Copyright Apr. 5, 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton
It was October, 2012. I was changing the sheets on the bed, mulling over some frustrations I was having with someone I care about, whose past traumas often cause huge trust conflicts in relationships. I do not judge this person – I understand. I’ve had my own trauma-based trust issues, from which I’ve had to receive much spiritual and emotional healing already, and I often find myself having to “peel back another layer of the onion” to let God deal with my own blind spots. Who doesn’t?
But this time, I was feeling irritated with the person. Trying to work my way out of my own irritation, I quoted to myself, “Well, yes, I know Lord: love is free, forgiveness is bought and paid for by the Blood of Jesus, but trust has to be earned.” My husband and I had come up with this adage years ago, and quoted it to one another often, as we dealt with difficult people in our lives.
But this time, the Lord startled me with His answer, His internally audible Voice interrupting my musings: “No, Sarah. You’re wrong.”
“Excuse me Lord?”
“You’re wrong. Trust CANNOT be earned, any more than your salvation can be earned. It’s ALL by grace.”
“Well, yes, Lord, I know we’re saved by grace; but unless people repent, we can’t trust them. They’ll just walk all over us and abuse us.”
Have you ever had God give you The Look?
When God speaks authoritatively out of His Word, and we argue, guess Who wins the argument? Don’t we realize He knows our arguments before we present them? And don’t we realize that if our arguments were sufficient, He wouldn’t tell us that we’re missing a key ingredient?
So I simply said, “How, Lord? How do we apply grace to trust? I know we’re supposed to trust You always, but people…?”
I have been diligently praying for a number of years, asking the Lord to reveal to me more fully what it means to walk by the Spirit, not by my flesh [Gal.5], how as Jesus did, to only do what I see the Father doing, and only say what I hear the Father saying. It’s a lifelong class.
But I began to get the picture: “Keep your eyes, your focus, your trust on Me, not on the people at all.” The minute we focus on people for our cues to react, to respond, to back off, to trust, to distrust, to open up, to shut down in fear – those people become momentary idols in our hearts, because we have failed to ASK the Lord, and to WAIT upon Him to reveal how HE sees those people and those situations. The key is to ask for His Wisdom, revealed to our spirit in worship and holy communion, to choose to ONLY know each person by the spirit, to ONLY respond to anyone as Holy Spirit tells us to (which may or may not be in accordance with common sense). [I Cor. 2:2; II Cor. 5:16]
Therefore, our trust is only in Him, neither fearing nor putting our trust in other people at all, nor putting our trust in ourselves. It’s only in obeying the Lord. Then it doesn’t matter what other people do or fail to do. We will be accountable only for obeying what God said in relation to them. We are thereby less likely to have issues of unforgiveness toward others, as well, since we will have fewer problems resulting from our own poor choices.
I’m not suggesting this will produce a problem-free life — Jesus promised us the risk of persecution when we obey Him. But we will have the confidence that we are still in the right place at the right time, doing the right things for the right reasons. Elisabeth Elliot also used to say, “The safest place in the world is in the center of God’s will.”– This from a woman whose husband was martyred for Christ.
The Theme of Trust in the Psalms
Scripture addresses the lack of perfection in the claims of human integrity, for only the Lord is 100% faithful, trustworthy and dependable:
“Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (Pro. 20:6 NASV)
“Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man, who can find?” (NIV)
The psalmist recognizes the need to trust God, rather than those people who appear to have power, even when things don’t seem to be going the best; but his confidence is in the Lord’s grace to bring him through victoriously:
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man… than to trust in princes…. I shall not die, but live and tell of the works of the Lord. The Lord has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death.” (Ps. 118:8-9; 146:3-5)
Not knowing God intimately – by direct rejection, not by mere ignorance – is the primary foundation for poor character and lack of honesty or integrity:
“Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor, and do not trust any brother; …everyone deceives his neighbor and does not speak the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Your dwelling place [O Israel] is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know ME, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:4-5)
The Theme of Trust in Jeremiah
Our human relationships were meant to be fueled by the overflow of trust in God’s love and grace, in His wisdom, mercy, and power. When we reverse that and worship people, then “serve” God in the name of people, fueled by the will and desires of people, we turn compassion into a hideous, always-hungry, never-satisfied monster. We turn the promises of God into mere vending machines. We turn justice into a perverse slavery to human demands. In Jer. 17:5, the Lord does not say, “I will curse,” but “cursed is the man…” The curses of which God warns us are not the random tortures of a capricious tyrant. They are the natural and supernatural consequences of rejecting and ignoring the purpose and primary relationship for which we are designed.
