Coping with CreepsDo not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. Psalm 37:1
Opening Prayer: Father, this very day my patience has been tested and found lacking. Please show me a better way to relate to difficult people.
This lesson is just what it sounds like -- advice on how Christians can deal with disagreeable people. It might not make much sense, however, unless you have already completed the lessons on Genesis, particularly Bad News and Good News. If you have not already read through those Tutorials, click the hypertext link above to return to theFoundational Subjectsmenu.
This is a tough subject for Christians. Stereotyped thinking has it that we live in a plastic world, all smiley and sweetie-pie in our relations with just everybody. "Turn the other cheek," and all that, right?
So what happens if some jerk comes along and pushes hard on one of our "buttons" -- and everything inside us wants go into orbit right then and there? Or what if this jerk pushes two or three of our buttons so subtly and skillfully that we just want to roll over and die from the pain of it?
Can this really be a problem for us born-again Christians who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts?
You bet it can be a problem. Nobody I've ever met has been beyond anger or pain. The best you can say is that many of us have gotten better at this than we were before becoming Christians.
But how can this be? The Bible says, in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17:If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.
Doesn't this mean that our old nature with its anger and hurts has been replaced by this new nature?
Truth: If we have been born again, then we have been given an implant of God's nature -- that new born-again nature which gradually can displace the old nature if we let the Lord work on our hearts. But as long as we're in these bodies, we are subject to the lusts and emotions of the flesh and heart. And we are often surprised when these emotions pop up -- usually at the least convenient times!
So the first thing to remember is that we are in the process of having God change our nature, as we let Him. But even though I may have changed on the inside, that change won't automatically radiate around and infect everybody and everything, like some new kind of spiritual flu bug that nobody can avoid. The truth is:
- Things haven't changed.
- Events haven't changed.
- Other people haven't changed their natures.
- BUT---since we have changed and continue to change, other people will react differently to us.
Will they react positively? Why or why not?
Not always. I bet you can figure this one out without help. People that were your friends before you came to the Lord may turn on you in subtle --or not so subtle--ways. Other people that were indifferent to you before will be attracted to the new light they see in you.
POINT: If you are in Christ, you are a new creature, and are becoming a newer creature. You have changed. You are different. You affect people differently. You react differently. But how do we keep our cool even though other people react funny to you now?
Let's look, for example, at the Apostle John. What title do many Sunday School teachers hang on this man?
The Apostle of love. In fact, one of the most striking characteristics of the John we read about in Scripture was the way he was personally devoted to Jesus.
Was the transformation in his character immediate? Did he become a perfected person the minute Jesus called him?
Make a guess. Then we'll see.
Let's read the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9, verses 51-54:And it came to pass, when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers before His face, and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for Him. And they did not receive Him, because His face was as though to go to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down and consume them, even as Elijah did?"
What two disciples were most offended?
James & John
What did John propose to do to the Samaritans?
Rain fire down from heaven
Who was going to do the calling?
John -- the Apostle of Love -- and his brother James (who had the nicknames "Sons of Thunder" by the way). So our friend John was so offended by the Samaritans that he contemplated an unkind thing. He was going to call the wrath and the fire of God down on the Samaritans--fire from the sky.
Now what do we normally call a place where God's judgments are carried out by fire?
He was mad enough to call hellfire down on the Samaritans. So now you know that it's quite Scriptural to say that he was mad as hell! This disciple later became the Apostle of Love, but here he's mad as hell.
But you know something interesting--the creeps are still out there, and every once in awhile we have to deal with them. Now maybe you don't get mad as often as before; maybe not as intensely as before, and maybe you'll get over it faster than before. But from time to time, some creep might make you mad as hell.
How many of us will admit to being mad as hell in the last couple of weeks?
Me. And probably you, too.
So what can we do when we get really steamed at somebody or something? I suggest picking up a Bible.
Turn to Psalm 73. Read verses 1-2:Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had almost slipped.
Somebody or something almost caused the writer to backslide. What could that have been?
Read verse 3:For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Can you believe that? The Psalm writer, this man of God, was envious of some creep!
