In just a few weeks, our nation will once again enter into what promises to be another contentious and difficult election cycle, similar to what we saw in 2016. It is discouraging for many followers of Christ to watch and listen as our process of selecting leaders has been highjacked by candidates who would rather express outrage and anger towards one another rather than principled answers for moving forward as a nation. It almost seems impossible for people of faith to believe that we could ever have a leader who is not only a statesman, but also one who fears God and leads our country righteously. On top of all of this, it seems as though our nation has completely rejected and abandoned any standard or moral ethics that is based on God’s word and universally objective truth.
We have witnessed our country becoming a place where the Christian faith is not only consistently rejected, but openly demeaned. We live in a time where people are free to live by any standard they choose, unless that standard is based on the word of God. We have watched as the SCOTUS has become a body that is more concerned with patronizing political bases and the long-term reputation of the court than with upholding the Constitution. We have witnessed Christian business owners being forced to decide between engaging in practices that compromise their personal, biblical values or give up their business altogether. We have witnessed the SCOTUS consistency refuse to uphold the right to life for the unborn. We have witnessed our culture continue to slide into a celebration of more and more decadence and filth. We have watched as celebrities and entertainers not only rake in millions of dollars peddling sin, but also gain platforms from which they openly mock those who hold biblical values. In actuality, many of us have funded their platforms.
All of these this has a tendency to create within the church and among biblical Christians a sense of personal and moral outrage and angst. What are we supposed to do when we see examples of injustice and corruption that appear to go unpunished and greed, immorality, and ungodliness so openly flaunted? We look out on our world and wonder how so many people who openly hate God and mock Him can prosper while so many people who love God and fear him seem to be suffering. Balance comes in knowing that God’s word provides both answers and perspective in these difficult days.
Psalm 37 is a psalm written by David which speaks directly and specifically to the issues we are facing in our culture. David is a man who fears God. He was once called “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet, as he looks out on the world around him, he witnesses as the godless and pagans seem to be prospering while the Lord’s righteous ones are openly mocked or marginalized. Psalm 37 reminds us that this issue of wickedness prospering and godliness declining have always existed for the people of God. David also reminds us of this central truth: “No matter how much evil may temporarily reign in this fallen world, God will never forsake not abandon His righteous ones.”
No matter how much evil may temporarily reign in this fallen world, God will never forsake not abandon His righteous ones.
The Fading Glory of the Wicked
David begins the Psalm with the soothing balm of eternal perspective. He says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” Throughout this psalm, David contrasts the present, but fading, glory of those who live without regard for God and His word with those who are righteous and trust fully in Him. He reminds us that God’s people are to shift out eyes from the temporal to the eternal and remember that we are not to be jealous of temporal success and prosperity. Instead, we are to pursue eternal reward. He reminds us that the “success” of the wicked is short-lived. Their “grass” may be green and lush right now, but it will soon be dried up, withered, and gone forever. He says in v. 20 that the wicked will vanish like the smoke that comes out of a fire but soon fades into thin air. He reminds us that the motives of the wicked are always self-serving and destructive. No matter how sincere or flattering or persuasive their speech, those without God only live to serve and worship the “god” of self. Self-serving motives are almost always self-destructive because they take God out of the equation. Finally, he reminds us that “end” of the wicked is in His hands. V. 9 says the wicked will be cut off, like removing a cancerous tumor. V. 13 says that the Lord doesn’t fret when he sees the wicked and their plans. Instead, he laughs for he sees that they have a future day of reckoning coming. So, when we see the temporal prosperity of evil and wickedness around us, we are not to be envious, fretful, or anxious. We should not be prone to express outrage. How do we avoid envy and outrage?
The Faithful Promises of the Lord
Throughout this psalm, David reminds us over and over of this truth – our God is faithful to keep his promises to his people. The word of God is loaded with thousands of promises from God to his people. These promises remind us that obedience and faithfulness to him will be rewarded. Those promised rewards are not always tangible and immediate in this world. Most of the time, they are spiritual and eternal. One of those promises he makes is that the righteous will “inherit the land”. He says this three times, in v. 11, 22, and 29. This promise of inheriting the land served to God’s Old Testament people that the land he promised to Abraham would belong to his descendants, no matter who seemed to be occupying it or prospering from it at the moment. For us today, we must remember that every inch of this planet we presently occupy is under the sovereign domain of the Lord Jesus Christ and he has promised its future to all those who will joyfully and willingly bow to him as King. So, while we may see the wicked enjoying present prosperity in this world, God has promised its future to His people. Their prosperity will soon be cut off and their green pastures will one day be deserts.
