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Man: The Dwelling Place of God: Chapter 17. The Cure for a Fretful Spirit

By A.W. Tozer


      THE HOLY SPIRIT IN PSALM 37 admonishes us to beware of irritation in our religious lives:

      "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity."

      The word "fret" comes to us from the Anglo-Saxon and carries with it such a variety of meanings as bring a rather pained smile to our faces. Notice how they expose us and locate us behind our disguises. The primary meaning of the word is to eat, and from there it has been extended with rare honesty to cover most of the manifestations of an irritable disposition. "To eat away; to gnaw; to chafe; to gall; to vex; to worry; to agitate; to wear away"; so says Webster, and all who have felt the exhausting, corrosive effects of fretfulness know how accurately the description fits the facts.

      Now, the grace of God in the human heart works to calm the agitation that normally accompanies life in such a world as ours. The Holy Spirit acts as a lubricant to reduce the friction to a minimum and to stop the fretting and chafing in their grosser phases. But for most of us the problem is not as simple as that.

      Fretfulness may be trimmed down to the ground and its roots remain alive deep within the soul, there growing and extending themselves all unsuspected, sending up their old poisonous shoots under other names and other appearances.

      It was not to the unregenerate that the words "Fret not" were spoken, but to God-fearing persons capable of understanding spiritual things. We Christians need to watch and pray lest we fall into this temptation and spoil our Christian testimony by an irritable spirit under the stress and strain of life.

      It requires great care and a true knowledge of ourselves to distinguish a spiritual burden from religious irritation. We cannot close our minds to everything that is happening around us. We dare not rest at ease in Zion when the church is so desperately in need of spiritually sensitive men and women who can see her faults and try to call her back to the path of righteousness. The prophets and apostles of Bible times carried in their hearts such crushing burdens for God's wayward people that they could say, "Tears have been my meat day and night," and "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain. of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain daughter of my people!" These men were heavy with a true burden. What they felt was not vexation but acute concern for the honor of God and the souls of men.

      By nature some persons fret easily. They have difficulty separating their personal antipathies from the burden of the Spirit. When they are grieved they can hardly say whether it is a pure and charitable thing or merely irritation set up by other Christians having opinions different from their own.

      Of one thing we may be sure, we can never escape the external stimuli that cause vexation. The world is full of them and though we were to retreat to a cave and live the remainder of our days alone we still could not lose them. The rough floor of our cave would chafe us, the weather would irritate us and the very silence would cause us to fret.

      Deliverance from a fretting spirit may be by blood and fire, by humility, self-abnegation and a patient carrying of the cross. There will always be "evildoers" and "workers of iniquity," and for the most part they will appear to succeed while the forces of righteousness will seem to fail. The wicked will always have the money and the talent and the publicity and the numbers, while the righteous will be few and poor and unknown. The prayerless Christian will surely misread the signs and fret against the circumstances. That is what the Spirit warns us against.

      Let us look out calmly upon the world; or better yet, let us look down upon it from above where Christ is seated and we are seated in Him. Though the wicked spread himself like "a green bay tree" it is only for a moment. Soon he passes away and is not. "But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble." This knowledge should cure the fretting spirit.

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See Also:
   Preface
   Chapter 1. Man: The Dwelling Place of God
   Chapter 2. The Call of Christ
   Chapter 3. What We Think of Ourselves Is Important
   Chapter 4. The Once-born and the Twice-born
   Chapter 5. On the Origin and Nature of Things
   Chapter 6. Why People Find the Bible Difficult
   Chapter 7. Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine
   Chapter 8. True Religion Is Not Feeling but Willing
   Chapter 9. How to Make Spiritual Progress
   Chapter 10. The Old Cross and the New
   Chapter 11. There Is No Wisdom in Sin
   Chapter 12. Three Degrees of Religious Knowledge
   Chapter 13. The Sanctification of the Secular
   Chapter 14. God Must Be Loved for Himself
   Chapter 15. True Faith Is Active. Not Passive
   Chapter 16. On Taking Too Much for Granted
   Chapter 17. The Cure for a Fretful Spirit
   Chapter 18. Boasting or Belittling
   Chapter 19. The Communion of Saints
   Chapter 20. Temperament in the Christian Life
   Chapter 21. Does God Always Answer Prayer?
   Chapter 22. Self-deception and How to Avoid It
   Chapter 23. On Breeding Spotted Mice
   Chapter 24. The Unknown Saints
   Chapter 25. Three Faithful Wounds
   Chapter 26. The Wrath of God: What Is It?
   Chapter 27. In Praise of Dogmatism
   Chapter 28. What Men Live By
   Chapter 29. How to Try the Spirits
   Chapter 30. Religious Boredom
   Chapter 31. The Church Cannot Die
   Chapter 32. The Lordship of the Man Jesus Is Basic
   Chapter 33. A Do-It-Yourself Education Better Than None
   Chapter 34. Some Thoughts on Books and Reading
   Chapter 35. The Decline of Apocalyptic Expectation
   Chapter 36. Choices Reveal - and Make - Character
   Chapter 37. The Importance of Sound Doctrine
   Chapter 38. Some Things Are Not Negotiable
   Chapter 39. The Saint Must Walk Alone

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