"Fret Not"

Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on March 8, 1981
      TURN IN YOUR BIBLE TO PSALM 37. It is a psalm of David. I believe that God would have us return to certain foundational principles that serve as benchmarks for our faith. I could preach every week on this psalm and still not cure the problem it addresses. Three times it says, “Fret not.” It opens with the words “Fret not,” and it says it again in verses 7 and 8. If you have never fretted, then I have no message for you today. I have to confess that I have already done some fretting today, and I wonder if any of you are guilty of doing the same.
      It is an imperative command: “Fret not. . .fret not. . .fret not.” But God never gives you a command without telling you how to accomplish it. This psalm lays out a two-sided exchange between man and God: there are certain steps that we must take, and there is the guarantee of the things that God will do when we take those steps. The end of the exchange is in verse 37, where it says, “for the end of that man is peace.” This psalm shows us how to go from fretting to peace.
      The steps that we must take are simple and easy to understand, but they are not always easy to do. The first step is given in verse 3: “Trust in the LORD.” That does not mean we should settle back and do nothing. When you see the word “trust” in the Old Testament, most of the time it is a translation of one of two Hebrew words. Both of them are action words. One of the words means “to run to the shelter of a rock” or “to run to the shelter of a mother bird’s wings.” But that is not the word being used here in Psalm 37. This word means “to rely on” or “to have confidence in,” and is used to describe the action of leaning on a staff. It is a transferal of strength, a transferal of balance. When you are walking on a dangerous path up a rocky slope, you transfer your weight onto that staff. This psalm says that when I am fretting, I am to lean on a staff that is available.
      Now I ask you, is the Lord available to lean on? I have no interest in preaching a message that you only mentally reflect on. This message should be like a navigator in a storm. It should enable you to make adjustments to your course as you go along. When we are fretting, we need to take a new fix on God’s trustworthiness. Can we lean on Him, and is the Staff strong enough to hold us? The only way you are going to find out is by exposure to the record of God’s word, and by acting in faith on His word. The Scripture says that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” and this record tells you whether or not He is faithful.
      Why do you go to church? I sometimes ask myself that question. Do I go to church only to preach? That is not a good enough reason. There must be something prior to that, or God help you if you only go to listen to a man preach and do not go to hear the word of the Lord! God’s promise is “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” That is why we gather together. All of us on our various rocky paths have that promise, and that is what justifies the trip. The Lord is here. I can count on Him to enable me to speak forth His word, and He is present to make sure that what you receive will be His word. And wherever we go, we have the promise “Lo, I am with you always.”
     When you are in a storm that produces fretting, can you trust in the Lord? Is God trustworthy? Is your compass a working compass? Does the Pilot know the way? Wash your mind for a moment of the causes of your fretting, and understand that no one has ever promised there won’t be evildoers and workers of iniquity, pressures, problems and forces of life that cause us to fret. What makes a Christian different from the rest of the world? We have a Staff that is strong enough to lean on, and it won’t break. Start here. Take a new fix on that truth this instant, and lean on the Lord.
      The second step is given in verse 4: “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” I have heard many sermons preached on that verse, and they usually put the emphasis on its second half: “he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” But that is not the way God recorded it in His book. The Psalmist does not say that you should delight yourself in the Lord because He is the giver of your desires. You will never get to the meaning of this verse if you cannot pull yourself out of and above your desires. What are you fretting about? Most of us usually fret about not getting what we want, or we fret because there is some threat to what we want.
      What is the end result of this psalm? Peace. What is peace? Peace is “cessation of againstness.” Christians sometimes talk about peace as though it is something that just falls down on you out of heaven. Peace happens when turmoil ceases, when againstness stops, when conflict and wrestling end. Peace usually comes between men or nations when both sides “give” a little. But peace with God only comes when we surrender. God is not going to give in at all.
      Our problem is we have too many desires in our heart. Paul says in Ephesians 4:22 that we are corrupt according to deceitful lusts. The Greek word translated “lusts” literally means desires: we are corrupt according to deceiving desires. You must grab hold of that part of your nature that is the source of your desires, and by faith make a disciplined application of God’s word, because God’s word reveals His will and His ways. God did not create man for man’s sake; He created man for Himself, and the devil has been trying to change that focus since the first temptation in the garden.
