Don’t miss the first four posts in this series: Part 1 (Ambition to Please God), Part 2 (Love Jesus), Part 3 (Thought Life), and Part 4 (Practice God’s Presence). Also, this series is based on a teaching series on Wednesday mornings in spring 2018. Watch the videos here.
I still remember singing these words in church as a kid:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.1
It’s so simple, so basic, that the importance of these words can easily escape us. Yet, as the primary expressions of faith, they’re vital to grasp.
Trusting the Father
Trusting God is not the same as understanding Him. Trusting Him means transferring your confidence and hope from yourself to Him. It’s more about knowing who God is than what He will do and why.
Trusting Him means transferring your confidence and hope from yourself to Him.
Imagine you’ve descended into a deep well, and you’re hanging from a rope. A voice from above says, “I’m an angel of God, and I’m here to rescue you. Let go of the rope.” You try holding on a while longer, but your strength is eventually depleted. Despite the risk, you heed the voice and release your grasp. Much to your surprise, you fall just a few inches to the rock bottom.
Trust is like that—it’s a risk, but it’s a worthwhile risk, because God is perfectly good and perfectly loving; He will never ask us to do something that is not the very best thing for us in the end (see Romans 8:28 and Part 3 in this series).
Another example: Children look to their parents for provision. Unless their parents have proven themselves wholly unreliable, kids don’t squirrel away leftover food for later meals. They instinctively trust that their parents will take care of their needs. We show trust in our heavenly Father, too, when we rely on Him to provide what we need for today and don’t worry that He won’t do the same tomorrow and each day after that.
Sometimes, we may feel that God has let us down. His actions (or inaction) will not always make sense to us or be exactly what we want or expect. In these cases, the psalmist urges us to look back at His past faithfulness and deliverances—to remember we don’t have the full picture:
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
“Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:5–12 NIV)
Trust Leads to Obedience
Only when we trust God will we desire and be able to obey Him. Only then will we let go of the rope.
Obedience is closely connected to abiding in Christ, and to the fruit-bearing image Jesus gave His disciples:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
When we act on our trust by obeying, we become fruit-bearers, not to bring glory to ourselves but to glorify our Father in heaven (15:8).
Obedience is always worthwhile in the long run. I’ve never regretted an act of obedience. I’ve resisted, but I’ve never regretted obeying. I have enough of a track record to know I have never flourished in disobedience. Yet, it’s amazing how often I ignore this lesson! We humans are slow learners. The history of the Israelites illustrates this well.
Obedience is always worthwhile in the long run.
A Learning Process
The Bible chronicles seven deliverances for Israel, and all seven were unique and creative—no two were identical. For example, God didn’t part the Red Sea the same way for Moses and the people in the same way that He parted the waters of the Jordan River years later for Joshua; the one only had to raise his staff and stretch out his hand, while the other had to step in the water first.
The point is that God wants His people to place their trust in Him more than His methods. Trust is a dynamic process of growth of insight into who He is, not reliance on a particular outcome. This process can be difficult. God often uses the crucible of adversity to forge Christ-like character in us. A child doesn’t learn obedience by being told to pick up a bowl of ice cream to eat, but by being told to pick up his toys and put them away. It’s the same with us: God’s much more interested in changing us than in changing our circumstances.
A good question to ask ourselves is this: Will I trust God in the darkness for what He has revealed to me in the light? God’s past performance is the basis for our future reliance. We can’t see the future, but He can, and we can know and trust Him with it. We have to loosen our grip, committing and surrendering ourselves and futures to Him.
God’s past performance is the basis for our future reliance. —Ken Boa
It’s in the Small Things
Let me illustrate this idea of trust as a letting go. Recently, I was having computer troubles right before I was due to go live for an online webinar. As the minutes ticked away, my agitation grew as I continued to wrestle with my laptop. With only five minutes remaining, I finally just backed off and told myself, “Let it go.” Then I prayed, “God, you’re in control.” A peace washed over me in that moment of holy surrender, as I let go of my insistence on doing it my way. I conducted the webinar a different way than I’d planned, but in the end it actually turned out better than if I’d done it my way.
This experience may seem trivial, but trust often comes down to how we respond to the small events of our lives. We cultivate trust—or expose our lack thereof—in the minutia of life. In fact, it’s seeing Him prove Himself trustworthy in those smaller things that builds our trust in Him for the bigger decisions.
For more on trusting God, read my article “Trusting God in Turbulent Times.”
Trusting and obeying involves both God’s sovereign work in us and our own responsibility and choice. Here are a couple ways to grow in your trust and obedience today:
- Before you get up in the morning, ask God to help you trust in Him, abide in His Son, and walk by the Spirit today, so that you can obey Him and bear fruit that lasts. (You can also use this trio of commands—Trust, Abide, Walk—as a prayer to Him at moments when you’d normally be tempted to become fearful or fretful, such as before an important meeting or conversation.)
- If you’re in a dark place or the future feels uncertain for you right now, read Psalm 77 or Psalm 103, and reflect on who God is: His goodness and faithfulness in the past, both to His people in Scripture and to you. Ask Him to help you trust Him “in the dark.”
We won’t want to obey God if we don’t first trust Him. We won’t trust Him if we don’t love Him, and we can’t love Him if we don’t know Him.
In the next post, we’ll talk about the sixth essential: Grace Rather Than Law.READ PART 6