The importance of trust

As a senior in college, every first meeting with a stranger is the same. 

The brief yet firm handshake. A swift exchange of the names. Perhaps, to adhere to the code of civility, a nice to meet you, how’re you, or some similar courtesy. Maybe a comment on the weather or, if daring, the success of the local sports teams. 

Once formally introduced, the most precarious portion of the meeting begins–the interrogation. In this stage, one must navigate the minefield of this cross-examination, carefully avoiding the dreaded question. The inevitable inquiry. However, your new acquaintance must ask.

What do you plan on doing after you graduate?

A bead of sweat down the forehead. Palms perspiring. Even a little weakness at the knees. Which tactic to employ–the quick deflection to a new topic? A subtle joke? Ultimately, the truth comes tottering out, like a graceful toddler attempting his first steps:

… I- I don’t know yet.

Trusting Through Uncertainty

Navigating through uncertain circumstances requires trust. The wisdom books (including Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) consistently tell us to trust God. We are told not to “lean on our own understanding” but “trust in the Lord with your whole heart” (Prov 3:5). David urges us to “offer right sacrifices and put [our] trust in the Lord” (Psalm 4:5). The book of Hebrews deems our faithful trust as necessary in pleasing God: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, italics added). 

The question many may ask is, what does this trust look like?

In today’s understanding, trust is often used interchangeably with faith. In fact, definitions of either word tend to rely on the other. For example, according to the reputable, trust is “the faith you have in someone that they will always remain loyal to you and love you”. [1] Perhaps a more reliable source, defines faith as “the confidence or trust in a person or thing”. [2] In both cases, it’s difficult to parse out the meaning of the words without using the other. William Ames, a Puritan minister of the 17th century, provides some helpful clarity on their relation: “faith is the first act of our whole life whereby we live to God in Christ” and trust in God is both the essence of faith and the fruit of faith [3]. Trust is at the heart of faith and also the result of faith. It is crucial to Christian living.

The importance of trust can be seen in its opposition: distrust. Distrust in any relationship can offend one or more of the people involved and marr the whole connection. In fact, God is not pleased when we do not trust Him through uncertain times. Take for example God’s response to the Israelites’ distrust and questioning through the desert: “Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath…because they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power” (Psalm 78:21-22). 

Our distrust, in many ways, upsets God in the same way as our disobedience. Jerry Bridges, in his book Trusting God, aptly summarizes this importance: “When we disobey God, we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we fail to trust God, we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His character.” [4] In this framework, Bridges draws out the effect of distrust on how we distort God’s unchanging character.

If trust is a misaligning of God’s character, then the key is to reexamine God’s character as revealed through Scripture. We need to hear and believe His proclamation that He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” and fully believe in His trustworthiness (Exodus 34:6). As Hebrews mentions in its closing, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” so let’s trust in Him who never changes (Hebrews 13:8).

Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor

One helpful description of our Lord in this conversation of trust is given by the prophet Isaiah in these verses so often preached about and called to mind in this season of Advent:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
—Isaiah 9:6

Though each epithet of the Messiah is rich and pertinent to the discussion of trusting God, Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor is especially relevant. To fully grasp this title, it must be broken down into its two parts: wonderful and counselor. 

First, wonderful is a word that is used very differently in our modern day usage. The weather outside can be wonderful. A cheeseburger that one orders tastes wonderfully. By contrast, wonderful in the biblical sense indicates an awesome sense of incomprehensibility, such as God’s wonders in Egypt (Exodus 11:9, Nehemiah 9:10).

Secondly, a counselor is one who guides someone and provides advice. In the Old Testament a counselor is likened to a wise king who instructs his people, like Solomon (1 Kings 4:34). In essence, a counselor is trustworthy–one whom you trust to give wise direction.  

This wonderful counsel of God is most evident in the gospel. Nobody at the time of Jesus’ conception would have expected the long-awaited messiah, the King of Kings, to be born in a lowly stable in the inconspicuous town of Bethlehem. Nobody expected this messiah to use the very symbol of shame and dishonor to bring life. Now in heaven, we have the greatest high priest who can empathize with us (Hebrews 4:14-16). How wonderful is the death and resurrection of our Savior!

How to Tell a Stranger You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

What then does the illustration of post-graduation job uncertainty have to do with anything? It certainly lacks the gravity and seriousness of the many trials and uncertain times faced by the global church. The fact of the matter is that we are always faced with uncertainty, no matter how drastic. 

In the quest of figuring out my future, be it career or otherwise, I’ve been recommended to go to counselors. I’ve tried talking with guidance counselors, college counselors, career counselors for help but to no avail; every option sounds good, I would tell them as I suffered from yet another bout of indecision paralysis. Through every discussion about the future, I would tell myself I trust God and His plans for me, yet I craved concrete answers. In prayer, I found myself asking for a plan rather than to be prepared. However, in this growing anxiety, I forgot the sheer, wondrous depths of the unsearchable nature of God’s wisdom (Romans 11:33). The words of James were certainly a humbling reminder for me:

Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

The future remains out of our hands. Though we plan and often talk about our five-year or ten-year plan, things so often change. As humans living in the current moment, our greatest source of counsel and direction for uncertainty is Jesus, who alone works all things for the most perfect glory of God and the greatest good for mankind.

This beautiful description of God’s character has brought me peace in viewing my uncertain future. Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor, is both the most trustworthy and wondrous giver of counsel. The unexpected direction of my life brings me a sense of wonder, and, through it all, the Lord has directed and guided every step. Though my answer currently remains unchanged for the next stranger I meet, knowing that my Wonderful Counselor knows the steps of my life and is guiding it for my good and His glory is a comfort.

[3] The Marrow of Theology (trans, 1968)[4] Trusting God, Jerry Bridges (1988)
[4] Trusting God, Jerry Bridges (1988)

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