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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Overcoming the Barriers to Trusting God

The world tells us, “Take charge!” “You are the master of your own destiny,” and “God helps those who help themselves.” This kind of advice flies in the face of the Bible’s urgings to “submit to God,” trusting and yielding ourselves to Him (cf. Romans 12:1-2; Romans 6:13; James 4:7 NASB). These commands, then, can seem foreign to us. How do we trust and submit to God? And what keeps us from doing so?

Three obstacles keep us from coming to Christ, and these are the same barriers that keep us from yielding to, trusting in, and submitting to Him on an ongoing basis. These are emotional, intellectual, and volitional barriers.

The Emotional Barrier: Is It Safe to Trust God?

Do you remember when you first yielded your life to Christ? Did you laugh or cry tears of joy? Did you feel released and free?

After our conversion, our inner person matures and grows, but our flesh is neither removed nor improved. It’s always telling us, “You’d better take charge.” So how do we stay yielded to God? This doesn’t happen automatically. The experiential barriers are ongoing, and they can range from broken family relationships that make us reticent to trust or accept love to bad church experiences.

At a camp in North Carolina, the high ropes course has a trapdoor at the end. Climbers think they’ll go down the wire smoothly, but when the lever is pulled, they face a 20-foot freefall. A preacher was once heard yelling, “Oh, [expletive]!” on the way down. What happens when the trapdoor opens in your life? 

We overcome the emotional barrier when we believe it is safe to yield to God. The following five assurances help overcome the emotional barrier to yielding to Him — even in your freefall moments:

  1. You can be secure in God’s love, which is a demonstrated, sacrificial, and caring love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10, 19).
  2. You can be assured of God’s intentions — that He has your best interests at heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13; Hebrews 12:10).
  3. You can be confident in God’s ability to handle your problems (Job 42:2).
  4. You can be comforted by God’s commitment (Psalm 46:1; Luke 15:11-32).
  5. You can count on God’s promise (Joshua 1:5; Deuteronomy 31:6; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

The Intellectual Barrier: Does It Make Sense to Trust God?

Whereas the emotional barrier says it’s not safe to trust God, the intellectual barrier says it doesn’t make sense to trust God. The emotional barrier deals with bad experiences, but the intellectual barrier deals with bad teaching.

Christian author A.W. Tozer acknowledged the paradoxes of a believer’s life and thinking:

“A real Christian is an odd number, anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.”*

Much of the ministry of Jesus was devoted to correcting bad teaching; see, for example, Matthew 5:21 on murder, 5:27 on adultery, and 5:33 on oaths. Just before those verses, the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) define a path to spiritual happiness and significance totally contrary to what we’re normally taught (blessed are the meek, not the proud). Jesus isn’t appealing to the irrational, but to a higher truth. This is similar to how the higher law of aerodynamics supersedes the “lower” law of gravity for a hang glider.

Here are four reasons it makes sense to trust God, as the holder of this higher reason and truth:

  1. Trusting God gives us a better perspective — a mindset focused on a higher truth (Isaiah 55:7-9; Proverbs 14:12).
  2. Trusting God gives us direction (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  3. Trusting God gives us confidence — not a flesh-driven confidence, not confidence in the wrong things (like money/possessions) or with wrong motives, but confidence rooted in God and His Word (exemplified by the Bereans of Acts 17:11).
  4. Trusting God gives us true success (Psalm 27:3-7; Proverbs 15:22).

The Volitional Barrier: Am I Able to Trust God?

If you overcome the emotional and intellectual barriers, one barrier remains: the volitional barrier. With this obstacle, we ask, Is it possible to trust God?

The natural gravity of the flesh pulls us away from grace toward law-based living. This gravity is like a built-in magnet that draws us toward controlling, creating, and manipulating. Have you ever wondered why we get caught in the same sins over and over? In addition to natural gravity, Satan uses the same methods repeatedly — and they work much of the time.

The three tools Satan uses to keep us ineffective on the volitional level are as follows:

  1. The flesh: Human needs for food, security, sex, rest, and the like (Romans 7:14). Examples abound in the Bible where these fleshly needs “took over,” leading to sin: Esau’s hunger (Genesis 25:29-34), Saul’s insecurity (1 Samuel 18-31), Samson’s and David’s sexual drives (Judges 14-16 and 2 Samuel 11-12, respectively), and the sluggard’s overindulgence in rest (Proverbs 24:30-34). 
  2. The world: Referring here to the organized system of temporal values that are opposed to the life of Christ in a believer (such as money or possessions).
  3. The devil: Satan’s three desires for us are to behave as if we’re dead or lost (1 Corinthians 3:3), to think as if we’re blind (2 Corinthians 4:2-3), and to live as if we’re captives (Romans 7:21-25).

These three tools work, often interrelatedly (Ephesians 2:1-3), against the life of Christ in us and present the volitional barrier to our trust in Him. 

Turning to God

How do we deal with these ongoing barriers in our lives? The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy. 

Galatians 5:16 (NASB) calls us to “walk in the Spirit.” The Greek word for “walk,” peripateo, means “to walk around, to conduct oneself.” Walking is a step-by-step process, a sequencing process of behaving habitually. We’re to make a choice — to make up our mind whether to trust and serve God or not, and then act accordingly.

In our choices, we don’t so much turn to evil as we turn from God. Similarly, repentance is not so much a matter of turning from evil as it is a turning to God.

When the Israelites, out of a desire to “be like all the nations,” insisted on an earthly king, they turned from the will and warning of the One who knew what was best for them — and they got what they asked for, though the results weren’t pleasant (1 Samuel 8:9-20 NASB). 

Choosing our own way over God’s is always a losing option. Which way are you turned? If you’re not turned toward Him now, will you take a moment right now to yield to His Spirit once again — or maybe even for the first time? 

There’s really nowhere else to go, as the apostle Peter said, for true life — eternal life — is with Him alone.

*A.W. Tozer, Root of the Righteous (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1955), p. 156.

Copyright © March 4, 2019, Ken Boa, used with permission. More Ken Boa on Trusting God in Turbulent Times.

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