When You Don’t Know What to Do (Ps 37:1-7)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached December 18th, 2022*

Faith invites risk. “Trust” is a great synonym for “faith,” and may be a more helpful word for us. ‘Trust’ implies confidence in another to be or do what they said they would be or do. But it also implies a gap between our knowledge and our experience. If you say, “I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” I may know (or trust) that you will pay me back tomorrow, but it isn’t until tomorrow when you put the money in my hand that I experience the consequence of my faith. Trust is a future-oriented posture, waiting with confidence for something you do not yet have. Faith inherently implies an absence, a lack—we are looking forward to the apprehension of what we are waiting for–and therefore involves risk.

And that is very hard, especially if what you are waiting on is a matter of great consequence. Jesus wasn’t standing in a puddle when He called Peter to walk out onto the water with Him.

Faith is not the result of an accountant analyzing risk at his actuarial table. Faith is not hedging your bets and only stepping forward when you know that you can absorb the loss if God doesn’t come through. But if we are following Jesus, we know that we lean into His character and can trust that His Word can be relied on. So, if Jesus commands you to love your enemy, you love your enemy confident that Jesus knows best and His Law leads to life. It is clear, it isn’t ambiguous. 

But what does faith look like in situations where maybe it isn’t exactly clear what Jesus has said? The difficulty in loving your enemy is that the path before you looks arduous and intimidating—but what about the circumstances in your life where you don’t even see the path? When you think: I have no idea what to do here. 

Open your Bibles up to Psalm 37 and we will pick up where we left off last week. 

1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 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!

–       Ps 37:1-7

Life is confusing. The main dilemma this psalm is addressing is the confusing reality that the wicked seem to be winning. What do you do in that perplexing situation? David exhorts his listeners to maintain their faith, to not be given over to this typical fretfulness, because the wicked will quickly perish, while the righteous shall inherit the land and live forever. But here, in verses 3-7, we get some of the clearest positive teaching of what God’s people must do in the perplexing situation where the wicked seem to win the day. But, the reason why I am choosing to preach another sermon on this section alone is that I believe that these verses serve as a helpful four-step movement for any Christian who is stuck in any situation where they are perplexed and unsure what to do.

You may know that you are supposed work hard at your job or schoolwork, but what do you do when you a have series of decisions open before you that the Bible doesn’t seem to say anything about? Should you invest in this venture? Buy this piece of property? Go to this college? Or what about when it feels like how you apply God’s Word isn’t very clear. You know you are supposed to love your spouse and serve them, but what does that look like in that same argument that you have been having for years where the way forward doesn’t seem clear? What does faithful parenting look like when you are just baffled about how to respond? 

Ray Ortlund writes, “Both the commands of the Law and the thunderings of the prophets spread out before us the gigantic truths of God, the metanarrative that makes sense of everything. But we need more,” (Wisdom that Works). We need the wisdom that God gives for every situation of life. Faith in God doesn’t only lead us to risk for Jesus (which it does), but it also makes us wise. And I think Psalm 37:3-7 provide a helpful four-step process to make us faithfully wise: Do good, delight in the Lord, devote our plans to the Lord, Depend on Him. Do, Delight, Devote, Depend.

Do Good

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

–       Ps 37:3

True faith, true trust in the Lord, displays itself through doing good, or as the New Testament would explain it, good works. If we trust God, we will do good works. In fact, the connection is so tight between faith and works that James 2:17 can say, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” True faith bears the fruit of good works—it is what we are made for. 

But how do we know what is good? Isn’t that the frustrating issue in so many scenarios of our life? We don’t know what to do! In David’s psalm here, the frustrating and perplexing situation is that the wicked are prospering and flourishing, leaving the righteous wondering, “God, what do we do?” And David simply informs them: Trust God, do good. What is good? Micah 6:8 reminds us, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God is a helpful triumvirate to consider in any situation you are in. But notice where Micah 6:8 grounds the source of “what is good”–He has told you. 

We know what is good from what God’s Word says, what His Law commands us to do. Maybe you are in an unbelievably tricky situation and is very unclear how the problem is going to be fixed. You don’t know how everything is going to work out—but what do you know? You know that you need to confess your sins, that you should be generous, that you need to be patient, that you should read your Bible and pray. But that doesn’t solve my problem! You may tell yourself, or even, Doing those things will actually make the problem harder! But we must remember that we are not responsible for solving every problem—that is the Lord’s business—we are responsible to trust in the Lord and do good, to obey God.

