“The Source of It” Part I
I want you to open your Bible today to Psalm 37. I want to read the first seven verses. During these days together we are going to be looking at Psalm 37 under what I have titled When the Upright Get Uptight.
1Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2For they shall soon be cut down like the grass And wither as the green herb. 3Trust in the LORD and do good; So shall thou dwell in the land and verily thou shall be fed. 4Delight thyself also in the LORD; And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. 5Commit thy way unto the LORD, Trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. 6He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light And thy judgment as the noonday. 7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass.
Not long ago I saw an article in the newspaper. Actually, I had been looking for something like that for sometime. I knew that it was bound to happen sooner or later. The article was simply telling about a new government publication that had just been released entitled, Everything Doesn’t Cause Cancer. The article went on to explain that in the past several years there had been so many warnings issued about this that our country was being slowly gripped by cancer paranoia. They said that not everything causes cancer. Just about everything, but not everything. I myself had begun to develop some of that paranoia.
I picked up a newspaper, and a front page article said: Tests Link Shampoo with Cancer. This is not good news to someone who likes to wash their hair occasionally. The article said they had fed these laboratory rats shampoo for six months, and they developed cancer. Well, I figured anybody who drinks shampoo for six months deserves whatever they get. That’s the way these things are presented. We become paranoid and are trying to create a risk-free society.
Lewis Thomas says there has never been a time when we are living longer, but enjoying it less because we are worrying more about it than ever before. Man is living longer now than he ever has lived in the modern age. Back during the days of the Roman Empire, the average age was 25 years. Only one out of four men lived to be 50. It was calculated that just to keep the Roman population maintained, every woman would have to have four babies.
Right now, we are living longer and healthier than ever .Yet, at the same time, we are worrying more about it. We live in a very fretful age. I guess that is one of the things that caught my attention about Psalm 37. The psalm opens with these words: Fret not thyself. I don’t know of anything in the Bible that is anymore up-to-date and relevant than that. If there is a message that you and I need to hear today, it is this: fret not thyself. In a number of the Psalms the very first phrase serves as a title or subject introduction, giving you an idea of the subject or theme of the entire psalm. Psalm 37 is one of these. The very first phrase introduces the entire theme to us: fret not thyself.
God knows that even though I’m saved, and even though I’m trying to walk with the Lord, I still find myself filled with fretfulness at times. The Hebrew language is a very picturesque language full of images, and one way you could translate this phrase fret not would be “don’t get all hot under the collar.” Don’t allow yourself to get hot and bothered. It is the idea of a person who is frustrated because of some situation. We sometimes use this phrase: this just burns me up. Well, that’s sort of the idea of what the Psalmist is saying. But there are certain conditions or circumstances as the Psalmist writes that have a tendency to cause these believers to be a little bit uptight, to be filled with fretfulness and fear, and it also has the idea of anger in it. The Psalmist’s word is simply this: whatever the situation is, don’t allow yourself to become filled with fear, fretfulness, and frustration. Don’t allow yourself to be burned up to the point of fretfulness over the situations that you face. That is significant to me because it indicates that even though I am saved, I still find myself in fretful situations.
There is a lot of teaching going around today that gives the idea that if you and I are filled with the Spirit, as we ought to be, and we are as full of faith as we ought to be, we’ll be able to rise above everything.. Life will be smooth and easy for us. God will take all of these barriers out of the way, and we will move through life without ever having a ripple. The only thing wrong with that is that it is wrong. The Bible doesn’t necessarily teach that just because we trust the Lord, and just because we are his people, that we are exempt from the everyday trials of life. We are not. We are still part of this human situation. As long as we live in this world–this flesh, no matter how saved or Spirit-filled we are, you and I are going to be faced with those situations in life just like anybody else. Sometimes they tend to fill us with fear and anxiety and fretfulness. I think it is important for us as Christians to understand this so we won’t think something has gone wrong when we find ourselves in one of these situations.
