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Resting in God

This article was originally published in November 2020.

We live in a challenging age. Our culture’s rejection of God’s authority is abundantly clear at every level of society, from the content posted on social media up through the words and actions of government officials. We see evil and injustice on the news, in the workplace, and in our neighborhood Facebook groups. While other generations may have enjoyed the illusion of morality through general societal restraint and decorum, we are seeing those restraints fall away as each person increasingly does what is right in his own eyes. It’s a difficult time in which to live and honor God.

We also live in an exceedingly busy and distracting age. Our minds are bombarded with information and opinions. We don’t just know what our friends and neighbors are thinking… we know what EVERYONE is thinking. We are exposed to constant streams of content, and this complicates our already busy and full lives.

How are we to survive in the midst of such chaos? Obviously, we are to continue to live in faithfulness to God, and to obey His commands regardless of whether anyone else seems to follow Him. But how do we deal with the pressure and weight of the circumstances around us? How can we handle the unrest and the feeling in the pits of our stomachs as we watch things unravel?

We will not find the rest and peace our souls crave by gathering more data, and we certainly won’t find rest trying to control our circumstances. But while the turmoil of the world swirls around us, we can find abundant rest in God. In Psalm 37, we find a beautiful reminder of the rest we can experience when we put off wrong responses to the evil around us and instead find our security and peace in God. His commands to us are truly refreshing, and they simplify our hectic lives.

At the beginning of Psalm 37, we are quickly reminded of three wrong responses to the evil we observe and experience. First, we are not to be envious of evildoers and their apparent successes and prosperity (verses 1, 7). Secondly, we are not to fret about evildoers and their wicked deeds. This command is repeated in verses 1, 7, and 8. We are also not to respond with anger. Anger and fretting are closely related. The word translated fret literally means to become heated. In the Old Testament, it often refers to burning anger. Verse 8 says, “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.” The word translated anger in this verse refers to a quick temper or a short fuse, while the word for wrath means strong anger or indignation. It is interesting to note that often when the word wrath is used in the Old Testament, it refers to God acting on His anger, such as His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Deut. 29:23, 28).

When we encounter evil around us, we are not to respond by becoming heated or angry. But what about righteous anger? How can we tell whether our legitimate disgust at sin has become anger and fretting? Psalm 37:8 tells us that sinful anger leads to evildoing. As we saw above, this is not expressed as a possibility, but as a fact. The term evildoing may sound like criminal activity, but that doesn’t mean that us “law-abiding” citizens are off the hook. We can be involved in evildoing through our thoughts, attitudes, and speech. This evildoing often starts with a critical and judgmental attitude, and then manifests itself through sinful speech such as sarcasm, name calling, blaming, assuming the worst about others, and slander. Sinful anger is destructive, isn’t it? Christians are commanded to build up others with our words (Ephesians 4:29), not harm them. Even if we must disagree with or correct another person, our words should be used in love and for the good of others.

Psalm 37 helps us eliminate our anger by reminding us of the ultimate end of the wicked. Someone has wrath toward the wicked in this psalm, but it should not be us! That is God’s role, and He will accomplish it (see verses 9, 12-15, 17, 20, and 38).

What are we to do while waiting on God to deal with the wicked? In short, we are to trust in the Lord and mind our own business. In verse 3, we read that we are to trust in the LORD and do good, to dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Just as the Israelites were given a parcel of land to dwell in, so we have been given a physical space and a set of circumstances. We are to live in the situation God has lovingly given us and to trust Him and do good. Actively doing good by serving God and others helps rid us of self-focused fretting.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” What an interesting verse to find tucked into a passage on our response to the wicked! It raises so many questions. What does it mean to delight ourselves in the Lord? Will God really give us our desires? Think of it this way. When you truly love someone, what does that drive you to desire? You want to know them better, and you want to spend as much time with them as you can. Here’s an example. My husband Jordan and I were dating and engaged while I was in college in Oklahoma and he was living here in Southlake. Our college campus phone system had two different rings. If the phone rang once, as in a normal ring, it was a call from someone on another part of the campus. But if it rang two short rings together, then it was a call from off campus! I spent every evening listening for that off-campus ring, hoping that Jordan would call! My desire was to talk to him as much as possible. I also happily made the 3-hour drive home every other weekend in order to be with him.

We can choose to take delight in the Lord. This may not start as an emotion-driven pursuit, but the more time we spend in His word and the more we develop our trust in Him, the more we will love and appreciate Him. When we meditate on scripture, and God’s word renews our minds, our desires are radically transformed. We want to know Him more, to love the things He prioritizes, and to eagerly watch to see what He’ll do next. And unlike human relationships, which are marred by sin and selfishness, God promises that He’ll give us that perfect fellowship with Him that we desire.

Verse 5 tells us, “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” It is fascinating to discover that the word commit literally means to roll, as in rolling a burden off ourselves and onto the Lord. Ahh, isn’t this also a desire of our hearts fulfilled? We desire to experience peace and calm, and our Lord lovingly provides this. We can roll our burdens to the Lord, while confidently trusting that He will accomplish what we need. Our difficult circumstances may remain, but our hearts are calmed.

Verse 7 says, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him.” This is literally to “be still in Him”. In what way are we to be still? Obviously, God does not want us to abandon our responsibilities. We are not to be lazy or negligent. However, the sphere of our responsibility is quite small in comparison to God’s reign and rule. We have been given charge of our own thoughts and attitudes, our own actions, our own homes, our own areas of ministry. And even in these, we are instructed to depend on God for the wisdom and ability to carry them out. God, on the other hand, controls the actions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), causes nations to rise and fall (Psalm 2), oversees every function of life on this planet, and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). To be still in Him is to recognize that God is God, and to choose not to involve ourselves in the decisions and actions that are under His jurisdiction, not ours. Rather than fret, we are to be faithful about our own business, putting on a sweet spirit of trust as we wait for Him to act in His perfect wisdom and timing.

Let’s choose to put our hope and trust in the Lord in the midst of these uncertain times, committing our burdens to Him because He is both sovereign over everything and a personal refuge for our anxious hearts. What great rest and comfort He provides!