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How To Know Whether You’re Trusting God…or Just Being Stupid

One of the most perplexing questions a Christian and, to be sure, a Christian leader will face when it comes to risk is this:

Am I trusting God, or am I simply being foolish?

The question isn’t as dumb as it seems.

There’s a fine line between faith and irresponsibility, and at times it’s almost impossible to see.

You know that big leadership risk you’re thinking about?

your new role

the massively daunting project

the big mission trip

that new campus

your start up

hiring a team

a new facility

the big move?

So…is it a step of faith, or is it just stupid?

Is it trust…or is it irresponsibility?

How would you know?

risk

Real Risk Lives on the Edge of Spectacular

Recently I had a call from a pastor friend who wanted to get his church out of a portable situation and into a new facility.

We had talked about the move several times, and on this particular day he was down the wire. His church had given at unbelievably sacrificial levels, but he was still at least 6 figures short of his goal. Yet they had a building deal in front of them that they could move on now before costs escalated beyond what they could afford.

He asked me what I thought. I asked more questions. The answers really didn’t help me get much clarity at all, despite my friend’s best intentions.

I asked him what other wise people he and I both knew were saying. He said everyone thought it was pushing the known limits.

I said I tended to agree.

We talked some more.

So what advice did I end up giving him?

I told him:

I think this will be spectacular. It will either be spectacularly wonderful or a spectacular failure. And I don’t know which.

That’s quite literally what I told him. (Bet you don’t want to call me for advice anymore….)

But that was the truth. I just didn’t know which. I told him I’d be watching with prayerful anticipation, which I did.

So what did my friend do?

He put out one last call for giving and people…responded.

They signed the deal. And recently I saw his amazing new facility that’s nearing completion.

I’m glad I kept my mouth shut. He was right. It looks like it was a spectacularly great decision for his congregation and all those they’ll reach in the coming years.

The Bible Sometimes Makes Things…Complicated

Ever really read the Bible?

So when you read it…what do you see? Faith or foolishness?

What was Abraham thinking when we set out with his entire family to go to a land he’d never been to, risking everything for a voice he thought he’d heard?

Who was Moses to think he could stand up to the most powerful king in the land, or to even attempt it after he had so much doubt about his calling?

The prophets were….not very typical suburban people. Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days and all eating a specific diet cooked over excrement and played with a scale model of Jerusalem to show its pending destruction…wow!)

Imagine how Daniel felt being thrown into the lion’s den. Had he lived his life faithfully, or foolishly? He was about to find out.

Would you have advised your kids to do what Peter James and John did, leaving it all (including you, mom and dad!) to follow a man that had just burst onto the scene and some are starting to think is God?

How about Paul, who went from place to place, prison to prison, painfully misunderstood but absolutely committed to proclaiming this Jesus so many people rejected?

We say we want our kids to lead faithful lives, but do we even have a clue what that means?

None of our biblical heroes were exactly on the top college/stunning career track.

If you were advising any of these biblical figures, what would you have told them to do?

What is a Godly decision?

Is it always wise, prudent, restrained, responsible?
Or is it always risky, edgy, out-there, half-crazed?
Or neither?
Or both?

That’s a tough one, isn’t it?

Two Helpful Questions

For the record, I don’t believe there’s an easy way, five step, bullet proof way to resolve the tension between faith and foolishness.

Pivotal decision making should be navigated through prayer, through pouring over scripture (prayer and scripture should always be married) and through seeking advice of trusted, Christian mature people around you (click here for how to develop an inner circle like that). But sometimes that even lands in a place of uncertainty.

Here are two questions I’ve started asking myself to help when things aren’t clear:

1. Is ‘wisdom’ killing my trust in God?

2. Does my ‘trust’ in God disregard all wisdom?

Q 1:  Wisdom Killing My Trust?

I think the first question—is wisdom killing my trust in God—is more disturbing for me.

