PSALM 37 is a simple but powerful and practical manual for living the Christian life. Within it’s first 8 verses we can find valuable instructions for finding joy and not have negative thinking.
1 Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
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 do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.
This Psalm gives us “what not to do” commands or behaviours which we must leave behind to enjoy God’s blessing and peace. We should not worry or be envious (verse 1). We should be grateful for what God gives us each day. We should not be angry or vengeful persons (verse 8).
But this Psalm also tells us positive actions to take to enjoy God’s plan to live joyfully.
Trust in the Lord (verse 3).
Whatever we do or are anxious about, trust God to lead us for He can do it or handle events better than we can.
Do good (verse 3).
In our Christian living we have to make choices. Know that God will honor you when you do the right thing.
Delight yourself in the Lord (verse 4).
Spend time every day reading His word, praying, talking and listening to God. Learn to sit quietly with God to enjoy His presence and to delight in Him.
Commit your way to the Lord (verse 5).
Trust all you do, every day, all your life, to God; he is able to handle it best.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (verse 7).
This does not mean that we do nothing but that we do all we can and we leave the rest to God to take care of everything according to His plan for us.
I would like to share about the first 3 verses in more detail. It gives us some good advice from David.
v1. Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;
Story: There was a lady waiting for a flight at the airport. She bought a bag of biscuits and sat down to read a newspaper. As she was reading her newspaper she heard a rustling noise and looked up to see a man sitting next to her helping himself to the biscuits. Not wanting to make a scene, she leaned over and took one herself, hoping he would get the message. Then she heard more rustling. She couldn’t believe it.
The man was helping himself to another biscuit! There was only one left! She watched in disbelief as he broke the remaining biscuit in two, pushed half across to her, popped the other half in his mouth, and left. She was still furious when her flight was called. Imagine how she felt when she opened her handbag to get out her boarding pass - and found her unopened packet of biscuits!
The lady got all stressed out and angry when she saw what the man next to her was doing. She thought he was helping himself to her biscuits. Of course the fault was not with the man but with the woman herself. She was fretting, stressed out and angry over something which was a waste of time and embarrassing to her.
Fret – the English dictionary defines as “to cause to suffer emotional strain”.
The lady in the story was fretting, stressed out and angry over something which was a waste of time and embarrassing to her. Sometimes when we read the newspaper, Whatsapp messages or hear news about something that happened we get all worked up and angry without really knowing the full story or both sides of the story. For example, recently we read about the police breaking into a lawyer’s home and arresting her and making her spend a night in jail. When we read such things we get worked up emotionally and angry about the injustice we think is happening.
In the Psalm, David gives us advice about what to do or what not to do when people actually are doing evil, when morally corrupt people do bad things and seem to be getting away with it. They seem to flourish despite their evil deeds. Everything seems to go their way. How easy it is for us to get upset. It all seems so wrong, so unfair. Well, it is but David tells us to avoid two wrong reactions:
1. We must not fret. Why? Because getting fretful or angry does not help. It does not solve the problem or change the situation. For example, when people say bad things about us or do bad things to us, if we react in an angry, defensive, fleshly way, it very often only makes things worse. How easy it is to react in the heat of the moment and say or do or write things that we later regret. Things very easily become personal. We attack the person not the problem. This leads to misunderstanding and a breakdown in relationships. Things get messy. When we fret we fail to think objectively and calmly. We actually use up precious emotional energy for nothing.
2. Secondly, we must not be envious. Envy is like a cancer. It can kill – not the person who is the object of envy, but the person being envious. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Envy only hurts us. Despite this, we human beings often become envious of others.
Speaking to believers, Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others bet- ter than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4). If you are tempted to envy someone because of the position they hold, work hard to help them succeed, don’t try to undermine them. If you are tempted to envy those who get higher marks in exams or who do better at sport than you do or who seem more popular than you are, seek instead to bless them and encourage them. How sad that sometimes we get envious of others even when they do good things or when they succeed due to their talent or hard work.
Notice, however, that David urges us not to be “...envious of those who do wrong.” How strange that sometimes we even envy evil doers! Yes, we are tempted to envy the person who has made lots of money even when we know they made it through corrupt underhand ways. We envy someone who seems popular and successful even though we know they compromised their values and morals to get to where they are. David says, do not “...be envious of those who do wrong.”
So now then, let us ask why we should not fret and why we should not be envious? David tells us exactly why, in
v2. He writes, “...for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”
In Africa in the summer rainy season the bush is luscious and the grass grows tall. The lawns are all green and the plants and flowers flourish. But once the rains stop and the weather turns cold and dry, everything starts to wither and die. The grass in the bush turns brown. Within minutes bush fires can turn everything to dust and smoking ashes.
