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Fret Not!

July 4th, 2018

Fret not. It leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:8b)

Translations from one language to another are not always easy or straightforward. There are often hidden messages that are included in one that are lost in another and here is a case in point. The King James Version translates this: “Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil,” but the modern translations prefer, “Fret not thyself, it leads only to evil.” There is not disagreement of the original Hebrew words, only in the way they should be translated.

But actually, there is no theological or moral disagreement with either translation. The Geneva Study Bible explains the difference saying that if we do not change our thoughts from fretting to faith then we will be led into evil. Which is another way of saying that we eventually become in action and character what we think about. Three questions we should ask ourselves:

Is there Christian fretting?

There are Christians who fret – no question about that! But is fretting, or being obsessed with worry – thinking not to find a solution but worry that perpetuates itself beyond any logic – is this action Christian, or can it be used by God in our lives? There is a difference between worrying and analyzing a problem in order to find a solution. Worry is an emotional response to challenges, and it comes from a lack of faith in God or in His watchcare for His people.

The solution for worry and anxiety is prayer and it is given in Philippians 4:4-7: “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything.” Christians should approach problems positively, faithfully, creatively, and prayerfully – not resorting to worry and leaping over to the “worst case scenario” constantly. Worry is the opposite of faith. Faith goes quietly about its business and focuses on God-sent solutions. The solution for worry is not apathy but faith put to work in prayer and action.

However, the word translated “fret” is a bit more intense than just worry. The inspired psalmist used this word charah that means to kindle a fire inside of our hearts. It was first used in scripture for Cain’s anger toward Abel, and there translated “wroth” – “Why art thou wroth?” God asked of Cain (Gen. 4:6). It means inner anger against another. In the Psalm 37:7-8 passage above, however, it is the reflexive verb form which intensifies it. “Fret not thyself” is the KJV, which is a fairly literal translation. The Holman translation uses the words “do not be agitated,” emphasizing the inner struggle of this bitterness and anger. We may think of it as inner anger on hormones.

Can our hearts be stirred up to anger and worry and animosity toward another and not let it drag us into some type of sin? The answer is no. There is no Christian fretting or Christian inner angry agitation against another. In Psalm 37:7 it is particularly condemning anger toward the evil person “who prospers in his way,” “who carries out evil plans.”  Even if we have every moral basis to identify someone as evil, we should still guard our hearts against this agitation.

To illustrate this point all we have to do is to look in the world around us. Over the last few years American politics have been extraordinarily nasty, with the opposing sides acting in exactly this spirit toward one another. Those opposed to President Obama could only speak about how bad he was. And today those who are opposed to President Trump can, likewise, only speak of how evil the man is. No matter what these men did, the opposition could only see the “evil” (as they saw it) that they did.

Such narrow thinking is not of the Spirit of God. When the Pharisees were “fretting” over Jesus, stirred up by jealousy over His popularity, they could see only negative things because that was all they were looking for. When Nicodemus, one of their number but also a believer in Christ, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him?” (John 7:51), he was shouted down. “Are you from Galilee?” they angrily responded to him.

This fretting and inner anger and agitation replaces faith in God. It robs us of faith so it robs us of joy, as well as reason and spirituality and sensibleness. It is the hate that murders reputations, that offers no grace, seeks its own justification, and feels self-righteous for doing the most horrible things to others.

Why is fretting so evil?

First, it puts us in the place of God and fills us with pride. We assume authority that God has not given us, an authority that we are completely unable to properly carry out, and we claim to be morally superior to others. This is the anger that drives lynch mobs, that urges an orgy of violence against others, void of reason and sensibleness, or even a fair examination of the circumstances.

Second, it destroys grace – grace to ourselves and grace to others. If grace cannot be offered to the most sinful among us, then it cannot be offered to anyone. It is simply not grace anymore. If we imagine that we are “good enough” to merit grace but those other people are not, then we have destroyed the very concept of grace. Grace, to be grace, means that it is favour toward us that we have not earned, nor will ever earn.

Third, it destroys justice. It pushes us over into another kind of evil, usually deeper and darker. When all we have is fretfully agitated souls, violence escalates. The scripture said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and that is an improvement on the human condition. The fretful heart wants not one eye, but both of them, not one tooth, but all of them.

Fourthly, it destroys our peace and along with it our joy and confidence. When we are agitated we can no longer enjoy our heavenly Father, His grace and love to us, His provision for us. We imagine that life is like a poker game, where one person’s winnings is at the expense of others. But this underestimates God who can bless more than one person at the same time. What one person receives does not threaten what you and I receive. Our heavenly Father is capable of blessing the whole world.

It is the selfish, shortsighted, immature child who fusses that another child received more ice cream than he did – or so he thinks. One of the most basic maturity lessons of life is to understand this fact, that we can go about our own lives with faith in God and not worry about what He does for others. He loves us and we can rest in His love, and that is enough.

So how are we to live?

We are to live in trust in God. He is good and He watches over us. No one’s life is void of troubles. We all face difficulties and frustrations. Every farm has its rocks and weeds and pests. Every job has its challenges and every home has its problems. But no one needs to let these drag us down into defeat. With faith in God we can seek to overcome all obstacles.

We are to live in personal worship. The Bible says “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psa. 37:4). “Commit your way to the LORD” (Psa. 37:5). “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him” (Psa. 37:7). The word LORD in all caps is the English Bible way of signifying that the original Hebrew word was the covenant name for God, YHWH, and we may think of it simply as Jesus Christ.

When you are tempted to be envious, negative, worried, panicky, stop and worship Christ in your heart – not merely with your mouth. Stop to think of Him and His love and His grace, of His faithfulness to His people. Pray for your enemies, do not curse them. Love them in Jesus’ name and you will be surprised at the blessing this will be to your own heart. Your joy will return and your peace and hope also.  

Psalms