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Occasional Letters: Trusting Jesus, That is All

D Newell, Glasgow

The other day I found myself humming one of my mother's favourite choruses: "Trust in the Lord and don't despair, He is a friend so true! No matter what your troubles are, Jesus will see you through". Yet the word "trust" rarely appears in the Authorised Version of the New Testament. Instead, we find the equivalent terms "faith" and "believe". On the other hand, the Old Testament teems with "trust". "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord" (Ps 4.5), urges David, insisting that ritual ("sacrifices") is of no avail without reality of heart ("trust"). And certainly all our spiritual exercises should flow from a genuine confidence in the Lord. In Psalm 31 David uses the word "trust" four times, although the familiar English term translates two distinct Hebrew words:

In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness (v.1).

I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the Lord (v.6).

But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God (v.14).

Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! (v.19).

In vv.1 and 19 "trust" is chasa (Strong's No 2620) which means (according to the lexicon in my Blue Letter Bible) "to seek refuge, flee for protection". It is, for example, the word used in Ruth 2.12 to describe the young Moabite woman's willingness to abandon her roots and find shelter in the God of Israel. However, the word used in vv.6 and 14 is batach (Strong's No 982), "to confide in", which Gesenius suggests may come from a root meaning "to throw oneself or one's cares on anyone". Its first appearance, in Deuteronomy 28.52, is ironically in the context of vain hope: Israel, guilty of disobedience to God's law and violation of His covenant, will discover that its fortified cities are unable to stand against the invader. Taken together, the two words provide a graphic definition of Biblical faith. It involves turning our back on all other resources and fleeing for safety to the only One who can meet our needs, consciously casting our burdens upon Him.

What then can we learn from Psalm 31 about trust? First of all, trust assumes a living relationship (v.1). The greater part of this psalm (the first 22 verses) consists of direct prayer to Jehovah, in itself an evidence of intimacy. Biblical faith is never mere intellectual assent to cold fact, nor is it simply looking back to some past exercise of confidence. Rather, it is the glad heart surrender of one who has by grace been brought into a personal, present-tense relationship with the God of heaven. And such trust will express itself in prayer. Have you ever read the gloomiest psalm in the Bible? Most sorrowful poems, such as Psalm 22, end in joy, but not this one. And yet even here we find glimpses of light. Psalm 88, which begins with a wail of grief and concludes with the grim word "darkness", testifies nonetheless to the writer's faith under trial. Amidst its intense and unrelieved suffering it recognises that God is the God of salvation (v.1), the God of sovereignty (because all the psalmist's afflictions are traced directly to His hand), and the God of supplication, in that, despite his crushing load, the writer keeps on speaking to his God. Even when he can't understand, the believer prays. That's one of the striking differences between Job and his three so-called comforters; though they have a great deal to say about God (and much of it is correct as far as it goes), it is Job alone who pours out his heart – honestly, daringly, outspokenly – to God.

Second, trust is exclusive (v.6). That is to say, it must focus upon a single object. You just cannot trust everyone. Although, to obviate any future crisis in the financial industry, it is possible to spread your assets over several banks and building societies, one's ultimate confidence for eternity can only be grounded in one place. The Bible has no time for the religious pluralism of twenty-first century political correctness. Boldly the psalmist repudiates idolatry and all who practise it, for the phrase "lying vanities", picked up by another writer in another place (Jonah 2.8), pithily sums up the folly of worshipping other gods. No, the psalmist cuts himself off from useless objects of faith, for he trusts solely in Jehovah. Western society, which promotes materialism, ecumenism, evolutionism, and hedonism as some of its many gods, is utterly opposed to this truth. But Christians cannot serve God and mammon: we take our stand on Christ alone. 

Third, although this may seem surprising, trust is both stimulated and fostered by adverse circumstances. Verse 14 begins with the conjunction "But", which alerts us to a contrast. In vv.9-13 the psalmist frankly recounts his troubles. Surrounded by enemies, he is aware of their deadly hostility and of his own ingrained iniquity. It's a case of fears within and fightings without (2 Cor 7.5). The situation is bleak. But the effect of such anxiety is to cast him all the more upon the Lord. And that is one of the reasons that God, in His grace, often suffers His people to pass through prolonged valleys of affliction, physical, emotional and spiritual, that they might flee to Him in their distress. When we come to the end of ourselves there is only one direction in which to turn.

Finally, trust is ultimately triumphant: "Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues" (vv.19-20). The poetic parallelism highlights the vital fact that trust and reverence go hand in hand: those who "fear" God are those who "trust" Him. And the phrase "before the sons of men" suggests that their faith is a clear public profession. The psalmist gladly looks beyond the turmoil of the present to a time of future relief, when the Lord will unveil the blessings He has stored up for His own. For repentant Israel, that future is centred on the glories of the coming messianic reign; for us, blessings are laid up in our heavenly home, where we await "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Pet 1.4). Yet even now, in the thick of earthly discomfort, there is special spiritual preservation in God's pavilion, that impregnable sphere of safety where, hidden from the world's eyes, we are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1.5).

It's a tough old world, but we have a trustworthy God. You will have noticed that the four key words describing trust spell out another word: REST. And that is one of the loveliest Old Testament synonyms for genuine faith: "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass" (Ps 37.7). To "rest" (damam; Strong's No 1826) means "to keep silent, to be still". It's used, for example, in Exodus 15.16 ("they shall be as still as a stone"), and (most helpfully) in the Psalms: "be still" (Ps 4.4), "wait" (Ps 62.5), "I have…quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother" (Ps 131.2). To trust in the Lord, then, is not to kick and scream like an infant when things go wrong, but to be quiet and submissive to His ways with us. Not easy, by any means, but it's the sure-fire recipe for tranquillity of soul.

To be continued.


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