I’ve led for 20 years and learned a lot of lessons. I’m wiser than I was decades ago (hopefully that’s true for all of us who have led for a while).

And that can lead me to choose what I know, can see and can predict without honestly going for broke and trusting God wholeheartedly.

More over, the more successful you become—the more money you have, the more people you’ve reached, the more influence you have—the more conservative you tend to become. I’m not talking politics here, I’m simply saying you tend to not want to lose what you’ve got, so you naturally conserve more and risk less.

You know what’s underneath that? Fear.

Fear is clever. And fear can hide behind wisdom.

You can get to a certain season in leadership in which you no longer want to take risks in the name of being ‘wise’, ‘prudent’ or ‘ responsible.”

But the truth is you don’t want to rock the boat. If you examined your motives, you’d be honest and say you don’t want to lose what you’ve already gained. You simply don’t want to sacrifice what is for the sake of what could be.

You’d be forced to admit that having is more comforting than trusting.

And you’ve allowed ‘wisdom’ to become a substitute for trust.

And that’s bad.

That’s why young leaders are often better risk takers than seasoned leaders—they have less to lose so they risk more.

And that can lead some leaders to stop trusting God because ‘risk’ looks unwise.

When was the last time you had to trust God for the outcome of something? I mean really trust God?

If you can’t remember, it might be a sign you’ve let wisdom kill your trust in God.

Q 2: Does My Trust in God Disregard All Wisdom?

The opposite of course, can also be true. You have so much faith that you’re…well, reckless.

What people claim to be ‘trust’ can easily be:

their ego
their insecurity
a cruel disregard for other people
deep disobedience
irresponsibility

Just because you label it ‘faithful’ doesn’t mean it’s faithful.

If you are disregarding wisdom entirely and likely to hurt a bunch of people you’re likely not being faithful.

Trust still looks like Jesus…and it should have outcomes consistent with his character and with scripture.

If your decision makes you and the people you lead look nothing like Christ, it’s not from Christ.

The Final Call

So…you can go through all of these steps and still not be clear. You knew that, didn’t you?

So what happens if all of this (prayer, scripture, wise counsel and questions like the two questions above) doesn’t lead you to a conclusion?

Here’s what I do.

I just make a decision. So should you.

So many dreams have died because people were terrified to make the wrong decision. Don’t be.

Whatever decision you make, offer it up in faith. Make it faith. Dedicate the decision and the outcome to God, like Paul suggests in Romans 14:23.

A prayer like that can sound something like this:

God I”m doing this (or not doing this) because I trust you. If it’s wrong, I trust you will show me. If it’s right, I trust you will show me. I’m trusting you with the outcome.

Then go for it. With confidence and faith. Don’t hold back.

For as Augustine said:

Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

So…what do you think? What are you learning?

What would you add to this discussion?

And maybe even tell me what big decision you’re weighing right now.

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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34 Comments

  1. Jon Perrin on April 11, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    I just re-read this. GREAT STUFF! And you’re absolutely right: Once you’ve got some successes under your belt it’s often difficult to take risks that may result in failure, which could lead to a loss of influence. The more you have to lose, the harder it is to risk it all. But God calls us to take radical risks for Him. These require faith.

    In answer to your question, we’re sensing another season of radical risk-taking rapidly approaching. We’ve taken some crazy risks for God in the past. They have always paid off richly, even if it looked like it would end up as a colossal failure at the time. I believe it’s time to do so again. I would rather fail attempting something big for God than succeed at something that lacks Kingdom impact.

    Mark Batterson often says, “The goal of life is not to arrive safely at death.” My prayer lately has been, “God, invite me to get out of the boat again and come to you on the water.” The greater the risk, the greater the potential reward!

  2. Gee Alexander on April 8, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Had our RED SEA MOMENTS..
    FINDING OUT..
    IF GOD SAID IT…WE FOLLOW HIS INSTRUCTIONS…WE WON’T REGRET IT. PROVING TO OTHERS HIS FAITHFULNESS, ????

