When friends are frozen by fear and anxiety, I often suggest they recite Psalm 56:3 over and over: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
But what does it mean to trust God? What does it look like in real life? How do we understand how to trust Him?
I recently asked this question on Facebook and was deeply blessed by the wisdom and experience of friends who have learned how to trust God in the refining fires of life in a fallen world.
One scripture reference was cited again and again, probably the best go-to verse on trusting God, Proverbs 3:5-6:
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 direct your paths.
Verse 3 is a parallelism, a Hebrew form of idea rhyming, where two ideas are complementary sides of the same coin, so to speak. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart means not leaning on our own understanding. If we’re not leaning on our own understanding, that means leaning on God’s understanding—and His character, and His goodness, and His love. Acknowledging Him in all our ways means continually orienting ourselves toward Him the way a plant turns to the light. And choosing, DELIBERATELY choosing, to refuse to lean on our own understanding, leaning hard into Him instead.
So trust is a kind of leaning, transferring our weight onto someone or something else.
I get leaning.
30 years ago I started using a cane because my weak polio leg was only going to get weaker. It was amazing how much more instant stability I had. Which is what happens when we lean on God.
So trusting means CHOOSING.
We make one initial choice to lean into God instead of ourselves, especially when life doesn’t make sense, and then we continue to practice making that choice over and over.
I think there are three aspects of trusting God: Making the initial choice to trust Him, reminding ourselves of what is true, and continuing to choose to trust.
Choosing to Trust
Trust starts with a definitive, intentional decision to “step over the line” by turning from doing things our way, trusting in ourselves and our own understanding, to transfer our dependence to God. Here’s a word of wisdom concerning not relying on ourselves and our own understanding [read: manipulating]: “Trust is living without scheming.”
One wise friend shared, “Trust is the expectation of good based on the character of God. I remind myself in the middle of the muddle: ‘This story is not over yet.’”
Have you ever seen scared little children pressing hard into their parents? It’s what they do to their mommies and daddies because it’s the nature of emotionally healthy children to trust their parents, especially when they’re scared.
Pressing hard is a picture of trust.
Trusting happens when we realize, “I am not in control. I release my illusion of control and give the reins over to the Lord.”
One friend wrote, “There’s usually a point where you have to admit you no longer have the reins. For me, I can recall specific instances where I have said, ‘Lord, whatever will bring You the most glory . . . [do it.]’ It’s like something in the spiritual realm is released when we allow God to be God in our lives.”
I love that she used the word “released.” That is such a powerful concept. I’m taken to Matthew 11:28-30—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Releasing the weariness and burden of trying to run our own lives in our own strength onto Jesus is how we enter His rest, which we only get on the other side of trusting.
Along the same lines, trusting God looks like relinquishing worries and anxieties, rolling them over into Jesus’ more-than-capable hands, and then choosing to leave them there. (“No, I’m not going to worry about that, I gave it to Jesus on Tuesday at 3:14 p.m.”)
One of my fellow Bible study leaders shared this gem:
“I learned to swing dance about a year before becoming a believer and one of the ways my partner and I would practice was for me to be blindfolded. I had a tendency to anticipate the moves that he would lead as opposed to letting him lead me and I was unintentionally hijacking his lead–very often. The blind fold made me wait, listen, and not anticipate. He was able to lead me through combinations I would have never been able to imagine (he was a much more experienced dancer than me). In my early walk, as I disciplined myself to walk with the Lord, I would reflect on my experience with dancing blindfolded and it gave me great courage to trust Him through things unseen.”
So trusting means choosing with the heart and mind, “I will follow YOU, Lord!”
One more picture of what trusting God looks like. Several friends responding to my Facebook post invoked the idea of clinging to Him, “even when it’s scary and life doesn’t appear to make sense. Knowing that, even in the hard times, He is working to perfect us, to grow us, to give us hope, and to bring glory, through us, to Himself. It means the assurance that He has the big picture of His plan in sight and everything He allows/ordains for me is a piece of that.”
Maybe nobody understands the concept of “clinging” like the tourist who discovered his harness wasn’t attached to the frame of his hang glider. He literally had to hang on to the frame for dear life for his harrowing two-minute flight.
What a picture of trust as clinging!
Trust is a lovely “holy stubbornness” in clinging to God’s goodness and sovereignty no matter how we feel, just as the hang glider stubbornly clung to the frame of his glider.
