A very wonderful and wise lady at my church said that we wouldn’t have to say, “I trust you” if there were no question of the path. Isn’t that so true? “I trust you” isn’t something we randomly say to start a conversation like a “Hey, how are you doing?” sort of greeting; it is something deep and personal that we say when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Real trust is always revealed in the face of uncertain circumstances.
Yet trust is a tricky thing because it makes us vulnerable. Trust is about relying on someone or something other than yourself to come through for you, and that can feel scary – dangerous, even. And that is where we run into trouble trusting God. Oh, we know we are supposed to trust Him, knowing that His plans are best and that He is good. So, like good Christians, we place our “trust” in God – but just in case He doesn’t come through on His promises, we devise a back-up plan, a Plan B to implement when Plan A just isn’t working out.
In The Princess Bride, Westley told Buttercup that he would always come for her because that is what true love does – it keeps promises and always prevails. Always, Westley said. Now, long story short: Westley left, Buttercup ended up engaged to the horrid Prince Humperdinck, Westley came back only to be parted from Buttercup again. Then the prince was going to force Buttercup to marry him. At the wedding ceremony, Buttercup waited in all the defiance of her certainty that Westley was coming. She goaded the prince, gloating that Westley was coming to rescue her.
And then the hasty ceremony was over, and her words broke something deep inside me: “He didn’t come.” He didn’t come. How often do we say that about God? We find ourselves in situations, waiting expectantly for certain, even promised outcomes, and then we hit the point where our situation becomes so hopeless, so unalterable, that we give up on trusting Him.
The problem is that we put limits on our trust – particularly time limits. When things don’t happen and promises aren’t fulfilled according to our concept of a “timely manner,” our trust falters. After the marriage ceremony, Buttercup’s trust in Westley failed. She had gone past the point of no return, and so she jumped, in a matter of minutes, to her back-up plan. As she prepared for suicide (a dramatic but not entirely uncommon back-up plan), Westley revealed his presence. Of course, she is delighted to see him but is also grieved at her recent marriage to the prince. Yet Westley announces that it wasn’t what it seemed – she isn’t really married to that cad and is free to leave with Westley instead. You see, Westley and Buttercup had different perspectives. Buttercup was so caught up in her disappointment that things weren’t “working out” that she failed to see circumstances as they really were.
I find that this is a very honest depiction of our relationship with God: time-bound trust, unmet expectations, uncertain outcomes – and a back-up plan to “save” us from disappointment and make us feel secure. My dear friends, we have to give up our back-up-plan way of life. What does that mean? It means that you give yourself fully to what God is doing in you and through you. It means that you don’t plot out what you will do if (insert promise here) doesn’t come to pass (even though God said it would). It also means – and this is very important – that you don’t plan how you will be “happy” if God doesn’t come through for you.
Now, don’t get indignant about that statement; let me explain. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be content with life or that we shouldn’t find joy in simply being in relationship with our King. After all, that is more than enough because He is more than enough. But we cannot spend our time planning on how we will be good, happy Christians if God’s promises fail because that is the same as renouncing our trust in Him; if we are thinking this way, we are basically affirming that He isn’t “coming for us.” I have done this many times – even recently (as in yesterday): sitting and thinking about how I will decide to be “content” even if my God-dreams never become reality. Warning bells should have been going off in my head long ago – or perhaps they were and I was too busy being a “happy Christian” to hear them. There is a MAJOR problem here: this kind of thinking is reliant on lies about God’s goodness and faithfulness (or lack thereof).
I never considered it bad to have a back-up plan, and I never considered it incongruous to have a back-up plan even as I claim to trust God completely. In fact, I never even realized that I had back-up plans for my life until I realized that none of them would work out. Sometimes God has to take all other options away for us to realize that our trust needs to be in Him alone. I’m not even out of college, and I had back-up plans for my back-up plans for the rest of my life. I sensed the Lord smiling knowingly as He asked me this last week, “And how is that working out for you?” as I stood amidst my crumbling, last-resort plans. Obviously it wasn’t working out so well.
Now, take note that nothing happened to break God’s promises in my life; the only thing that had a break-down was my plans for “just in case” God’s promises don’t come through. This brings up an interesting point: not only can we follow our own plans for our lives, we can also (and perhaps more dangerously) be following God’s plan for our life in our own strength. That is why we desperately need to listen to the heart of Proverbs 3:5-6:
“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 [make smooth, make straight] your paths.”
The truth is that, in order to “trust in the Lord with all your heart,” you actually can’t lean on your own knowledge, your own strength, your own back-up plans. Relying on your own strength will make your path confusing and fraught with worry, and when you are trusting in your own strength – even while following God’s plans – you will never be able to see the fullness of His blessing and faithfulness in your life. According to these verses, all we are required to do is trust Him; we don’t have to strain or struggle to discern the route or try to “figure things out.” And notice that the promise that God will direct you, making your path smooth and straight, doesn’t mean that you get to see your path beginning to end. God calls us to take part in His adventure, and He guarantees His goodness toward us.
It is hard to give up your back-up plan when your every fear rises up to scream that you need to protect yourself and that God’s promises cannot be trusted. But we can refute and lay aside these fears with strength and victory, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Know all His promises are “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20) and that He is always faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny His nature (2 Tim. 2:13).
And so I will leave you with the words of the Lord from Isaiah 55:10-11. May these beautiful words of life stir up a fresh hope within you as you wait for the sure promises of our Lord, who always comes for you; and may He expand your trust beyond the boundaries of time into the limitlessness of eternity:
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may bring seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”