Recently, my wife reminded me of this familiar verse, whose advice is as timely and pertinent today as it was the day it was written: “Fret not thyself because of evildoers” (Psa. 37:1a). The practicality of this injunction overwhelms me. It strikes right at the heart of my need. Though written by a king, living in a small country halfway around the world more than three thousand years ago (who could imagine more disparate circumstances?), it reveals the nature of my heart as clearly as that of King David. How quickly and easily we allow the wickedness of others to destroy our peace, often falling prey to the sin of fretting, all the while giving it the color of righteous burden or holy indignation. But what does this fretting reveal about the fretter?
It may reveal fear. Fear that the “evildoer” will cause us some harm. And though the possibility of harm may be very real in some cases, we are not to fret. The fear is unjustified because we are told that even “the wrath of man shall praise . . . [God], and “the remainder . . . He will “restrain” (Psa. 76:10). In other words, when the Lord allows wicked men to prevail temporarily, He is still accomplishing His sovereign purposes in the lives of men and in the lives of His own children in particular. Fear evidences our lack of trust in an all-powerful God who does all things well.
It may reveal anger. The root meaning of the Hebrew word translated fret means to glow or to blaze. Although it is both possible and often necessary to experience “righteous indignation,” much anger that we wish to call such is really just a carnal response to someone or something that we perceive to be unfair or unjust. Anger suggests, at the very least, impatience with a merciful, longsuffering God who patiently withholds judgment from the wicked, extending the opportunity for repentance to the rebellious. And who among us do not want the Lord to behave in such a patient and longsuffering way with us when we sin? Should we not be thankful when the Lord extends such grace to others?
It may reveal envy. Our fretting may not be so much an expression of a sense of injustice or of justice forestalled as that of envy that the wicked appear to be getting away with something, putting something over on someone, or thriving in their sin when we are merely surviving in our righteousness. Such a response suggests, first, that we have the wrong desires. The extent to which we prosper naturally is governed by the Lord, and we are to rest and rejoice in His personal provision for us: it is right, fits us perfectly, and accords with His blessed will. Our minds are to be on things above, not on things on the earth. In other words, we have the wrong values: we are living for the temporal rather than the eternal. Second, it suggests that we are failing to acknowledge the righteous character or the just actions of God: He will surely and in timely fashion recompense righteousness and wickedness. And, ultimately, that recompense will find fruition, not in time, but in eternity.
In verse two, David gives an inspired reason for not fretting: “For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” How brief is the prosperity of the sinner, how foolish his ways, how futile his endeavors. On the other hand, the righteous are instructed thus: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (v. 4); “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (v. 7a). Read the remainder of the psalm for additional similar exhortations and promises.
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