Last post, we began exploring Psalm 37 (and yes, we delved a bit into my bittersweet feelings as I sent my son to college). I’m happy to report Operation College Launch was successful. I’m also happy to report that with that important day behind me, I’m ready to unpack more wisdom from King David.
This week and next, we’re going to learn to stop unproductive ways of handling opposition and stress by focusing on seven things we can do while we wait for God to move in our situations.
Psalm 37:1-2 opens like this:
Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
“Do not fret.” It’s tempting to categorize this as wisdom about avoiding worry in general—when I think about the word “fret,” I see myself uptight and consumed with anxiety. What’s powerful about Psalm 37, though, is that David is addressing a specific kind of emotional upheaval that I bet anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account, or heck, who just watches the news, will recognize. It’s losing our cool, and our hope in God, in the face of opposition, evil, and chaos.
The Holman Christian Standard Version renders 37:1: “Do not be agitated by evildoers….” This seems closer to the mark than “fret” because the Hebrew word used here carries the idea of “burning” with emotion over wrongdoers and their deeds. Think about the last time someone said or did something that burned you up and maybe even made you want to go to war (even if it was just in the comments section of a social media post). I was there just last week! But Psalm 37:1 reminds us, “Do not fret,” or as commentator Warren Wiersbe says of this verse, “Cool down and keep cool!”
The verse also says, “Be not envious toward wrongdoers.” What happens when we see someone getting away with what’s not right, fair, or kind over a long time? Our early agitation and indignation turns bitter, and we can begin to believe might DOES equal right and nice guys DO finish last. If we don’t stop the negative spiral early, or as David will say later, “Cease from anger…forsake wrath [and] do not fret,” it will “lead [us]…to evildoing” (37:8).
David says wrongdoers won’t keep their place in the sun forever. They’ll eventually “shrivel like grass clippings” as The Message paraphrases verse 2. How, then, DO you shift to a bigger perspective of God’s justice if you find yourself fuming and fretting? I’ve found seven things in just three verses that help shift my attention from people and events I cannot control to a good God who has promised “to work all things for good” (Romans 8:28).
Psalm 37:3 contains the first four—our focus for this week. In fact, during a long season of relational turmoil, I posted that one verse on my bathroom mirror as a daily reminder:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
1. Trust in the Lord – Trust IS faith as we choose to rely on God even though we see opposition, turmoil, and evil in our immediate view. It’s difficult, however, to trust someone you don’t know, so perhaps the first step for you is learning through the Bible that He is trustworthy. You can begin with some simple passages like these Faith Boosters.
2. Do good – When I’m combatting worry, anger, or continued opposition, nothing shifts my attention away from myself more than seeking out good I can do for someone else. Our good works put life into our faith, showing instead of just telling of our trust in God (James 2:18). We are saying through our actions, “Even though things look bad, I believe in a good God who has blessed me so I can be a blessing.” Jesus even challenged us to extend goodness to those with whom we may be in conflict by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). Who knows? Our choice to do what is good might be what turns someone from the path of “shriveling like grass clippings in the sun” to becoming a beloved child of God.
3. Dwell in the land – David and his people were connected to a very real promised land and were meant to stay there even though they often faced enemies like a certain Philistine giant that had to be taken out by a much younger David. For us, dwelling in the land can mean not bailing out of the place and kingdom work God has for us. Are you facing opposition to your calling? In the place of opposition is where we learn to “put on the full armor of God, so that [we] will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). “Dwelling in the land” may not seem like making much progress, but at least we’re not giving up ground in the meantime.
4. Cultivate faithfulness – This phrase is translated various ways, but the idea seems to be of feeding in a safe pasture so that we grow our faith. I love the idea of the humble lamb learning to trust the good shepherd as it grazes in the pasture where the shepherd has led it that day (see Psalm 23). Recognizing how our shepherd provides every day and being thankful for that provision guard us from the exhaustion and angst of fretting over opposition and evil.
Next post, we’ll look at the final three on our “better than fretting” list, but let’s get started today trusting in the Lord, doing good, dwelling in the land, and cultivating faithfulness.