I met an interesting fellow in Colorado a few years ago. We talked for awhile. When we left, his parting shot was: keep loving God; keep hating sin; and watch out for trucks. I appreciated that little bit of practical advice because to tell you the truth there have been times when I’ve thought that if you loved God and hated sin, you didn’t have to watch out for trucks. But the fact of the matter is you do have to watch out for trucks. We do face situations in which our lives are filled with fear and anxiety. So the Psalmist says fret not thyself.
What I want to do today is to look at some of the sources of this. Then we’ll look at the solutions–I hesitate to call it a solution—but the alternatives, what the Psalmist says for us to do in this situation. Today I want us to examine what specifically it is that causes us as Christians to fear, or to be angry, or frustrated. It is significant that the Psalmist is talking about things that are peculiar to Christians. In other words, there are some things that might anger a Christian or cause him to be fretful or worry that would not cause a lost person to fret and worry. The moment you begin to believe in the Lord, and become a person of faith, you have certain problems that other people do not have. We are going to be talking about things that I think are peculiar to Christians, things that might make me fearful and fretful that would not make someone else fearful.
Lets mention three.
the injustices or inequities of life.
Notice what the Psalmist says in the very first verse: Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. Here the Psalmist is saying there is the possibility that even though we are God’s people, there is something about the wicked that frustrates us. The frustration is that so many times they seem to be so successful. He says don’t be envious of the wicked.
He goes on in verse 7 and says: Fret not thyself because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. The idea is that here is a godless man, and he is all the time scheming and planning strategies, and every one of them is successful. And here you are, a child of God, striving to live for God and honor him, and it seems like everything in the world is coming apart at the seams.
Here is this fellow across the street from you that doesn’t care about God, and lives as if there is no God, and everything seems to be going well for him. His boy is the captain of the football team, and his daughter is the head cheerleader. Don’t you hate people like that? Everything seems to be going well for them, and the fellow has no use for God whatsoever.
1. Life is not fair.
Now, here is something that is peculiar to those of us who are saved. We believe that God owes us special treatment, and that life ought to be fair—at least a little bit. After all, if I am a child of God and if I am striving to live for and honor him, I think God ought to take that into consideration. Really, when God starts passing out all the calamities of life, he ought to remember that I am his child. I feel I should get special treatment. Yet, the psalmist is saying that the truth of the matter is that we oftentimes will look at the wicked, and they seem to be getting along so well that we become envious of them. That leads to frustration and fretfulness. Here I am. I’m praying. I’m doing everything I know to do, and everything is coming apart—but not for the wicked person. The injustices of life– the inequities of life–the fact that life is not fair.
I’m sure some of you are familiar with the book written several years ago by Rabbi Harold Kushner, called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It is a very interesting book, but not a Christian book, and he reaches some conclusions that you and I could not reach. It became a best seller in 13 different countries and I saw the Rabbi interviewed on television. They asked him how he came to write the book. He said he had been a rabbi for years and had seen a lot of people die, stood beside bed of many a person as they have gone out to meet God. He said that never one time did it cause him to question his faith. But when he saw his fourteen-year-old boy dying of that horrible aging disease, suddenly for the first time he had a problem.
Folks, it is easy to philosophize about suffering when you are not suffering. It is amazing that when the wreath is hanging on your own door, everything looks different. I appreciated the rabbi’s honesty. But, all of a sudden, it’s my son, my flesh. The devil says: skin for skin, all that a man has will he give for his flesh. That’s true. And, brother, when it is your skin and your flesh, suddenly you begin to question. You say, wait just a minute; this isn’t supposed to be this way. I’m trusting God. I’m as close to God as I know how to get. It would seem to count for something. Yet, here is my son dying.
I said earlier that the person of faith has problems that other people do not have. For instance, every time I see on television these innocent children starving to death over in Ethiopia and other places, I can’t help but say, why doesn’t God do something about that? I tell you, folks, the atheist has a good argument that we wish would go away, but it won’t. If there is a God of absolute goodness, power, and sovereignty, then how do you explain all the injustice in the world? An atheist would just say that was the way the cookie crumbles, que sera sera, into every life a little rain must fall, and there’s no problem. But when I say that I believe in God, and I believe in a God who rules with all power, goodness, and wisdom, I’ve got a problem. How do you explain that?
