The Solution to It, pt 1
Text: Psalm 37
It is a strange world we live in–a strange time. It is interesting how things change, interesting that the things we once thought were the solutions to our problems have now become our problems. I remember a number of years ago when somebody said the solution to our problem would be unhindered, free love. If we would get rid of all our hang-ups, and get rid of all our antiquated, Puritanical ideas, that would be the solution. Now it has become our problem.
It is that way in the human situation. We always seem to run faster when we’ve lost our way. Somebody described a fanatic as somebody who has lost his purpose and redoubled his effort. That is a pretty good definition.
The Psalmist opens with this statement: Fret not thyself. Immediately, that sets the theme for the whole psalm, the subject of it, the title of it. He is saying to us as God’s people to fret not ourselves. The word carries with it the idea of a frustrating situation. It really has in it the idea of heat. We sometimes say, that burns me up; I’m all hot under the collar; I’m hot and bothered about this. This is a good way of rendering what the Psalmist is saying, but he is addressing himself to people who believe in God, to Christians. Yet they are not exempt from certain situations that cause them to be filled with fear, frustration and even a tinge of anger.
If you think about it for a little bit, you will agree that this is the reason any of us ever become anxious and fearful and frustrated. It is because there is a great contradiction between our expectations and our experience. There is a great conflict between the way things are and the way things ought to be. These things the Psalmist is talking about are peculiar to Christians. There are some things that upset us that wouldn’t upset a lost person, some things that bother us that would not bother an atheist. An atheist hardly ever looks at children starving to death and asks why God doesn’t do something about it. He doesn’t have that problem. You and I have to face that enigma. If there is a God of absolute goodness and power, then how do you reconcile that with all the wrong in the world? You and I as Christians know how things are supposed to be. We ought to live in a world of justice and equity and fairness.
We have expectations, and they are legitimate expectations. We expect things to be as God would have them to be. We expect certain things of our life and our family. We have legitimate expectations. Those expectations are encouraged when we become Christians because we read so much in the Bible how all things work together for good, and how God will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly with him. So these are legitimate expectations.
When our experience does not match our expectations, the result is fretfulness, anxiety, frustration, and sometimes anger. Why hasn’t God made the wrongs right? Why hasn’t God fulfilled my expectations? Why doesn’t God take charge and do something about it.
In verses 1-9, the Psalmist indicates three things to us as believers that tend to cause us to be fretful and frustrated and angry: the inequities of life and the injustices of life. Somehow or other I have the idea that God owes me. Just seems like it ought to count for something that I am a Christian. There ought to be some perks.. If I am a Christian, I ought to be exempt from some things. It disturbs and confuses me when the same things that happen to lost people happen to me.
When our son died in 1975, we received quite a few cards and letters from people offering their sympathy. We appreciated every one of them. I remember one letter in particular that we received from a family in Memphis. I had recently been in their church in a meeting. When they heard about our son’s death, they wrote a letter. The first paragraph was what you would expect—the usual sympathy and condolences. But the second paragraph started off like this: Bro. Dunn, we know that you are a man of God, that you have given your life to Christ and committed to preach the gospel, and that you faithfully do it. We do not understand how something like this could happen to you. Well, I agreed with them. I didn’t understand it either. Their letter sounded like they could understand if something like that happened to them because they were just people, but I was a man of God. I think what was really causing them to fear was the fact that if this could happen to someone like me, heaven knows what could happen to someone like them.
Don’t accuse me of being negative or depressing. I’m just telling you the way things are. You and I are human beings and are still part of this human situation. It is true that the innocent are often hit by stray bullets. Sometimes the moral suffer with the immoral, and the innocent suffer with the guilty. We are part of this human situation.
As Paul says, the whole creation is groaning together, and we also who have received the first fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves. There are some groans that are native to our nature. As long as we are in this body of flesh, there are going to be certain groans, certain travails, and certain problems.
Does the Bible have anything to say to us about this? I know there are those who teach that if you and I just have enough faith and are filled with the Spirit of God, we can rise above all these things. All we have to do is rebuke the devil, plead the blood, praise God, pray, make positive confessions, and we’ll walk through life trouble free. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies to this effect, but the truth of the matter is for one testimony I’ve heard like that, I can tell you a hundred more who have not had it that way. And these folks are just as faithful as the others.
