Fret Not, Nor Be Envious, But Trust

Dr. Brian Allison

Are you at peace with yourself and with your world? Are you generally content with life as it is? Are you glad to be here? It is a fact that where there is trust, there will follow peace. One reason why Christians lack peace is because they lack trust in God. Psalm 37:1-6 teaches us how to live at peace with ourselves and with our world. The psalmist says, "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. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgement as the noon day."

Refuse to fret or get angry

If you are to live at peace with yourself and with your world, you must first refuse to do certain things. First, refuse to be angry at those who do wrong (and supposedly for their own profit), either against you or against others – "Do not fret because of evil doers." The word 'fret' in the original Hebrew means to heat oneself up with excitement or anger; to become inflamed; to become incensed; to fly into passion. In fact, the Berkley version of the Scriptures translates the same phrase as "do not get heated." Accordingly, we read the parallel and interrelated language, "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evildoing" (37:8). So, when the psalmist says, "Do not fret," he, in effect, is saying, "Do not get upset or agitated; keep your cool." The point is this: Do not allow the nasty acts and hurtful behaviours of people, whether friend, relative, neighbour, or stranger, especially those who are insensitive and cruel, to provoke you to anger. In other words, the psalmist instructs us to refuse to show self-centred or personally motivated indignation.

Now, there is a time for getting angry; there is a place for becoming what we may call righteously indignant. It is right for us to become angry and upset when God's glory is at stake, when the honour of His name is threatened. We, as Christians, should be jealous for God's glory and name. Yet, self-centred, personally motivated indignation is unacceptable, and that disposition is what the psalmist prohibits. This kind of anger results from one's personal needs, wants, or expectations not being satisfied, or when one's personal desires or goals are frustrated and blocked. So, for instance, you may have a colleague or a co-worker who criticizes you, which evokes an angry reaction. What is happening? Well, possibly, your need for acceptance, or your need for a sense of significance, is being denied or threatened. Or, a personnel of some bureaucratic system may be giving you a hard time as you are trying to fill out an application form in order to make progress with personal plans, and as a result of that blocked goal you may become upset. Yet, the psalmist says, "Do not fret because of evildoers."

Unless you let this anger go, you will have no peace. Now, fretting or anger may assume different forms; there is a stronger form and there is a milder form. The milder form of anger may be seen as irritation, frustration, annoyance, etc. The stronger form of anger may be seen as rage, hostility, wrath, etc. Interestingly, Hulsey Cason, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, reports that more than one half of what annoys adults relates to the behaviour of other adults. Only 16% of the 2,581 hard core annoyances which Dr. Cason listed resulted from non-human things or activities. Some of the annoyances topping this list are: people who loiter after saying good bye, excessive politeness, being told how to drive by a passenger in the car, gushing, loud laughing, gum chewing, unsought advice, people who say "I told you so," and people who butt ahead in a line.

Now, when irritations or annoyances accumulate, people can explode in anger over such minor things as a misplaced glove or missing a bus. We may 'lose it' over the most insignificant matters. Self-centred and personally motivated anger is both destructive and self-destructive; it is a killer. For instance, June Callwood, in her book Emotions, writes, "The blood pressure of angry people takes a fearful beating that can damage hearts or lead to strokes. Because anger increases the rate of respiration, breathing becomes irregular and people may stammer. Suppressed anger does great damage to health. A report in the Archives of General Psychiatry noted that people who express their anger openly get off lightly, but those who sizzle inwardly have hypertension and elevated rates of heart beat. Some skin disorders are the body's signal that the systems are in trouble because of sustained anger. Other common symptoms are headaches, ulcers, restlessness, chronic fatigue and poor coordination resulting in physical clumsiness. Many see a link between suppressed anger and such grave diseases as cancer...If they do not get cancer, reported George F. Solomon of Stanford's Medical School in Palo Alto, they might develop an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, which is also the result of something the body makes itself. Bottled anger is a sour concoction that afflicts every organ in the body. Frustrated anger against the self is particularly wounding...anger can shorten their lives."

Are you holding on to some anger? Are you upset because of someone wronging you or someone else? You may be killing yourself slowly. In learning not to fret or get agitated because of evildoers, the result will be peace, peace with yourself and peace with your world.

