Monday, 20 October 2008


Trust is like china – beautiful but easy to break. Once broken it is difficult but not impossible to mend. So where should we begin? Let’s look at our relationship with God first. Prov 3.5 says, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct you paths. Notice the emphasis on, all your heart and all your ways. In every area of our lives God wants us to trust Him – with all our heart. In Ps 86.11 David asked for God to unite His heart. He didn’t want any reservation in his heart towards God. He wanted to be fully devoted, fully surrendered, trusting fully.
But what are we really doing when we put our trust in another person – including God? What do we actually trust about them? I see this expressed in two main areas – a person’s character and their ability or competence. This was expressed in a summary of David’s leadership in Psalm 78.72, So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. His integrity refers to his character – he was trustworthy. There was something about his motivation of heart that qualified him for this difficult task of leading the flock of God. But he also had skill. There was an ability or competence about the way he lead.

When we put trust in God we are trusting in His character. There are many facets of God’s character we could focus on but the one’s that perhaps give us the most security are His faithfulness and mercy. Lam 3.22-23 says, Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The dictionary says that someone who is faithful is: worthy of trust, reliable and consistent with truth. Synonyms offered include loyal, true, constant, steadfast and staunch. This is how God is in His essential nature – faithful, true to His word. When He says He will do something He follows through.

However, God’s timing is very different to ours. He will often give a promise and then we have to wait in faith for its fulfilment. This is not a passive period. During this time our faith is being refined. It is what Peter calls, the trial faith that shows forth its genuineness. We wait but with expectation. God gave Abraham the promise of a son but then waited. Abraham had to learn to trust God. As time went by, it seemed even more impossible that the promise could be fulfilled. Finally as an old man God appeared to Abraham and Sarah declaring, Sarah your wife shall have a son, Gen 18.10. Sarah laughed – hardly the response of someone in faith. But God challenged her laughter and reminded her, Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Within a year she gave birth to Isaac whose name means laughter. God had the last laugh! Abraham and Sarah went on a journey with God – literally. They wondered through the Promised Land and through many experiences they learned how to trust God – with all their heart, in every area of life. Perhaps this is why God could ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He knew where his trust was placed. Hebrews 11 helps us understand what was going on in Abraham’s heart. It says in verse 19, concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. This is astonishing considering the time that Abraham lived in. He worked out that the only way God could fulfil His promise was if He raised Isaac from the dead. He believed and trusted in a God of resurrection. Amazing!

But this brings us to the second point; God’s ability. God is able to do what He says, Is anything too hard for the Lord? It is one thing to have good character but another to have ability. Many times we make promises to others that are well meaning yet we can let people down. There are various reasons for this. Take the simple promise of agreeing to meet someone at a certain time. Train delays, cancelled planes or road works can all conspire to make it impossible to keep our word. Our intension was good and sincere at the time but circumstances out of our control overtake us. We are usually gracious in such circumstances.

But it highlights an important truth – we are not in control. This is meant to create a more humble approach to life especially when it comes to making plans or promises. James addresses this issue when he says, come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that, James 13-15. There is so much in life that we have no control over, yet we plan things without reference to the Lord. Real trust always brings God into the picture.

At other times we let people down because we overestimate our ability to deliver what we promise. Paul speaks to this issue when he says in Rom 12.3, to everyone, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. We are meant to function within our ability. Sometimes through jealousy, guilt, peer pressure, or some other reason we step outside of that ability. People feel let down and over time trust breaks down. This is where we need a sober appreciation of where our gifting lies. Competence is as important as character. Without it we are only making well meaning pledges. Disappointment is bound to follow.

There is of course the possibility that we lie to others. This happens all the time in the world. In the business world we tell ‘white lies’ hoping to defer peoples anger and buy us more time to put things right. We don’t admit to a customer that their product is late because we forgot to order it on time. It’s easier to say our supplier let us down. But this kind of ethic has a way of catching up on us. When folk find out we have made a habit of doing this our integrity is shot and trust is broken. The key is this: don’t let your gifting take you where your integrity can’t keep you.

I have observed that we still go to one of two extremes on this issue. We can appoint a good person with great character to a task they are not gifted to do. We in effect set them up for failure. This is unfair on them and the organisation they work for. The other extreme is that we spot a gifted person and appoint them to a role they are not yet mature enough to handle. Their character is not yet fully formed sufficiently. Again we have set them up for failure. We need both – character and competence, integrity and ability, heart and hands.