  3. Daniel S. Syme on April 2, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I’ve learned to pray James 1:5.

  4. jason bohac on April 1, 2017 at 7:42 am

    Great article! It’s tough to leave the known, comfortable, secure, and predictable (aka the boat) to follow Jesus into the unknown.

  5. Bill Hamilton on February 22, 2015 at 2:52 am

    Great insights Carey, coming at a tume when our leadership is asking this same question. Thanks for asking great questions that resonate so broadly and connect so richly.

  6. Haydn Nelson on February 20, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Such a helpful and insightful post as always, Carey – really appreciated. In leadership we so often need to embrace that tension of due diligence (so that a decision is not reckless, careless or irresponsible) and definite dependence (so that a decision really does place us in a position of reliance on God – always a good place to be). Thanks again from a brother half-a-world away. Blessings on you amd your continuing ministry, Haydn Nelson (Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 20, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Haydn..so great to hear from you! Thanks. Thinking I might be back at conferences in the great nation of Australia in February 2016. Hope it works out and that I get to see you there!

  7. angeb68 on January 29, 2015 at 2:28 am

    Carey, this is a great article and it stated some aspects of faith I never thought about before. I am currently making a stuff decision and it is not to move with my husband to another state. Reasons being: 1. The uncertainty…I have never been to the state where he wants to move and to me, it is the worst state in the US for African Americans; therefore, I am inclined to not follow him. 2. I have come to my end with his verbal abuse, taking me for granted, the implication that if I don’t act like he thinks I should as his wife he will/can always walk away to be with another fine woman…I am tired of a being made to feel inadequate and just plain not good enough. 3. Moving nearly 1,000 miles away from my family to where I have no family members to help me or my daughter if we ever got into trouble. This just doesn’t set well with me at all. Most if my life I have been taught that a wife goes where her husband goes no matter what…God wants marriages to stay together. We have a nearly 4 year child together and she’s crazy about her Dad. I don’t want to hurt her because I didn’t follow her father to another state, but I am also tired of being miserable and unhappy in my marriage. I don’t see my husband changing as I have expressed to him how I feel about his verbal abuse many times and the way he makes me feel. I think his claims of being willing to change is just to try to get me to follow him just so he doesn’t lose contact with his daughter. Me, I don’t personally think he’s too concerned about. Maybe I’m being a selfish and foolish wife and I’m simply not trusting God enough.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 29, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Ange…oh my. This is a really difficult situation. I am SO sorry to hear about it. Do you have someone local you can talk to? Maybe a trained Christian counsellor or even a family doctor? I think you need some great people around you right now both in terms of providing safety in a tough marriage but also in terms of discerning what a faithful next step for you is. I have a few stories on my podcast from church leaders who have had terribly difficult marriages and recovered from them. You can listen to Craig Jutila’s story at http://www.careynieuwhof.com/episode5 and in a few weeks, I’ll be featuring Justin and Trisha’s Davis story at careynieuwhof.com/episode22 (Note…that link won’t be live until February 10th 2015). Hope this helps. Praying for you.

      • angeb68 on January 29, 2015 at 9:49 am

        Hi Carey,

        Thank you for you prompt reply. My husband is a pastor and will not submit to counseling because he doesn’t want anyone in our business and according to him he teaches this stuff. All I know to do is do as you suggested and surround myself with people who have gone through this similar experience and work through it. I am still reluctant to relocate and now I am having difficulty believing what he says. Thank you for the suggestions.

  8. J on January 22, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    This is great. I am leaving active duty military to go to Bible college as I follow the path God has put on my heart for pastoral ministry. I am nervous but not a bit hesitant. I know my transition will be a kingdom victory even though I can’t see it in myself. As a husband and father, finances are a thought that crosses my mind but I pray and know that God will provide for my family when I don’t necessarily know where my “next check” is coming from. I almost didn’t share but I feel God wants someone to know.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 22, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      So glad you shared this…and what a great faith story. Way to go!