God also made many other promises in this psalm. In v. 5, he promises to act for those who trust in him. In v. 6, he promises to bring forth our righteousness one day as the light and justice as the noonday. In v. 18, he promises that the heritage of the blameless will remain forever and that the righteous will have abundance when the evil suffer future famine. In v. 23, God promises that he will guide the steps of the person who delights in Him. In v. 2e, he promises that he will not forsake his saints. In v. 37, he promises that there is a future for the man who pursues the peace of God.
All throughout this psalm, we see this principle: God’s plans and purposes for our lives are timeless and eternal. He is far more interested in our long-term investment in eternity than our short-term prosperity. And we must remember that God has promised that he will never forsake His righteous ones. No matter how much wickedness prospers in the present, God promises a better prosperity in eternity for those who fear Him and remain faithful to His word.
God’s plans and purposes for our lives are timeless and eternal. He is far more interested in our long-term investment in eternity than our short-term prosperity.
The Firm Resolve of the Righteous
Knowing that the prosperity of the wicked is temporal and that God has promised future eternal blessing to His righteous ones, what should be our response in this present day and time. How should God’s people resolve to live in a world where evil presently prospers? In v. 3-8, David gives us at least six wise decisions you and I must pursue.
Trust in the sovereign goodness of the Lord – in v. 3 and 5, David says “trust”. Trust means that we know in our hearts that our Heavenly Father has got everything under control. We may see a world out of control, but we know a God who is always in control. Trust is the foundation of our faith. The writer of Hebrews says that without “faith” it’s impossible to please God and that trust means believing not only that God exists, but that he rewards those who seek Him. Proverbs 3:5 reminds us not only to “Trust in the Lord” but also to not “lean on our own understanding”. In other words, you don’t know as much right now as you think you do. So, resolve to trust in Him when you don’t understand what’s going on around you.
Grow wherever God plants you – because we are to be a people who trust in him and not in what we see, we are not to withdraw from our world when we see the wicked prosper. The answer for God’s people is not to circle into holy huddles and sing “Kumbaya” while waiting for Jesus to come back. Instead, v. 3 says, “dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness”. We are to understand that, in His sovereignty, God has put us exactly in the time and place He knows is best. To dwell in a place means that we resolve to plant roots and be fruitful – that we resolve to be salt and light wherever God has sent us. We echo the words of Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…and pray to the Lord on its behalf”.
Treasure Christ above all else – Psalm 37:4 is one verse that is consistently quoted out of context and, as a result, often highjacked as a promise of present prosperity. However, the context of Psalm 37 reminds us that it’s the wicked and evildoers who are presently experiencing good fortune. Instead, God’s people should not be looking for temporal treasure, but should delight in the Lord and trust that one day He will give us all the desires of our heart. This is important because whatever controls your heart determines your direction and motivates your decisions. So, if our delight is in earthly prosperity, that controls what we pursue and what we are willing to do to get it. But, if our delight is in the Lord, we can delay temporal prosperity for the promise of future blessing.
Commit to God’s ways, always – v. 5 says, “commit your way to the Lord”. In other words, no matter what chaos may be going on in the culture around you, commit that your way will be God’s way. God hasn’t left it up to us to be the ones who figure it all out. He has called us to be obedient to Him and to know that as we trust in Him, He will act on our behalf. So, resolve to never take shortcuts spiritually for temporal gain. Commit to God’s way, even when it’s hard.
Wait on His perfect timing – in v. 7, God gives us two hard words: be still and wait. Most of us are really bad at waiting. Before COVID-19 radically altered our world and forced us into waiting, most of us lived lives of constant motion and instant gratification. If we went to a restaurant and they told us it would be a 30-minute wait, our knees start bouncing after 15 minutes. If our wait should go 31 minutes, someone will have to answer for it. How many of us get immediately impatient when we get stopped by a red light? Even though we may only have to wait less than 90 seconds to be back on our journey. God’s answer to His people when we see evil and wickedness prosper is not to be filled with anxiety, worry, or distress, as if the next 1000 years depends on what is happening this week. It’s to be still and wait patiently on His timing.
Manage your reactions carefully – v. 8 says “refrain from anger and forsake wrath, Fret not yourself, it tends only to evil.” What an appropriate word for our present time. We need to remember that people are not won to Christ by our outrage. We need to remember that the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Our first response when we see evil and wickedness prosper should not be to fire off a long social media tirade. It should not to be to try to “fight to get mine”. We cannot win the world to the goodness and the greatness of our God if all the lost world sees from us are angry or anxious Christians. We need to remember that God is in control and it’s quite likely that He has not appointed us to be the “prophet of Facebook” who will set everyone straight by the power of one post. We need to remember that people are not won to Christ by the volume of our anger but the power of our love. So, let’s manage our reactions carefully.
In all this, let’s remember the promise of our God that He will never forsake His righteous ones. Remember that God didn’t forsake us in our sin, but sent His son to save us. If he would go to those lengths to take care of our greatest spiritual need, surely he will take care of us here as well as long, as we keep our hearts focused on him.