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COUNSELING PROBLEMS AND BIBLICAL CHANGE

BIBLICAL SOLUTIONS FOR ANXIETY, PART ONE

 

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The Knowledge of the Holy

A.W. Tozer

If you were to pick up a Christian book on anxiety it would likely contain a thorough going treatment of anxiety. There might a look at someone in the Bible who was anxious (say Saul in 1 Samuel 13); perhaps some Bible verses on anxiety, et cetera. There may be another section about medical aspects of anxiety; perhaps some secular material on anxiety, et cetera. In essence, you would find a systematic theology of anxiety.

There is nothing wrong with a systematic approach to theology, but it is not the only way to consider a topic.

The Bible nowhere has a book on anxiety (or depression, anger, marriage, childrearing, et cetera). When the Bible tackles a subject, it takes place in the context of several other often seemingly unrelated subjects.[1] Peter addresses marriage in the midst of a discussion of worship, suffering, glory, the Second Coming, the atonement and congregational church life. In placing marriage in this context, Peter transforms the question of marriage from a matter of merely a woman, a man and their personal happiness. When we understand it this way, there is a reason Peter does not address marriage until chapter 3 of his letter – and a reason he has to more chapters to follow. Peter wants us to think of marriage in a particular context.

In this series of lessons we are going to look at problems not in a systematic manner but rather in a contextual way. We are going to look at problems as they are embedded in Biblical texts to see how something like anxiety relates to the resurrection (as Paul makes the connection in Philippians) or depression relates to worship (as is done in Psalms 42-43). At first, this may seem strange, because it is unfamiliar to us. However, in the end, I hope that you will learn to see your entire life through a Scriptural lens and begin to understand that your hopes and sorrows and fears and joys all ultimately relate to your theology: To put it another way, as you learn to understand God you will begin to understand how the way you relate to God affects everything in your life.

I. KING DAVID & ANXIETY

David led an anxiety producing life. The first time we see David, Samuel anoints David as King (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Normally, being made king would be considered a good thing. But David was anointed King while Saul was still king – and Saul was insane. David was hired by Saul to play soothing music whenever Saul fell into a fit.

David then battles Goliath when no one else will. This makes David an object of envy. David’s later success in battle makes him the object of Saul’s jealousy. Even though David marries Saul’s daughter, Saul still wants David dead. This leads to years of being chased about by Saul and being forced to deal with the Philistines. After David becomes King, he has troubles with his children (including rape & murder among the siblings). David’s own sin provokes heart break, shame and physical illness (Psalm 32). David’s son launches a rebellion against David. David’s sin in numbering the people provokes God to bring a plague against David.

Even on his death bed, his children try to stir up trouble over the succession to kingship.

Thus, David did have adequate opportunity to be tempted with anxiety. We see this in David’s Psalms. Tonight we are going to consider anxiety in the context of Psalm 3 & 37.

II. PSALM 3: ANXIETY IN TIMES OF DANGER

3 A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

1  O Lord, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;

2  many are saying of my soul,

there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

3  But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

4  I cried aloud to the Lord,

and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

5  I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

6  I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

7  Arise, O Lord!

Save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

you break the teeth of the wicked.

8  Salvation belongs to the Lord;

your blessing be on your people! Selah

 

A. Context for the Psalm

This Psalm concern the fear David experienced when he fled from his son Absalom who led a rebellion against his father (the story is found in 2 Samuel 15-19).

B. How David Understands His Trouble

David’s situation is serious. The heading tells us that David wrote this in connection with the time he fled from his son Absalom. To be chased out of the capital by an army intent on taking your crown and your head would certainly be a temptation to fear.

1. Physical Danger

David refers to his many “foes” (Psalm 3:1). They are “rising against me”. There are thousands who have set themselves against David on every side (Psalm 3:6). Thus, David is in physical trouble.

2. Loss of God.

One great reason for our anxiety is that we forget that God is in charge of everything. The enemies seek to increase David’s trouble by claiming that David’s God will not rescue David:

Many are saying of my soul

There is no salvation for him in God.