It doesn't say, but it probably has to do with the creep's behavior.
Let's re-read verse 3:For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
That word "boastful" (translated "foolish" in the King James Version) comes from a root word that means a loud and clear noise. The implication is someone that toots his own horn real loud.
Another interpretation of the word would be someone with the character traits of a braying jackass. And it's not even a well-intentioned jackass; the word "wicked" in the second part of the verse means actively bad -- someone who goes out of his way to be a braying jackass. So why be envious of some creeps like this?
Read verses 4-5:For there are no pains in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.
Man, it looks like these creeps have no troubles in the world. In the eyes of the world, these guys are the Beautiful People. For those of you who might have watched some of the TV movies, you can picture these boastful fools in certain shows.
Read verses 6-9.Therefore, they wear pride like a necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with fatness; they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue walks throughout the earth.
Are you starting to get a clear picture of these creeps? Notice some of the fruits of their lives in verse six: "...they wear pride as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment."
Look, too, at verses eight and nine: "They scoff...speak wickedly...set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue walks throughout the earth."
Are we talking about physical violence here?
Maybe. Not necessarily, though. These days, much of the abuse is psychological, verbal, covert. These prideful rascals (of either gender) fancy themselves better than other folks, and like to maintain the appearance of being model husbands/wives/ co-workers/friends. They might even be good at fooling everybody but the victims of their abuse. I've even seen cases where the victims of the abuse felt like it was their own fault, and that the prideful abuser really was a good person. Amazing!
Wouldn't you like to be like these prideful abusers? No? But somehow, the man of God, Asaph, a man devoted to the Lord, confesses to being envious of these overfed braying jackasses.
Read verses 11-14.And they say, "Does God know?" and "Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world. They increase in riches. Truly I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been plagued and chastened every morning.
Now here is the real rub--these guys not only seem to be born lucky, but they attribute their good fortune to being godless. And priests like Asaph, devoted to the Lord, don't seem nearly as blessed as these godless creeps! What a bummer.
Now before we criticize Asaph for being ignorant or faithless, let's look a little closer to home. There are preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who get carried away. To listen to them, you get the distinct impression that to become a Christian was an instant ticket to health, wealth, and happiness. Come to Jesus and all your problems miraculously vanish, and your wallet miraculously fills up. Give $100 to their ministry and God will give you $1000 by supper time. Guaranteed. And if you don't get healed, delivered, glorified and made rich, then it's your fault for not having enough faith. This sounds suspiciously like our original prideful, violent abuser, doesn't it?
Fortunately, we've all been Christians long enough to know that the truth of Scripture is a little bit different. God promises to take care of our needs when we base our trust in HIS FAITHFULNESS TO HIS WORD. In Psalm 23, and we see that God promises to give us green pastures we can eat today, if we follow Him. He promises to take care of our needs, not our fantasies.
And what about our problems? Does God promise to make all our problems vanish as soon as we march down the aisle of some church and pray the sinner's prayer? Is that God's way of "fixing" us?
That's definitely not God's way, according to Scripture.
God's way is shown in Psalm 4, verse 1:Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness; You have ENLARGED ME when I was in distress.
That's God's way. Occasionally, in His grace, He chooses to shrink the problem. His preferred method, however, is to enlarge me.
Make sure you understand this business of God enlarging us. Otherwise you might become one of those whiners who says that such-and-such "isn't fair." In our house, "fair" is the F-word. Something should either be right or wrong, and Scripture is the standard. "Fair" doesn't count.
Read verses 15-16 of Psalm 73.If I had spoken thus, I would have offended the generation of Your children. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me.
So what was Asaph's reaction to the creeps?
Too painful to talk about.
Can you relate to his feelings?
Read verses 17-20.Finally I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end. Surely you have set them in slippery places. You cast them down into destruction. How they are brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes, so O Lord, when You awake, You shall despise the sight of them.What was it that turned Asaph's attitude around?
- Did his circumstances change?
- Did lightning bolts strike down the creeps as he prayed?
- Did the creeps suddenly reform and undergo a miraculous character transformation?
No, although there's a part of me that likes the lightning approach better than what did happen.
