“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:26)
This is the last part in a study on how the first few verses of Psalm 37 give us a five-part prescription for resisting the envy and anxiety that come from comparing ourselves to other people or struggling with, “why do good things happen to bad people?” For ease of reading we’ve split this long study into 6 individual parts, so I recommend starting with the intro to Psalm 37 (which lays the groundwork), then reading the other sections and this one (linked at the end).
What does it mean to rest in the Lord?
Finally we examine Psalm 37 verse 7:
“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him”
Perhaps the most difficult part in Psalm 37, the hardest thing asked of us, is to rest and wait patiently for God…particularly when we’re “fretting” (worked up) about something.
Or maybe that’s just me?? And I think to some extent, the order of these commands in this passage of Psalm 37 is important because they help us build up to this.
You’re working on trusting God and doing good, abiding in Him and consuming His word, finding delight in His commands, entrusting your whole self, life, and worries to Him…and now He says to rest and wait.
The word for “rest” here means to stop, be still, and be silent. God is telling us that in order to succeed, we must turn down both the speed and volume of our lives. That, in order to be attuned to His will and the way He’s working in our lives, we must be better at tuning *out* the world.
Do you sometimes lie in bed with your mind racing, maybe stewing over a co-worker getting credit for something you did, or thinking of something you should have said in response to a criticism? You toss and turn, running over it in your mind, unable to sleep. King David sure seemed to struggle with this, and his advice was to “meditate [on God’s word] within your heart on your bed and be still” (Ps. 4:4). In other words, we must re-orient our focus toward God.
God’s sabbath plays an important role in this idea of resting in the Lord. On the seventh day of every week, He commands us to stop what we’re doing, step back from the frenetic pace of our lives, and place our attention on Him. Our core spiritual tools of prayer, bible study, meditation, and fasting are also geared toward helping us shift our focus away from the noise of the world, and toward God’s voice.
After accomplishing some astounding things in God’s name, the prophet Elijah was having a self-pity party out in the wilderness. He railed at God, as he experienced perhaps his lowest moment physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And God made a point. He battered and wowed Elijah through a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But none of those gave Elijah what he was looking for (I Kings 19:12).
Finally He came to Elijah with a “still, small voice” (NIV says “delicate whisper”). God explained that things weren’t as bad as Elijah feared, and encouraged him with the news that God had been working behind the scenes with thousands of faithful followers (which Elijah had no clue about), preparing them for what was to come.
Despite all God’s miracles and Elijah’s role in accomplishing them, he had temporarily lost his focus on God, taken his “eyes off the prize”…and as a result, he got caught up in the discouragement, isolation, and hopelessness he felt in the world around him.
How often are we like Elijah, fixing our eyes and ears (and our minds and our time) on the circumstances around us, anywhere but on God??
Can you hear God when He whispers to you? Do you know how to “turn down” the speed and noise—in the world, and in your own mind? Or do you lean into the distractions, filling every spare moment with anything *but* spending time with God?
We should be able to identify when we’re worked up (“fretting”), and consciously work on calming our minds. This requires focus and discipline, yanking on the ”leash” of our thoughts when they run down a well-worn path, refusing to allow ourselves to dwell constantly on whatever is upsetting us.
What’s your first instinct when you’re worked up about something? Is it to go to God and place it in His hands (“roll your burden upon Him”, as we saw in the previous study)? And if so, what comes next?
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10)
What does it look like to “wait on the Lord”?
So, hopefully we’re working on “turning down” the noise of the world around us and being more attuned when God whispers. How should we then apply the idea of waiting patiently for God?
The word used here for “wait patiently” (chul, H2342), gives us a richer understanding of what’s being asked of us. It can imply many things, but in this case we should think of it as being firm and strong, enduring and prospering.
I believe that the crux of this idea comes down to this—where do you go to for answers or solutions when life throws something new at you? Or, I should say, to whom do you turn? Is your first instinct to take it to God? Or to try and work it out yourself? Will you only be satisfied by an immediate clear answer?
As the Israelites stood on the shores of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army barreling down on them, God (who had purposefully put them in this situation) commanded and encouraged them:
“Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Ex. 14:13-14)
Patience is a theme developed consistently through the New Testament, a key quality of God’s character and a critical trait that His people must be developing (James 1:3-4; Heb. 12:1; I Tim. 6:11).
“There are many parts of the bible where God’s advice is effectively ‘be patient’. Many times His people were told to stand still and wait for Him to act on their behalf. Sometimes that was a literal physical command to stand there, but often it referred more to their emotional state—just stop, don’t let your emotions run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling!”.” (excerpt from “Stand Still & Wait” study)
This is such an important trait for His firstfruits to have that, in order to develop and hone it, God sometimes allows us to be—or sometimes actively places us—in positions where we have few other choices but to wait patiently and endure.
And if I frequently find myself in these “wait patiently” situations in life, I should ask myself whether the reason is that I’m not showing the growth in this area that God is looking for, that I’m not hearing what He’s trying to get through my thick skull.
In a situation reminiscent of the Israelites at the Red Sea, King Jehoshaphat told his people prior to battle:
“You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17).
I like this particular account specifically for the “position yourselves” aspect, because being patient while waiting on God does NOT mean we just do nothing. Waiting (or as we saw, endurance, to stand firm) is not simply a passive exercise, but rather an active, confident expectation of results—with the strength of character to persevere as long as is required. You are waiting FOR something. And you absolutely cannot have the patience to wait on God without trusting in God (again, full circle).
You have to place whatever it is in God’s hands, listen for His voice, and then get into (figurative/mental) position and prepare yourself for whatever comes next. No matter how long it takes. (There’s our “trust in God and do good” idea again.)
Remember from the last section, we’re told “He will act”. The very idea of waiting implies an end goal, something you expect to happen. There’s an active anticipation. But it’s on God’s timeline and according to His vision, not ours.
However, as we saw in part 5, we can be patient (endure) with the certain promise…
- That He is in control
- That He knows what we desire
- That He wants amazing things for us
- And that “He will act”.
He promises that if we wait on him and trust in His plans for us, that He will strengthen our hearts so that we will not grow weary (Ps. 27:14, Is. 40:31).
After telling them they’d be hated and persecuted, Christ told His disciples that “by patience you’ll possess your souls [or, by endurance you will gain your life] (Luke 21:19). Basically, patient endurance is a non-negotiable quality for reaching the kingdom.
Prayer plays a big role here…asking for patience, for clarity, for comfort and peace. Ask God to show you how He sees things and what His will is. And if you’re having trouble with getting worked up and finding yourself on that swinging spectrum of envy, anxiety, and self-righteousness, talk to God about that and ask for His help. I often find myself praying for Him to put a kind of “bubble” around my brain to keep out Satan’s little whispers as well, to not let him affect me.
I hope that this has provided some interesting food for thought on Ps. 37:7 and how we should learn to wait patiently for God. I also recommend going back to the intro to this study (Part 1) and reading through the conclusion, which ties together all of these individual shorter studies.
“Better a handful with quietness [restfulness] than both hands full, together with toil [weariness, worry, travail] and grasping for the wind” (Eccl. 4:6)
This is the final section in our six-part study on Psalm 37. Here are the first five studies:
- Part 1: An Intro & Summary of the Message in Psalm 37 – read first!
- Part 2: Trust in the Lord and do good (Ps. 37:3)
- Part 3: Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness (Ps. 37:3)
- Part 4: Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4)
- Part 5: Commit your way to the Lord…and He shall bring it to pass (Ps. 37:5)