April 30, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
We conclude today our series based on Dr. Hansen’s book Three Vital Beliefs, the three core beliefs that got Adolf and Naomi through a terrible tragedy and beliefs that can sustain us through our challenging times. The first two beliefs were about God: the character of God, that God is good; and how God expresses God’s character, that God works for good in everything.
Today’s focus has to do with our response to these beliefs. Will we trust them? If belief is just something we think about, it does little good for us. We must make a response. We must choose to do something as a result of believing. The most important response in the life of faith is to trust God. But what does that mean?
Let’s consider one of the better known verses in the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make your paths straight.”
What do you think were the conditions that inspired this verse? Do you picture the writer lying in a hammock next to a gentle stream on a warm, sunny afternoon, in good health and prosperity with not a problem in the world, looking up at the clouds thinking about God and being inspired to write a word of encouragement to others to trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own insight?
Or do you imagine different conditions? Maybe dark clouds and storm? Perhaps not a very sunny time in life. Maybe the writer was in a precarious situation and wasn’t even sure if he or she would survive it, and in a moment of desperation turned to God and discovered that God was dependable, and they would have never made it through that time without God. Could that have been the conditions that motivated this person to write for the sake of others, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own insight?”
My guess is the latter, that the writer found himself in some place of desperation. He was a believer in God. He spent years developing a close relationship with God, building trust and confidence in faith, but one day something happened, something that put in him a place of desperation, and all those years came to bear on that single moment, and he had to put his proverbial money where his mouth was. Were all those years of learning about God, worshipping God, even praying to God just a philosophical exercise or was it true? And in that moment this person had to answer that question. This person had to take a big risk and put everything on the line and actually trust God. Not just talk about it, or recite stories of others who trusted, but trust for him or herself. And so this
person did and discovered that its all true. Everything he or she knew about God they now experienced it. God is trustworthy and dependable. And that is what led them to want to tell others, “Trust God! Trust in the Lord with all your heart,” because you can.
That is what I believe is behind Proverbs 3:5-6, that this is not just flowery speech and platitudes toward heaven, but words of conviction from a soul who had to depend on God entirely. So let’s consider some implications of these important, well known sentences, and then I want to share with you a recent episode in my life of putting some of these beliefs into action when my life was on the line.
Let’s start with the opening words, Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Let’s look at what the word trust means in the Old Testament then the New Testament and then I want to offer a definition of trust for you. First there are Old Testament words in Hebrew used for trust. They each describe activities.
For instance, one word is chasah, like in Psalm 18:2: The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust.”(KJV) In this instance trust means “to lean on,” like in hiking where you sprain an ankle and have to lean on someone for support. God is one we can lean on.
Another word is betach like in Psalm 56:4, “In God I trust, I am not afraid.” (NRSV) It means “to cling.” In this instance God is not just being leaned upon for support, but the supplicant is clinging to God in desperation.
One other word, which is one of the most important in the Old Testament is aman, from which we get our word Amen. It means “firm, sturdy, hold secure.” Like firm ground that won’t give way on you.
In the New Testament which was written in Greek there is not a word that is directly associated with trust, but the word believe, pisteo, is sometimes used in this regard. When you exchange trust for believe, it gives a very different nuance. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests this looking at Jesus famous statement to Martha in John 11. Let’s say it together: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
Now I want to say it again but exchange trust for believe: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who trust in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you trust this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I trust.”
That’s a very different feel isn’t it? Believing and trusting are similar but they’re not the same. Believing has to do with knowing. Trusting is different. Take for instance a marriage. There are certain things you probably believe about your spouse. For instance, how many of you would say, “I believe my spouse always makes good decisions?” Let’s see a show of hands. Okay, let me rephrase that. How many of you would say, “I would like to believe my spouse always makes good decisions?” Keep hands in the air. Does
your spouse always make good decisions? If not lower your hand. Okay, for those who lowered your hands, do you still trust your spouse?
That’s a different question isn’t it? You see belief and trust are similar but they aren’t the same. You can have beliefs about a person, and maybe they don’t always live up to your beliefs. They don’t do the things you want. But you can still trust them. You can believe things about people you don’t even know. I believe Anthony Richardson will be a great quarterback for the Colts, but do I trust him? How can I answer that? I don’t know him.
Trust involves relationship. And no matter how much you know about a person, trust depends on more than knowing. So trust involves an element of risk, because you give another something of value believing they will be trustworthy.
So, considering all this and thinking about our relationship with God, let’s try a definition for trust: Trust is choosing to risk something you value and make it vulnerable to another’s actions.
How do we develop that kind of trust. Go back to the Proverb: “Trust in the Lord…with all your heart.” What does that mean? Again, in his commentary Raymond Van Leeuwen points out that we understand what heart means in verse 5 by its use in verse 1 where it says, “let your heart keep my commandments.” He points out that this is the same as saying, “take to heart,” or “learn by heart.”
Think about that for a moment. If you learn something by heart, you are repeating it so that it becomes natural for you. You don’t even have to think about it, like playing music or reciting poetry. Enough times and it becomes natural. Doing something by heart takes time. You have to work at it.
Trust in God is like this. You don’t just choose one day to trust God with all your heart. You learn to trust God. You practice trusting God. You start in small ways. Through prayer you begin to sense how God nudges us and directs us. In worship you become sensitive to God’s presence all around us. In serving others we become aware of how God meets us in people.
By taking these practices to heart we develop a trust in God.
And so the writer says, Trust in God with all your heart, and lean not on your own insight. As Dr. Hansen pointed out in his book this doesn’t mean don’t use your insight. It just means don’t rely on it. Accept that our insight is faulty. It is not totally reliable. We all need help we can’t give ourselves.
Trust God with all your heart, and lean not on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make your paths straight. It doesn’t say God will make your paths easy. Straight means God will get you home.
Just over two weeks ago I learned this all over again. After Easter Susan and I went to Denver to visit our daughter Julie, her husband, Christian, and our grandson Geo. I had planned after a couple days to go into the mountains for two nights to do some study and hopefully get in a hike. I had never been to Colorado in the spring so I didn’t know what the conditions would be. Who thought there would still be snow around!
It had actually been 85 degrees in Denver so I was hopeful I might be able to get to high altitude. I was a little concerned when I saw the Dillon reservoir still frozen over. I did my best to check conditions of hiking trails but couldn’t find reliable information. The next morning I headed to Quandary Peak, a 14er south of Breckenridge. Listening to the radio I was surprised to learn all 180 ski trails were still open, and then when I saw 2 feet of snow still on the roofs, I thought it might be a short hike!
I arrived at the trailhead parking lot about 8:45am. There were just two other vehicles there. One was a van that appeared to have just arrived. Five guys who looked to be in their 20’s were putting on their gear. Now I just had on my hiking shows (not boots!), warms layers and coat, but no gloves or walking poles. These guys had cleats on their shoes, gators (leg covers that keep snow out of your shoes), gloves, poles, and even wind scarves over their faces. I thought I either didn’t get the memo or they over prepped. I went over to talk to them could tell they were sizing me up like, “This OG is half-dressed.” I wished them well and got started. On the way I broke off a branch on a tree to use as a hiking stick. The path was icy and not the easiest to climb.
I made it to the tree line in a couple hours and came into a clearing. This is where I hit a snow field and became aware of just how deep the snow was. Every few steps my feet plunged through the hard pack surface down three or four feet. I pulled myself up each time and kept climbing til I came to a lookout and realized I couldn’t find the path. The snow was too deep. The normal signs you see in summer were buried deep. I knew it was too risky and turned around, went back through the soft snow fields, more plunging, getting wet feet from snow in my shoes. Once I was back in the trees, I met the five guys coming up. The leader had GPS on his phone showing the trail and his position relative to it. And something about him made me think he was ex-military. I thought if I hang with these guys I could keep going. They didn’t mind so I got at the end. Back through the snow fields again.
Now the other difference you need to know about hiking in these conditions is that in the summer you do switchbacks on the steep slopes, going back and forth to lessen the incline. But walking over deep snow, you go the direct path—straight up!
When we got to about the halfway point, a rocky knoll, I knew this was becoming one of the hardest hikes I’d ever done. But now my ego kicked in because we were getting at high elevation and I was outpacing three of the guys. Each time we stopped for a break they walked up and said, “Robert (that’s what they called me), you’re our hero. You don’t even have the right gear and you’re going faster than us.” Well, that kept me going several more hours, until within about 700 vertical feet of the summit, about 13,500 feet. The conditions had worsened. The wind picked up to gusts close to 50-60 mph knocking us off our feet. The temp was below freezing and with windchills probably in
the single digits. The snow was now solid ice and I knew my shoes couldn’t handle going down, so I told the guys to go on up. I would turn around and meet them back at the rocky knoll. As I was going down I met another group of three guys going up. They had snow shoes on, but didn’t seem quite confident in where they were headed. I pointed them toward the top and kept heading down.
My right knee was starting to hurt and swell. I figured as slow as I was, my group of guys would get down about the time I did. Going through a deep snow field to reach the knoll I discovered the afternoon sun had weakened the snow. Each step would sink down to waist level. It was exhausting. I finally sat down, put my stick behind me and scooted the final 250 yards.
Its now late in the afternoon when I reached the knoll. I looked back up the mountain and saw no one descending. I ate a snack and drank some water. I had gotten very thirsty by this point. Finally I saw someone above the snow field get to a rock and sit down. It’s a good half mile above me so it was too far to communicate, but it seemed unusual. This group had stayed together. I waited probably half an hour, but this person didn’t move.
I was starting to get anxious because the sun was getting low. I had no light besides my phone, plus it was getting colder and I knew we were still a good 3 hours away. I had to act. I walked down from the knoll and could see the tree line about a half mile below. But I could not tell which way to go. All my instinct told me to go to the right, but I knew I wasn’t sure. But I also couldn’t wait. I finally decided to go on and when I did, I had the strongest sense come over me, that said, “Wait. Don’t go alone. Wait.” That was a very annoying sensation after spending an hour figuring out what to do.
But I wait. I climb back to the top of the knoll where I could see the guy above me. Now, two others joined him, which seemed strange because where are the other two. The three begin making their way down, but again, it’s slow. 30 minutes later they arrived and I realized it’s the other party. I told them I wasn’t sure where to go, and if they were headed to the parking lot, I’d like to tag along. They weren’t the warmest. They shrugged their shoulders and said, “Whatever.”
I had no idea where my group of 5 went, but I follow behind these three as we move through another snow field. The guy in front of me wasn’t too good on his snow shoes, but the first two make great time getting to the trees and disappearing in the woods. I am struggling. Each step is a drop into waste deep snow. Plus each time my left leg goes down my right leg is on the surface with my knee bent back. Very painful. I try to keep up with the guy in front of me but he gets some separation and disappears into the trees.
When I reach the trees I yell to see if the guys are close by. No response. I realize I’m on my own. I feel one of my fingers and discover its numb. I was starting to get frost bite. This is when I hit another deep sink hole, and a thought occurs, “I haven’t prayed about this situation.” I felt like God said, “You’re on you knees, might as well talk to me.”SO I prayed, “Lord, I need your help. Help get off this mountain.”
I get up and the walking gets easier. The snow is solid to walk on. Finally I heard a voice say, “You still back there?” Yeah! He said the trail is up here. So I get to them and he points out the trail sign. They were going to rest for while, so I keep going the direction the sign pointed, but again, you can’t really see which way. Its now starting to get dark and the bottom falls out. I hit a deep patch of snow. The guy I had been following comes along and goes in front of me, and then he hits it. His two buddies found the trail and were going ahead, but we are now in chest deep snow and we can’t get to him.
Even worse, this guy starts to lose it. He left a snow shoe in one hole, then a moment later his walking poles. I knew what this meant. He was tired and giving up. Then, in another sink spot, his shoe comes off. He’s now barefooted on one foot. Not good.
He yells for his buddies to call Rescue. I can’t quite follow their conversation because I’m further back, but eventually one yelled back and said, “Rescue can get here for hours,” but they were going on down to get help. That’s when I realize I may not be getting off that mountain that night. My knee is about spent. My feet are cold. My fingers starting to freeze, and I have no idea how I will take care of this other guy. It was getting discouraging, when I look up and see 5 headlamps walking within 20 yards. I yell out, “Guys is that you?” They said, “Robert? Are you okay?” I said, “Not exactly. We have a situation here.” They got to the other guy and kicked into emergency response. They pulled him up to where they were, wrapped his foot in a thermal blanket. I did an army crawl to get to him. I could him them encouraging the other guy who was doubting he would make it. They said, “Look, everyone gets down tonight no matter what!”
I could hear the leader plotting a path. Its now pitch dark. He yelled for us to all keep in a straight line. The next hour and a half was torturous hiking down, through deep, snow and darkness. But eventually we got to the clear trail. 30 minutes later the first people in a rescue team reached us. They stayed with the other guys to treat him and sent us on. Soon other rescuers met us and walked with us down. An hour later we were at the parking lot.
I thought about what had happened. We did not come down exactly the way we went up. That means those 5 guys were in a different location as well, and they happened to pass within 20 yards of us. Had I followed my instinct and walked on earlier, I would have never been close enough to any of them to have been found.
I asked the guys if they could step over to their van. I said, “You have no way to know this, but I’m a pastor. And I believe you saved my life.” I asked if I could pray for them and they said yes and grabbed shoulders in a circle.
I got back to my hotel about midnight. I stood in the shower for about 30 minutes. And I thought about all that could have gone wrong, that nearly did. But I thought about things that went right, and about my prayer and what I experienced about trust in God. These are some things that came to me:
· Trust doesn’t mean clarity. Trust doesn’t come with knowing how something is going to turn out or complete confidence about what you should do. Its about learning to trust the ways you feel God speaking to you, and believing that God is present and working even thought you aren’t sure.
· Trust doesn’t mean things are easy. The promise that God will make our paths straight doesn’t mean God will make our paths easy. Getting to a better place can often mean tough slogging. But you tell yourself, “I can’t stop. I have to keep going. God will give me the strength.”
· Trust grows through problems. We don’t learn to trust God because life is easy or under control. Just the opposite. But as we trust God in our challenges, trust grows. So when big challenges come along we don’t give up. We keep going believing God is at work. As Peter Enns says, “Trust in God grows best when things are falling apart.”
· God often helps us through helpers. God helps us through other people, sometimes total strangers. So we should never pass up an opportunity to be kind to others, to interact with them, to rely on them. They may be the very ones we depend on.
I tell you this story not so that you will lecture me after the service about being more cautious. Susan has already handled that for you! I tell you because some of you, at least metaphorically, may be in a similar place today. You are frozen by events that have happened to you. You feel like you keep sinking down, and God is nowhere around. But when you get knocked on your knees, you might as well talk with God about it while you’re down there!