But when our trust in God FIRST fuels humble obedience to the leading of His Holy Spirit, resting peacefully upon the finished works of Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection, consistent with the whole Word of God, then we enjoy an invigorating sense of accomplishment in the simplest tasks of each day, a sense of fulfillment way beyond our wildest dreams. The works of God become like the flow of blood in our veins – constant, effortless, life-giving, (rather than life-draining) fueled by His heart pumping Truth into every corner of our being:
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green. And it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield its fruit.’” (Jer.17:5 –7)
Jeremiah’s ministry was an unpopular one, because he refused to preach an easier, softer message that made his people happy and comfortable. He was heavily persecuted for it, by both religious and secular leaders, arrested many times, beaten, mocked, ridiculed. He became so depressed at one point that he wished he had never been born, even wishing that he had been aborted. (Jer. 20) Yet this was the prophet of whom God said, “I knew you when you were in the womb…” (Jer. 1:4-5) But every word of the false prophets was proven false, and every word of Jeremiah came to pass. (Jer. 28:15-17) Few listened to his message – except one foreigner, to whom the Lord promised mercy because he trusted in this foreign God of Israel:
“Now the Word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah while he was confined in the court of the guardhouse, saying, “Go and speak to Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I AM about to bring My words on this city for disaster… but I will deliver you on that day… and you will not be given into the hand of the men whom you dread. For I will certainly rescue you, and you will not fall by the sword; but you will have your own life as booty, because you have trusted in Me,”’” declares the Lord. (Jer. 39:18)
Idolatry is not merely about the irrational worship of lifeless objects, which neither created us, nor which have the power to help us. But it is about a core attitude of trusting in works-righteousness – that is, any man-made self-help-effort which draws from sources other than intimacy with and dependence upon the Lord Himself. Even if our “religion” uses the “right” Name for God, the “right” doctrines on paper, the “right” creeds and traditions, etc., it is still idolatry if we are merely slapping His Holy Name onto our own self-made ideas:
“For because of your trust in your OWN achievements and treasures, even you yourself will be captured; and Chemosh [local pagan god] will go off into exile together with his priests and his princes.” (Jer.48:7)
In the following passage, Micah is not encouraging paranoia, but rather putting trust in the Only Source Who will never fail or turn on us:
“Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom, guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. [Mt. 10:36] But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy: though I fall, I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.” (Mic. 7:5-8)
The Theme of Trust in the Gospels:
Loving and forgiving others does not mean putting our trust in their fleshly nature, but only in the Father, to obey His every Word in relation to others:
“Now, when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the Feast, many believed in His Name, beholding His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” (Jn. 2:23-25)
Had Jesus let people’s professions of faith in Him, based on His miracles alone, go to His Head, He might have been prone to their manipulations and flattery, and allowing their opinions to persuade Him to take the Throne of David by fleshly means of force – which would have put Him right back where Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, to “prove” He was God’s Son by some amazing, dazzling spectacle of His power, instead of only doing what He saw the Father doing, and only saying what He heard the Father saying. [Jn. 5:30] Jesus refused to ever eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – that is, the “right” to figure out His Own system for fulfilling the Father’s will.
The Theme of Trust in the Life of Paul
Paul is willing to let the churches examine the trustworthiness of his integrity based on his consistent behavior; yet he does NOT look to their approval of his ministry as the final word, but only to the Lord’s approval:
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the Mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself; yet I am not by this acquitted; but the One Who examines me is the Lord.” (I Cor. 4:1-4)
When asked wisdom in areas where the Lord has given him no strong, clear command, Paul appeals to the church, presenting himself as being “trustworthy” even while merely stating his humble personal opinion, NOT because he thinks he’s always right, but because he so desperately clings to God’s mercy as his perpetual, day-to-day Life-Source:
“Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord; but I give an opinion as one, who by the mercy of the Lord, is trustworthy.” (I Cor. 7:25)
Paul is even willing to accept the probability of martyrdom because his trust is not in the obvious logic of his innocence in a court of law, but because even an unjust death cannot frighten a man whose ministry is all about faith in the Resurrection of the dead:
“….Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” (II Cor. 1:9)
Ever hear of “scapegoating”? People who are treated as scapegoats generally feel horribly and unfairly persecuted. Not Paul! Even though he knows that many are preaching the gospel more boldly just because he, “the ringleader,” the “chief troublemaker” is imprisoned, giving the religious authorities a distracting focus, he is grateful for Jesus to even be preached at his own expense. Rather than feeling jealous or self-pitying, he sees the whole thing as a positive, God-set-up, so that those who might have been afraid to share the gospel when Paul was free, afraid to be associated with him, perhaps are now feeling freer to preach, while the religious and civil authorities have bigger fish to fry:
“Now, I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel… that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear.” (Php. 1:14)
How much more trustworthy can God’s promises of salvation be, than to save the President of the Sinners’ Club? Paul is reassuring to those whose false humility (i.e., pride) keeps them from believing God can save anyone who has sunk so low in sin as they:
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (I Tim. 1:15)
Everything which Paul encourages others to trust and emulate in him is that which points to the Lord, has its source in the Lord, and bears fruit for the Lord:
For you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, Iconium, and at Lystra: what persecutions I endured, and out of them all, the Lord delivered me!” (II Tim. 2:11)
Standard for Godly Trust when Life Is Unfair
In the context of his teaching about love-based submission to authority [I Pet. 2:11-3:17] – especially to those members of society who had no civil rights in that day and age (women, children, and slaves) and were often denied justice – Peter encourages submission based on trust – not in the flawed, and not always godly, authorities to whom the vulnerable members of society must submit – but in the Lord alone to reward one’s righteous behavior, just as Jesus did. It is in that position of trust for God to deal with injustice that Peter says, “By His Stripes, you were healed.” The implication is for inner healing of emotional, spiritual, psychological, and sexual wounds of abuse from the past, through Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. This has nothing to do with any modern claim that the Bible purportedly advocates toleration of abusive relationships or of slavery. It simply means that for those in societies with no civil rights by which elected secular authorities are obligated to establish justice, believers can still trust God (Who raised The Most Innocent Victim of Injustice in History from the dead) to defend us, as we do what is right by faith and love, rather than living in angry bitterness, or looking for revenge of our own making:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, ‘Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His Mouth’ and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him Who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His Body on the Cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds, you were healed.” (I Pet. 2:21-24)
I believe many of our most damaged relationships with others can be healed by trusting in His wounds, instead of nursing our own — most of which we may find we can avoid, if we are only being led by His Holy Spirit in those relationships:
“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the Prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Php. 3:13-14)