David goes on to exhort us to “dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” If you are reading along in an ESV Bible, you may have a little footnote at the end of that verse that tells you that this could also be translated, “dwell in the land and feed on faithfulness.” This is because the Hebrew word there could be re-vocalized to either refer to a neighbor (thus, “befriend”) or the verb “to feed.” Both interpretations are possible, but I think feeding on faithfulness is the better choice just given the immediate context of the call to “dwell in the land.” Perhaps David, the Shepherd king, is doing what he does elsewhere in comparing God’s people with sheep who dwell in his land, and out of that land grows vegetation that we eat. But in God’s land, what are his people satisfied with? They feast on their faithful obedience to do what is good.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight yourself in the Lord,
And he will give you the desires of your heart. 

–       Ps 37:4

What a precious command! Have you ever considered how surprising it is that God commands you to be happy in Him? God is concerned about your joy so seriously that He commands it.

But let’s waft away some misinterpretations of this verse. Some people think…

–       Delight doesn’t mean ‘delight’

No, it means what it says. The same word is used in Isaiah to illustrate it well: “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food,” (Isa 55:2). In the same way we enjoy sitting down at table to an exquisite meal, so too should we look to God to satisfy us.

–       Delight yourself, full stop

No, we delight ourselves in God. We do not go out and seek happiness the way the world does. 

–       Delight yourself in the Lord after He gives you the desires of your heart

No, the verse says we first delight ourselves in the Lord then He gives us the desires of our heart. It is when you find your joy and delight in God that you find the desires of your heart become God’s desires and then God freely and happily gives you what you desire. Thrust your heart into the furnace of the joy of God and you will find your iron heart pliable to His will, purified of dross, and happy to conform to His providence. Your desires become God’s desires, even as you may be uncertain what His will is in this specific circumstance.

The quality of joy depends on the source of joy. A bowl of ice cream, a sunset, a night of laughter with friends all bring joy. But eventually the bowl empties, the sky darkens, and the friends leave. These are finite, transient, and fickle. But what if you could find a source of joy that was as enduring as it was bottomless, as exquisite as it was potent? What if you were not dependent on the moments in life where the stars aligned and small chinks of light of heaven shone through the things of earth—though that is glory enough—but were given the Sun itself?

Is there anything more aggravating than an unfulfilled desire? And is there anything sweeter than desire satisfied? Proverbs reminds us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life,” (Prov 13:12). The desires of the heart can make or break us. Engines rely on the combustion of fuel and air to push a piston down and create horsepower, but if there is a crack in the motor? If the small explosion is no longer contained and the motor is burnt up, then it doesn’t matter how hard you put the pedal down, the car will continue to slow down, till it is entirely stuck. If the desires of your heart are satisfied, then life hums; and if you have great desires that are constantly deferred, it feels like your heart is sick, like all the drive has been sucked out of life. You have the bone of will, but the marrow of delight has been sucked out of it, so your joy is fragile and easily fractured. But here Psalm 37:4 gives you an ironclad promise to live with perpetual fulfillment of your desires: just find your joy in the Lord!

So, there stands the uncertainty and complexity of whatever is befalling you. There is the suffering that you can’t seem to escape from, there is heartache that seems never ending, there is the brother or sister that is careening into sin and you don’t know how to respond. You are frustrated, tempted to anxiety, envy, anger. What do you do? First, what isn’t ambiguous here? The good the God’s Word has called you to do. Do that. Second, check your heart and what you are looking to for joy and delight. Is it the Lord you are delighting in? If so, then you will be content with what His providence gives. If you find yourself racked with discontentment, constantly burned up with frustration, ask yourself: what do I feel like must be given to me for the desires of my heart to be satisfied? Find your joy in the Lord, in who He is, and you will never lack satisfaction.

“He who fears God and is wholly God’s servant, has no chains about him. He may live as he lists, for he lists to live as he ought. He may have his full desires, for his desires are holy, heavenly, divine,” (Spurgeon on Ps 37:4).

Devote your plans to the Lord

Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

–       Ps 37:5-6

The word for “commit” literally means “to roll,” as in the rolling of a stone and “way” is a summary of the path of life, your career, your commitments, your goals. It creates a word picture in your mind of taking the intentions and dreams and plans of your life, bundling them together into a great ball, and heaving it over into the Lord’s hands to carry. Elsewhere David writes, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved,” (Ps 55:22). 

In verse 3, David exhorted us to “trust in the Lord, and do good.” So trust in the Lord led to action on our part. But here, we are summoned to trust in the Lord and then God acts. And these are not mutually exclusive.

King Jehoshaphat finds himself surrounded by a confederation of enemy armies from Moab and Ammon; a force that he is utterly helpless against. And, normally, when a king finds himself in this kind of situation he needs to act fast, he needs to find reinforcements, or he needs to broker a deal with the invading army quickly to earn the most favorable of concessions. And that is typically what kings in Israel do. But Jehoshaphat seeks the Lord and proclaims a fast throughout all of Judah, and gathers Jerusalem to the temple to pray. And there he opens in prayer: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you,” (2 Chron 20:6). He continues the prayer, reminding God of His covenant with His people and His power and strength, and then concludes: “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you,” (2 Chron 20:12).