This of course is a metaphor, a picture, of what happens in life and why we should not envy those who do wrong. Outward prosperity or popularity may not last for long. When we look forward, with the eye of faith, there is no good reason to envy those who do wrong. The student who cheats, sooner or later, discovers he or she was not so smart after all. The one who seems to be having a lot of fun – partying, drinking, and sleeping around – ends up miserable, without true friends.
There are many sports stars, singers, pop stars, actors and actresses, media personalities, politicians, etc who once were household names, but who today are forgotten. They had the world at their feet but like a shooting star across the night sky they soon burnt out and disappeared from sight. Some turned to alcohol or drugs. Some died all alone and full of regret. We should not be tempted to envy them.
Worldly fame and success and power can be very hollow and it is often only temporary. Even if we enjoy long life – what about the next life? Just think of some of the dictators in history. They may stay in power for many decades and store up millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts, but one day they will die. One day they will face God’s judgment. Do not envy them.
Those who know God and live for God in this life can look forward to an eternity of unspeakable joy. Those who reject God and His truth and His ways can only look forward to judgment and an eternity of regret and sorrow.
V 3a. Trust in the Lord and do good
David says, “Trust in the LORD.”
Story: While in a teambuilding training session, we were taught to learn Trust by standing straight and falling backwards for a friend to catch us as we fall. We cannot see behind us and would normally not allow ourselves to fall backwards. But if we know a friend is standing there ready to catch us, we put our Trust in our friend to catch us.
It is so easy to put our trust in material things (like money or investments), or in other people, or in our health, or even in ourselves (our talents, training and knowledge). But nothing and no one can compare with the Lord. We can lose our money. We can lose our health. Yes, it is wonderful to have people we can rely on for help, support, guidance or comfort and it is a huge blessing to have a spouse or friends we trust. However we can lose our spouse, we can lose our friends, and sadly, even trustworthy people can let us down. Our primary trust must be in the Lord. He never fails. He is always there. He is always faithful.
Learning to put your trust in the Lord is a little bit like this. You see what God has done for others. You realise His Word is true. It is reliable. You realise you can believe what He says. You can lean upon Him & commit yourself to Him. There is a great verse at the end of Psalm 84 which describes beautifully what it means to put one’s trust in the Lord. It says, “O LORD of hosts, how blessed (happy and greatly favoured) is the person who trusts in You [leaning and believing on You, committing all & confidently looking to You, without fear or misgiving]!”
Let us ask in what ways should we trust the Lord? First of all, we trust in Him for our salvation. As we have said many times before, salvation is a gift to be received by faith. God’s Word tells us that “...whoever believes in Him [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) His Word tells us, “...if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Secondly, we trust in the Lord to meet all our needs. He provides for us, protects us, guides us, and blesses us. Jesus tells His followers not to worry about things like clothing and food (i.e. our physical needs) but rather to “...seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) When we put our trust in the Lord, when we lean upon Him, He meets all our needs. Even in times of difficulty or suffering, the Lord provides for us. He gives us strength and nourishment.
And thirdly: we trust in the Lord for the future. Daily we should read His word, talk to God and listen for his guidance as He leads us. He gives us the wisdom we need to make wise choices and He gives us the strength we need to follow in obedience.
David continues. He goes on, “...and do good.” “Trust in the LORD and do good.” We know that “doing good” does not earn us salvation. However, good deeds are the fruit that comes as a result of putting our trust in Jesus. Good deeds are evidence of the genuineness of our Christian faith. If a person has no good deeds, if there is no change in their life, one may question if their faith in Christ is real.
Let us look at the second half of verse 3:
3. Dwell in the land & enjoy safe pasture (v.3b)
David implies that if we do “Trust in the Lord and do good” then we will, “...dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” In David’s day Israel was still a largely rural agriculture-based society. The ideal for most people would have been to live a peaceful life with secure tenure of land and good pasture for their animals. To put this in our present-day context we might say something like this – if we trust in the Lord and do good then we will, “prosper, be secure and have all we need.”
When we put God first in our lives, when we trust Him and obey Him, He does bless us. He provides. He guides. He fills our lives with good things and He blesses our families too.
When David wrote this Psalm he was an older man, for he says in v.25, “I was young and now am old.” The whole tone of what David writes shows he is writing with the wisdom that comes from experience. He has seen enough in life to know that following an evil path only leads to trouble and disaster. He has seen those who once seemed so prosperous and successful losing everything or fading into obscurity; and he has seen many godly people once despised and persecuted, being vindicated and blessed. David knows from personal experience that to “trust in the Lord and do good” brings peace and happiness. He knows that God’s Word is true.
David knew that putting one’s trust in the Lord was the only way to find true happiness and security. I encourage you to do what David recommends – do not fret because of those who do evil. Do not be envious of them, but rather put your trust in the Lord and do what is good. Then your life will be full of meaning and purpose and true blessing.
Quotes and selected sermon texts from Mairangi Bay Community Church and Elizabeth Peale Allen.
By Peter Cheah