We tend to fret.
It is a fact about creatures that we are derivative beings who can’t ultimately control the world around us. We have questions about whether we should do this or that, and about what might happen if we do this or that, which quickly turns into worries about how badly this or that might turn out. Before long, we’re in the storm of outright anxiety. It begins to bear down on us with hurricane-force winds — all the facts and would-be’s, the haywire of things gone sideways, and our incapacity to determine results. What are we supposed to do?
Remember God. That is what we are supposed to do. We remember that these worries are as ancient as our earliest forefathers, and that God has been in the business of answering them since the beginning, and better, that the way he answers them is not by ignoring the complexity, but by stepping into it. In short, we should know we’re not alone, that God hears, and that God works in the middle of our mess.
1. You’re Not Alone
The psalms are incomparable in making this point. Not only do they show us again and again that God cares, but they, in one sense, come alongside us to feel what we feel. We can forget sometimes that the psalmists were real people like us, and that their situations were as literal as anything we’d experience. We shouldn’t lose that in the poetry. When David says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4), we should remember that actual enemies were trying to kill him. Now, that’s a beautiful metaphor — the valley and the shadow and all that — but it works only because death was seriously all around him.
The psalms are real life, and that’s why they help us. Whatever circumstances we are going through, as different as they might be from the psalmist’s so many years ago, there are wonderful similarities. Psalm 37 stands out.
The psalm opens: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!” (Psalm 37:1). Again, “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). The point is that we don’t worry. Granted, there are various reasons for why any of God’s people might worry over the course of centuries, but the command not to worry and the basis of not worrying are the same. Whatever worries we have, we are not alone. Our brothers and sisters have been there.
2. God Hears You
A psalmist is writing about fret, which means it’s happened before. But also, and more specifically, the psalmist is exhorting God’s people about fret, which means God knows what’s going on. God isn’t a stranger to this. He has heard his people then, and he hears us now.
The psalms as a whole make this wonderfully clear. It is even thematic, as I think we can see in the first few psalms. What begins to stand out when we read the first handful together is that David has this unremitting confidence in God’s nearness — that God listens to him and cares. “I cried aloud the the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he answered me from his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4); “The Lᴏʀᴅ has set apart the godly for himself; the Lᴏʀᴅ hears when I call to him” (Psalm 4:1, 3); “O Lᴏʀᴅ, in the morning you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:3); “The Lᴏʀᴅ has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lᴏʀᴅ has heard my plea; the Lᴏʀᴅ accepts my prayer” (Psalm 6:8–9).
This is the great reminder that even in the thick of our fret, we never find God “indifferent or helpless or caught by surprise.” And that even when it seems like no one else hears, that our friends have all deserted us, we can turn the page with David to Psalm 38:9, “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” God hears, always.
3. God Works for You
But he doesn’t just hear, he also responds. The exhortations of Psalm 37 are filled with reminders of God’s action. It’s like the psalmist calls us up from the fog and invites us to see the way God does. “[The evil] will soon fade like grass” (Psalm 37:2); “For the evildoers will be cut off” (Psalm 37:9); “In just a little while the wicked will be no more” (Psalm 37:10). In fact, “the Lᴏʀᴅ laughs at the wicked, for he sees his day is coming” (Psalm 37:13). We need God’s promise about the future to be so certain to us that we pick up his sense of humor.
God steps into our complexity, our questions, our worry, and he works. As David reminds us, “the Lᴏʀᴅ upholds the righteous” (Psalm 37:17); “the Lᴏʀᴅ knows the days of the blameless” (Psalm 37:18); “the Lᴏʀᴅ upholds his hand” (Psalm 37:24); “the Lᴏʀᴅ loves justice; he will not forsake his saints” (Psalm 37:28); “The Lᴏʀᴅ will not abandon [the righteous] to the power [of the wicked]” (Psalm 37:33). “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lᴏʀᴅ; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).
And to make it more clear, to rid away the idea that this is mere sentiment, that we only need to believe hard enough, God doesn’t just have a good word to say to us, but he is his very Word to us. He doesn’t just drop spiritual platitudes on us from afar, but he rolled up his sleeves, as it were, and he came here. “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). Jesus lived for us. He died for us. He was raised for us. He showed us God up close and personal, full of grace and truth.
And he said to us creatures who fret, “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).