So what happened to Asaph and how can I get that for myself when I get mad as hell?
Asaph went to the house of the Lord. He bodily removed himself from the circumstances that rubbed him the wrong way and stopped dwelling on how bad the creeps were/are. Then he turned his attention to the personal character and promises of the living God.
Maybe Asaph read Scripture; maybe he just got down on his face and prayed; maybe he did both. We do know that he turned his attention to God, God's nature, God's promises, God's faithfulness, and God's love for Asaph (and us). He went to God's house and asked God if HE was especially fond of the creeps.
Then what did God reveal to him?
The end-results/rewards of the wicked.
So what is the promised end of the wicked?
It's not a pretty sight.
The point is that God lets these braying jackasses walk out onto SLIPPERY places. They may be walking tall for now, but just keep watching. Nobody is looking out for their real interests but themselves.
Now let's read verses 21-22.Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my heart. I had been so foolish and ignorant. I was as a beast before You!
Now Asaph has come before the Lord and sought the Lord's face. As a result, he has personally felt the Lord's care for him, he acknowledges that God has guided him through it all, and he has gained the Lord's insight into the future of creephood.
Now how does Asaph feel about his former attitudes?
Foolish. That means it's foolish -- although quite natural and normal -- to get mad as hell at some creep.
Read verses 23-24.Nevertheless I am continually with You. You hold me by my right hand. You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Let's back up now, and see the pattern in verses 21-24. Note the verbs -- "I WAS grieved, and I WAS vexed in my heart...I WAS foolish and ignorant,..." Then the tenses and perspective change: "I AM continually with You; You HOLD me by my right hand. You WILL guide me with Your counsel, and AFTERWARD receive me to glory."
The point here: God's way is to keep your mind on the truth NOW and AFTERWARD, and let the braying donkeys bray. If you dwell continually on your memories of jackasses past and present, that's probably all you'll be able to hear. You'll continue to be grieved and vexed. Worse, you nullify some of what the Lord would like to do for you.
Read verses 25-26.Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
Note verse 26: In plain english he's saying that his human nature is betraying him. "My flesh and my heart fail..." Isn't that the same as saying that his hormones and his emotions are pushing him in the wrong direction?
How do we reconcile this verse to the current fad of being "in touch with our emotions" and not repressing stuff?
It's very good for us to be in touch enough to recognize our feelings when they arise. Anger is a normal response to a creep. But God can give us the strength and wisdom to deal with the situation.
Now the last little bit, verses 27-28:For behold, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed them all that go a-whoring away from You. But it is good for me to draw near to God. I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works.
Based on these verses, how does God feel about those who are "taking a break" from worship of the living and true God?
They are "a-whoring" off in the distance, and on His endangered species (dead meat) list.
What insights can we say we have gained from Asaph so far?
Now he understands the greatest gift is God Himself and the strength and protection God provides to those who love Him and who DRAW NEAR to Him (note the conscious effort involved). And this knowledge is too great to keep a secret.
OK--that wasn't bad for an introduction. But I'd like to know more about what happens when we "go into the house of God," which seemed to be so beneficial to Asaph. Even though I know, intellectually, that God is gonna do terrible things to the creep, that head knowledge doesn't do much for me at the gut level. Isn't there more Scripture that will help me deal with my feelings?
Yes, I'm glad you asked. Turn to Psalm 37. Read verses 1 and 2.Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
That sounds like good advice on dealing with creeps -- don't fret about it. But what do you think it means to fret?
Fret comes from a Hebrew word meaning to heat up to the point of actually GLOWING. Down south there's a term--getting all het up. You may want to write that in your margins. God says don't fret yourself -- don't get all het up -- about some creep or group of creeps. Getting mad is a reaction to another person, but the reaction is within YOU, and you do have some measure of control.
Now I speak very humbly on this subject. I've gotten myself heated up a couple of times just this week. So it's clear we all need to improve in this area, but how? How can we change our reactions to people?
Read verses 3-8.Trust in the LORD, and do good. So you shall dwell in the land and truly you shall be fed. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way unto the LORD; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him. Don't fret yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger and forsake wrath. Fret not yourself in any way to do evil.