      That is the tragedy of life: Adam and Eve got what they wanted, and they ended up in misery. As Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” That is the definition of sin, and the penalty of sin is death, apartness from God, and the misery that follows. Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” All of life can become slavery to satisfying your desires. It is much like a drug addiction: you can never get enough because our desires are misfocused.
      Are you fretting? God’s word tells us what to do. Take a new fix on the focus of your desires. Where are they focused? The Scripture says, and puts first, “Delight thyself also in the LORD.” I must shove my wants aside and make a fresh analysis of what I am fretting about today. Am I fretting because I am being denied an opportunity to please myself, or am I fretting because I am being denied an opportunity to please God? If we are honest, we know the exact point where we departed in trust and where we departed in desire. The laws in the spiritual world are just as operational as the laws in the natural world. Our problem is that we are not willing to submit to God’s ways.
      God gets right down to the nitty-gritty. Are you fretting? Take a new fix on what you are leaning on; take a new fix on what you are desiring. Are you leaning on the Lord, or are you leaning on your own strength or some other source of strength? Are you focusing your energy of desire primarily on the things you want? If you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart. That means when you put God first in your heart, He will give you Himself and, paradoxically, everything else that you need as well. It is a matter of priorities. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these” other “things shall be added unto you.”
      “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” Jesus spent much time teaching on this very subject. He said, “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” and “Take therefore no thought for the morrow.” He said, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” and “God sees a sparrow fall – how much more does He see you?”
     What do you want out of life? Do you first want what God wants? Are you God’s servant or is God your servant? Delight yourself in the Lord. Make Him the object of your desire. Offer yourself to Him and He will give you the desire of your heart, which, if your heart is focused right, is Himself and His way – and then all these other things will be added.
      The third step is recorded in verse 5: “Commit thy way unto the LORD.” The Hebrew word that is translated “commit” literally means “to roll.” God is saying to us fretters, “Roll off your burden onto Him.” How do we roll off our burden onto Him? In the New Testament, every covenant promise of God begins with the simple step: “With the heart man believeth. . .with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” With our heart believing in a genuine committal, we wrap up our mess into a bundle of words, and then we articulate it: “Here, Lord, take my way. I roll it off onto You.”
     Now I am sure that most of us would like to give the Lord all our problems, but that is not exactly what is being said here. Notice that the Psalmist does not say, “Commit thy burden unto the Lord,” it says, “Commit thy way unto the Lord.” That means all of your way. That means your todays, your tomorrows, and all of your days thereafter. That means you say, “Take charge, Lord,” and you turn it loose. You quit saying, “Take this, Lord, but let me keep that!” I am reminded of a man who told me that it was difficult for him to grasp the concept that he did not really own his own business; rather, he only managed it for the Lord.
      Why are you fretting? Have you been leaning on the wrong source of strength? Lean on the Lord. Do you desire something more than you desire the Lord, or do you want the Lord more than you want anything else? Commit thy way. Tell it to Him and give it to Him. Again we are told to “trust also in him.” That means once you have committed your way, you need to lean a little harder on Him. Then it says, “And he shall bring it to pass.” Underline those words in your Bible, and we will come back to them.
      Here is step four: “Rest in the LORD.” An alternative translation says, “Be silent to the Lord.” Most of us have a hard time with that. We say, “Hey, God, I gave You my problems last night but I still have the same mess today! Hurry up and take care of my problems!” God created the whole universe in six days and rested on the seventh. I took years creating this mess and now I expect Him to straighten it out immediately. God is saying, in essence, commit it to Him and shut up. Make it final. “Rest in the LORD.” That does not mean you should do nothing. It means that once you have committed your way to Him, He is going to lead you. You are still in the way and you are still on the way. Just be still.
      It is difficult for us to obey this command. Pastors and parents can discover the most rebellious tendencies in human nature. The Bible says that we are, in certain specific things, to obey those undershepherds who watch over our souls. The very word “obey” is considered in bad taste in the modern American frame of reference. We don’t want to obey anyone! As a parent, the thing that you have the hardest time getting your children to do is the same thing that God has the hardest time getting us to do. If you want to make sure that your child desires the wrong thing, tell him he can’t have it. That rebellious tendency is an old as Adam and Eve in the garden.
