As a minister of the gospel in any capacity, you often find yourself in the position of needing to help other people learn how to trust God.
Sometimes individuals directly ask you: “How can I trust God? A God I cannot see, a God who allows tragedy, a God who didn’t stop someone from sinning against me or against someone I love?”
Other times, more covertly, you notice people dipping out of serving or giving or even attending weekly church gatherings. You may be privy to their dabbling in lifestyle practices that you as their spiritual mentor or pastor believe to be risky or reckless.
You may also be increasingly aware of mental health struggles in your congregation and of individuals who have yet to experience secure attachment. To be sure, when someone has never experienced secure attachment, learning to trust anyone—including God—can be that much more challenging.
In any case, you feel a burning desire in your heart and maybe a weight of responsibility for helping the people in your sphere of influence trust the God of the Bible.
Here are a few thoughts to encourage you in this vital objective: to help others learn how to trust God.
The task of an undershepherd
As you yourself model what it looks like to trust God, it is important that you lay the weight of responsibility at his feet. You are an undershepherd. The Lord is our Shepherd. And he has taken the burden on himself to gift faith to whom he will. Sure, he’s invited you to come alongside him. But he intends your part of the yoke bearing to be easy and light. Rest in that: rest in him. Let him do the heavy lifting.
If you find yourself manipulating circumstances, stories, or outcomes, check yourself. Repent, admitting your own sinfulness, surrendering your agenda, and submitting to the Lord. Perhaps you find yourself working inhuman hours, neglecting your spouse and children, never getting enough sleep. Ask yourself if this is modeling how to trust God to those in your care.
It’s important that before explicit teaching ever comes out of your lips, you’ve been preaching truth to your own heart first, that you yourself are trusting God and modeling with your life what that looks like. For that to happen, you may need to let go of your idea of what ministry was supposed to look like and come into line with God’s extraordinary and often unusual plan.
Learn how to listen
Willing to wait and not speak
When your vocation brings with it an expectation for answers in the form of words, it’s easy to think you have to have all the answers, that you have to give an answer in the moment every time someone asks you something. This is a false premise and an unreasonable expectation. It’s important that you wait on the Lord and trust him for the words and timing to speak.
I’m reminded of Job’s friends who were amazingly supportive during the first week of his travails—but later were condemned for their unfounded suppositions as they rambled on and on. Let us be always mindful of James’s instruction to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (Jas 1:19 CSB).
A key to any relationship is active listening. Ask questions and discipline yourself to clarify: “So what I’m hearing you say is—” This gives the person sharing a sense of being seen, heard, and known, which is vital to the establishment of trust. Your careful listening demonstrates the heart of the Shepherd you serve under. Additionally, as you rehearse a person’s words to them they’re often able to see inconsistencies in what they’ve been thinking or saying.
Invite the deep struggles
Believing and feeling that “the hand of the Lord has dealt bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20) is grief, not necessarily a lack of faith. In the case of Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi, even after she asks to be called Marah, she is the one who pushes forward with a plan that honors the Levirate marriage law and produces the lineage that leads to both David and the Messiah. God does not condemn her for her struggle to believe, but rewards her and Ruth for their faith through the struggle.
Taking their complaints to God
Jesus himself asks the Father in the midst of his anguish on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!” The psalmist, too, asks, “How long?” and “Why?” He begs for God’s presence to be felt. One of the best things you can do as a spiritual leader is to encourage the hard questions, the complaints, and the accusations to be verbalized to God himself and to assure the person with whom you’re talking that God can take it and that it is safe to express all of those thoughts and emotions to him.
Offer compassion and practical help
Once you’ve listened well, there will be a time to offer help. It is important to imitate Jesus’s example in ministry in dealing with hurting people. Even as Jesus met spiritual needs, he was aware of and attentive to physical and physiological needs: he provided wine at the wedding feast, food for the multitudes, and healing of diverse physical and neurological issues. In the Old Testament, when Elijah is in the wilderness, God sends a messenger who physically touches him and tells him—twice—to eat and drink water. He allows Elijah time to sleep before he goes on to the mountain to meet with God. It is important in all our ministries to be attentive to the needs of the whole person, to treat people with human compassion and care, to be aware when there’s a basic need for food, water, sleep, shelter, or medical attention.
Turn to the Word
We understand the meaning of the word “trust” to include “hope, reliance, confidence” as well as “to lean on, feel safe with, be confident in.” I believe there’s an intimate essence to the word “trust” that’s similar to “secure attachment” in a positive familial relationship. Interestingly, it’s a pretty consistent term from Old to New Testaments and even in our modern usage. A study of the way the inspired writers of Scripture used the word “trust” can be a great place to start. Expanding the study to include words considered roughly synonymous, such as “faith” and “belief,” can further deepen one’s understanding.
Beyond specific word studies, Scripture is rich with relatable passages that encourage trust in God and teach us how to increase it. Lamentations and psalms, historical narratives, and the Gospels as well as epistles like 1 John and James can be helpful in various struggles with faith.
The Word of God has been likened to water, and our little mustard seeds of faith need it in order to grow and flourish. Still like a seed, it takes time to grow, and there are often seasons of dwelling in darkness. Encourage faithful taking in of the Word and an expectation of growth in due time.
When reading is a struggle
When someone is emotionally exhausted, reading can be difficult. For others, literacy may be a challenge. In these cases, encourage folks to take advantage of audio recordings of Scripture.
Word-filled music that expresses depth of emotion (like Ellie Holcomb’s Red Sea Road album, for example) or expounds Scripture (like Shane and Shane’s Psalms) can also be a balm to a soul struggling to hear the voice of God. Even the prophet Elisha asked for a musician to be brought to amplify his ability to hear God in the midst of a battle.
Encourage taking the next step
Choose to believe
If it becomes apparent that the person you’re talking with has never placed their faith in the saving work of Christ alone, start there with repentance and initial faith.
If the person you’re talking with is already a believer, encourage them with the biblical prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Remember truth and giving thanks
Encourage your friend to repeat what he/she knows: who God is, what his promises are, what his names reveal about him. Ask them to recount the faithfulness of God in their past: to enumerate the goodnesses of God. How has he worked on their behalf in the past? It may be helpful to offer to write down truths and memories as the struggler speaks them. Encourage them to collect and even write down their testimonies of God’s goodness and to give thanks for all that God is and does and will do. And encourage them to invite their family and friends to help them add to the list.
Healing doesn’t happen in isolation: we heal and find hope as we interact with others along the road. Consider how Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus. Sometimes it’ll be your turn to show up and walk alongside someone else. Other times, you will be the disciple walking away from what you’ve just witnessed, discouraged and questioning everything you thought was true. Allow others to show up. Invite their insights.
Act on the faith you do have
It’s possible to get stuck in a recursive loop, staring at your faith as some intangible idea. Peter instructs believers, “make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness” (2 Pet 1:5 CSB)—for, as James says, “faith without works is useless” (Jas 2:20 CSB). Encourage those you’re discipling to take up trust like a walking stick, lean on it hard—but also walk forward. As Elisabeth Elliot used to ask herself, “What’s the one next thing I can/should do?”1
Putting one foot in front of the other, “keep in step with the Spirit,” and rest in the reality that our acceptance is secure in the Beloved.
Helping others learn how to trust God is at the crux of your calling to make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded. Never forget, Immanuel is with you—always! All authority is given to him. It is God who is at work in you, both willing and doing the work! You can trust him! And as you trust him, God will use you to help others learn how to trust him too.