Reminding Ourselves of What is True
Once we’ve made the choice to trust God, we need to keep on trusting. The way we build our trust is to remind ourselves, over and over and over, of trustworthy truths about God:
• God is good.
• He will never leave us.
• He loves us.
• He is in control.
• He never makes mistakes.
• He can be trusted.
The continual process of trusting God is not only speaking the truth to ourselves, but reminding ourselves of His faithfulness in the past. That’s why it’s good to keep a journal—one friend keeps what she calls her “brag book” about God. I call mine a “God Sightings Book.” We can also build an “altar” (something physical that serves as a reminder of what God did, such as planting a tree).
I love what one friend said: “Trusting God means that I actively, willfully refuse to worry and instead I fix my gaze on Christ and recite to myself Who Scripture reveals Him to be, His promises, and everything He has already done.”
Another friend has been faithfully slogging through a long period of not seeing what God is doing: “Trusting God means trying to keep a posture of ‘open hands, eyes up’ and a curiosity that has us constantly wondering aloud, ‘What are you up to, God? We can’t wait to see.’”
I love how she and her husband live out their trust: OK, Lord, we can trust You or we can freak out and make things happen on our own. That would be stupid. So let’s go back to thanking You for the details of how You are proving Yourself faithful day after day. We trust You by NOT taking matters into our own hands. We trust You by continuing to wait.
Another friend drew on two different ways for her husband and her to make it through a particularly tough challenge: “One was to say out loud and mean it: ‘Lord, we choose to trust in You through this.’” They would also repeat 2 Chronicles 20:12—”Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
Continuing to Choose to Trust
So trust starts out as a choice to lean into God instead of ourselves, and it continues as we remind ourselves of WHAT is true, and that HE is true.
But trust sinks its roots down deep into our hearts and souls as we continue to choose dependence on the Lord instead of ourselves. There has to be an “on-goingness” to real trust, because it’s not a one-time decision, but an ongoing position built by continual choices to keep on trusting.
One mama friend was shocked and rocked to learn her baby would be born with Down Syndrome. She wrote,
“Since having [my daughter], God has grown my trust in Him immensely. For me, trusting God means to really know His heart, His goodness, His love for me and my children, and knowing He has a perfect plan . . . even when He doesn’t swoop in and make things easier. Trusting God is a daily relationship talking, listening, and praying with Him. Even when circumstances don’t change and life is and will be difficult. Even when you see your child suffer—trusting Him looks like having an eternal focus, not an earthly one.
“Trusting Him looks like your 6-month old having heart surgery and meditating on worship music to remind you of His goodness and love. It’s choosing him over and over again no matter if His plan aligns with yours.”
I responded to her, “My takeaway from your absolutely precious post is that trust can look like a kind of ‘holy stubbornness’ of choosing, over and over, to lash ourselves to a good and loving God who has proven His faithfulness over and over. Despite circumstances which only tend to obscure, not define, ultimate reality.” I love to see evidences of that “holy stubbornness” in people!
Another friend pointed out that wavering trust can mean going off-track into the weeds of feelings. (Which are valuable as indicators of what’s going on in our hearts, but are terrible indicators of truth! Feelings are like the warning lights on the dashboards of our cars, but they make awful compasses…)
“When my trust in God wavers even the least little bit, I have a tendency to lean toward my emotions. Not that emotions aren’t valid and valuable, but when they begin to lead my thoughts, it can throw everything haywire. I start believing lies. The only antidote is seeking and speaking His Truth over every feeling—I suppose it’s what the Scripture calls “taking every thought captive.” I love the vivid language there: I can picture this tall strong person (the statement of Truth) coming up to one of my gone-wild feelings with a pair of handcuffs and shouting, ‘You’re under arrest!’ I’m a visual person and sometimes this is what grappling in prayer looks like for me.”
There is no passivity in trusting God. It’s a very active way of choosing to think and remember and maintain our position of dependence on Him. In the book Surrender to Love, David Benner writes about teaching a group of non-swimmers how to snorkel. Because they had learned to trust him as a spiritual teacher, and they had learned the spiritual principle of surrender, they were willing to enter the water and let go of the side of the boat. They trusted him when he told them they would float. They trusted him when he told them they could breathe through the snorkel without having to lift their heads out of the water.
Trusting God is like getting out of the boat, donning the snorkel, and trusting that the water will hold you up while you breathe with your face in the water.
It’s releasing and relinquishing into God’s hands.
And, at its core, trusting God is saying, “Thy will be done.” Enjoy.
This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/what_does_trusting_god_look_like on November 19, 2019.