There are some passages that a younger preacher, if he or she is wise, may want to wait awhile and "grow up" into. For instance, this passage has been on my mind for many years. But I have not dared to touch this passage until my last birthday, and now tonight in this marvelous setting I want to drop anchor in a marvelous passage of Scripture, one verse from Psalm 37—verse 25. It reads, "Once I was young and now I am old, and I've never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."
When I was a youngster growing up in Veniceville, South Carolina, I used to watch my daddy shave. I often admired the thick lather of shaving cream that Daddy used on his face. Standing next to him as a little boy, I would dip my finger in the water of the sink and rub my fingers on my face to see if I could feel any hair growing. I wanted to shave. And Daddy in great humor would say to me, "Harry, hold your horses. Keep your pants on. Enjoy your youth. You'll have the rest of your life to be grown." These were words of wisdom from Daddy.
I just finished reading a marvelous book by Susan Jacoby entitled Never Say Die. In it, she has written a critique of our culture and our efforts to deny aging and dying and the extent to which we go to hide the elderly. She uses some terms in that book that have stuck with me. For example, over and over again she uses the word elderly, and another word, wellderly—the elderly who are well, and then illderly—those who are not well. Three other wonderful words jump off those pages. She talked about the young old (ages 65 to 75), the old (75 to 85), and the old old (85 and up).
Here is a marvelous passage from an Old Testament sage. Looking back over the meandering highway from whence he's coming, looking through a rearview mirror, he draws some conclusions based on his age and his tenure in walking with God. He says, "Once I was young and now I am old, and I've never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Ps. 37:25). He draws this conclusion based not on what he's heard or what he's picked up but on what has been raked off the hot anvils of his own personal experience. And from that conclusion he makes some suggestions. Tonight I want to borrow from this Old Testament sage as we focus on two pleas, two entries, two invitations, two suggestions, and two promises from his experience.
Don't fret over evildoers
My subject is a citation from experience, and they are two pleas and two promises. The first plea is this: don't fret over evildoers. "Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong" (Ps. 37:1). It's an entreaty. It's an invitation suggesting a plea and a tip. Don't fret over evildoers. Why? Because they're not going anywhere. God has got their number. Don't get your blood pressure up. Don't get bent out of shape worrying about the wicked.
What a marvelous and calming relief to know that I don't have to take care of the wicked. There are 40 verses in this marvelous 37th Psalm, and four times there is a marvelous phrase: "They shall be cut off." Verse 10 says, "A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found." I like that. Don't fret over those who seem to prosper in their own way.
My dear wife and I were married for 50 years. She is sleeping beneath the sod here in Dallas tonight, and she's upstairs and won't mind if I say this. One of the things I loved about her is that she never pushed me in 50 years of marriage to keep up with the Joneses. We spent 15 years in Dallas. We had a nice little house over on Wood Acre Drive in Oak Cliff—three bedrooms, two baths, a nice little swimming pool out in the back. It got crowded from time to time—four kids, my wife, and my wonderful mother-in-law. But there was a lot of love in that house, a lot of prayer, plenty of food, and wonderful memories. Time and time again we had opportunities to move up and move out. A number of times a man named Mr. Foster would come by the house to show us portfolios of houses in other places where we could move up and move out, and my wonderful wife would look at those portfolios. She never pressed me. She never pushed me. We decided that we had some priorities for ourselves and for our children, and we decided to stay in a small house with love and prayer and plenty of food rather than to move out and move up with no food.
I was coming out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina a few weeks ago on Highway 22 that merges into Highway 501. It's a brand new four-lane highway. And as 22 merges into 501, they have clear signs along the highway asking motorists to merge into one lane, to slow down and prepare to merge into 501. As I approached 501, I noticed car after car zipping by me in and out, passing me, going up ahead. Then when I got down to the merge, I noticed some red lights blinking up ahead. When I got a little closer I noticed South Carolina state troopers writing tickets. And all of those cars that had zipped by me passing in and out were down there at that merge, lights blinking, getting tickets.
Now, "Fret not thyself because of evil doers." "Do not be envious of those who seem to prosper in their own way." They're not going anywhere. Four times the Psalmist says that they're going to be cut off. Though they may grow tall like the cedars of Lebanon, you will pass by. "In a little while …" That's verse 10. I like that. "In a little while they will be no more."
So this wise sage, looking back over his life, rakes off the hot anvil of his own crystallized experience this plea: don't fret and don't envy, but trust in God and take delight in him. Commit your way unto him and wait patiently. Don't fret; wait. Don't envy; commit your way unto him. That's a marvelous plea, and you can do that if your theology is right, if you believe that nothing moves on the checkerboard of human destiny that catches God by surprise. You can wait. This wise sage lived a long time; he has tenure. He knows God's identity and his character and his glory, and he makes a plea and an invitation. Today I borrow from him. "Fret not thyself because of evil …" Don't get bent out of shape. Don't get your blood pressure up.
What a marvelous, calming relief tonight to know that I don't have to take care of the wicked. I can say my prayers, go to sleep, dream, and snore. Let God handle the wicked.