I’ve always been impressed with the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. I love it when he really gets to sailing over in the latter part of that chapter and says and time would not permit me to tell. Then he goes ahead, like a preacher, and tells. He goes into all these wonderful things that these people have accomplished by faith, and how they have escaped the edge of the sword and had their children raised from the dead. Then he says: and others were tortured, and sawn asunder. He says it twice: and others. Now wait just a minute. I guess those and others didn’t have enough faith. No, he is talking about the same kind of faith. You see, there is the faith that enables us to escape. Then there is the faith that enables us to endure. Now, of course, I prefer to escape. And there are many times when God does allow us to escape, but there are times when we have to have faith—not to escape, but to endure. Someone said to me when I was in the hospital: the trouble with you is you don’t have enough faith to be healed. I said, oh, no, I have enough faith to be healed. My problem is I don’t have enough faith to stay sick if that is what God wants. Somehow I think it may take a little more faith to endure than it does to escape.
What if God doesn’t right the wrongs in your life? You won’t need anything I have to say if God rights the wrongs in your life. Praise God, I hope he does. But does God have anything to say to you if he doesn’t? What are you going to do if God doesn’t immediately right all the wrongs in your life? Here is what God has to say to us when we find ourselves, as the Psalmist found himself, surrounded by things that are not as they ought to be, and when our experience doesn’t live up to our expectations.
The four statements that he makes are in verses 3, 4, 5, and 7.
Trust in the LORD and do good; So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
I like to think of these four statements as alternatives to fretfulness. This is what I am to do. Trust in the Lord. Delight myself in the Lord. Commit my way unto the Lord. Rest in the Lord. Now, I believe that the first one contains the whole bit and that is what we are going to look at today..
Verse 3 is a summary solution of the whole business: Trust in the Lord and do good. Having said that he has said it all because all the way through the Bible you will find there is always this contrast between faith and fear. These are two mutually exclusive emotions or attitudes. Where there is fear, there is no faith; where there is faith, there is no fear. You remember when Jesus would rebuke his disciples, he would say: Why are you so fearful? Where is your faith? When the Psalmist says that rather than fretting we should trust in the Lord, he says it all. Everything is contained in trust. The other three I see as the ingredients, or the expression of trust. I like to think of faith or trust as a nut. You crack it open and on the inside you find delighting, committing and resting. In other words, what do you do when you trust the Lord? Oh well, you are delighting yourself in the Lord; you are committing your way unto the Lord, and you are resting in the Lord.
Verse 3 says trust in the Lord and do good. Stay in the land where I’ve placed you. Dwell in the land and verily there your need will be met. You shall be fed. Here is the main statement: Trust in the Lord and do good.
As I said yesterday, the Hebrew language is a very picturesque language, filled with imagery. The root meaning of the word that is used here traces back to the idea of literally one who is helplessly lying face down on the ground. It is the position of a person who has come to the end of all resources and has no means of support. Literally, you could say to trust in the Lord means lying helplessly face down. Always the words that are used for faith and trust in the Bible have the idea of reliance upon Him of resting upon Him It reminds me of what the proverb says: lean not unto thine own understanding, but trust in the Lord. Don’t lean on your own cleverness. Don’t support yourself on your own understanding and ability to figure out the situation. Rather cast yourself on the Lord. Trust in the Lord. This is a very graphic picture of a person lying helplessly face down on the ground. Is there any more helpless picture than that?
God says there are just some things you are going to have to leave to Him. That’s all there is to it. You can’t do anything about it. You know you can’t because you’ve tried. I believe that God brings us to the place where we realize we are not in control of our lives and that scares me.
I think it would be safe to say that the one great task God has for all of us is to teach us how to trust him and I want to say three things about this.
1) You only learn to trust God by trusting God.
You don’t learn to trust God by reading books on it, although I can recommend a good book on it. You don’t learn to trust God by listening to sermons on it. You learn to trust God by trusting God. You don’t learn to swim by reading books on swimming. You don’t learn to fly an airplane by reading a book on flying. You learn to do those things by doing them. You only learn to trust God by trusting God.
2) Most of us won’t trust God until we have to trust him.
Generally speaking, there is something about fallen human nature that finds it very difficult to cast ourselves on our Lord and admit there is nothing we can do about our situation. So we won’t trust God until we have to. As long as I have one more trick up my sleeve, as long as I have one more dollar in the bank, as long as there is one more seminar I’ve not attended, or how-to book I’ve not yet read, I am not going to trust God.
Have you ever noticed how we won’t face the truth about ourselves until we have no choice? Man does not face the truth about things until disaster forces him to face the truth about them. You see this on every hand. When the Challenger exploded, we investigated it thoroughly. When the fellow in Kentucky killed the 27 children on the school bus, I didn’t hear anyone say anything about banning alcohol. But they immediately appointed a commission to study why school buses aren’t safer. That’s ridiculous. That’s going at the wrong way. Why didn’t they study all those things ahead of time? Disaster forces us to face the truth about ourselves. You may be the exception. I’m just telling you that most of us are carnal enough that we won’t trust God until we have to. This brings me to the third statement.
3) God sees to it that we have to trust him.
