No. Yes. Maybe. I guess it depends who you are. And what you’re selling me.
People are fickle, whimsical, flippant, ever-changing. A person we once trusted may prove to be a gossip; a person we once considered a stranger may become a confidant. Trust shifts because people change.
We’ve also grown up in a cultural environment where people who should have been most trusted have been examined and found wanting. Politicians, the media, sales companies, non-profits, and even pastors have lost the right to be trusted based on their title. We no longer buy what people sell us. Trust is a commodity, in this sense, something we feel like we can buy and sell. Like stock, it appreciates and depreciates in value. And because we’ve been sold so many cheap things and lies, we grow weary of placing our trust in anything for long.
When it comes to prayer, then, the big question becomes not just if God is trustworthy (i.e., He won’t be proven false), but whether or not we’ve been sold a lie. Sadly, that’s the starting point for many of us. When we pray, we have to overcome feeling like God may not care, may not hear, or may not even exist. And if we get past that, then we can wrestle to the ground the truth of the gospel–God made us, promised to redeem us, and did so through His Son, who now sits at the right hand of God, praying on our behalf.
Hebrews 4:14-16 speaks to this.
“14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Confidence is the key word of this passage. Our confidence is rooted in our faith that Jesus can empathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way. One of those temptations was doubting God. And yet Jesus never wavered in his faith.
Prayer itself, the repetitive act of praying, builds trust in God. There is an almost cyclical action going on. The one who lacks trust in God does not find it by excusing him/herself from prayer. Rather, the mercy and grace of Hebrews 4:16 is ours even in the times when we lack the confident trust in God so that we might one day have it. Then, we will know that God is unlike the people and institutions that let us down.
You may not be in a place where your confidence is in God. I leave you with these words from Martin Luther (quoted in Devotional Classics, Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds.) as something to hope for.
We should pray by fixing our mind upon some pressing need, desiring it with all earnestness, and then exercise faith and confidence toward God in the matter, never doubting that we have been heard. St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) said, ‘Dear brothers, you should never doubt your prayer, thinking it might have been in vain, for I tell you truly that before you have uttered the words, the prayer is already recorded in heaven. Therefore you should confidently expect from God one of two things: either that your prayer will be granted, or, that if it is not granted, the granting of it would not be good for you.’
Prayer is a special exercise of faith. Faith makes the prayer acceptable because it believes that either the prayer will be answered, or that something better will be given instead. This is why James says, ‘Let him who asks of God not waver in faith, for if he wavers, let him not think that he shall receive anything from the Lord.’ This is a clear statement which says directly: he who does not trust will receive nothing, neither that which he asks nor anything better.
From this it follows that the one who prays correctly never doubts that the prayer will be answered, even if the very thing for which one prays is not given. For we are to lay our need before God in prayer but not prescribe to God a measure, manner, time or place. We must leave that to God, for he may wish to give it to us in another, perhaps better, way than we think is best. Frequently we do not know what to pray as St. Paul says in Romans 8, and we know that God’s ways are above all that we can ever understand, as he says in Ephesians 3. Therefore, we should have no doubt that our prayer is acceptable and heard, and we must leave to God the measure, manner, time, and place, for God will surely do what is right.
Jesus commands His disciples to trust God, and trust also in Him (John 14:1). Such quick words off his lips on the night before He went to the cross. How fitting, for they would experience life in the middle of death and resurrection, with all their trust put to the test. It is the opposite of “letting their hearts be troubled.”
One of the marks of a disciple is trust in God. It may not start out as unwavering confidence, but trust becomes that. Because the Greek word pistis is translated as both “faith” and “trust,” it is easy to confuse the two, making them synonyms when they in fact have a different relationship.
Gerald May says that faith is inherently a risk. We have the freedom to choose faith, but each choice is risky. It becomes less risky as we discover that God can be trusted, that He is faithful to His character.
“Trust supports faith, and faith builds trust,” says May in Addiction and Grace. He gives the example of climbing onto a limb, risking that it is strong enough to hold. If he has previously been on the limb, he has some trust that it will hold. He still needs to make the choice of faith that it has not weakened since the last time, but this is less of a risk because of preexisting trust.
Trust is conditioned. Faith is unconditioned. Trust is conditioned by prior acts experience. Our trust in God grows because He has proven faithful in our past experience. The risks of faith we have taken have proven God trustworthy and faithful.
This is why in Scripture, we are also commanded not to fear or worry, but instead give our fears to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6). It is nearly impossible to take a leap of faith if we are hampered by fear. This doesn’t mean that fear is evil in itself, but we can allow fear of the uncertain to get in the way of making the next choice to put our faith in God. But if we have found God to be worthy of trust, fear cannot have its way. It cannot be our master. We must instead “continue to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12).