Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Psalm 37:1-8
Many of us have seen the movie “A Few Good Men,” the story of a military trial of two soldiers, who had been ordered by their superiors, to basically kill one of their fellow soldiers. In the end (movie spoiler ahead), it is the high ranking colonel (played by Jack Nicholson) who ends up being arrested for murder.
On the surface, the colonel is never going to be mistaken for Mother Theresa. He is as gruff and foul-mouthed as a person can be. Yet he provides a service that no one else wants to provide, protecting the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, he takes his power a little too far in allowing for murder and corruption to take place under his watch. In one scene, when the colonel is testifying on the witness stand, he yells at the attorney questioning him, played by Tom Cruise, as follows:
“I have neither the time, nor the inclination to explain myself to a man, who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d rather you just say ‘thank you’ and go on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn, who you think you are entitled to!”
Let’s focus on the word “entitled”. The colonel thinks because of his standing as a high ranking military officer, that he is entitled to skirt the law. The attorney thinks he is entitled to the truth of what happened at the naval base. In the court of law, no one is entitled to break the law, whether that be murdering someone, corruption, stealing, etc. And outside the court of law, no one has the right to something that isn’t legally theirs, something that haven’t acquired by legal means.
The word “entitlement” gets bantered around a lot in the world today. Not just this week, it’s been in the vernacular for a long time. There is a lot of strife over what people think they are entitled to.
According to me, I’m entitled to live to be 95, I’m entitled to die in my sleep, I’m entitled to a good pension fund that will allow me to retire at age 70 with a nice cushion. If I live to be 95, like how I feel entitled to live, I feel entitled then to 25 years of living without working at the same or better standard of living I had when I was working.
Just writing that statement makes me feel self-promoting, self-serving and self-absorbed. If, as we read in James 1:17, “every good endowment and every perfect gift is from Above,” then anything we have that is good is a blessing for which we should feel thankful, rather than entitled. The more blessings one receives, the more generous God expects one to be. The more blessings one receives is not an indication that he or she is entitled to more fun. On the contrary, the great number of blessings one receives, the greater responsibility God entrusts them to serve others, and the greater accountability God will hold them to.
Thankfully, I have many blessings in my life, and someone might think it is easier for someone like me to talk about blessings. And that’s true. I also have a lot of challenges in my life, heavy crosses that sometimes when I think about them, I become angry and resentful for them, like it’s not fair that I have them. Some people will suffer the pain of discrimination, others will suffer emotional pain, others physical pain, others spiritual pain, etc. Most of us would agree, we feel entitled to a life without pain. Most of us resent our pains, whatever they be.
And here’s where today’s Psalm 37 comes in. God tells us to “trust in the Lord and do good.” (Psalm 37:3) “Take delight in the Lord” (v.4) and “commit your way to the Lord.” (v. 5). Don’t worry about the person who is doing wrong to you or to someone else, “fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way,” (v. 7) but instead “be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.” (v. 7) “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!” (v. 8)
When we focus too much on what we are entitled to and are not receiving, when we focus on our pains rather than on our blessings, inevitably we will devolve into anger, which will lead to wrath, which will lead us away from God. This is where faith and trust come in. I know so many people who have hard lives, perhaps on account of their skin color, I know some who have suffered serious illness since childhood, who have succumbed to cancer in middle age, who have buried their children. These are people who have had every right to feel angry and cheated, and yet they are some of the most devout people I’ve ever had the privilege to know.
I’m reminded of one of the prayers we offered on Pentecost this past Sunday, which says “Do You, O Lord, render unto me whatsoever I have desired of You, that is unto salvation.” It doesn’t say “render to me more than my neighbor,” or “render me what I think I am entitled to.” It asks God to render unto us whatever He feels is necessary for our salvation. I will write this next sentence personally, so as to not cast judgement on anyone—if that road unto my salvation includes poverty, discrimination, illness, another move, or anything else I would find undesirable, if the road leads to salvation, at the end of the day, that’s all I care about. When we care more for the end of the road than the road itself, that is faith. And that’s what Christianity is all about. It doesn’t matter what happens on the road to salvation, when it comes to material gain. It matters on that road that we love and we serve, that we see each day as a blessing rather than an entitlement, as an opportunity to serve rather than to collect. This is what makes for a successful journey to the end of the road, salvation.
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Be patient, trust God, and serve today, whatever situation presents itself to you!