Freedom from Fretting
One of the oldest and most common questions among Christ-followers is this: “Why does an infinitely good and infinitely loving God let bad things happen to his chosen and covenant people?” It’s an interesting conundrum, for if we were to approach this question in merely human terms, it would seem quite preposterous and outrageous that a God who promises to protect (2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 18:2; 61:3; 144:2; Prov. 18:10; Nah. 1:7) and fight for (Ex. 14:14; Deut. 20:4) his children would allow such tragedy and heartache to come upon his beloved. It’s obvious this question still troubles us. Just browse your local Christian bookstore, or search for the most recent (trending) books in Christian literature and you will find that the majority of them deal with and attempt to explain our trials biblically. Even so, dealing with adversity is most likely the number one issue that Christ-followers face.
But in Psalm 37, we’re given a simple, yet powerful command that releases us from all doubt and worry and questioning and perplexity. The psalmist begins, “Fret not . . .” This seemingly elementary command from Scripture is almost alarmingly uncomplicated. And that’s how God designed it. The verb “fret,” used three times in throughout the psalm (Ps. 37:1, 7–8), is from the Hebrew charah, meaning “to be hot, furious, to burn, become angry, to be kindled, to be vexed.” To fret over something is to agonize or grieve or worry about it.
I must confess that I am daily, hourly, guilty of “fretting.” If we were to all stop and really think about all the chaos and calamity in the world, we would find a lot to fret about. Controversies, economic and financial implosion, political corruptness, moral erosion, etc. — these are all real issues, yes, but to fret, to worry, to agonize over them is playing right into Satan’s hands. Once you’re saved, you’re saved eternally; you can’t lose your salvation. (John 10:28–29) The devil knows this; he’s smart. Thus, how does the he endeavor to attack a Christian? By planting the seed of doubt.
To worry is to doubt; to doubt is to lose faith. To fret over specific circumstances is to lose trust in a sovereign God. Worry causes you to doubt either those around you or even God himself. Therefore, how do we go about “fretting not”? How do we conquer the seeds of worry and fear and doubt in our lives? The solution is remarkably simple: trust in God. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Ps. 37:3–5) “Trust,” “delight,” “commit”; these are the marks of a true Christ-follower — total submission and resignation to Jesus’s divine plan and path for our lives. To trust in God is to put your faith in him; and to have faith in God is to yield all our plans, desires, and dreams so that God’s plans can completely envelope you.
To trust in God with everything means being uncertain, being perplexed, and yet still trusting, still remaining faithful and joyful in his calling. “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways,” writes Oswald Chambers, “not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation . . . We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task he has placed closest to us, he begins to fill our lives with surprises.” Too often, myself included, we forget God’s plans for our lives. We attempt to plan our lives and put everything in order, so as not to be surprised when the water heater fails, or when the car unexpectedly breaks down (right after the warranty is up), or when that horrendous grade report comes back to you, or when that coach bafflingly cuts you from the team, or when that boyfriend or girlfriend “drops the bomb” on your relationship, or whatever it is that you might be dealing with.
These are the types of things we worry about and these are indeed the exact issues God desires we leave at his feet, at his discretion. That’s hard; painfully hard. It goes against our very nature to relinquish control and put our faith in something (or Someone) else for our future. Nonetheless, “fret not.” Go to Jesus and rest at his feet with “breathless expectation”; because when all else fails, and when your entire existence is seemingly imploding, God is there!
True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others! (Ferguson, 67)
He’s our Certainty, our Surety, our Firm Foundation, our Stronghold against the storm, and when we allow ourselves to rest in the uncertain, often perplexing future and revel in the certainty of God, there we’ll find true freedom of the soul. Charles Spurgeon, that great stalwart and theologian of the Christian faith, reiterates that “faith cures fretting.” (189) Fearlessness is attained by faithfulness. It’s not the might or ability or strength of ourselves that makes us fearless; it’s our faith, our trust . . . and more specifically, and importantly, the Object of their faith and trust, that is, God himself.
The ability to live fearlessly, therefore, doesn’t depend on the strength of your faith, nor even the grip you have of God. Fearless and faithful Christian living is cultivated by remembering God’s grasp of you! Faith, life, hope all rest in God’s strength — and he’s omnipotent, thus you’re forever secure. No one can pluck you out of God’s hands. (John 10:29) And it’s with that knowledge that we can declare, “What can man do to me?” — “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 56:11) Faithful obedience to God is what diminishes worry and fretting and fear. And lest you believe you are the only disciple of Christ to ever doubt or fret, listen to Jesus’s admonishment to his own disciples:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matt. 6:25–34)
Jesus’s own followers were doubtful of the sufficiency and peace they have in God. And at times, this is a battle that rages in my heart. There’s no greater desire of Satan than to cause you to doubt your God, thus making you ineffective in God’s mission. “Fret not,” believer, for you can have total peace and certainty (Phil. 4:7), even in times of doubt and uncertainty, because God is there! “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.” (Ps. 37:23–26) Christian, you’re never forsaken or forgotten; this is promise, a rule without exception. (Heb. 13:5)
“There are no breaks in the divine love,” declares Spurgeon. “God does not depart from his people to return to them by-and-by, but he assures, ‘I will never, no never, leave thee.’” God will never leave or forsake his children; therefore, we can have ultimate confidence and assurance in whatever outcome God has designed. This response to troublesome circumstances might seem too simple or or trite or too good to be true. But that’s exactly how God planned it. We often add far too much complexity to our spiritual walk with God, making things much more difficult than they need to be. But here in Psalm 37, we are exhorted and reminded of the simple truth to “fret not.” Fretting not is the freedom of resting in God’s certainty, not your own.
Rest knowing that your entire life has been graciously ordained and is divinely maintained. Rest knowing that your life isn’t ruled by fate or fickle chance but by God’s divine decree. “Fret not,” Christian; trust wholly in your God. “Roll the whole burden of life upon the Lord. Leave with Jehovah not thy present fretfulness merely, but all thy cares; in fact, submit the whole tenor of thy way to him. Cast away anxiety, resign thy will, submit thy judgment, leave all with the God of all.” (Spurgeon, 189–90)
Sinclair Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981).
Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988)