more easily. As Paul puts it,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

In his psalms, David compares God to a refuge, stronghold, shelter, rock, fortress, tent, shield, and more. He says God is Provider, Protector, Deliverer, Redeemer, Faithful, Just, Steadfast, Shepherd, Powerful, God of Glory, Healer, Good, Merciful, Rescuer, Teacher, and so much more. This is why we can trust God. This is why we can look on this world and still have faith that God has a plan and His timing is perfect. So fight. Fight for trust. Hold fast to God, even when you feel naive and simple for doing so. Keep your eyes fixed on the only One who can deliver and restore this dark, broken world. He is working justice in ways we cannot see or imagine. He is making all things new. 

Oh Lord, give us courage to trust when we cannot understand and faith to walk in darkness, holding our light up high for all to see. Come, Lord Jesus, come.