How do you trust God? Most of us have no problem recommending the last two words of that sentence, but many find difficulty in answering the interrogative. How? What does it actually look like to trust God?
Inventing “Trusting in God”
In our culturally Christianized society, I think we’ve become accustom to painting an inventive and fatalistic picture of trusting God. In some ways, we make trusting God feel like a magic trick. “Recite this verse of scripture, say this prayer, then ‘poof’, bad feeling be gone!”
The picture of trusting God I adoptively imagined from the culture was a content, care-free person, relaxing in a peaceful meadow, praying to God in soft “sing-songy” voices, with emotionless responses to the pressing circumstances surrounding them.
When our lives don’t match some version of that, we guilt ourselves and each other into believing we’re not trusting God.
But that is fantasy. It does not coincide with the reality of the world God has placed us in. So what does it look like to trust God? How do we trust God? It is an urgent question that challenges even the most faithful.
Let Me Show You How to Do This
We find our answer in Yeshua who suffered in ways like we do. He is a high priest that sympathizes with our sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). Even he had to learn obedience to trust God through hardship (Hebrews 5:8). He was not spared from psychological distress and was also emotionally weakened by pressing matters—namely, the impending death that lurked at his heels. He suffered and agonized before his torturous death, and he did not do it pretty.
Christ’s response in the face of imminent death was prayer—ugly prayer. He prayed with emotional responses that would make it seem as if he were not trusting in God, according to our Christian social norms. “During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals with loud cries and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence” (Hebrews 5:7).
Jesus was not shy in asking God for relief, even knowing that his destiny was to die for unrepentant and degenerate people. He entrusted his life in whole to God. “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Christ trusted and sought the Father for strength and relief.
I Prayed…Now What?
So to trust God, we must pray. That answer can seem vague and dismissive because we feel like we should be doing something. But if we’re doing the work, that would negate the need to trust God.
“Okay, well I’ve prayed. I’ve looked to God. I’ve sought his strength, not mine. Now what?”
After Jesus prayed he received strength and encouragement from an angel (Luke 22:43). Most of us have never experienced that kind of relief, so we’d think that would be enough to calm any person—the Son of God principally. But did that make his distress disappear? Did Jesus suddenly get up glowing with a radiant tattoo of “I’m trusting in God” plastered across his forehead? Nope. What he felt, after having his strength renewed by an angel—in the same prayer session—was more anguish.
So what did Jesus do when he became emotionally stressed? He prayed more earnestly. He prayed until it physically hurt. Yeshua prayed until he sweat blood (Luke 22:44). And yet his distress did not go away, it increased after he prayed.
Using Emotion to Worship
This should seem peculiar if we seriously ponder our expectations when we tell ourselves or others to “just trust in God.”
There’s nothing wrong with a faith that is pressed with psychological despondence. We cannot assume that we nor anyone else is not trusting God just because the emotional anguish does not dissipate. If anything, it is a marker God uses to draw us closer to Him.
All our emotions can be used to worship God, as they help us feel our need for him, even if they make us feel as if our faith in God is weak. I heard in church this Sunday, “A weak faith in God is better than a strong faith in anyone or anything else.” Amen!
This doesn’t mean we are to elevate nor worship our feelings, but we can use them as indicators for where we are to look in seasons of distress. Emotional relief is healthy and should be sought. But if we try manufacturing our relief apart from the Father, we will fall into all sorts of death-producing and idolatrous behaviors (Romans 6:23; Galatians 5:19–21). So, how healthy it may be, our greatest need is not the absence of emotional grief. It is the presence of God, which does not always equate to emotional comfort.
Again, this can seem dismissive and unrealistic. But in the presence of God–in Christ–we have a hope that is able to both meet and transcend our need for physical or emotional safety (Hebrews 6:19; Psalm 4:8). We have freedom from sin and freedom to express our distresses as sons and daughters of the Father (Hebrews 4:16; Galatians 5:1; Psalm 13).
We can find examples of this elsewhere throughout the Bible. Consider Psalm 10: “Lord, why do You stand so far away? Why do you hide in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1 HCSB) Our Christianized social norms can sometimes discourage us from praying to God and confessing to each other in ways like these, but it is in these raw and honest prayers that God assures, strengthens, and reminds us of who he is, and how understanding and compassionate he is. “The Lord is King forever and ever…Lord you have heard the desire of the humble; you will strengthen their hearts. You will listen carefully, doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed…” (Psalm 10:16–18).
Trust-ing is for a Lifetime
So how do we trust God? We trust God by pressing into our emotions, entrusting those feelings to the Father who hears and cares about our worries. We confess to him, honestly and messily, the parts of our faith and belief that feel weakest. We read His words, then pray to Him more, because trusting is a lifetime action.
Trusting God isn’t always picturesque, pretty, and safe. It’s complicated, messy, and risky. But who we receive—Yeshua—in exchange for our current discomforts, is a sympathizing savior who will give us relief from our turmoil for eternity.
Musical Reflection: Hand of God – Jon Bellion