The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 17, 2023
Because God loves us, God wants us to have the best life: a life of shalom: the Hebrew word for the peace of heart that makes us whole, hale, healthy and holy.
Hence, God wants to free us from fretting and every other form of anxiety. While we always should hate and fight the injustice in which the innocent suffer and the guilty get away with murder, God would have us look ahead and trust Him to settle all scores in the end, and look up and trust Him to take care of us in the meantime.
Today’s scripture lesson is bookended by the repeated command: “Do not fret!” – that is, brood and worry about the temporary triumph of evil. In between that double emphasis, this scripture specifies four things we can do to help free ourselves from fretting: 1) “trust in the Lord and do good”, 2) “take delight in the Lord”, 3) “commit your way to the Lord”, and 4) “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”. Let’s look at each in turn.
First, “trust in the Lord and do good.” We should not suppress our consternation over what’s wrong in the world, but we should prevent it from determining our emotional state by believing in God’s goodness and by busying ourselves in doing good. We can make, not just a complaining response to evil, but a constructive one. We can take action to create positive change.
I remember hearing a pastor, who had a front lawn and told how he learned to rid his grass yard of weeds. He bought a big bottle of weed killer, and drenched those eyesores with it. The next day, the weeds were still there, only now surrounded by brown grass he’d inadvertently killed. He tried again, and only enlarged the expanse of dead grass. His wife told him to talk to a professional before he ruined the whole lawn. The gardener he consulted told him to focus, not on eliminating the weeds, but on promoting the growth of healthy grass which would choke out his weeds. And sure enough, it did. “So also,” the pastor concluded, “we do more good by growing the healthy grass of righteousness than by pulling out the weeds of wickedness.”
Trust in the Lord and do good. Second, “take delight in the Lord”. Value most what most valuable or rather Who is most valuable. Worship the Lord. Marvel over Him. Meditate on the wonders of Him. Prioritize walking with Him and knowing Him better.
Too often we look for our shalom from the wrong sources. We look for it in our achievements, but even our greatest achievements cannot deliver the soul-satisfaction, exhilaration and wholeness God can.
Some years ago, the New York Times ran an article about the “Arrival Fallacy”, the illusion that once you arrive at some significant goal, you’ve got it made. You earn the degree, get the promotion, make the sales or achieve enough success in any sense; and you luxuriate, for a while, in the wonderful feeling of accomplishment. But sooner or later, you come down from the high and realize the payoff is not as large or as permanent as you envisioned. You then feel restless, discontent and maybe empty. Psychologist Ben-Shahar says the Arrival Fallacy is the reason some Hollywood stars, for example, struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse. They start out unhappy, but say to themselves, “It’s OK, because when I make it, I’ll be happy.” But then they make it; and while they feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. In fact, they feel less happy than before because they’ve added despair to their unhappiness. For they’ve lost their illusion, their false hope that the arrival at their goal will satisfy the hunger in their soul.
Good relationships of genuine love do more than anything else to give us shalom; and a relationship with God does that more than any other. For no other relationship infuses our life with such meaning, fulfillment, inner health and peace. Jonathan Edwards testified, “Our relationships with others are beams of light; our relationship with God is the sun itself.”
Verse 4 here promises that if you “take delight in the Lord”, the Lord will “give you the desires of your heart.” That is not a promise that delighting in the Lord will bring you whatever you desire, but that it will bring you what you’ll desire most after delighting in the Lord makes you wise. You’ll then desire God most of all, the God from whom every good and perfect gift flows, the God who teaches you don’t need everything you desire but you should desire what you most need – Him!
Trust in the Lord and do good. Take delight in the Lord. Third, “commit your way to the Lord and trust in Him”. Roll off your shoulders the burden of managing your life all by yourself and let God take care of you. Submit to His determinations and relax under His loving concern – like Dale Bruner’s cat did in his home.
Dale’s cat Clement was a small indoor cat terrified of the outside. There he’d shake like a leaf in the fear some fierce beast was about to pounce and eat him alive. But back in the house, the fear would roll off him like water off a duck’s back; and he’d lie down to nap in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room where everyone walked and anyone could step on him and squash him. Yet, he slept like a baby in trust of his humans; every time Dale saw Clement peacefully asleep there, he’d think to himself, “I should trust God like that!”
Trust in the Lord and do good. Take delight in the Lord. Commit your way to the Lord. Finally, “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him”.
To be still means here not to cease from action, but to grow quiet enough on the inside to hear from God. It is to corral the thoughts in your head lest you have, as I often do, a stampede of thoughts, the pounding of whose hooves drowns out the still, small voice of God. I must patiently put in the time to calm down my hyper-active brain, make it open and receptive to take in the truths God wants to convey, and hold out for as long as it takes for God to get a message through my thick skull.
It’s true for all of us. If we trust in the Lord and do good, take delight in the Lord, commit our way to the Lord, and be still before the Lord, we will be freed from fretting and anxiety – and know more true shalom!