Monday, March 30, 2015

Psalm 37 - Shifting the Focus

1Don’t worry about the wicked
or envy those who do wrong.
2For like grass, they soon fade away.
Like spring flowers, they soon wither.
3Trust in the LORD and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
4Take delight in the LORD,
and He will give you your heart’s desires.
5Commit everything you do to the LORD.
Trust Him, and He will help you.
6He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
7Be still in the presence of the LORD,
and wait patiently for Him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
8Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.
9For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the LORD will possess the land.
10Soon the wicked will disappear.
Though you look for them, they will be gone.
11The lowly will possess the land
and will live in peace and prosperity.
12The wicked plot against the godly;
they snarl at them in defiance.
13But the Lord just laughs,
for He sees their day of judgment coming.
14The wicked draw their swords
and string their bows
to kill the poor and the oppressed,
to slaughter those who do right.
15But their swords will stab their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.
16It is better to be godly and have little
than to be evil and rich.
17For the strength of the wicked will be shattered,
but the LORD takes care of the godly.
18Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent,
and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever.
19They will not be disgraced in hard times;
even in famine they will have more than enough.
20But the wicked will die.
The LORD’s enemies are like flowers in a field—
they will disappear like smoke.
21The wicked borrow and never repay,
but the godly are generous givers.
22Those the LORD blesses will possess the land,
but those He curses will die.
23The LORD directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
24Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the LORD holds them by the hand.
25Once I was young, and now I am old.
Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
or their children begging for bread.
26The godly always give generous loans to others,
and their children are a blessing.
27Turn from evil and do good,
and You will live in the land forever.
28For the LORD loves justice,
and He will never abandon the godly.
He will keep them safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will die.
29The godly will possess the land
and will live there forever.
30The godly offer good counsel;
they teach right from wrong.
31They have made God’s law their own,
so they will never slip from his path.
32The wicked wait in ambush for the godly,
looking for an excuse to kill them.
33But the LORD will not let the wicked succeed
or let the godly be condemned when they are put on trial.
34Put your hope in the LORD.
Travel steadily along His path.
He will honor you by giving you the land.
You will see the wicked destroyed.
35I have seen wicked and ruthless people
flourishing like a tree in its native soil.
36But when I looked again, they were gone!
Though I searched for them, I could not find them!
37Look at those who are honest and good,
for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.
38But the rebellious will be destroyed;
they have no future.
39The LORD rescues the godly;
He is their fortress in times of trouble.
40The LORD helps them,
rescuing them from the wicked.
He saves them, and they find shelter in Him.

What do I do when the bad guys win? I’m not talking about when the your favorite college basketball team gets beaten because of the referees bad calls (although if I'm distraught, I could apply this message to that situation)! I’m talking about how I respond when I do what’s right and get penalized, while the wicked seem to prosper. 

Psalm 37 doesn’t come from an ivory tower. It comes out of the crucible of David’s life. His words inspired by his continual life walk with God -- recognizes the fierce conflict which exists between the wicked and the righteous.  David had been anointed king as a teenager, yet he spent the better part of his twenties running from the murderous King Saul. 

On several occasions, David did the right thing by sparing Saul’s life, only to watch Saul return to his comfortable palace, while David went back to a cave. During that time, David and his men did right by a man named Nabal, protecting his shepherds and flocks from bandits. But when David asked a small favor of Nabal in return, Nabal said, in effect, “Forget it!” David had many occasions to reflect on the problem of personal injustice.

David wrote Psalm 37 to share his insights on this problem. The psalm reflects the wisdom he had gleaned from years of walking with God. There is so much wisdom in Psalm 37.  There are clear God-given principles for how I should respond to personal injustice: When the bad guys win, submit to God, be content in Him, and do rightly, trusting the Lord to judge righteously.

A very straightforward message: when the bad guys win, submit to God. Although the word “submit” does not occur in the verses, it is the idea behind both the negative and positive commands provided. Submitting to God means putting off irritation, envy and anger and putting on trust, obedience, patience and humility as I delight in my Lord God.

Three times I am commanded not to fret. The Hebrew word means to burn. The verb is in the Hebrew reflexive stem which could be translated, “Don’t work yourself into a slow burn” when I see evil people prospering. Don’t let it get under my skin; it will only lead to wrong. 

One reason I get irritated when I see evil people getting away with their schemes is that I am assuming that I know how to run the world better than God does. So one aspect of submission to God is to put off such irritation, giving God the sovereign right to deal with evildoers in His time and way. Yesterday I heard the key to faith and trusting God is first admitting that I am not God.

I am also commanded not to envy wrongdoers. This confronts the selfishness and evil motives in my heart. Often the reason I don’t want evildoers to prosper is not that I abhor the sin they commit, but that secretly I wish that I could do the same thing. I want for myself the pleasures of sin which they are enjoying. But I must submit to God by judging my selfishness and envy.

I am also commanded not to be caught up in anger. The word (anger) comes from a Hebrew word meaning “nostrils.” When someone gets mad, their nostrils flare out. The second word (rage) comes from another Hebrew word meaning “hot” - the idea of being totally out-of-control. The Bible teaches that most anger is sinful and that I can control it (otherwise God wouldn’t command me to stop doing it). Such anger shows that I am not in submission to the sovereignty of God. It is like I am saying to "Hey, God, I don’t like the way You’re running things! It’s not fair! I don’t deserve this kind of treatment from these wicked people.” The bottom line is, I am not trusting that He knows what He is doing.

So what is my recourse? Submitting to God means putting on trust, obedience, patience and humility as I delight in my Lord God.

When I see the bad guys winning, I need to shift my focus from the evildoers to the Lord. Five times in 37:3-9 David mentions “the Lord” by name and five more times he uses the third person pronoun to refer to the Lord. He is saying that the antidote for getting frustrated with the prosperity of the wicked is to be deliberately God-centered. This involves putting on several qualities:trust, obedience, patience, humility. 

Jesus took Psalm 37:11 as His third Beatitude: “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” (Matt. 5:5). The world says just the opposite: “Blessed are those who assert themselves and stand up for their own rights.” But Jesus said affirmatively that the meek will ultimately come out on top. The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity” of 37:11 refers to soul-prosperity, not to material riches. The person who finds one's adequacy in the Lord rather than in oneself or materialism has an abundant source of peace.

Take delight in the LORDand He will give you your heart’s desires.(37:4). Trust, obedience, patience, and humility can all be summed up in the phrase, “Take delight in the LORD” Be captivated with the Lord and all that He is. Rather than focusing on the things which the world seeks, focus on the Lord. In gaining the Lord, I gain everything else I ever need: “He will give me the desires of my heart.” This doesn’t mean that He will give me anything my selfish heart desires. If I am delighting myself in the Lord, then my desires will be in line with His desires. 

This is the Matthew 6:33-34 of the Old Testament: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”