      Let me show you how most people commit their way to the Lord. I borrow an illustration from V. Raymond Edman. He spoke of how we are willing to take life-changing matters, put a stamp on them, and drop them into a mailbox. There are matters on which our very lives and fortunes depend, and yet we are willing to commit them to the postal service! Now imagine a man who is about to mail a letter, but he just can’t turn loose of it. You see him standing in front of the post office with his hand in the mailbox, and you ask him, “What are you doing?” And he says, “Well, I’m committing this letter to the postal service.” So you ask, “Why is your hand still in the mailbox?” And he says, “Well, I’m not ready to turn it loose yet!” You have to turn it loose!
      So he finally turns loose of his letter and lets it drop into the mailbox. But then the man does not leave. You next see him standing in front of the post office shaking in fear. You ask him, “What’s the matter with you?” And he says, “I’ve turned loose of my letter, but I’m not sure that they will take my letter the right way. I want it to go to New York via Denver, but they might route it through Dallas, and there is bad weather in Dallas. I don’t even know what airline they are going to use to take my letter.” To make this illustration more ludicrous, why doesn’t he charter a private plane and follow that letter to its destination? We won’t do that with the mail; we just let it go.
      Let me use another illustration, this time from a real experience. I recently flew in to Santa Monica Airport on a private plane in the fog, which can be a terrifying experience. I was sitting up front with the pilot and listening to the air traffic controllers as they gave us instructions. The controllers would tell us what altitude to fly at, and they would give us the next radio frequency to tune to, as they handed us over to each successive controller. One controller sounded clear and confident as he told us to descend to 6,000 feet. But the next controller was very different. He did not speak clearly and did not inspire my confidence at all. I started to become afraid and was thinking, “Here I am at 6,000 feet in the fog with jets going in every direction,” but somehow they guided us in. It sure felt good when we broke through the fog and I could see the runway lights! It made me reflect that so much of our life requires faith in people we don’t know and who may or may not deserve it.
      Commit thy way to the Lord and rest in Him, that is, cease speaking to Him about it. Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay. Turn it over to Him and let Him lead you. So you turn it over to Him and the next day you find yourself in a fog. Well, God is still leading you and He isn’t in the fog, and He has better computers than the air traffic controllers have: He made the whole universe. Rest in the Lord.
      Then comes the hardest step, number five: “wait patiently for him.” I suppose I can wait because there isn’t much else I can do, but waiting patiently is the hard part. That means we are to wait enduringly for Him. Wait for God to work it out. God has to untie all the knots we have tied, and that may take a while. If we have not been trusting in Him and delighting ourselves in Him, and if we have taken back some of our way and done things our way, it may take a while for Him to reverse it. You have given it to Him, so quit arguing about it. Quit saying, “Hey, God, it looks like I can take it back now.” Wait patiently and fret not. Again, trust in the Lord, delight thyself in Him, commit thy way, rest in Him and wait patiently. Those are the five simple things that all of us can do about our problems.
      What does God do in response to our faith? That is the other side of the exchange. There are five wonderful promises that I want us to focus on in this psalm. The first one is in verse 5, which I asked you to underline earlier: “trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Literally, “the Lord worketh.” That means God goes to work on your problem. And notice the point at which that occurs. God doesn’t wait until I take step 4 or step 5. I have to start out by leaning on Him as my source of strength. I have to take a new fix on my desires and delight myself in Him. I have to make the step of committing my way unto Him. But the moment I make that commitment and give my way to Him, God in His grace goes to work on my problem.
      The moment I give it to Him, “the Lord worketh.” He is the Lord of hosts: He controls the stars. He controls the angels and He controls the demons. He controls the heathen and He controls hosts of people. And if you have given your life to Him, He is certainly in control of you.
      The moment I give it to Him, “the Lord worketh.” He is the Lord of hosts: He controls the stars. He controls the angels and He controls the demons. He controls the heathen and he controls hosts of people. And if you have given your life to Him, He is certainly in control of you.
      I remember the very first time this truth hit me. I had preached on this psalm in San Jose at Calvary Community Church at a time when I was in a real mess. The service had been videotaped and I brought the tape home for my mother to listen to, because she was sick and needed some encouragement. I was sitting in the living room of our home in Oroville, and while listening to the message, it suddenly dawned on me that, even though I had preached on this psalm to others, I had not really done it myself concerning my problems; I had never committed my way. So I said, “Lord, with all good intentions, I’ve been trying to do Your work in my own strength, to the point of breaking. I don’t even really know how to do what this psalm tells me to do, but I’m going to simply do as a child would do, what Your word says to do, ‘With the heart man believeth; with the mouth confession is made.’ I believe You are capable of handling the situation, and You know my heart: I want You and Your will more than anything else. Here, Lord, this is my mess. Take it; I commit it to You.” I just whispered this prayer; no one else paid any attention to my lips moving, and I said, “I’m going to take what comes from this moment on, as I trust in You and delight myself in You as You are leading me through this maze.”
