To fret means to chafe, to be irritated, to be uneasy, to be troubled and bothered. It is just the opposite of peaceful, trustful rest. Jesus has promised us rest to our souls, and we may have this rest. We can not have it, however, if we give place to worrying and fretting. God's purpose for us is that we shall have calmness and soul-quietness, even in the midst of tribulation. He has said, |My peace I give unto you.| He followed this by saying, |Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful| (John 14: 27). (These and all following quotations are from the American Standard Version.)
It is not God's will that we be continually worrying. This world is full of things that are not as they ought to be, and if we are to be happy and peaceful we must adjust ourselves to circumstances and learn to be happy in spite of the things that are displeasing to us, that are not as they ought to be. We can never be amidst ideal conditions in this world.
Fretting is like sand in a bearing; it is likely to make all sorts of trouble. It will use up the energy that we ought to be using for something else; it will keep our physical and spiritual nerves on edge; it will spoil the tranquility of our lives; it will mar our peace and take the sweetness out of our devotions.
Some people are always worrying about the wrongdoings of others. They fret and grieve, and can not remove the subject from their minds nor the burden from their hearts. The Bible says, |Fret not thyself because of evil-doers| (Psa.37: 1). Many people choose to do wrong; many people do wrong to themselves and to others, including God's people. Of course, we can not rejoice over this, but we should not let it spoil our own lives. We should not fret about it. We should have a proper concern for the welfare of their souls, so that we shall earnestly pray for them and do all in our power to cause them to do better, but this is very different from being fretful, from worrying and bothering ourselves continually. If we keep our eyes on the wickedness of others and continually grieve over it, we shall have no time to be joyful ourselves, we shall have no time to live our life with God.
Psalm 37 further says, |Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass| (v.7). What all of us need to learn is to let God bear his own responsibilities. He tells us what to do in the first part of the verse -- |Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him.| If evil-doers prosper, if they seem even more prosperous than the righteous, if they seem to get along without trouble, we should not be bothered over that. That is God's business. We see a great many evil things going on, and we should like to stop them. They grieve us in spirit, and this is but natural. But we ought not to fret ourselves over them. There is a vast difference between godly concern and human worry, and we need to learn this difference clearly. To be concerned about such things, and to pray earnestly for God to overcome them and put a stop to them, is all very well; but when it comes to fretting over them and worrying and being bothered, this is quite another thing. We should never let these things mar the peace of our souls. God means for us to have peace and be thankful right here in the midst of all this wickedness.
He tells us why we should not fret. |Fret not thyself; it tendeth only to evil-doing| (v.8). Fretfulness has a tendency to make us doubt God and his wisdom: how natural for us to think that if we had the power that he has we would put a stop to such things. It has a tendency to make us murmur and to be dissatisfied. It is likely to discourage us; and when we are discouraged, we are likely to murmur against the way things appear to be going. Fretfulness is almost certain to take the sweetness out of our hearts and out of our communion with God. It will lead to a loss of spirituality. It will rob us of spiritual tone.
When we are fretting we may think that we are doing the best we can, but we are not. We may think that we can not help fretting, but we can. There is a way in which we may possess control of ourselves and cast the burden of the responsibility upon God, and he will bear it if we do thus. We have to decide that we will be happy no matter what happens, no matter what the conduct of others may be, no matter what obstacles they place in our way, no matter what burdens they may throw upon us. We will be happy anyway, because God has willed that we should be happy. If we see things going wrong we should take the burden to the Lord, saying: |Lord, thou must bear the responsibility of these things. My shoulders were not made to bear these burdens. They are thine. I give them over to thee. If anything is to be accomplished, thou must do it.| Then we must take our hands off. We must let the thing go, treat it as something that is none of our business, and let God handle the situation.
Again, he said, |Neither be thou envious against them that work unrighteousness.| It is so easy to look upon those who are rich and who are not using their money for God, and think, |I wish I had their money; how much good I might do with it!| Or perhaps when we see talented people of the world, we might say, |Oh, if I had the ability they have, I would use it for the Lord!| God does not want us to do this; that is, to envy them their riches or their talents. It is all right for us to wish that we had more money or greater talents to use for the Lord, but it is not right to be envious of others. Even wishing that we had more is a waste of time. The thing that is important is that we use what we do have.
If we are given to letting ourselves worry and fret over things that others do toward us, it is often an incentive to them to try to make us trouble. We see a good illustration of this in the life of Hannah. Elkanah had two wives. Peninnah had a number of children, but Hannah was childless. Peninnah took advantage of this to reproach Hannah, and it is said she |provoked her sore, to make her fret| (1 Sam.1: 6). There are some people who delight in twitting others about some fault or physical defect, or because of lack of ability or something of that sort. If they see that this causes us to fret, it only increases their desire to provoke us. Then again, some people like to make sport of others, and tease them; and if they see that some one can not hear it well, if it frets him and worries him, this only increases their delight. I have heard such people say, |I just like to tease So-and-so; he can not stand it at all.| Saints, of course, should never do such a thing as that; they should have more regard for the feelings of others. But sinners will do such things. We may expect it. Therefore, the thing to do is to learn not to fret over it, but to submit our ways to God and bear it patiently.
Never allow yourself to fret over anything. Fretting never helps. It always hinders. Learn to commit these things to God. Cast your burdens upon him -- and do not try to bear his burdens. Learn to be happy in spite of your difficulties. Keep your own soul-life separated from these troublesome things. God will help you, and you can make a success. He commands you not to fret, and he will give you grace to keep from doing it.