Selah

 

In times of danger, the apparent “normal” means of relief are lost. David had relied upon the loyalty of his people and his army to protect him. Yet, in Absalom’s rebellion, the loyalty of the populace was lost and a significant number of troops have gone to Absalom.

This leaves David with a final solitary hope: God. If the enemies can cut David off from God, then David will lose all hope.

When Jesus is delivered to Pilate, he expresses no anxiety, because he knows that Pilate is in the end no better than a dog on leash: he can go no further than the chain will let him:

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” John 19:10-11

We will see that David’s response to his dangerous circumstance is to affirm and seek the help of God.

 

C. David’s Anxiety.

The Psalm nowhere uses the word “anxiety” or “fret” or even “fear”. But we do see symptoms of a troubled heart. David is acutely aware of his trouble. He uses the word “many” three times in the first two verses. Everywhere he sees his trouble. “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people and Absalom kept increasing.” (2 Samuel 15:12). When one is tender on a point, he notices every detail.

David says that he “cried aloud to the LORD”, thus demonstrating great anxiety. In addition, it seems that he could not sleep and that he felt fear: this can be seen since he speaks of peace and sleep being the results of God answering the prayer.

Such physical and psychological responses are typical in anxiety.

D. David’s Remedy.

1. David Affirms His Trust in God

“When prayer leads the van [is in front], in due time deliverance brings up the rear.” Thomas Watson.

Faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. In James 1:6, we read that one who prays for wisdom, must “ask in faith, with no doubting”. Great desperation can make for great faith. If you are dangling by a rope, you have full faith in that rope: you won’t let go for anything. Thus, when in anxiety, we must come to God with full assurance.

 

To make plain his faith & reliance upon God, David does not merely tell God the depth of his despair but he also states his full assurance in God’s ability to deliver:

3  But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

 

His enemies had sought to deny David the rest of God’s goodness and strength. David responds to their taunts by flying to God. In so doing, David gives us an example of the great offer made by
God:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

Hebrews 4:14-16.

2. David Seeks God

David takes his full distress and brings it to God. His prayer is not quiet, it is not beautiful: it is desperate, demanding and made with full assurance. There is no sin in going to God with one’s fear and pressure. The Psalms are filled with the unhindered desperation of the saints:

Psalm 4:1, “Answer me when I call”

Psalm 5:1, “Give ear to my words O LORD, consider my groaning”

Psalm 6:1, “O LORD rebuke me no in your anger”.

Psalm 10:1, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

Psalm 13:1, “How long, O LORD? will you forget me forever?”

We have a tendency to veil our prayers and to pretty up ourselves before we go to God for help. Such delay is manipulative; we’re hoping to approach God in “just the right way”. We come to God as if we believed he didn’t really want to be trouble with us. It shows that we do not believe the extraordinary grace of coming to him. We do not come to God because we are independent.
Rather, our weakness stands behind the prayer:

The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to — our helplessness — is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.

Paul E. Miller (2011-09-21). A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World with Bonus Content (Kindle Locations 729-731). Navpress. Kindle Edition.

3. David Exercises Faith

What space is left for anxiety to continue? David has confessed that all things are in God’s power, “For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.” Psalm 4:7b. Since David has full assurance in God, there is no remaining ground for anxiety. It is impossible to be afraid of the future (which is anxiety) and have full trust in God’s ability to control the future. Trust & fear cannot both exist at the same time. The result of David’s confidence is first sleep, “I lay down and slept.” But it was not the sleep of depression, for he continues, “I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” Having slept and woken with full assurance, he no longer feels fear, even though he is now surrounded by “thousands.”

E. Conclusion

First, difficult circumstances can provoke an anxious response in even the best saints. David was a singularly great man, but even he was capable of fear (and great sin). If our faith were perfect, we would never be swayed from a sight of God’s providence and glory. However, God is patient with our infirmities. Indeed he permits us to experience weakness so that we can learn to trust him:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8–11 (ESV)

Our flesh, sin, the Devil will all conspire to leave us in despair over our despair. Yet God intends a gracious good work to come through our weakness.