Refuse to become envious

Second, refuse to covet the apparent success and prosperity which people have acquired, supposedly through unscrupulous or wrong means – "Be not envious toward wrongdoers." The psalmist instructs that we should not desire the fame, prestige, glamour, pomp, wealth, etc. of the smooth operator, or the crafty entrepreneur, or the deceitful person. The point is this: You are to refuse to be motivated by selfishness and competitiveness. The individual who has purchased a two million dollar home through shady dealing, you are not to be envious of; the individual who has secured a top executive position because of lying or giving kickbacks, you are not to be envious of.

It is interesting that John Milton (1608-1674), in his classic Paradise Lost, makes envy the devil's own emotion. Willard Gaylin, in his book Feelings, writes, "Envy is perhaps the most torturous and tormenting of emotions. It feeds on itself and ultimately humiliates the possessor...It is a peculiar combination of both desire and resentment fused in bitterness. It is a mean emotion." It is this quality of bitterness that makes envy the sister of anger. Like anger, envy is both destructive and self-destructive. It sets you at odds with others, and it may result in poor physical health. Proverbs 14:30, for instance, reads, "A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion [i.e., envy] is rottenness to the bones." One who is envious has an inner cancer that consumes the spirit and destroys physical well-being. Further, like anger, envy produces dissatisfaction, discontentment, and inner upheaval, and thus there is no peace.

Are you envious of what others have, especially of those who seem to profit unjustly? Are you coveting? Coveting is idolatry. You are hurting yourself. Do not be envious of what others have, though you may be struggling, trying to make ends meet. Do not wonder why the Lord may be allowing it. He knows what is best for you, and He knows the end from the beginning. He who is envious is not at peace with himself or with his world.

Giving up anger and envy

You may ask yourself how one may achieve refusing to become angry and envious? How do you go about letting go of the anger and the envy? Confining ourselves, at this point, to the passage, we read, "For they [evildoers, wrongdoers] will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb" (37:2). The psalmist is suggesting that we remember a particular truth, and that truth is this: One day these evildoers shall be no more. Their demise is coming, and we should take consolation and encouragement in the fact that God will right the wrongs, that justice will prevail, that righteousness will be established. Hence, we read, "For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there" (37:9,10). These people may seem to prosper, but it is temporary. You may not be prospering, even though you are following the Lord and seeking to do what is right. You can give up this anger and envy, knowing that God will judge righteously, that the success and prosperity of these ones will come to an end, and that you will eventually fair well. So, we read, "But the humble will inherit the land, and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity" (37:11).

Learning to trust in God

Rather than being angry or envious, the Christian response is to trust in God – "Trust in the LORD, and do good...Trust also in Him, and He will do it" (37:3a,5b). To trust in God means that you are resting in the fact that God will provide for you and protect you. You must have the confidence that God will 'come through' for you and deliver you. You need to rely upon His faithfulness and goodness. Now, how can you cultivate or nurture trust in the Lord? Have you said to yourself that you would like to trust in God – rest in Him – but you are not quite sure how to do it. Let me suggest some practical points on how you can cultivate this trust. First, you need to remember, dwell on, and understand the sovereignty, goodness, and faithfulness of God. That is a simple point, but it is one that we do not often consider. We need to take time out, in the hustle, bustle, and busyness of life, simply to stop and meditate on the attributes of God. So, the psalmist says, "And those who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee; for Thou, O LORD, hast not forsaken those who seek Thee" (Ps. 9:10). Again, we read, "The steadfast of mind [on Thee] Thou will keep Him in perfect peace, because He trusts in Thee" (Is. 26:3). Those who are focused on God, those who are taken up with God, those who are meditating on the attributes of God, demonstrating, and even resulting in, trust in God, are those whom God will keep in perfect peace. So, you need to think about, dwell on, and understand the sovereignty, faithfulness, and goodness of God.

Second, you need to realize that God has repeatedly been faithful and trustworthy for you in the past. His goodness has withstood the test of time. Even though He may have allowed you to go through excruciating pain, even to the point of breaking (which has the gracious design of sanctifying you and making you more like Himself), God has never forsaken you. You have always been in His heart. The psalmist exclaims, "Blessed be the LORD, because He has heard the voice of my supplication. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him" (Ps. 28:6,7). For the psalmist, God had 'come through' in the past, and therefore he could trust Him for the present. His faithfulness had been demonstrated and proven. And such, no doubt, is the case with you. If you stop to think, you will realize that you too have experienced His faithfulness and goodness in the past. You need to rest on that fact. You know that God can be trusted from your past experiences.

