Psalm 37:1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!
The wording of the opening of this psalm is so dead-on to how I operate internally. It isn’t that there are all these situations in my life that cause me to be a fretful person. I do it to myself! I “fret myself” because of things that are going on around me. The strain of my life is rarely all that real. What do I have to complain about? Let’s review:
I have a wonderful wife and two grown children who are making their way in the world. I’ve had, and continue to have a fruitful ministry. And while I’m not getting ahead financially, the whole concept of suggesting that a couple of people who own 2.5 acres and a new home in Southern New Hampshire aren’t living up to snuff is itself a vanity and a chasing after wind. Jama and I continue to learn day-by-day to rely on the Lord. Tim and Alice are about to have our first grandchild and have committed themselves to peace-making ministry in Boston. Beth is making a splash in the folk world with her music. The things I tend to fret myself about are of the smallest nature indeed!
Psalm 37:3-5 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
The Psalmist contrasts “fret yourself because of…” with “delight yourself in the Lord.” It is an act of the will. I can either focus on what I didn’t get, what hasn’t happened, what isn’t right, what incapacities I have, etc., etc… (fret, fret, fret) or I can delight myself in the Lord, delight myself in his presence, delight myself in his power, delight myself in his glory, etc., etc… (delight, delight, delight).
The writer also gives me four things to be about: Trust (in the Lord), Do (good), Dwell (in the land), Befriend (faithfulness). Each of these is a fret-ender.
A person who is fretting himself does not trust that God is going to come through for him. He hasn’t even taken the stance that “God helps those who help themselves.” He doesn’t even trust in his own ability to solve whatever problems he imagines are overwhelming him.
A person who is fretting himself is also paralyzed. They are unable to do anything because they are perseverating. They are like a dog worrying over an old ham bone. They go nowhere. They get nothing done. They are wholly disabled.
Ironically, a person who frets himself is also unable to stay in one place. They ultimately feel they have to flee. If they have money the fleeing may take the form of a series of “vacations,” but it is fleeing nonetheless. They run away from intimacies of all kinds. They are unable to bear the intimacy of dwelling, of knowing the land they live on.
Ultimately, the person who frets himself is unable to make or sustain friendships. They have become so inwardly focused that everything has become about them. They are not able to be faithful to others, for they would sell their grandmother to see an end to the problems they imagine are causing them to fret.
There is no way out for people like this. The Lord has to make the way. And that’s exactly what he does here in these opening verses of Psalm 37. His prescription is simple, like putting one foot in front of the other: Trust. Do. Dwell. Befriend. Delight.
The progress is at first small. He doesn’t just say, “Friend, here’s the solution to your problem! Delight yourself in me and it will all be better!” No, what he does is to cajole us into it.
Trust. Just trust a little. Okay, now that you’re trusting a little, do something. Now that you’re doing a little, maybe you’ll be able to have enough peace to dwell for a while. Be still. Be present. And in that stillness and solitude that you never imagined you could enjoy, learn to befriend faithfulness. There are others all bound up like you were once. They need you. Getting out of yourself like that seemed like a tall order back when we started talking about just trusting a little. Now it doesn’t seem difficult at all. Now look back and review. This was all the Lord’s doing in you. And now a smile of delight begins to come over your face and the process begins again. Trust. Do. Dwell. Befriend. Delight.
There is an end to the process. It comes when we have made such a habit of doing the five steps that we realize our will has become to do his will, and we commit. “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” As John Adams observed, “There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.” Yes, God requires a commitment from us. But he doesn’t just draw a line in the sand and dare us to cross. His kindness and patience with us draws us into commitment to him. Trust. Do. Dwell. Befriend. Delight.