What is Jehoshaphat doing? He is the king, and not only is he failing to make those tactical brokering moves as soon as possible, he is gathering all of his people to pray and fast? What kind of military strategy is that? And he is admitting their weakness and ignorance? Not exactly the quickest way to inspire soldiers to fight. What is he doing? Jehoshaphat is being honest: God, here is who you are—powerful, mighty, glorious, king over all the earth—and here is who I am, who we are—weak, ignorant, lost, hopeless. We don’t know what to do, but our eyes aren’t on ourselves, but on you.

David’s confidence in this psalm is that God’s people will be vindicated because God will act. The justice and righteousness that you have lived by that have made others mock you, sideline you, or hate you, that others have denied or rejected, will in the last day stand clearly as true, and will be as unavoidable as the noonday sun. 

So when you stand before the dark doorway of indecision, when you don’t know what to do, you first ask yourself, “What does God’s word tell me I should do? What is good?” and then do that. Then, you sift your heart and channel it to find its constant and deepest joy in the Lord, not in your circumstances. And then, as you contemplate what you must do, what faithfulness looks like in this situation, you commit your way to the Lord through prayer. Roll your burdens onto him, tell Him how confounded you are, tell Him how powerless you feel, but then tell Him of the promises He has made to you to never leave you, to never forsake you, to strengthen you and uphold you, to vindicate you and sustain you.

Depend 

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!

–       Ps 37:7

The sufferer that David is addressing in psalm 37 is pained by the wicked who continue to flourish and who assault the righteous, and David says, “Don’t worry, God will act; you just need to be patient and wait.” The secret weapon of God’s people? Waiting. The armies of Pharoah are careening towards the huddled families of Hebrews, the men, women, elderly, children–who have the sea at their back, nowhere to run. They turn to the man God has chosen to lead them and cry out, “What do we do?” And Moses replies, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent,” (Ex 14:14). Just be still, wait. The people of Judah are terrified at the coming armies of Ammonites and Moabites, and Jehoshaphat prays, “God we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you. We are waiting for you, God.” And what happens? A prophet stands up and tells everyone: “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s,” (2 Chron 20:15).

We don’t like waiting because we don’t like not being in control. But God puts us into situations where He mercifully, but sometimes painfully, reminds us that we are not in control and the only thing we can do is wait. We must act, our trust in the Lord leads us to do what is good and to practice faithfulness. But that does not mean that we are the decisive agents in making change. Maybe the “good” that God has called you to feels so mundane and unimportant. But, remember that it is ultimately God who changes hearts, who brings things about. If you cannot wait on Him, then perhaps what you don’t realize is that you just want to be God.

Case Study: Unresolved Conflict

You are in an unresolved conflict with someone. It could be your spouse, a friend, a parent, etc. You don’t see eye to eye, you have talked things through, but still feel like things are at odds. There are just different expectations, different perspectives, and there isn’t a Bible verse you can point to that solves the dilemma. What do you do? Well, first, you ask yourself: what has God commanded me clearly to do here? Have I done what God has told me to do? You know that your selfishness needs to be put to death; you know that you need to speak the truth to this other person, but you need to do it in love, so you ask yourself, do I love them? Or am I just annoyed? 

Then, you examine your heart. Is part of the conflict here coming from the fact that you are not delighting in the Lord, but perhaps finding your joy in something that this other person has now ruined? What would this interaction look like if your delight was in Jesus? If you find Jesus as your greatest joy, then what do you desire in this interaction? Cautiously, with the humility that you may be wrong, aim for that.

Then you devote your plans to Jesus. Jesus, I don’t know what to do—here is where I am frustrated, here is where I see my sin, but here is where I think there sin is, here is where I am not sure if I am really delighting in you. And seek God for help, remind yourself of God’s promises as you pray.

Then depend on God for the results. What you are responsible for, you must do. But be cognizant of the fact that the only way this conflict will end with God-honoring results is if God intervenes. So don’t burn yourself up with anxiety as if all of this depended on you.

All of this requires a great deal of trust. But we know that this can be trusted because this is the path that Jesus took. In his humanity, Jesus did not know everything. Luke 2:52 tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom, and in Matthew 26:37 we are told that Jesus doesn’t know when the final judgment will take place. This means that in Jesus’ life, there were times where He was unsure what to do, where He would have had to walk through these four stations. This path is a trusted path. And, even more significantly, Jesus walks through this path for your sake. He is the one who you must trust and we see that He can be trusted because His commitment for our good is made evident in His life, His death, and His resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins and for our justification and coming resurrection.

Jesus always did what was good, He perfectly obeyed the Law. In John 8:29, Jesus declares that He always does what is pleasing to the Father, because He delighted in the Father perfectly. Jesus devotes His plans to the Lord. And He waits, through the cross, through the grave, till Resurrection.

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