Third (and this is a critical point), you must choose to accept the fact that God will provide for you and protect you. You must decide to simply accept that God will be faithful. Trust is more an act of the will, than an experience of feelings. For instance, when my son was younger, I tried to help him become comfortable with the water and learn how to swim. I asked him to allow me to lift him up and support him upon the surface of the water. He was unsure and hesitant, but he chose to trust me. As I encouraged him, and as I assured him that I would not let him go, he allowed me to do that. Now, he did not feel like letting me do it; he was fearful, but he still allowed me. He trusted me, not because he felt good, but because of my assurance (and, of course, knowing my character).

So, trust is more an act of the will, than an experience of feeling. I know a young couple who at one time were very suspicious of each other's motives and intentions; and, of course, the homelife was rather disruptive. But they came to a point in their lives and in their relationship when they chose to resist having any suspicious thoughts of one another, but rather to take things at face value. They made a self-conscious decision. Their marriage is alot better today. The psalmist says, "Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God" (Ps. 20:7). We can decide to trust, even though we feel afraid; it is an act of the will. Again, we read, "But Thou, O God, wilt bring them down to the pit of destruction; men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days. But I will trust in Thee" (Ps. 55:23).

There is nothing magical about trust. We complicate it in our own minds because we allow our feelings and moods to be the measuring stick of what is reality. Being exhorted and commanded to trust in God implies that it is an act of the will, and not of the feelings. We decide to submit to God and put our confidence in Him. Those who are not trusting in God, whether we realize it or not, have made a choice not to trust in Him.

Fourth, you need to consciously resist fear, suspicion, and doubt when they arise. These states of mind are the primary enemies of trust. In fact, not only must you resist these states of mind, but you should also confess them as sin. These states of mind are displeasing to the Lord. You need to continually turn to God and acknowledge that He can be trusted, and that you will trust Him. So, the psalmist affirms, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in Thee, in God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?" (Ps. 56:3,4). The psalmist, in effect, refused to be controlled by fear; he resisted giving in to it; he directly countered it. He consciously entrusted himself to God. Again, we read, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation" (Is. 12:2).

Trusting results in peace and prosperity

Though you trust in God, you will still experience life's pressures and stresses; but you will be able to handle them better, being stable, confident, and assured. Now, the psalmist instructs us to do some other positive things in order to live at peace with ourselves and with our world, but these things are simply the specific outworkings of trust. Let me briefly mention them. We are to trust in the Lord, and do good (i.e., we are to do the right thing, knowing that God is sovereign, that He is in control) (37:3a). Further, we are to trust in the Lord and endeavour to be trustworthy or reliable as we live in our particular sphere of activity (37:3b). We are to endeavour to be people of integrity, following the ways of the Lord. Further, we are to make God the centre of our lives (37:4a). We are to seek Him with our whole heart and rejoice in Him. Moreover, we should entrust our lives to Him, 'rolling' all our cares upon Him, knowing that He will guide and direct us (37:5).

The result of this trust will be that God will honour us. That is His way. When we refuse to trust Him, we insult Him. In trusting that God will 'come through' for you, He will establish you, bless you, and prosper you. So, we read, "And He will give you the desires of your heart...Trust also in Him and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday" (37:4b,5b,6). Do you believe that? So often we complicate God's Word instead of accepting it at face value and walking in the light of it. We honour God in trusting Him; He honours us in giving us peace and prospering us. Are you at peace with yourself and with your world? Be honest now. As you think about what the future may unfold; as you anticipate possible transactions this coming week, are you at peace? Remember, your problem is His problem; God is able to look after it. Peace is the legacy which Christ has given to His people.

My non-Christian friend, are you at peace with yourself and with your world? I do not think so. You may have a superficial peace, but you do not have a deep, eternal peace because you will only find that kind of peace in trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord. Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (Jn. 14:27). That peace is for every true believer. My non-Christian friend, that peace can be yours. He has made peace with God through the blood of His cross. You can be rightly related to God, and rightly related to your fellow person. Won't you come to the cross and find the peace that God has for you in Jesus Christ His Son?