What does trust look like when we can’t explain our trouble, or see beyond it?
Listening to others as they try to show faith in crisis can be confusing. Some say they are “believing God” for a job, restored health, a reconciled marriage, or the return of a prodigal. Others say reliance on Him means accepting that His ways are not necessarily our ways.
In the waiting room of prayer and helplessness, I’ve concluded that questions about what it means to trust God can be almost as troubling as the problem itself. I’ve also discovered that it is for those struggles that the wisdom of the Bible has been given to us.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. The most godly men and women of the past were deeply disturbed by the crises of their lives. King David wouldn’t eat or be comforted as he pleaded with God for the life of his dying child (2 Samuel 12:16-17). Even though David was a man after God’s own heart, the songs and groans of his life reflect recurring fear and despair (Psalm 6:1-7). Job’s experience was similar. In the dark nights of his loss, his first expressions of trust turned to bitter anguish (Job 3). Then there was childless Hannah. Her prayers for a baby were so deep and emotional that her priest accused her of being drunk (1 Samuel 1:13-15). Even the apostle Paul had “great sorrow and continual grief” for unsaved family and friends (Romans 9:2 NKJV). Together they show us that trust can cry and groan and even doubt.
Expect to be misunderstood by others. In times of profound loss and concern, even our best friends will try to make sense of what has happened to us. They may forget that people do not suffer in proportion to their wrongs. Some pay quickly for their mistakes. Others do not. Some suffer for being foolish while others are punished for being wise (Psalm 73:1-14).
Such irony complicated the ancient tragedy of Job. When his friends heard him express bitterness and despair, they wrongly assumed that he was suffering for a secret sin (Job 4:1-9). Although they came to his side to divide his pain, they ended up multiplying it (16:2).
Don’t be afraid to be honest with God. An elderly Abraham laughed at the absurdity of God’s promise to make him the father of many nations. Jacob wrestled with his Lord over the uncertainty of what lay ahead. David openly expressed his despair and helplessness in circumstances beyond his control. Job accused God of being unfair.
When heaven seemed to be ignoring them, they said so. When they thought they had an argument, they expressed it. They learned to trust God in the dark valleys of their doubts.
Take one step at a time. Sometimes it helps to break the journey down into small steps. Jesus encouraged us not to worry about tomorrow since today has enough of its own problems (Matthew 6:34). In the weakness of turbulent and unsteady emotions, we may need to settle for smaller steps, the wisdom of the moment (James 1:5), and the ever-present reassurance of the one who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV).
Don’t be self-destructive. In times of disappointment or distress, we need to avoid quick fixes that are harmful or self-destructive. None of us can afford addictions that kill the pain for the moment but complicate our problems in the long run. While there is a time for sedatives (Proverbs 31:6-7), they can be abused at great risk to ourselves and others (31:4-5; 20:1). We also need to ask God to help us avoid taking out our anxiety, anger, or despair on those around us. Lashing out can be its own kind of addiction.
Don’t underestimate God. One of the great truths of the Bible is that when we are helpless, God is not. A wise person has said, “Of this I am sure: There is a God. And it’s not me.” If God doesn’t answer our prayers in the time and manner that we’ve asked, it’s because He can see what we cannot.
Joseph learned to trust God after being sold into slavery by his older brothers. When he was reunited with them later in life, he was able to say, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 NKJV).
Ask but don’t demand . In desperate circumstances, we are apt to think we know what we need from God. Like a small child who cannot be consoled, we are inclined to beg Him for what we want, when we want it. In those moments God understands our weakness and fear. Yet He is also the One who uses the depth of the Grand Canyon, the power of Niagara Falls, or the wonder of the night sky to calm us in His presence (Job 38–41). Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer observes, “When I am in the presence of God, it seems profoundly unbecoming to demand anything” (see Job 42).
Doubt yourself. Job finally got to the place of doubting himself more than he doubted God. After being reminded of the eternal power and infinite genius of the God of creation, he fell to his knees. From a heart that was both broken and relieved, Job said, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (42:2-5 NKJV).
Father in heaven, we want to trust You. But sometimes we get so confused. Please forgive us for wanting answers so that we don’t have to trust You. Thank You for being so patient with us. Please help us to have the same patience with You, as we wait to see that Your plans and timing are better than our own. —Mart De Haan