Now in God these qualities reside in abundance. His character is trustworthy and His ability is limitless. As we follow Him we also grow in those qualities – we become conformed to the image of His Son, Rom 8.29. This kind of trust releases many benefits. The first of course is salvation. Isaiah 12.2 says, Behold God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH the LORD is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. God is our deliverer! He is able to save us from the penalty of sin, the power of sin and ultimately the presence of sin.

Notice how this releases praise. He has become our song when we trust Him. Trusting people are full of joy. They are like those Paul describes in Eph 5.18-19, filled with the Spirit speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. They have a song because they trust in Him and He has become their song. This has a big impact. David said, He has put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord His trust... Ps 40.3-4. Others trust in God when they see the joy we carry expressed in songs of praise to Him. It makes a difference. Even our worship can have an evangelistic impact.

Isaiah 26.3 says, You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you. When we put our trust in God we exchange all of our uncertainty and anxiety for His peace. Luther called it the divine exchange. God’s shalom guards our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ, Phil 4.6-7. We don’t need to live in fear. Trusting him can release us from every anxiety. Our responsibility is to give over everything to God – in all our ways to acknowledge Him.

Jeremiah 17.5-8 makes a contrast between those who put their trust in God and those who put their trust in people only. The man whose heart departs from God and looks only to others is like the shrub in the desert. Good may come to him but he doesn’t see it. His focus is somewhere else. He is conscious of the heat, the drought and the lack. But the man who trusts in the Lord is described as blessed. What a beautiful word that is. God’s favour rests on such a person. The metaphor changes drastically. This person is like a tree. Their roots go deep so that even in a drought they have a secret supply that nourishes them. They continually bear fruit – despite the drought.

People who trust God live with the blessing of God over their life. His favour follows them, just like it did with Joseph. Despite the injustices that came to him God ensured that at every turn he was promoted. It was part of his calling! And Joseph kept his integrity when it would have paid him to give it away. But he saw beyond the short term gain this might bring and trusted God. His vindication followed, but not before all trace of self dependence had been dealt with. Here’s the thing about trust, you really don’t know how much you have till everything else that matters to you is stripped away. Job discovered this. Yet he held fast to his integrity declaring, though he slay me, yet will I trust Him, Job 13.15.

So how do we build or rebuild trust? Here are some pointers that have helped me:
1. Do what you agree to do. In other words follow through on your promises. Like building a house, each fulfilled promise is like laying a brick. The simple repetition of being true to your word over time builds trust.

2. Don’t go beyond your ability. Have a sober appreciation of your gifting and maturity. Allow yourself to be stretched, but always let people know that’s what is going on. You won’t easily recover when you let people down too many times.

3. Admit mistakes, apologise and ask for forgiveness.

4. Only offer an explanation if it is asked for, otherwise you will sound self-justifying. "I’m sorry but...", has a hollow ring to it.

5. Don’t neglect the little things. Jesus said if you are faithful in what is least you are faithful also in much, Luke 16.10. Getting into work on time, delivering on agreed goals, showing appreciation. These are the little things that build trust.

6. Allow yourself to be seen in different contexts. This is especially true in dating. Someone can really impress you when you are alone with them. But take a look at what your family think of them and how they behave and handle themselves in that context. What about in their own home environment? At work? Different contexts give us a much bigger picture of people.

7. Forgiveness is crucial when we fail. If we are to deal with the past we must give and receive forgiveness. But it not a cure all. It clears the ground but we still need to build for the future. Many times there are hurts. Therefore ask the person you have offended what makes them feel secure. What can you do that helps them trust you? The issue is what is important to them, not you. The danger here is that we place all kinds of expectations based on our fears. These must be faced. But it is better to create expectations based on faith – not fear. This gives us the opportunity to trust again. It is a journey. It requires great honesty.

At the end of the day to trust is a choice we make and a risk we take. There are no guarantees. Jesus chose Judas on the same basis as Peter, James and John. Yet Judas betrayed His trust. It did not destroy Jesus and broken trust does not have to destroy us. God is bigger. Ultimately our trust must be in Him.