Second, we must seek the help of God in the midst of weakness and then rest in faith that God will do what is best. Note that David did not rest after God delivered, but before God delivered him. David knew God had heard him and thus David rested.

 

III. PSALM 37: FRETTING BECAUSE OF THE WICKED

This is another Psalm of David which concerns fretting, anxiety. It does not concern a particular instance of danger, but rather concerns anxiety and fretting due to the apparent injustice of God. The solution thus lies in learning to think and seeing rightly:

 

A PSALM wherein the righteousness of God’s providence is vindicated in His administration of the world. The Psalmist’s own heart had no doubt at one time been shaken by the apparent successes and triumphs of the ungodly; for it is a common temptation to distrust God when we see “the ungodly in great prosperity.” The advice which the Psalmist gives is “to wait,” “to trust in the Lord,” to look at the end, and to observe how even in this life God manifests His righteousness, in rewarding the godly and punishing the wicked. This sentiment is repeated in various forms, and with much beauty of expression.

 

J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms; A New Translation, with Introductions and Notes, Explanatory and Critical, vol. 1, Fifth Edition, Revised. (London; Cambridge: George Bell and Sons; Deighton Bell and Co., 1883), 325.

 

A. Do not Fret

1  Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

be not envious of wrongdoers!

2  For they will soon fade like the grass

and wither like the green herb.

 

1. Fretting:

The word which is here translated “fret” does not concern fear so much as internal agitation. It comes from the idea of making something burn. Here, it is almost as if David writes, “Do not light your soul on fire!”

“Fret not yourself” (Ps 37:1, 7–8; Prov 24:19). The reflexive thought is: “Do not kindle yourself” in respect to the wicked, etc.

Leon J. Wood, “736 חָרָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 322.

The idea of enflaming oneself is further developed by the parallel idea of “envy”, a strong desire for what another has and anger that the other has it. It is not merely that I want it for myself, it is that I don’t want it for them.

Examples of such envy are seen in Rachel who envied Leah’s children. Rachel not only wanted children for herself, she was angry that Leah did have children. Another instance is the envy of Joseph’s brother when he received special coat from his father. They were angry that their father such honor to Joseph.

In Psalm 73, Asaph expresses the envy he felt toward the wicked:

3       For I was envious of the arrogant

      when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 73:3 (ESV)

The envy comes about because he sees what the wicked has. In each instance the one envying thinks, “God is unjust to give such good that that person and at the same time to withhold such good from me!” Asaph expresses this clearly:

            12       Behold, these are the wicked;

      always at ease, they increase in riches.

            13       All in vain have I kept my heart clean

      and washed my hands in innocence. Psalm 73:12–13 (ESV)

Thus we see that at the heart of fretting is a theological problem. We fret because of God’s injustice in apparently doing good to the wicked not to us.[2]

Question for discussion: What exactly about the wicked apparently receiving good so troubles God’s people?

 

2. The Wickeds’ Prosperity Will Not Last

We look to wicked apparently receiving a reward and experience anger at the God’s dealings with them. The trouble with such thinking is that our vision does not extend far enough. We see the present, but we will not be righted in our heart until we “discern[] their end” (Psalm 73:17):

The fundamental thought running through the whole Psalm is at once expressed in the opening verses: Do not let the prosperity of the ungodly be a source of vexation to thee, but wait on the Lord; for the prosperity of the ungodly will suddenly come to an end, and the issue determines between the righteous and the unrighteous.

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 5 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 282. Calvin explains that this understanding comes as a matter of assured faith:

David lays down this as a general principle, that the prosperity of the wicked, in which they greatly rejoice, should on no account vex or disquiet the children of God, because it will soon fade away. On the other hand, although the people of God are afflicted for a time, yet the issue of their afflictions shall be such, that they have every reason to be contented with their lot. Now all this depends upon the providence of God; for unless we are persuaded that the world is governed by him in righteousness and truth, our minds will soon stagger, and at length entirely fail us.

John Calvin, Psalms, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ps 37:1. Thus, as in the case of anxiety which flows from danger, faith in God is the respond to an anxiety producing circumstance.

