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Are You The Devil’s Guitar?

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.
– Psalm 37:1-2 (ESV)

I must admit that when Pastor Noah preached this sermon last Sunday, upon hearing the word fret my mind began wondering why we call the front face of a guitar neck the fretboard. Then, in typical fashion, my mind went in a completely different direction and thought of Macbeth, Act 5. Upon hearing about the death of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth utters these famous words.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Mind you, all of this mental meandering happened within about a minute or two, then I was re-engaged with the sermon. But it’s a fair question. We don’t usually look at people and say, fret not! It’s an old word that made it into modern English Bibles. As contemplated this word, a few things occurred to me.

First, here’s the Hebrew word from Strong’s.

h2734. חָרָה ḥârâ; a primitive root (compare 2787); to glow or grow warm; figuratively (usually) to blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy: — be angry, burn, be displeased, x earnestly, fret self, grieve, be (wax) hot, be incensed, kindle, x very, be wroth

It seems the Hebrew is connected closely with the idea of being enraged, to burn hot with anger. I could leave it there and that would be a satisfying definition, but let’s keep going a bit longer. What about a fret on a guitar? Frets are essentially pressure points on a guitar’s neck that change the pitch of the strings. Fret, as a verb, is to be enraged. Fret, as a noun, is akin to pressure points.

Macbeth’s poor player struts and frets his hour upon the stage full of sound and fury. That leads me to a pointed question.

Am I like a guitar that can be played with the different frets pressed so that varying pitches of anger come out of me when pressured? Does the devil play a song full of sound and fury with my life by pressing me on my frets?

Look again at the Psalm.

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
– Psalm 37:1 (ESV)

What isn’t this saying? It isn’t saying never to get angry over evil. In fact, indifference over evil is evil! A righteous anger should stir within us when we see wickedness abounding unchecked. But, we to be angry and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). So, somewhere between fret not and be angry and sin not is the sweet spot.

Also, this isn’t necessarily about stress from work or relationships. Notice that the second half of the verse says be not envious of wrongdoers. If the author had envy in mind, then he likely meant that we shouldn’t be jealous of how wrongdoers frequently seem to get what they want. This is more tightly entwined with the sentiments of Psalm 73 than average everyday stress.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
– Psalm 73:2-3 (ESV)

Do you look around at the prosperity of others with envy? Do you find yourself daydreaming about winning the lottery? I’m not talking about a fun thought experiment, but you’ve thought about it enough that you’ve sunk an embarrassing amount of money into lottery tickets. Do you get frustrated with the LORD because you can’t seem to escape the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle? You save a little and start to get ahead, then something breaks, or someone gets sick, or you owe more taxes than you thought. Do you ever feel embittered toward God because you can’t catch a break?

You’re being played. Look at verse two.

2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
– Psalm 37:2 (ESV)

The author of Psalm 73 came to a similar conclusion.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
– Psalm 73:18-19 (ESV)

I’ve been there. I’ve allowed myself to fret like this. It wasn’t necessarily an envy for others’ prosperity but a lament that I can’t seem to get ahead and stay ahead. I would pray, in anger at times, and shout at the heavens and basically accuse the LORD of withholding good things. I’m not a greedy guy. I have no grand ambitions to be wealthy. It would just be nice to get ahead and stay ahead for once.

When I allow those feelings to embitter my heart toward the LORD, I’m being played.

Fact: By God’s grace, I’ve never defaulted on anything, and by His grace I never will.

Fact: By God’s grace, there has always been enough, and by His grace there always will be.

What more do you and I need? Why should we fret at the prosperity of the wicked when the LORD is faithful to provide all things? The thing about His provision is that it’s not always packaged the way we’d like. Sometimes His provision is humbling. You are behind, the math says you don’t have enough, and then a gift arrives that gives you what you need. You didn’t earn it and certainly don’t deserve it, but it was given, and you received it nonetheless.

Sounds like grace to me.

Perhaps, at times, we fret because we’d prefer His provision to be less humbling. Pride and fretting seem to be related in that sense. Maybe we fret because we don’t want to be humbled by receiving help.

Don’t let the devil play you.

The antidote to fretting, it seems, is to cultivate gratitude. Be grateful for what we have, for how the LORD provides, and for every gift we receive from His hand because we don’t deserve any of it. He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) which means He is a generous God, even to those who hate Him. How generous is He, then, to those who love Him?

Be grateful for His enormous, unmatched, unrelenting grace, and you will guard yourself from becoming the devil’s guitar.

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Last modified: May 1, 2024