     The Lord went to work in that instant. I look back now and I know that He did. But it did not look like He was working for many days. I saw things begin to happen that I thought would destroy me as God pulled some things apart and put other things together.
     “The Lord worketh.” How does He work? Verse 18 says, “The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” Underline the words “The LORD knoweth.” That is the second part of God’s side of the transaction. I do not know what the enemy is doing. I do not know what lies ahead down the way. But the Lord knows. He goes to work on our problems, with knowledge.
      The Lord knows the plans and devices of your enemies. Even if all of Job’s servants arrive tomorrow with bad news, we can be certain that the Lord knew all about it before they even set out. As we have taught out of Deuteronomy 33, the God of the forefront is on the corner before you get there. The Lord knows our circumstance; we only think He doesn’t. I have often quoted Psalm 139 in times of trouble: “O LORD. . .Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down.” He draws a circle around my way. “If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.” God knows! Once you commit your way to Him, you have someone steering who is not in the fog.
      The third part of God’s side of the transaction is in verse 23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” The word “good” is in italics in the King James Version, meaning it was added by the translators and is not in the original Hebrew text. This promise has nothing to do with how good you are. It has to do with your commitment. God makes you good, and all goodness is in Him. For some reason, the translators just couldn’t accept the fact that God would order the steps of anyone other than a good man. Yes, He does. He takes the committed man, and “He delighteth in his way.”
     Sometimes it seems like “our way” is about to kill us! There are times when the circumstances put so much pressure on you that you wish that you weren’t in the way. We give our way to the Lord and He delights in it. God is good at straightening out your mess once you have given it to Him, if you will just march and keep your mouth shut and give Him a chance. He orders your way and He worketh. He goes to work instantly with knowledge and starts to arrange all the elements. The Lord orders your steps, literally, He establishes your steps.
      I remember the first time I whispered that prayer and made my commitment, it was only about a week later that something happened that I thought would destroy me. I did not know it at the time, but God knew; He had gone to work. He was establishing my steps. You have to rest; you have to let your way go without argument as He leads you. Don’t get up in the morning and do nothing, and don’t go in forty different directions all at once! Start out by pausing for a moment and talking to the Lord. Recognize that He is the Boss, and be alert to His leading. And as the steps unfold, take them from His hand. Some people get so confused about the will of God that they never do anything. When you commit your way to Him, your steps are ordered even though it may not look like it at the time. God knows your heart. Trust that He is leading you.
      Someone might say, “Now that I have given my way to the Lord, does that mean I had better not make any more mistakes and mess it up again?” No, that is not what it means. What is the fourth promise in this psalm? “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” If you slip and fall on the pathway, He will lift you up and support you. This is all we have to remember: the Lord worketh, the Lord knoweth, the Lord ordereth and the Lord upholdeth. He takes care of all of it! Once you commit your way, the Lord goes to work instantly as He lends His strength to the problem. The Lord knoweth, the Lord ordereth, the Lord upholdeth, and “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down.” I cannot tell you how many times I have relied on this promise!
      Then comes the voice of experience from the Psalmist, David, the “man after God’s own heart.” He says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed. . .For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints.” The Lord worketh, the Lord knoweth, the Lord ordereth, the Lord upholdeth, and the Lord forsaketh not. Whom? His saints.
      What does the word “saint” mean? You “saint” something when you lay it on an altar, turn loose of it and give it to the deity. You saint something when you commit it. When we commit our way, we commit ourselves. This verse says that “The Lord forsaketh not the committed ones.” That means the only way you will be forsaken is if you take it back. Do you understand that? You ask, “What if I stumble and fall?” He will hold you up. “What about all the factors that I don’t know about?” He knows them all. “What if I’m not sure which way to go?” He knows the way, and “The LORD forsaketh not his saints.” That means I am not forsaken! Say it with me: “I am not forsaken!”
     Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott

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