“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways … do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:7–8)
I worry. I imagine you do too. Worry is an universal human experience. We worry about many things: our health, our job security, our families, our safety… the list can go on and on.
Psalm 37 warns of the danger of worrying and fretting about one particular area: the state of the world around us. It seems impossible to read the news and not worry about what is going on. From wars to violence to racial injustice and everything in between, there is much to make us worry and fret.
Psalm 37 begins with a clear command: “Do not fret because of those who are evil” (v1). The word that David uses for ‘fretting’ is related to heat and burning. It’s the kind of word that would be used for someone burning with anger toward someone else. But here the burning anger is turned toward the state of the world. “Why are things like this? Why do people seem to get away with evil and injustice? What is going on?” The worry over the condition of the world burns with an anger that can consume us.
I don’t know if you think of worry and anger going hand in hand like this? I don’t imagine we often see our fretting as an expression of burning anger, but it is. It is anger over the way the world is, and anger that it is not how God intended it. It is anger over sin and evil and wickedness. We are worried for out safety, and the safety of others, because we are angry that the world is not always a safe place.
So what are we to do with our anger? The command of Psalm 37 is “do not fret” but how are we to do that? Verse 8 of the psalm reminds us that anger directed in the wrong way is dangerous: “do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Anger is not in itself wrong. We should be angry and upset about evil and injustice in the world. But when our anger is left to seethe inside us and turn to anxiety and worry, that is never a good thing.
So what does Psalm 37 tell us is the remedy for worry? Verse 7 gives us the answer: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” This is not a suggestion or recommendation, but a command. Be still. We are to still ourselves in the presence of the Lord and wait for him. We are to wait ‘patiently’ which is actually a word used to describe the writhing of childbirth!
God is at work and we are to wait for him to bring this world from chaos into order as he brings his kingdom into all its fullness. As we wait, we are to be still and wait patiently. This is not a simple or easy thing to do. Just as a woman in labour waits for the child to be born, she is not passive or unaffected by what is going on. It is painful and difficult, but she endures for the joy of what is to come. So it is with us. Waiting in this world without worry is not easy. It is painful and difficult to see the state of the world and we should do all we can to work for justice and end suffering. We do so because our worries are stilled in God’s presence and we wait for him.