Question for discussion: How does the end of the wicked alleviate fretting? Is this mere gloating over injury to one’s enemy? See, Proverbs 24:17-18; Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14-21.

 

3. Confirming Our Observations

An almost identical statement is found in Proverbs 24:19-20:

19       Fret not yourself because of evildoers,

      and be not envious of the wicked,

            20       for the evil man has no future;

      the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

From the divine repetition we should be able to conclude that the link between envy and fretting does exist and that both are remedied by an eye to the end point:

The ground and occasion of being enraged, and on the other side, of jealousy or envy, is the prosperity of the godless, Ps. 73:3; cf. Jer. 12:1. This anger at the apparently unrighteous division of fortune, this jealousy at the success in which the godless rejoice, rest on short-sightedness, which regards the present, and looks not on to the end

Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 357.

 

B. Solutions to the Problem of Fretting

3  Trust in the Lord, and do good;

dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

4  Delight yourself in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5  Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him, and he will act.

6  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday.

7  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,

over the man who carries out evil devices!

 

  1. Instructions & Explanations

This next section begins a series of instructions on what one must do. To the instructions are appended encouragements and explanations. It is important to note the manner in which Scripture gives instruction. In most instances, directions are given with explanations which make performance of the direction possible. Even the individual proverbs in Proverbs are prefaced by nine chapters of encouragement and explanation as to the type of heart which can hear and do such instruction, as well explanations for the need to be wise and the consequence of failing.

These instructions all come in the context of seeing the apparent prosperity of the wicked, which implies the failure of God’s wisdom and/or justice. David having stated that we must not fret ourselves of the wicked then explains how this is to take place:

But how are we to do it? How are we to remain cool when we see evil men prospering? Especially when they prosper at the expense of truly righteous persons, which is often the case? ….

The most important answer is to get our eyes off of the wicked and even off of ourselves and on the Lord. More than that, we are to trust him and commit our way to him. I suppose there is hardly a place in all the Bible better suited than these verss to teach us how to live godly lives and grow in the love and knowledge of God, which is what the godly life is all about. James Montgomery Boice, Psalms vol. 1, p. 316.

 

2. Trust in the Lord

The first instruction is to “trust in the Lord”. “Trust in God is the true antidote for the fretfulness and envy which are before forbidden.” (J. J. Stewart Perowne, 325.) Nothing will happen prior to initial exercise of faith.

This idea of trust is a settled and firm confidence in the Lord. The Bible speaks a great deal about false and foolish confidence. For example, Israel is condemned because they will turn their backs upon God and they will trust in the walls about their cities (Deuteronomy 28:52) or in military might (Isaiah 31:1).

Rather, the believer is everywhere told to trust in Lord alone. We see a perfect example of this debate in 2 Kings 19. In that chapter the Assyrian envoy comes to the gates of Jerusalem and warns the people not to trust in the Lord but rather to trust in Assyria, because Assyria’s might will overwhelm any god or even God himself:

29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 2 Kings 18:29–30 (ESV)

When Hezekiah receives the taunt of Assyria he takes his complaint to God:

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:14–19 (ESV)

God hears Hezekiah’s prayer and answers through Isaiah. Hezekiah then trusts in the Lord to deliver him from the threat of the greatest army in the world. . “True confidence consists in leaving the things which are not under the control of man confidently and patiently to him who has all things in his hand” (Weiser, Psalms 317).

The instruction to “trust in the Lord” we must understand that it entails both the prayer of faith and the obedience of faith to truly trust in the Lord. That is implied by the second half of Psalm 37:3, we are not merely to trust but also to live lives of faithfulness. Faith & trust in the Lord, is never a matter of mere intellectual assent but must also entail commensurate obedience. Paul speaks of his ministry being given “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26).

If our security is anchored in God, then faithful obedience will give us good ground for hope and assurance, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5b-6).

3. Delight Yourself in the Lord

This is one of the most abused texts in the Bible. It is often explained as if we merely show some attention to God and God responds by giving us everything we want. The irony of is immediately obvious. The Psalm concerns the sinful fretting of the believer who sees the prosperity of the wicked. If this verse merely means we get what we want, then the Psalmist is saying that the solution to our fretting and envy is for God to treat us in the way he is apparently treating the wicked!