  9. Eener on January 20, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Love the articles Carey writes. However, so many hyperlinks in each article. At the end of reading one article, I have 10-12 other tabs opens to read.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 20, 2015 at 7:53 am

      Glad it’s helpful in the end. Sometimes I go too crazy on the hyperlinks…I just know for those who want more I had explained things more fully elsewhere.

  10. jpouellette on December 18, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    A friend shared this article with me after I dumped my anxieties over the past year on her. I recently left a part-time job that was paying a full-time salary to go full-time into peaceful dispute resolution. The new job has a very small base pay and a history of not being able to make paychecks on time. I was given a commission arrangement that was limitless in the amount of money I could make if I was able to do something very few people have ever done. Build a mediation practice. I knew this was God’s call on my life and I have a history of doing crazy things when God calls me to- and testimony after testimony of things working out better than anyone had ever hoped. So now, with a wife and four children, I jump into this abyss of potential- potential success, and potential poverty. I decided a long time ago, that I wouldn’t make decisions based on money, but on what God is calling me to do. It’s His universe, if he wanted me to make a million painting rocks, that’s what would happen. The moment I forget to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” for the sake of getting wise business and marketing strategies, I feel the pressure of the world and start to cave. When I fix my heart on His purposes, take all that strategic energy into my prayer life and submit it ALL to Him, crazy things happen. To the degree that I can describe to God what kind of client I need, and hours later the phone rings. Prayer and crazy obedience is what has gotten me where I’ve been and where I am. Keeping my focus on His kingdom- using every business meeting, phone call, client interaction, speaking engagement, etc as an opportunity to overcome the kingdom of darkness with light- keeps me motivated and equipped to continue this journey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 18, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      That’s a pretty amazing story and perspective. Thank you so much for sharing…and thanks be to God for his faithfulness.

  11. T on November 12, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Carey, thanks for this post. I need to make a decision about my career. I enjoy what I do, I’m using the gifts God has given me, and I believe/know that God is being glorified through the work…but I also don’t make enough money to support my family. I’ve started the process of a career shift to something I still think I would enjoy, but am not sure how/if I’d be using the gifts God has given me. My wife and I have prayed for God’s will every step of the way. Every door has been open over the past 1.5 years as we move in this new direction. But despite all the open doors, I am still hesitant. Part of me feels that I’d be walking away from a career that I enjoy and where I’m using my God-given talents, and that seems wrong… But the other part of me looks at my family and all the open doors, and that tells me I need to make a move. I’m torn. I want to use my gifts to glorify God, but money also comes into play. Realizing that you don’t know the entire situation Carey (or anyone else), I’d still value your thoughts. Thanks 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 12, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      T…that’s a big decision. I think the fit issue is significant. When you don’t feel like you belong or believe, you either need to treat that situation as a ministry, or you realize it’s a place where your gifts just don’t work. I think you really need to pay attention to that and have the courage to act on your conclusion either way, The status quo is a trap…so I would suggest either engage or leave. That’s my thoughts without knowing any more.

  12. TWhite on November 12, 2014 at 8:18 am

    I am struggling with a decision to stay or go. I have been raised for the most part in one denomination my whole life. It was in that denomination that I was called to preach and am now ordained clergy. I am a third generation preacher of thos denomination. I have had a fast track “career” and have quickly been promoted through the ranks of denomination but I absolutely feel I do not fit in anywhere and largely disagree with many of our beliefs. I have prayed for quite some time if I am called away but have received no definitive answer. And I have made no decision because I also have no answer on where I would go. And I must admit a lot of this is clothes in fear because I would be leaving what I have always known and people who have basically raised me in the church and I am afraid of making the wrong decision. I am and a major crossroads.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      That’s a big moment T….I’m praying for you.