If the only way you learn to trust God is by trusting him, and you and I won’t trust him generally until we have to, then God sees to it that we have to trust him. By that I mean that he puts us in situations where the only way out is up. We have no choice. It is sink or swim, live or die, trust God or go down.
The old saints used a phrase that we would do well to bring back. They spoke of being shut up to faith. What they meant by that was that God would maneuver us into situations where there is no choice. We had to trust him. Maybe the reason we are in our situation today may be that God has shut us up to faith.
I think the greatest illustration of this in the Bible is Israel at the Red Sea. God had delivered them out of the land of Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses, they came and camped by the Red Sea. They weren’t out of the will of God; they were following God. God brought them to that point: the Red Sea is in front of them, the mountains are on either side, and Egypt is behind them. One day they wake up, look over their shoulder and here come all the Egyptians swooping down on them. That’s when you find out these people were Baptists, because they immediately began blaming the pastor. Well, Moses, here is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. Not enough room in Egypt to bury us, you had to bring us out here to find room enough to plant us all. Moses went behind a rock and began to pray. God said two things.
First, he said: stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. I’ll fight these Egyptians. God said, Moses, I didn’t save you people out of Egypt to fight Egyptians; I saved you folks to go in and possess the land. Now you do what I’ve saved you to do, and I’ll take care of the Egyptians. By the way, let me just say that one of the most effective strategies of the devil to defeat a church is to get a church sitting around fighting all the Egyptians that are snapping at its heels, instead of going forward. God said, you go forward, do what I’ve given you to do, and I’ll take care of the Egyptians. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
Then he said: go forward. Ah, yes. Do you realize, of course, that there is a Red Sea forward? If you will just hold back the Egyptians long enough for us to build some boats, we’ll appreciate it very much. But God said, just take off there across the Red Sea. They were shut up to faith. Do you know what they did? They obeyed God, trusted God and stepped out. I like the way the Psalmist says it: the waters fled before them—as if the Red Sea was scared to death of them. And they walked across on dry land. What a mighty demonstration of faith! But I want to tell you something. I don’t believe they would ever have done it if there had not been an Egyptian army behind them, encouraging them to do so. I think if God had just come out one day and said, we are going to have a pop quiz today and see how much faith you have. Take off across the water. I think they would be there yet. But you put an Egyptian army behind them, and they are going to think about that.
They only had one choice. It was either trust God, or go back to Egypt. I guess that is about the only choice we ever have, isn’t it? You either trust God or live in bondage. God brings us to the place at times when we have to admit that this is something we are going to have to leave with Him.
I never will forget when we were going through some trying times in our church. Have you ever gotten so weary that you are too tired to even believe anymore? You know there is a weariness of the soul that goes beyond weariness of the body—a weariness that makes it impossible for you to even affirm life. I was at that point. I will never forget getting on my knees in my office and laying my head on the sofa saying, Lord, I am so worn out, I am so weary, I am so bone soul weary of this. Lord, I don’t even have the strength to even believe anymore. I said, if you are going to solve this thing, you are going to have to do it without my help. I actually said that. I don’t know, but I thought I heard God give a sigh of relief as though he was saying, that’s what I’ve been waiting on. Haven’t you felt that way before?
I love Isaiah 46 where he is contrasting the false gods, Baal and Nebo, with the true God of Israel. He is talking about the time when Cyrus comes into Babylon. They take their gods and load them on donkeys. These gods are made of iron and gold and stone. They are so heavy the donkeys have a hard time carrying these gods. As a matter of fact, they are so heavy that the donkeys can’t outrun the enemy. Finally, the enemy catches up with them and captures their gods. But he comes back and says, but, oh, the God of Israel said, I have carried you when you were in the womb. When you are old and gray haired, I will still carry you.
You see, folks, the difference between false gods and true God. False gods can only go as far as you can go. You have to carry them. But the true God carries us. When we don’t have the strength to move, it’s all right. Sometimes that’s the best place we can be for God to demonstrate his power and faithfulness—God teaching us to trust him.
We don’t stop there because he goes on. He says, trust in the Lord and do good. Trust in the Lord and do good. In other words, faith isn’t passive. Doing good is just as much a command as trusting in the Lord. All right, what am I to do? Trust in the Lord. What does that mean? It means that I have come to the place that I recognize there are some things I am going to have to leave in the hands of God, and this is one of them. So, Lord, it’s yours. I don’t have the strength to do it. I’ve tried to solve it, and I can’t do it. Lord, as best I know how, I’m throwing myself on you. If you are going to solve this thing, you will have to do it all by yourself. He says, now that you’ve made that commitment, just take care of business. Do good. He is not necessarily talking about doing religious good. He is not saying trust in the Lord and go hand out religious tracts, or pray, or something like that. He is talking about everyday good, economic good—your daily functions. He is saying: trust me in this thing, and then carry on—take care of your business. Answer your mail, wash the dishes, comb your hair, go to work.