Look carefully at the words of the verse and you’ll discover it’s meaning: Delight yourself in the Lord, and the Lord will give you that in which he delights[3]. If we turn our ultimate affections upon anything less than or than God, we have made that thing our God: “To love anything more than God, is to make it a god. If we love our estate more than God, we make it a god ….” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, Sermon on the First Commandment).

Augustine in his Confessions, Book 10, chapter 29, writes: For he loves You too little who loves anything with You, which he loves not for You.”

John Piper’s book God is the Gospel  draws out this point at great length. We’ll take just

What I have been trying to show in this and the previous chapters is that even though the gospel purchased and promises many good gifts, from the most spiritual to the most material, yet God himself is the ultimate good promised in the gospel. If we do not see and savor that greatest good above all others and inall others, we do not yet know why the good news is truly good. Jonathan Edwards expressed very powerfully this truth that God himself is our supreme joy and is the true and lasting joy in all other joys.

The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God’. The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.

 

4. Commit Your Way to the Lord

Leupold explains, “The original language says, ‘Roll your way,’ the figure being: dislodge the burden from your shoulders and lay it upon God, who has bidden you follow this course” (Psalms, 301). Jesus makes the same call to us, as is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:25–30 (ESV)

Commitment comes with a promise: It is the manner of God to give rationale and promise to his commands. Here God commands that we roll our burden upon him. The thought that our troubles can rolled onto another who is stronger is itself a cause for hope. And yet God sweetens the command with the promise,

6  He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday.

The wicked who appears to prosper will not merely fade, but God will bring all things – even this wicked one – into justice. When judgment comes, we will receive vindication:

Micah 7:7–10 (ESV)

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;

when I fall, I shall rise;

when I sit in darkness,

the Lord will be a light to me.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord

because I have sinned against him,

until he pleads my cause

and executes judgment for me.

He will bring me out to the light;

I shall look upon his vindication.

10  Then my enemy will see,

and shame will cover her who said to me,

“Where is the Lord your God?”

My eyes will look upon her;

now she will be trampled down

like the mire of the streets.

 

Weiser comments:

This saying, which has become immortal through Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, leads us into that bright sphere where man’s confidence in God prevails. Here speaks a man who knows what it means that his cause is in the hand of God. He knows that in the practice of  prayer he may commit his whole life (= ‘your way’) to God, that he will be entirely in the faithful hands of God; he may cast all his cares upon him and, whenever the uncertainties of life overwhelm him, he may give himself up to God’s guidance, saying to himself:

‘What though thou rulest not?

Yet heaven, and earth, and hell proclaim:

God sitteth on the throne and ruleth all things well!’ 

This knowledge gives him that confident joy of having peace of mind and refuge in God which fills the life of the godly man with sunshine. For his life is sustained by the hope that God’s salvation will rise over him like the sun, and that his just cause, which, after all, is nothing other than the cause of God, will triumph. (317)

 

5. Wait for the Lord to Act

David instructs, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”. Fretting is self-agitation: we make ourselves angry. After we have committed our trouble to God, it will be easy for us to return again and demand that God immediately act. However, we must learn that we are not the Lord.

The Lord gave this very instruction to the prophet Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 2:2–4 (ESV)

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;

make it plain on tablets,

so he may run who reads it.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;

it hastens to the end—it will not lie.

If it seems slow, wait for it;

it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

 

The Lord is never a moment late in his work. As Joseph toiled away a slave and then a prisoner, he must have wondered when God would (if ever) act. But God waited until he would raise Joseph to the height of power. When Israel stood at the banks of the Red Sea and the Egyptian army advanced, the people of Israel grew fearful because God seemed to wait too long. However, the Lord was merely bringing the Egyptian army closer that it might be destroyed in the sea.

When the disciples saw the Lord murdered and buried, they despaired that God had this waited too long to vindicate Jesus. And thus, the two disciples shuffled off to Emmaus. Yet, the Lord himself, rebuked them with the words, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).

