I’m an ordained elder. For 13 years I was a pastor. And if you test my spiritual gifts, one of them will be faith. So it might surprise you to learn that trusting God is something I struggle with.
Perhaps the seeds of this struggle were planted when I was 11 and my father died from brain cancer. I grew up going to church and when my father was diagnosed with cancer it was unreal. Everyone I knew was praying for him to recover. Yet, despite all the prayers and Bible verses that were quoted, my family watched him slip away from us. I struggled, I grieved, but somehow my faith remained intact.
Then, the summer after my junior year in college I went on my first mission trip. I went with an amazing group called YIM that did a fantastic job preparing us for the world beyond our borders. During that summer I was confronted with the reality of the third world. I learned about people who lived on less than a dollar a day. I learned of people who were literally starving to death. I heard the stories of those who were sick and dying from illnesses that could be prevented by a simple mosquito net or treated with drugs that were readily available to all Americans.
As an American Christian I had always been taught that God provides for his children. I had memorized verses about God knowing exactly what we need and promising to care for us. I had studied the passages about not worrying about what we would eat or drink. I shook my head in agreement when I heard someone say “God always provides, right on time,” or “God didn’t bring you this far to leave you now.” I accepted these things as truth.
But how could I look in the face of brave Christian brothers and sisters who were facing death and recite those familiar platitudes? How could I say “don’t worry” to the mother who had no food to feed her children? Or tell the young man dying for lack of basic medicines, “trust God, he will provide.”? Suddenly, it wasn’t so easy to “just trust God.”
If God’s children were dying of hunger or sick and suffering in third world countries, what did that mean for me and my struggles? Surely it wasn’t as easy as just “trusting God to provide.” I’m not saying that I don’t believe God provides. Or that I don’t believe God is good, loving, and cares about us and our problems. I just believe that the way God works is more complicated than easy platitudes allow for.
Over the years I have found myself in many difficult circumstances which have tested my ability to hold onto my faith and trust God. I have cried with friends who have lost loved ones. I have faced incredibly difficult challenges in the ministry. I have struggled as my son fights to overcome the trauma he experienced before he entered foster care. I have faced extreme financial hardships. And I have faced the loss of my daughter. Life has not always been easy, and often I find myself struggling with the question of how to trust God in the midst of suffering.
Ultimately, I believe that God provides through us—the church. When someone is praying for food to feed their children, clean water, or medicine for their loved one in a third world country, we as a church are designed to be the answer to that prayer. When a mother admits she can’t buy milk, a man is homeless and eating from a trash can, a refugee is seeking shelter, or a friend asks us to pray for them, we are created to help. It’s not enough to tell those who are struggling to rely on God, or not to worry. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
So the next time you’re tempted to tell someone to “just trust God,” consider whether or not God may be trusting you to be the answer to their prayer.