I was eating lunch one day on the campus of Bishop College student union building with John, a longtime friend, a great scholar. I remember vividly that John was eating a piece of pork chop, and I asked him a question: "John, what do you fear most about God?" And John, always a deep, scholarly thinker, finished chewing that piece of pork chop, and then he said, "Harry, I fear two things about God. Number one, I fear his eyes; he sees everything. Second, I fear God's age. He had no birthday, and he'll have no funeral."
God won't forsake you
You can relax and rest, not fret yourself, not be envious. But there's a promise: you will not be forsaken. Don't fret; trust. Don't envy; wait patiently. You will dwell in the land and enjoy the fruits of your labor. On my last birthday I began trying to squeeze some nutrients out of verse 25. It's a wonderful promise, as a divine promise. And God keeps his promises. There is no rubber in God's checks; they don't bounce. You will not be forsaken. You will not be abandoned. You will not be left. He won't throw you under the back wheels of the bus. You won't be dropped.
I like that. You won't be forsaken. That's a wonderful promise. This sage doesn't say these things don't happen. He says he's never seen it. He says, "I once were young; now I'm old and I have never seen it. He won't forsake me." And he won't forsake you, either.
Your insurance company may drop you. Friends may drop you. Family may drop you. Churches may drop you. But this sage says God won't drop you. In addition to that, he says your children won't beg. This is a marvelous, two-pronged promise. You won't be forsaken and your children won't beg for bread. What a promise!
I have a sister who lives next door to me named Olive. She doesn't like me saying she's my "older sister." So I don't say that. I say she's the "first born." We're very close, and often we go out for a snack together. We're both retired. When we go out together, she's very concerned because I carry a little cash in my pocket. She's 100 percent plastic. She pulls out a credit card for everything. She gets onto me sometimes: "Harry, why do you carry cash in your pocket? That's a risk." She's always riding me about carrying a little cash. Not a whole lot but a little cash. So I said, "Olive, I carry a little cash in my pocket because I was broke for so long." Now in my retirement, when I've got a few dollars that I don't need right now, I like the feel. Credit cards are nice, but I like the feel of a little cash in my pocket."
I am recipient of dividends from the prayers of my mother and my father. I've got a couple of dollars that I don't need right now, but when I touch this cash I'm aware that I am a recipient of trickledown dividends. Often, heaven may cut checks to answer the prayers of the righteous and may not post those checks until they fall asleep. Heaven sends those checks down to the children of the righteous and their children's children.
My dad died in 1954 at the age of 54. He's been upstairs a long time. Dad won't mind if I say this. When Daddy died, he died "broke." By the calculations of Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, and Chase, Daddy died broke. But in terms of things money can't buy, he was filthy rich. He and Mamma somehow miraculously sent five children to college. We picked them clean. So tonight, here I am as an honoree. I'm a "legend." Not only a legend, I'm a living legend. I'm drawing trickledown dividends—the answered prayers of my mom and dad.
Psalm 90:10 says, "Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures." I'm living on extra. I'm not driving on regular; I'm driving on extra. And so tonight I quote this sage again: "I used to be young but now I'm old, and I have some recommendations. Don't fret because of evildoers, and don't be envious of the workers of iniquity." They're not going anywhere. Like green grass grows up in the morning, in the evening it gets withered, and it's cut down. God has our numbers. Trust, commit, and wait.
You also have a divine promise. God pays his bills. You won't be abandoned. You won't be forsaken. You won't be left alone. In addition to that, your children won't have to beg.
There was a wonderful woman in Shiloh Church, where I grew up. My dad came to Shiloh Church in 1927, and he pastored that church for 25 years. The woman's name was Miss Ella Kelly. She's been upstairs a long time. Miss Ella Kelly sat over in the amen corner, and when Daddy was preaching, her antiphonal refrain was "He will do it." Miss Ella Kelly never said, "Amen." I never heard her say, "Amen." She never said, "Preach." She didn't say, "Praise him." She simply said, "He will do it." And she turned the volume up on will. He will do it. When Daddy died, I succeeded him at that same church. And when I was trying to preach, Miss Ella Kelly had that same antiphonal refrain. "He will do it. He will. He will do it."
I tried to zoom in the camera and dissect that antiphonal refrain. He will do it. I picked that apart. He will do it. In a philosophical term, we call that "extrapolation." Miss Ella Kelly was extrapolating. She was drawing a futuristic conclusion based on a past experience.
He will do it. He who, Miss Ella? The Master. Will do what, Miss Ella? Make a way. How do you know that? I know what he's already done. He'll open doors for you. He'll put food in the refrigerator. He'll put wheels in the garage. He'll put clothes in your closet. He'll put a smile on your face. He'll put a star in your sky. He will do it.
Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life's tempestuous sea. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain; he washed it white as snow. What can make me holy? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can wash me white as snow? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Dr. Harry S. Wright, Sr. is the pastor emeritus for the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Wright was also named a Living Legend of preaching by the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference.