When Trusting in the Lord Doesn’t Work

A college friend of mine watched every episode of Marcus Welby, M. D. (the TV series about a small town, family doctor), and my friend wanted nothing more than to be a like-minded, caring, personal physician.

My friend aggressively pursued his pre-med studies, but he also countered the competitive culture of his program by tutoring other pre-med students. His life verse was, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). He said he didn’t want to grind through med-school simply by his own hard work. He wanted to “trust in the Lord.”

He and I graduated in 1979 (back around the time the flush toilet was invented). He went off to med-school and I went off to the mission field.

I saw him next three years later. He had dropped out of med-school after a prolonged, unknown illness (probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), and he struggled to pay his mounting bills, not to mention finding a job with any sense of personal fulfillment.

He had also rejected Christianity. He said, “I trusted in the Lord, and look what it got me, illness, exhaustion, humiliation, and grunt work. Not exactly the Promised Land.”

What Do We Trust?

It’s easy to deceive ourselves by “trusting in the Lord.” It is a command of God, but if we “trust in the Lord” mainly to get us through medical school, then our real trust rests in the letters “M. D.” after our name. We simply use God to get what we most trust in.

We say, “If I were a doctor, I’d be happy. And I’d serve the Lord.” God becomes a means to get what we really think will save us from a humdrum life: the prestige of that title.

The heart of Christianity is salvation. But modern Christianity has skinnied-down that “salvation” to a bread and water diet of life after death. Of course, it does mean that, but it means much more. It’s an abundant life today as well. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

My med-school-friend also skinnied-down his life verse. He only remembered the first half. The entire verse reads:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
whose trust IS the Lord. (Jer. 17:7)

Biblical trust in the Lord rests not in using God to get what we most want. It is fulfilled when we discover that God alone is what we most need. Knowing him is our salvation. Not titles, missions, success, or financial peace.

Maybe It’s More of an Invitation

God commands and encourages us to trust in him. But maybe it’s more of an invitation.

I’ve been reading about Habakkuk’s pain in the face of life-ending adversity. He asks God, “Why?” While God never answers the prophet’s question, God finally does speak to him. And Hababbuk closes his short book with this:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)

Habakkuk doesn’t get his M. D., but he gets God, and his heart melts. He says he will be fine if his fruit trees are barren, his barns empty, and if he is sick, gets laid off, or loses his retirement savings.

While I have not arrived at this place of beauty, I sense God inviting me into such a knowledge of him that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”


P. S. For many believers, our spiritual lives also seem unsatisfying. We ask, “Is this all there is?” God says that true, abundant, fulfilling life can be found: It is simply in knowing Him (John 17:3).

That overflowing, rich life is found in hearing Him. To nurture that conversational relationship with your Father, I suggest you read Hearing God in Conversation.

This week, the Kindle price is reduced to $2.99 and the print reduced to $12.74. Buy now and watch the video below.

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What do YOU think?

14 thoughts on “When Trusting in the Lord Doesn’t Work

  1. Yes finnally! Someone says it right, I quote:
    Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
    whose trust IS the Lord. (Jer. 17:7)

    Biblical trust in the Lord rests not in using God to get what we most want. It is fulfilled when we discover that God alone is what we most need. Knowing him is our salvation. Not titles, missions, success, or financial peace.

    This is the real deal….So many times I have been a bit sad that people think that since Jesus came so that we could have life abundantly means life in a worldly sence. But He didnt mean it like that…!!!
    So agree with you, Sam:)

    • Hi Chris,

      I suspect we both know it is much easier to say than to do; to move past “using God” until we finally “get God.” (And only then will we be satisfied.

      But I find it hopeful that God even invites us up into that. I’ve used God so many times for “what I really want” and none of those things satisfied for long.

      I think God is inviting me to the one thing that will satisfy: knowing Him.


  2. I like the way you put it when you said, “But modern Christianity has skinnied-down that “salvation” to a bread and water diet of life after death.” I haven’t heard the description skinnied-down before. I am grieved that we (the church) have made christianity “get out of hell insurance” and then we’re taught to go back to a life of willpower/works (bleh!) and following rules/the law (double bleh!). And then we wonder why so few believers have joy, peace, or confidence in who they are IN CHRIST, and why non-believers want no part in our so-called “life.” What life? We are wasting away on a diet of bread and water. I’m going to remember that phrase!

    • I love your line, “get out of hell insurance.” Exactly.

      Now, I NEED that (and thank God we have it); but I need a real life here too, an escape from my willpower (which runs out for all of us eventually) or an escape from the pointlessness of humdrum life.

      God’s promise of “abundant” life is something we believers seem to forget. And yet that hope is what should fuel our hearts.


      • Will power (to hang on to the end) is a lot like the will to power (to use everything available to achieve one’s own purposes). God’s disappointments can help to free us from that will to power.

  3. Yes, and our prayers (trusting in the Lord for the answer we want) are sometimes (often?) not what would actually make us happy or fulfilled, or give us the life that would be abundant. I have seen that God’s other path was what was actually best for me. It’s as though He says, “Baby, trust Me. That wouldn’t have made you happy. THIS is where I want you, because I know you better than you know yourself.” God sees around corners.

    • Your last line says it all: “God sees around corners.” I just love that.

      Someone once said, “If your God is big and powerful enough that you pray to him expecting answers, he is also knowledgeable and smart enough to know what you really most need. You can’t have it both ways.”

      As you see, he sees things we can’t see.


  4. I always cringe when anyone connects God’s promises and provisions with “it works.” My experience with claiming God’s promises, etc., is that when it all doesn’t “work,” the gentle voice of God asks me if I’m still going to follow Him. I can’t ever say that I don’t know Him, or that there is somewhere else to go!

    • Hi Bruce,

      You are talking about rich, deep, true spirituality. And I love it!

      We are absolutely incapable of discerning “what works” in this realm. Besides, at what point do we get to say, “It works”? What would Joseph had said when he was betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned on a false charge?

      Paul says he doesn’t judge others, but he also doesn’t judge his own life. We let God work through us as he wills, and we wait for his “Well done” — but only at the end.


  5. Sam, sometimes we even “skinny down” our ideas of acceptable terms for knowing God. We embrace the thought “that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection,” but we would prefer to disconnect that from “and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” We forget that by definition resurrection must be preceded by death, that the grain of wheat remains alone until it falls into the ground and dies.

    The process of dying to self and to our idols [see “Hearing God in Conversation,” Appendix B] may take many forms. The third year of medical school is only one variant.

    • Hi Doctor Michael,

      I think it’s mainly our modern, western world that thinks all life should be sunshine and roses. Past Christian cultures recognized the critical value of suffering, that conformation to His death.

      While I hate to admit it, I suspect every single significant spiritual growth in my life has come through the death of suffering; finding life in the “blessor” more than the “blessings.”


  6. You help me think along the lines of being in concert with God in prayer, that we are in a form of unison with each other sort of like friends completing each other’s sentences. So prayer is as Jesus taught, joining in with the Father, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6). I confess I too often pray prescriptively, desiring, “Lord, THIS way with THAT result.”