There is not anything as paralyzing as fear and worry and anxiety. You’ve been there. You get so depressed that you just don’t care about anything else. You can’t function. You don’t care if the house is dirty or if the grass is growing, all you want to do is crawl in bed and pull the covers over you and hide.
When I was a pastor, there were times when people would come to me when I knew they were going through tremendous family problems. Here is a Sunday School teacher telling me, pastor, I am going to have to give up my class because you know what we are going through right now. I thought it was the wrong thing for them to do. Basically, they were simply giving themselves that much more time to brood over the matter.
I think any counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, saved or lost, will tell you that one of the greatest therapies for depression and anxiety is to do something. That is what God is saying. You can trust me. Leave it with me and go about your business. If I have learned to trust God in this particular situation, I am able to function. But if I am not able to carry on with my everyday duties, that tells me I have not yet learned to leave this with God. There is no use for both of us to worry about it. The tending to business is not only an evidence that I am trusting God, but it is a way to manifest and express confidence in God.
He says: So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed. I think the New American Standard says dwell in the land and feed on God’s faithfulness. One translation says to stay where God has placed you and fulfill your duty. Don’t try to run away from it, hide from it. Stay where I’ve placed you. Do your duty. In that situation, verily you shall be fed. Your need will be met in that situation.
One of God’s most frequent promises to us is the promise to meet our physical and material needs. What the Psalmist is saying here is much of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 6. He says to take no thought, don’t worry, about the material and physical necessities of life. That’s the way pagans live. Pagans are preoccupied with the material and physical necessities of life. But God says, leave those things to me. You be preoccupied with seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and I’ll see that these things are taken care of. You tend to my business first, and I’ll see that all your needs are met. I think that is exactly what the Psalmist is saying: trust in the Lord, take care of business. In that situation your needs will be met.
Why does the Lord make such a big deal out of meeting my physical and material needs. I don’t think there is any other promise that you find as frequently and as intensely in the Bible as that one. Over and over again he says to us not to worry. I’ll meet your needs. I’ll take care of you.
Paul says, my God shall supply all your needs. Why do you think God promises to do that? Is it because when you become a Christian you become so inept that unless God takes care of you, you’ll starve to death?
Are God’s people so naïve, so heavenly minded, of no earthly use? Bless their hearts. If God didn’t feed them and clothe them, would they starve to death? Do you have to trust in God to have your needs met? No. I know a lot of lost people whose physical and material needs are being met a lot better than mine.
The Bible says that God opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living creature. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. God’s providence is impartial. The sun shines on sinners and saints alike. I think the reason God makes such an issue of this is because you and I can usually only travel on one track at a time. If we are preoccupied with physical and material needs, we really can’t give our best to the service of the Lord.
My wife and I have been married 33 years this December. I would have to say that 90% of our early problems can be traced back to financial problems. It is difficult to be the kind of husband or wife you ought to be when your mind is preoccupied with that.
I think Jesus is saying, I want you to be preoccupied primarily with seeking my kingdom and doing my righteousness. If you will make that your number one priority, I’ll see to it that you don’t lose out in these material and physical necessities of life. Don’t be like the pagans and heathens who feel like you have to expend every ounce of energy worrying about whether you’ll starve to death. Worry about doing the will of God. If you will make that your number one priority, I’ll see to it that you don’t miss out, that your needs will be met.
In 1964 I was called to be pastor of Munger Place Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. The church was 50 years old. I was the third pastor in 50 years. The first pastor founded the church and died after 35 years. The second pastor was there 15 years and retired. Then they called me at his suggestion. We had become pretty good friends. I remember when I was moving all my books into the pastor’s study, the former pastor came in and sat down. He said, Bro. Dunn, (old enough to be my grandfather but he never called me anything but pastor or Bro. Dunn) you know that Sunday was my last official day here as pastor. I said, yes sir, I know that. He said that he had called the church into business meeting that Sunday night, and asked the church to take some action that would affect me. He hoped I didn’t mind.. I thought, oh, I hope we are not going to have problems here. I asked, what did you do? He said, I asked the church to raise your salary $75 a week. I said, no, I don’t mind. Feel free anytime you want to do that. Then he said, now, I didn’t do that for you. I did that for the church. Young man, you can’t do your best for God or this church if you are having to worry about making ends meet. That was a wise man. That’s not truly only of a pastor. That’s true of all of us, isn’t it?
What is Jesus saying? I want you to do your best for me. If you will, I promise I will take care of your needs. So he says, trust in the Lord, take care of business, and in that situation, I’ll meet your need and feed you.