I’ll tell you how the rabbi explained it. He came to the conclusion that God was not sovereign. As a matter of fact, one of the chapters in his book says God can’t do everything, but he can do some important things. He came to the conclusion that God can do nothing about death, disease or the devil. Well ,that’s all I’m concerned about. I mean you take away those three things, and you really don’t need God anymore, do you? This allows him to still believe in God and still accept the injustices in his own life. God is not sovereign. God would do something if he could, but he cannot. Well, I can’t come to that conclusion. I would have to throw away the Bible. I believe the Bible teaches very clearly that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of this world. Then how do you explain the injustices of life?
What bothers me is not so much that bad things happen to good people, it is when good things happen to bad people. If it just all evened out, that would be all right. This is what the psalmist is saying: we are envious of the wicked. The first thing I think we need to understand is that one of the things that causes us to fret as believers, and sometimes become filled with a frustrated kind of anger, is the fact that life is not fair. Life is not always just and equitable.
2) God doesn’t do anything about it.
The second thing that the psalmist mentions or alludes to is the inactivity of God. As you read through these verses, you’ll notice that God makes a promise. In verse 2 he says: For they shall soon (I need to talk to the Lord about his definition of soon. I don’t know how old the book of Psalms is but that’s not soon.) be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb. Verse 10: For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be. Verse 9: Evildoers shall be cut off, but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. In other words, if every time somebody sins, God did something about it, that would resolve a great many of our questions. The real problem is that they seem to be getting along just fine, and God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Lord, why don’t you do something.
One of my favorite prophets is Habakkuk. He opens his prophecy with a complaint. He says, Lord, how long will I have to cry out unto you? Lord, why don’t you do something. The Chaldeans are coming. Internally our country is corrupt, and externally the Chaldeans are coming. Lord, I have been screaming, praying, and Lord, you are not doing anything. One of the frustrating things to us as believers is that at times it looks like God isn’t doing anything. How long have you been praying for that situation? It seems God hasn’t moved yet. And to us it looks as though God is not working, but the fact of the matter is that God is always at work. He really is. Habakkuk says, Lord, you aren’t doing anything. In verse 5 God comes back and says, well, I am doing something, and I’m going to tell you but you won’t like it when you hear it. Behold and believe, I’ll show you a wonder you will not believe though you see it. Well, all right, Lord, if you are doing something, I wish you would tell me what it is. After all, the Chaldeans are about to come and take us. If you are doing something, I would surely like to know what it is. God said, I’ll tell you what I’m doing: I’m raising up the Chaldeans. I am using the Chaldeans as an instrument of chastisement because of your sin, your idolatry. You’ve been praying I’d do something about the godlessness in your country. All right, I’m doing something about it. I’m raising up the Chaldeans. The interesting thing to me is that the very thing that made Habakkuk think that God was not at work was the very work that God was at.
Every once in awhile somebody will say, well, the Lord has really started to work in our church. What we mean by that is that God has finally started behaving like we want him to behave. But the truth is, folks, he who watches Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. God is always at work. What arrogance you and I have to say that God isn’t working. We say, do you remember when God was working a few years ago, back when everything was going great. God was answering every prayer. We were doing well financially. The kids were behaving themselves. Oh, wasn’t it great when God was working? Now, times are bad. What right do we have to say that God was working then and isn’t working now? Folks, God is always at work. It only looks as though he is inactive, and that causes us to be frustrated because it appears that God is not doing anything.
3) Our ignorance of the ways of God.
I’m convinced that if I knew God like I ought to know him, I would never have a fretful moment. What I think is indifference on the part of God is simply ignorance on my part. What to me at times looks as though God does not care or that God has lost control is simply ignorance on my part. This ignorance takes two forms.