  13. Dylan Baker on November 12, 2014 at 1:51 am

    I was going to put on a concert at my church that I was going to at the time and honestly did not feel good about it but went for it any way. Well the artist musician could not come i believe he had a wedding to go to, and I think my church had a clean up day the day that the concert would have been put on. So God helped me out and shut the door for me, and it was not the end of the world and at the least I tried!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      Sometimes the choice is made for us, isn’t it?

  14. Amy Kinney on November 11, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    It might seem small to some of you who are more seasoned, but I am sharing a message Sunday (as a lay person). I know that I know what God has laid on my heart to share, but contrary to what is usual for me I cannot seem to get it down on paper. It’s clear as a bell when I am praying and when I think about,,,,God is clearly present, but when I try to write it down it comes out all wrong. There is part of me that says……trust God, Hes got this, and the academic part of me saying are you crazy??? Get something written down!!! I have shared messages before and God has always given me a beautiful writing to go along with it…..is this His way of telling me to step out of my box and rely more on Him…..to teach me more about relying on the Holy Spirit? I simply don’t know……..

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      Amy so glad you shared this. This is a tough one. One thing I believe is that the Holy Spirit is present in preparation as well as in delivery. So whenever I can, I prepare as much as I can, including notes. That helps me stay focused. I wish you well on Sunday!

  15. tmarsh0307 on November 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

    I echo Charlene. Our church is getting ready to bring a proposed Children and youth education space before the church, of which there is considerable division. These are some important thoughts we need to consider as a church. Thank you!

  16. Charlene on November 10, 2014 at 10:11 am

    This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I have a lease for a new venture beside me right now and I’m about to sign. In a matter of weeks I will embark on a dream I’ve held since childhood. And it’s terrifying. As a dream, it’s always there as the comforting thought when times are troubled; “the one day when…” method of coping. Once is moves from perfect dream to imperfect reality I can’t simply imagine the outcomes, I must live it. It’s exciting, truly exciting and scary for all the reasons you listed here. But at the same time my heart says “let’s go!”.

    Thank you Carey for once again helping me through your timely writings that I know come from God.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 10, 2014 at 10:35 am

      So glad Charlene! Go for it…in faith! Whatever that means. 🙂

  17. C on November 10, 2014 at 9:28 am

    This is something I have been thinking about in this season, so I have a lot of thoughts and questions about this. These are ideas that I am exploring and I am not arguing just wondering…
    Is money the only example of living by faith?
    Re:Q2-Is hurting people a good way to base decisions? As leaders, there are many decisions that are made that will offend and “hurt” those we serve. And Jesus had no problem changing the whole order of things, hurting some in the process.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

      C…thanks. I actually asked that question because I realized my post was a bit financially weighted. That said, in my experience, financial decision are the hardest to trust God with. People are often quite hesitant to trust God with the financial implications of their faith or leadership, whether that means receiving more or receiving less money. And, to be sure, almost every decision we make has financial implications, whether it’s primarily financially driven or not. So I left the post the way it is.

    • Branden Fitzgerald on November 29, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      Hurting people doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making a good decision but just because people are getting hurt in the process doesn’t make it a bad one either. As mentioned above you can make a wise/risky decision but either could be God’s will. Let’s say for example; A pastor gets called to leave his position and step down. Now some of the church members are hurt by this and don’t want the pastor to leave his position. So the pastor has to make a decision? Does he listen to the voice of God or does he continue to stay knowing that God has something else planned? If he stays as pastor he might be pleasing some of the members but God is going to tug on his heart and say “Why haven’t you stepped down? I have a new season.” Does he please the congregation? Or should he have listened to God? What I’ve noticed is that if he steps down as pastor there will be some church members that are hurt. However if he stays he hurts himself. Either way you look at it someone is going to get hurt. We are called according to His purpose. The people around you may not understand. However it should always be “Thy will be done” and not “My will be done.” If you hurt people pray that God may give them understanding. They might not get why you made the decision but in your heart if God tells you to let go then it’s time to turn the page and move forward.

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