Counsel for the Fearful

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This year has given us a great deal of opportunity to reflect on anxiety, and particularly on a biblical approach to anxiety. We have heard sermons about it, read articles about it, and prayed about it. Perhaps you’ve had your fill of thinking about anxiety. Psalm 37, however, will not allow you to be done with reflections on anxiety: “Fret not,” exhorts David (v. 1). Don’t be anxious.

In David’s context, the temptation to fretting came from the opposition of evildoers. While the source of our anxieties may be something else, the truths David supplies are relevant for all sources of anxiety. When tempted to fret, he offered himself some practical counsel that we would benefit from ourselves.

First, David counsels trust and obedience: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (v. 3). When we are tempted to fret, we must learn instead to trust God and remain in his will. Anxiety tempts us to become creative in our problem-solving. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves drifting from what we know we should do. But faithlessness and disobedience will never help our anxiety.

God’s faithfulness is your friend when you are tempted to anxiety. In the face of anxiety, you may be tempted to find refuge in alcohol or drugs or any manner of “securities” that dishonour the Lord. They will not help. Trust and obey. Rely on Gods faithfulness to help you fight anxiety.

Second, David urges us to combat anxiety with prayer: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (v. 4). This may be one of the most misused verses in the Bible. It is often abused as if it presents a prosperity gospel. It doesn’t.

The word translated “delight” literally means to lounge. To delight in Yahweh—to lounge in him—implies deep, love-fuelled communion, which necessitates prayer. If God’s faithfulness is our friend, we will find ourselves in communion with him. The more deeply we commune with him, the more radically our desires will change so that our desires align with his. And when your desires are his desires, anxiety becomes insignificant.

Third, David exhorts us to shift our focus intentionally to the things of the Lord: “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (vv. 5–6). As we delight ourselves in the Lord, so that his desires become our desires, the things of the earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

To commit your way to the Lord means to roll your troubles onto him. As we do so, “he will act.” He will so work that our anxieties become insignificant in light of his great glory.

Fourth, and finally, anxiety is combatted as we rest in the Lord and look to the future:

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!  Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

(Psalm 37:7–11)

As I have said, David’s anxiety was caused by enemies but, while the source of our anxieties may be different, the principle remains. David encouraged himself that his enemies would not persist. A future in which his enemies stood defeated was certain. Similarly, in Christ we have the promise of an anxiety-free eternity. The troubles of this life are fleeting.

There is no need to be flustered or frustrated. We must instead be faithfully optimistic about the future.

It may seem difficult to not fret in times of trouble, but David gives us a wonderful promise to cling to in vv. 9–11. Trouble may be our lot at present, but not forever. “Abundant peace” is our ultimate promise. “Peace” (shalom) describes an overwhelming, all-encompassing sense of wellbeing: happiness, friendliness, prosperity, rest, safety, and welfare all rolled into one. Those who are at peace have no reason to fret.

Adoniram Judson famously wrote, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” The news media wants to tell you one story: a story of fear and anxiety. Christians have better news—truly good news—in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In light of that good news, what reason do you have to fret?

Let’s keep our eyes firmly fixed on our God of hope and learn to overcome fear as we replace it with faith.

Stuart