Note here what God says to do. God does not tell us to directly attack the fret, or the emotion itself. Very few of the great things of God are obtained by frontal assault.
In fact, much of the truth and treasure of Scripture seems upside down and backwards:
- Jesus said the first shall be last and the last, first.
- He who humbles himself shall be exalted.
- He who exalts himself shall be humbled.
- Whoever would be great in the kingdom of heaven should plan to become like a little child.
- We become righteous not by trying to be good, but by placing our trust for salvation in the completed, atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
The fact is, we can't even be born again until we admit that we can't achieve righteousness by our own efforts. Remember Romans chapter 3, verses 23, 24 and 28:For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.
So instead of directly trying to control our emotions, God tells us to do...WHAT?
Trust in the LORD, do good, delight in Him, commit your way to Him, lean on Him, rest in Him, wait patiently for Him, cease anger and forsake wrath. Don't even consider trying to get even.
You need to be aware that these verses are calling us to something radically different from the stereotypical "Church-On-Sunday" Christianity. This is gut-level stuff -- stuff you can't fake.
It's one thing to give intellectual assent that God has the power to change your nature. Everybody knows that. Even the demons know that. It's something quite different to aggressively permit the Lord to work that change in your life. Yes, I know that "aggressively permit" sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it's not. We cannot "fix" ourselves by any program of good religious works. But we can aggressively exercise FAITH in such a way as to allow the Lord access to our hearts, to work change His way, in His timing.
First, we need to understand that Biblical faith has three components:
- Action. We need to take some type of action based on...
- Belief. Our grey matter is capable of belief -- head knowledge that God is capable of doing just what He promises, and that this situation qualifies for one of His promises. This belief is supported by...
- Confidence. Not only do we have head knowledge that God can do a particular thing, but we have confidence that He's willing to do that for us. We have enough confidence to take action, even when our circumstances appear to defy God's promises.
The easiest part to do is build up the belief, the head knowledge: Read the Scriptures extensively and intensively. Get to know the character of God and the promises He makes to us, for love, for peace, for comfort, for fellowship. Read the Scriptures as you would read a treasure map -- eagerly, believing that the God Who inspired the writers to write is faithful to keep His promises.
Then confidence builds as you start to understand the character of God, and as you listen to other brothers and sisters in Christ share their testimonies of how God has helped them.
Action? That can take several forms. The most obvious is prayer, but for serious emotional or character change, prayer needs to be preceded by certain activities. For some folks, it may be counseling. For others, a time of repentance and confession of sin is called for.
Perhaps the most important part of all is to realize that God is personally interested in you, and that He wants to have personal interaction with you. Yes, you. God will give you wisdom when you ask Him. God, through His Holy Spirit, wants to lead and guide you every day.
God loves you. He wants you to love Him, too. If God ever stopped taking personal interest in your well-being, the atoms in your body would fly apart in all directions. If your emotional life feels like it's flying apart in all directions, maybe it's time to take a more personal interest in Him. Then, with that relationship in balance, you can find the wisdom to deal with your other problems.
Read verses 9-15.For evildoers shall be cut off, but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. In a little while, the wicked will not exist; yes, you shall diligently look for them and they won't be there. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes his teeth at him. The Lord shall laugh at him, for He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn out the sword and have bent the bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay those of upright behavior. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
Are you getting the picture now? Why should we continue to trust God despite the apparent prosperity and blessings bestowed upon the wicked?
Because God's gonna blow them away. I like what verse 10 says: They look for him, and can't even find the place where he was. Zip. Gone. History!
Note also verse 11:But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
Does this sound familiar to you? What other Scripture sounds like this?
Who said this? And when will the meek inherit the earth?
Jesus said it, in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5. The inheriting part becomes official in Milennium.
And will we inherit a world as crazy and mixed up as the one we have now?
We will live in perfect peace.