1) I’m ignorant because God works on a different time schedule than I work on. In other words, I’m in a hurry. I keep looking at my watch because I’m a time and space creature, and so are you. I feel pressured not only by the clock but by the calendar. I know that my life has a certain number of days and years to it. Things have to be done now. God, why don’t you answer this prayer now? After all, time is passing. By this age I ought to be further down the road than I am. Lord, why aren’t you doing anything?
I fully believe God doesn’t own a clock or a calendar. If God knew what time it is, or how late things are, certainly he would do something. I always like to make at least one profound statement in every message. Sometimes I’ll tell you what it is; otherwise, you wouldn’t recognize it as profound. This is it. With God timing is more important than time. It is just the opposite for me. Time is so important. But with God timing is more important than time.
Moses had the right idea—just did it at the wrong time. He was about 40 years too early in trying to deliver Israel from Egypt. It has always amazed me that God took 30 years to get Jesus ready for a three and one half year ministry. When he showed up at 12, and mystified all the teachers, if that had been us, we would have put him on the sawdust trail and said: Boy Preacher Astounds His Professors Everywhere. My soul, don’t you know the world is going to hell. What do you mean going back to Nazareth and hiding yourself for 18 years? Lord, don’t you know how urgent everything is? Yet, God just seemed to take his time because with God timing is more important than time. I’ve come to believe that God takes a lifetime to get us ready to do one or two important things. God works on a different time schedule and that frustrates us and makes us anxious.
God also works with a different value system. This is where the rub really comes. The things that are valuable to us are not necessarily valuable to God. Our value systems are different. If I were to say to you today that God is good, what do you think of immediately? I think of good in the sense of convenience, comfort and circumstances. I’m going to be honest with you. When I find myself in an adverse situation, my first response is not: Oh, boy, here is another chance to trust the Lord and develop character. Now, I’ll come to that—eventually. But I will tell you that my first thought is: God, you’ve got to get me out of this. This can’t be the will of God. The devil has gotten in here somewhere. When I think about God being good to me, and you are praying for God to bless me, I know exactly what you are talking about. That is the problem because God works on a different value system.
My wife and I were in Jackson two or three years ago. We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown. Right across the street is a big antique store. We went over there one day. It was a huge old house, antiques everywhere. I would pick up something and say, I have thrown away better stuff than this. If I had known this was going to be valuable, I would have hung on to it. I’ve been looking for my baseball cards for years. I know what happened. My mom threw those away years ago when I went off to college. And, I can’t believe I sold my ’65 Mustang for $400. But I had no idea it was going to be that valuable. We just throw things out because it’s junk! It may be valuable one day and make you rich.
I’m sure that is the way I’ve been praying a lot of times. Lord, I need to get rid of this junk. Oh, no, hang on to that. It may not look like much today, but one of these days it will be valuable. I just don’t always have the same standard of values as God. I think God is more interested in creating in me a Christ-like character than he is in making me comfortable.
One of the problems with most of us is that we have so many things now, we don’t know which things are necessary. Every once a while God comes along and says, son, the trouble with you is that you are plugged into so many sockets that you don’t know which one is hot anymore. So, we’ll start unplugging a few. When we get to the right one, you’ll know it. The Lord puts his hand on one, and I say, oh, God, if you unplug that, I’ll die. I can’t live without that. He unplugs it, and nothing happens. He puts his hand on something else, and I say, oh, Lord, if you unplug that one, I know that will kill me. He unplugs it, and nothing happens. And I discover that a lot of those things that I thought were absolutely essential and valuable are really just junk. That frustrates me because I think I’ve figured out what is important in my life. God comes along and shows me that it is not as important as I thought.
These are some of the basic things that I think cause us as believers to fret: the injustices of life, the idea that God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, and the fact that I’m so ignorant of what God is up to anyway.
So we’ll stop there today. We’ll have to fret for one more day. If you have fretted this long, one more day won’t kill you. Starting tomorrow, we look at what the Psalmist says to do about that. I hesitate to call it a cure and solution, so I won’t do that. I like to call it alternatives. I always like to leave myself an out.