Saturday, 4 February 2017

Stop fretting!

Don’t fret because of the wicked, don’t be envious of those who do wrong, for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good… Psalm 37:1-3

I knew someone once who was such a worrier that it was said of her: “if she doesn’t have something to worry about she worries about not having something to worry about”. (Said affectionately, I should add.)

I think of her when I read the first few verses of Psalm 37, because three times the writer tells us not to “fret”.

The fretful person is the person who constantly worries, often about trivial things, or about things he or she can’t change. The person who always seems to have an anxious frown on their forehead. The person who is always “in a bother” over something or other. “Het up” might be a good translation.

Do you perhaps recognise yourself there? If so, listen up! – as they say. The psalmist has a message for you.

His main target is the person who frets about “the state of the world”, about wicked people and wrong-doers. “Why should they get away with it?” says the fretful person, “it just isn’t right”. Which, no doubt, is perfectly true; but if you honestly can’t change the situation there really isn’t much point in letting it destroy your peace of mind, is there?

The writer’s remedy is simple: “Trust in the Lord and do good.”  If you take a minute to read all those first eight verses – and I very much recommend that you do, even if you aren’t particularly fretful by nature – you will find that the essence of what he is saying is: “Just get on with your life day by day. Concentrate on the things which are to hand, the things you have control over. God is in charge of the big picture, and he’ll sort out the wicked when he sees fit.”

“Trust in the Lord…” That means leaving your life and your circumstances fairly and squarely in God’s hands. It means faith, which may very well be the most that God can ask of us. And, of course, it means praying.

Sometimes we say, “Well, I suppose all we can do is pray”, as if prayer is a kind of despairing, last-ditch back-stop when all else fails. No! Prayer is the first and possibly the best thing we can do, for when we pray we are tapping into supernatural resources.

“And do good…” Trusting and resting in God are vital. But that doesn’t mean being totally passive. There is always good to be done! – either in the little duties of life, or possibly even in some of those big things too. You hear sometimes of very ordinary people who start an on-line petition, say, or who start up a charity, or who write a letter to the paper, or who go on a demonstration, or who give a sum of money to a good cause. People who roll their sleeves up…

Not particularly effective? Perhaps not – but then who knows? God alone. (And much better than sitting around fretting, anyway.)

Live positively. Perhaps that’s a good way to sum up what the writer is saying. Don’t get sucked into pessimistic negativity.

All this doesn’t mean, of course, that we should develop a kind of happy-go-lucky pseudo-faith. No: that’s the other end of the spectrum, and it’s equally wrong.

As well as the woman I mentioned earlier, I also knew a man who was the exact opposite. Oh, never a care in the world! “Everything will be all right!” he would say, and he would breeze his way merrily from day to day. But… he had a job to hold down, a family to provide for, health problems to contend with, a mortgage to pay. “Oh, I don’t believe in worrying about things!” was all very well. But you only had to look at his wife’s haggard face to see who bore the burden of cares in that marriage…

Trust in God is not a cop-out from shouldering proper responsibility.

And, of course, there are times in life when we are hit by something big, something shattering: a bereavement or major sickness, a big disappointment or shock, something that shakes our minds – or breaks our hearts.

In such circumstances – and they come at some point or other to even the most trusting, godly people – Psalm 37 is not intended as a sticking-plaster to make everything right. 
These beautiful words are not there to be trotted out in a shallow, trite kind of way. That’s not how trust in God works.

But nevertheless, we have it on the good authority of many people who have been through the furnaces of life that… these words really are wise and true!

So – can I invite you to soak them up again?

Lord God, in this complicated and troubled world, and in my complicated and troubled life, help me to be realistic and responsible, but also trusting, prayerful and at peace. Amen.

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