Keys to a Fret-Free Life
Since 1992, in the United States the month of April has been designated as Stress Awareness Month. During this annual thirty-day period, health care professionals across the country attempt to increase public awareness of the fact that people have stress. I am not sure that it takes a month for us to become aware that stress is a problem in our day. Stress can lead to fretting, so it might seem more appropriate to institute a national Fret-free Day. After we make it through one day without fretting, why not a fret-free week? Or month? Or year?
To fret is to feel worry or concern—to have something gnawing away at you. It is more than a passing moment of anxiety. It is an inordinate amount of worry and concern. In spite of the fact that life brings challenges, we do not need to live lives of fretfulness. Fretting is an exercise in futility! It really does not do any good, and oftentimes we fret about things we have no control over.
In Psalm 37, we find some steps that can be taken to avoid fretfulness. The subtitle of this psalm in the Thompson Bible reads: “The happy state of the godly, and the short-lived prosperity of the wicked.” These verses, composed by David in his old age, encourage the godly not to be dismayed when things seem to go well for the ungodly, even when it occurs at the expense of the godly. To emphasize this point, David began this psalm by saying, “Fret not.” In verse 23, he stated with assurance, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” There is a vast difference between “fretting” and “delighting.”
David did not say these words because his life had been free from stress-inducing circumstances. His life had not been easy. As the youngest of eight boys, he was the one who ended up on the hillside tending sheep. The Bible records some difficult experiences he had there: at different times a lion and a bear came to attack his flock. After one or two experiences along that line, you can be sure that a young lad out there alone on the hillside heard the noises that one would hear in the dark. He knew what had happened when the bear and the lion came. Those days had ended well, but it would have been easy for David to fret about what the next day might bring.
When David was older, he had even more reasons to be concerned or anxious. He was called upon to play his harp before King Saul, who was troubled by an evil spirit after the Spirit of the Lord departed from him. David had written songs and learned to make music in spite of concerns out on the mountainside. No doubt that is how he overcame any tendency to engage in inordinate worry or anxiety! Someone noticed, and when Saul was troubled, the suggestion was made to have David come and play for him. The music did not solve Saul’s problem, but it temporarily brought some relief, and for a time the king found himself more restful and calmer when David was there. However, he soon succumbed to the evil spirit that was within him and directed his anger against David.
There is benefit in music. One of our grandsons spent the day with my wife and me recently. As he was doing his drawing and puzzles and those kinds of activities during the afternoon, I heard him continually singing and humming to himself. Since he is still young, he does not know that this life is a spiritual warfare and not for the faint of heart. Spiritual battles will come as he gets older, and I found myself hoping that as he faces some of those challenges, he learns to sing through them. Singing is a tool that can help us overcome the tendency to be fretful—it is a way of delighting in the Lord.
David went against the giant, Goliath, and defeated that champion of the Philistines. But then he became a fugitive, fleeing from the jealousy and wrath of Saul. Later, as God had ordained, he became king. However, his family was in upheaval around him. Some who were supposed to protect David abandoned him instead, and his own son led a rebellion against him. But through it all, David remembered that “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.”
Another translation of the word good could be a “strong” man, or a “conquering” man; in the original language, the word is a bit stronger than the English word. A person who allows the Lord to order his steps ends up a conqueror through the strength that God imparts. David had that strength, and it is evidenced in his words in Psalm 37.
In verses 1 through 8, David identifies five ways to overcome the tendency to worry and fret. These are to trust, delight, commit, rest, and cease.
Verse 3 instructs us, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” To trust is to be confident in the Lord. We prefer to be confident in ourselves, secure in our own ability, but that is not one of the steps of the good or strong man. The conquering man is confident in God—in the Lord’s ability to bring victory in the battles he faces.
We cannot experience trust in a problem-free environment, because in a problem-free environment we do not need trust. Recently, a man in our congregation testified about finding himself in a time of need. He mentioned that he had signed up for a medical plan some time before. When he faced a need, he was asked for the password to his account, but he could not remember it. So he called his daughter, and she told him that his password was “Give me Jesus.” That man had learned something about trust! I have read that we will never know Jesus is all we need until Jesus is all we have. It is good to trust in the Lord. The conquering man discovers that trusting is a good step to take. It is a way to defeat fretfulness.