We see in this that a cause of anxiety is our inability to wait.

The Old Testament is aware of the fact (cf. Isa. 7.4; 30.15) that to be still and wait for God is not something which falls into the lap of man, but is the reward for the victory which man has gained in the struggle of his soul against his own assertive human self; it is aware of the fact that this keeping silence and waiting for God consists in the bearing and enduring of that tension into which man is continually thrown whenever he would like to see what, in fact, cannot be seen and yet must be believed. It is only by the displaying of a faith which is capable of waiting patiently and of neutralizing all selfish human curiosity that patience and self-possession grow as the most precious fruit of faith itself. Faith in the biblical sense requires the utmost exertion of strength and the highest degree of activity. The man who has learned to conquer his own self by waiting faithfully for God and by being still before him can no longer be harmed in any way, not even by the prosperity of his adversaries who hatch plots against him. (Weiser, 318).

 

C. The End of the Story

One cannot rightly understand a story without looking to the end. The fretting and envy of the wicked stems from short sightedness. We are fearful, angry, jealous because we do not think of what God is doing and what God will do. Having directed us to give our distress to God, David now commands us to look to the end of the story:

8  Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!

Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

9  For the evildoers shall be cut off,

but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10  In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;

though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.

 

D. The Blessing of Meekness

11  But the meek shall inherit the land

and delight themselves in abundant peace.

These words contain the summary of the commands and the promise. Jesus repeats these words as a blessing in Matthew 5:5. In his sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, Martyn Lloyd-Jones considers the blessing pronounced upon the meek. First, he explains that the meekness flows from a true sight of oneself: a sight which brings me to see my utter spiritual poverty before God, which turns to sorrow for sin. In this place I have no ground for pride, “The meek man is not proud of himself, he does not in any glory in himself.” (57).

This uncovers something of the sin of fretting: When I fret and envy the seeming good of the wicked, I am thinking, I am a great man who deserves that and God has erred by blessing him rather than me. Such thinking is the radical opposite of meekness.

“The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. His not always watching himself and his own interests.” (57) Fretting, on the other hand, is an obsession with myself and my status and my reward. It can easily cloak itself as righteous indignation: however, the commands to leave the matter to God necessarily strip us of any such cloak.

God allows us to see such things so that we must commit our hope and glory wholly to him. God brings us to a place where meekness is our only right option. “To be meek, in other words, means that you have finished with yourself altogether, and you come to see that you have no rights or deserts at all. You come to realize that nobody can harm you. John Bunyan puts it perfectly, ‘He that is down need fear no fall.’” (57-58)

Having become meek, we cannot be distressed because we leave all to God, “We are to leave everything – ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly” (58).

When we have come to such a place, how can we not delight ourselves in abundant peace?

 

 

[1] The closest to an isolated treatment of a subject would be found in Proverbs.

 

[2] “The irritation of a young moralist against the success of the wicked implies an attitude of attack against divine justice” (Terrien, Psalms, 321).

 

[3]

From the third direction to ward off the temptation, learn, 1. The godly man hath warrant to make God the object of his delight, who, being reconciled to the believer through the Mediator, is become the believer’s own, in whom he may continually rejoice; but the object of the ungodly prosperous man’s delight is but some creature, or temporal trifle; for to the believer it is said, delight thyself in the Lord. 2. Though the believer be rich in his rights, yet he is slow to make use thereof, and hath need to be stirred up to take possession: delight thyself. 3. If the believer shall make use of his covenant right and interest in God, and set his affections upon him, he shall find such solid contentment and satisfaction in God,

as he shall not envy the condition of the most prosperous wicked man in the world; for it is said, delight thyself in the Lord, and he will give thee the desires of thy heart. And certainly the forgetting, or not hearkening to this direction, is the cause of our being malcontented with our lot, and of our envying the wicked.

 

David Dickson, A Brief Explication of the Psalms, vol. 1 (Glasgow; Edinburgh; London: John Dow; Waugh and Innes; R. Ogle; James Darling; Richard Baynes, 1834), 198–199.