Let's continue with verses 16-22 of Psalm 37:For a little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. The LORD knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be for ever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs. They shall be consumed; they shall be consumed and go up as smoke. The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives. For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth, and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
This is pretty clear. The LORD has an eternal inheritance in store for the upright. Something less interesting awaits the wicked. But by this point in the lesson, I'm realizing that angry as I was earlier this week, I don't really feel the need to see my antagonist vaporized by fire from heaven. That person has problems of his/her own, and the Lord could help him/her. Maybe exposure to the Scripture is already helping me get some breathing from my emotional response earlier this week.
Read verses 23-26.The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the LORD upholds him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; still I have never seen the righteous forsaken, not his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends, and his seed is blessed.
I've got a question for you. What does verse 23 mean? Whose steps are ordered by the Lord?
If you look in most printed Bibles, the word "good" is in italics. It was added by the translators. The verse actually says the steps of a man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord. And the word for man comes from a word meaning strong, or valiant -- i.e. a warrior. Maybe a good man, but not necessarily. So the steps of a strong man are ordered of the Lord, and he delights in his way. It isn't clear whether God delights in the man's way of doing things, or whether the strong is delighted to have God be in charge, but both make sense.
Bottom line--the steps of any strong man are ordered of the Lord, and the righteous man has the good sense to be delighted that God is working it all out, despite the godless activities of the creeps. And even though the righteous man may fall (Verse 24, the Lord upholds him with His hand.
Let's read verse 25 again, as translated in the old King James Version:I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
Can that be any clearer?
Now read verse 27:Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
For fun, let's re-read verse 27 in the Living Bible:So if you want an eternal home, leave your evil, low-down ways and live good lives.
Yeah, this translation doesn't sound very religious and dignified, but it makes you think.
Now let's read verses 28-30:For the LORD loves judgment and does not forsake His saints. They are preserved forever, but future generations of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of judgment.
Note the time perspective of these verses, starting in verse 27 -- FOREVER. A new day is coming for you and me, if we relax long enough to trust God with the big and little details.
Read verse 31:The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.Doesn't this verse sound like Psalm 73 to you? Remember how Asaph was troubled in his heart about the blessings the braying donkeys seemed to be receiving? His feet almost slipped because of jealousy. Now David is saying that if we keep God's Word--the Scriptures--in our hearts, that God can keep us from slipping.
Read verses 32-34:The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged. Wait on the LORD and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land. When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
This really is good news. There may be a posse of creeps lying in ambush for you, but God is going to deliver you out of their hands. In fact, God will not only wipe out the really wicked folks (the ones who make headlines), but I get to watch. For homework, you should read Psalm 91 and note the similarities.
Read verses 35-38:I have seen the wicked in great power, spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away and, lo, he was not! Yes, I looked for him, but he could not be found. Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together. The end of the wicked shall be cut off.
Taken as a whole, you get two pictures, both future oriented. The wicked will be cut off, not just physically or financially, but in posterity. But the righteous man who leans on the Lord and His Word is promised a future for both himself and his posterity.
Now verses 39-40:But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD. He is their strength in the time of trouble. And the LORD shall help them and deliver them. He shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in Him.
Re-read the last sentence above. Note the word SHALL, and the word TRUST. Hebrew is a pictorial language, and the word used here for trust carries the picture of running full speed for shelter, such as you might get from a rock or a mother bird. The other uses of the word trust in Psalm 73 are a word that also means running for shelter, but without the sense of urgency of this one.
The answer to dealing with creeps, then, is faith--trusting the Lord, running to Him for protection, and keeping His Word in our hearts and in our mouths.
That may seem like a simplistic answer, but reread everything in this lesson and try it for yourself. At some point in the journey through Psalms 73 and 37, the truth of God's promises will hit you. Suddenly you'll realize that attitude and perspective are everything in your walk with the Lord.
And remember that you can't think of two things at once. When you get your focus OFF the creeps and consistently ONTO the Lord and His Word, you'll find it easier to cope with the ungodly creeps.
When you are consistently feeding on God's Word and spending quality time with Him, it gets easier to remember that God is in charge, and He loves you personally and intensely.
It could change your life.
Closing Prayer: Father, I'm ashamed of the anger I felt earlier this week. Help me to stay focused on Your Scriptures, so I can keep Your perspective on my problems. Amen.