Trust empowers one to do good in a world where evil often prevails, which is what this entire psalm is about. Yes, the wicked flourish. Throughout the Bible we observe times when the righteous were in dismay at the apparent success of the wicked. However, their success is short-term, whereas the reward of the righteous is eternal.
That perspective is what gave David the confidence to go out and battle against Goliath. He certainly did not compare in size to that giant of a man. David was not an experienced soldier, as Goliath was. He was not equipped with the latest and greatest in armor and weaponry. Others asked, “How can you go against this champion?” However, David’s confidence was not in himself, in his ability, nor in the armor that was provided for him. It was not even in the slingshot that he eventually used. His confidence was in the Lord, and as a result he could say to Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, . . . This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). That is trust!
The second step we can take to resist fretfulness is described in verse 4: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” To delight ourselves in God—to focus on Him and His blessings to us—is a good step. It provides a song in the heart as one goes through life. When fretfulness tries to overcome us, we remind ourselves to delight in the Lord, recalling that He promises to give us the desires of our hearts.
We do not delight based on circumstances, because oftentimes circumstances give no cause for delight. We delight despite circumstances!
That does not mean that God will give us whatever we want. It means that He will give us the right desires. We do not delight based on circumstances, because oftentimes circumstances give no cause for delight. We delight despite circumstances! We delight when it is not convenient to do so. Anyone can feel happy when everything is going well. David had learned to overcome the darkness that surrounded him during the challenges of life by delighting in the Lord, and we can learn that as well.
The third step of the conquering man is to commit. We read in verse 5: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” The word translated commit means “to roll together.” So, when David said, “Commit thy way unto the Lord,” he was saying that we are to roll our ways together and cast them all on the Lord.
In the New Testament, we find instruction to cast all our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us (see 1 Peter 5:7). So whether our way is presently a good way or one that is more challenging, we want to roll it all up together and hand it over to God. We want to relinquish our own ways, and allow God’s way to be our way. We commit everything to Him. We dedicate ourselves to God and to His service, and let Him choose our paths. As we do so, we are taking another step to be that strong man, that one who overcomes.
Victory in the Gospel is more than victory at the end of the battle. It is victory during the battle.
We talk about victory in the Gospel. Certainly the concept of an eternal reward for the righteous suggests victory, but victory in the Gospel is more than victory at the end of the battle. It is victory during the battle. In this same psalm, David said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). If we are serving God, we never need to hang our heads as if defeat is impending. This is a way of warfare, but it is always a way of victory as we serve the Lord. We will never lose if we commit it all to Him—if we roll our ways up together and put them on the Lord. In verse 28, David asserted that God “forsaketh not His saints; they are preserved for ever.” We are preserved in the care of God, not only now but forever.
The fourth step is to rest. In verse 7 we find these words: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” To rest is to keep silent. The opposite of resting is to be agitated, anxious, and fretful. Have you ever tried to relax in a hurry? Perhaps you only have a short time and you know you need to relax. So quick, relax! That does not work out so well, does it? Resting in the Lord implies a need to cease from activity for a spell, and wait patiently for Him.
God tells us in His Word, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The conquering man will pause long enough to hear the Voice of God and act accordingly. That is a step we must take. A few verses prior to verse 10, it says, “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved.” So circumstances were in upheaval all around the writer of this psalm, but God commands, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” We find assurance in the fact that “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (verse 11). No wonder we can rest in the Lord! “Evildoers,” we read in Psalm 37:9, “shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” So we wait patiently for the Lord to show up, knowing that He has never been late.
The last step is to cease. The Psalmist instructs us, “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil” (Psalm 37:8). Frustration can lead to fretfulness and even anger at our circumstances. Such anger is destructive and reflects a lack of confidence in the fact that God is in control. We must forsake such an attitude with firm resolve, and concentrate on God’s goodness.
We read in the last two verses of this psalm, “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.” Rather than allowing ourselves to be frustrated by trials or the circumstances of life, let us purpose to follow the steps outlined in this psalm, believing that we will be able to triumph through the challenges of life because “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Spiritual warfare certainly exists, but it is a warfare that comes with victory as we let our steps be ordered by the Lord.
Today, look God’s way and trust in His resources to buoy your spirit and send you forth on a march toward victory!