# 47 Psalms of Wisdom (#5) Psalm 1 “four treelike characteristics of a godly life”

So, in summary, Psalm 1:1 gives us a promise of happiness [or blessedness], verse 2 provides the means for experiencing it and verse 3 declares the end result as follows:

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever they do prospers.”

Using a great piece of poetic imagery, which of course is a common thing in the Psalms, the Psalmist here describes four treelike characteristics of a godly life:

  1. The location of planting is important: these trees are “planted by streams of water”, i.e. they are well watered and well nourished and therefore stable, rooted, solid and strong. For us, our nourishment comes from the Word by the Spirit and our abiding in Christ. Paul in Colossians 2:6-7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” And in Ephesians 3:16-19 he prays: “…that out of his [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
  2. These trees are healthy and growing and therefore producing succulent and delicious fruit in abundance, as they were meant to do. In the spiritual realm this is God’s plan for each of us as the people of God. Consider Jesus’ words in John 15 about living “fruitful” lives in union with him. He says: “ Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… 8  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last…”
  3. These trees can withstand whatever extremes of weather come their way, in fact they not only survive but rather they thrive despite whatever life throws at them. And so for the one who is blessed and to whom the word of God and obeying this word is his or her delight.  Paul in Ephesians 6 speaks of how we are able to stand firm no matter what comes against us. He says: “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…”   
  4. These trees prosper – becoming what God has designed them to be.  And we also, as God fulfils his purposes in us and through us.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

This is what it means to be fully alive in God and to be making a difference in this world we live in. To be growing and prospering in all our relationships with God and people.

So, as 2015 comes to completion and 2016 begins, the psalmist gives us some great advice. To maintain a pure, uncompromising walk with God, says the psalmist, and to delight in His Word is to grow into a stable, reliable, strong ‘spiritual tree.’ And like physical growth this happens on a daily basis, moment by moment making good decisions and choosing to take God’s truth to heart and act upon it in the power of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus.

Have a blessed/happy new year living for Jesus!

# 46 Psalms of Wisdom (#4) Psalm 1 “The God who speaks to us”

 

Having given some wise advice about what to avoid to be blessed, the Psalmist then moves on to what to embrace. He says:

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the LORD,    and who meditates on his law day and night.                                                                                                                              That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever they do prospers.

So, as well as not compromising with evil, we are to “delight” in God’s law. We are to be lovers of the Word of God in order to find true blessedness or happiness. As we order our lives in this way we become people who are productive and fulfilled as well as giving us clear direction in our lives as we live according to God’s ways.

Some time ago I read a couple of interesting novels written by Chaim Potok, a Jewish Rabbi who is also a professor of Philosophy. The books are called “The Chosen” and “The Promise” and they tell the stories of two Jewish boys and their families and friends in the USA in the 1940-50s. One boy is from a very conservative, orthodox and legalistic Jewish family the other from a more liberal thinking Jewish family. Great reading, but the thing that struck me was the almost fanatical devotion by all of them to the reading, memorization, understanding and preservation of the OT scriptures and in particular their meticulous adherence to their understanding of God’s laws for the Jewish people.

Reading this reminded me again that the Psalms are (as are all the scriptures in reality) a Jewish book.

Eugene Peterson reminds us of this in his introduction to Psalms in the Message Bible when he says that “The Hebrews…provided us with this prayer book that gives us a language adequate for responding to the God who speaks to us.” (Eugene H Peterson. The Message)

To the Hebrew Psalmists the study of and meditation on the Word of God was not “irksome or a burden or an interruption to their day.” Rather it was a daily activity in which they delighted.

The psalmist in Psalm 119:97-104 expresses this beautifully to God:

“O how I love all you’ve revealed, I reverently ponder it all the day long. Your commands give me an edge on my enemies…I’ve even become smarter…I’ve become wiser…simply by doing what you tell me…Your words are so choice, so tasty, I prefer them to the best home cooking. With your instruction, I understand life.” (The Message)

It seems to me that at times, in all the busyness of our lives, maybe we just need to stop and make the effort. I was delighted recently to be talking to one of my sons who related how he was methodically reading through the whole Bible and enthusiastically shared with me some of the new insights he was having. There is no doubt about it, if we allow the Spirit to have his way in us and teach us, the Word of God will be the means of transformation whereby our lives become more in line with who God is and who he has planned us to be.

May God help us to have such a delight in his Word, hanging on every word and responding to our “God who speaks to us.” Then, according to the psalmist, we will be truly happy or blessed.

 

# 45 Psalms of Wisdom (#3) Psalm 1 “Oh, the happiness, many times over…”

# 45 Psalms of Wisdom (#3) Psalm 1 “Oh, the happiness, many times over…”

Before we move on from the wisdom of Psalm 1, let’s see if there is more that can help us to live well as followers of the King of Kings. The psalmist begins as Jesus did in the “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Blessed is the one…”

Blessed could be translated happy or even pleasing to God. Another definition is “the happy condition of those who revere the Lord and do his will.”

One rendering could be, “Oh, the happiness, many times over…”

So then the question is, what is the ‘secret’ to such blessedness or happiness? Well, according to the Psalmist, one relevant piece of information is that it involves when we don’t do certain things. And those things are:

“…not [to] walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take    or sit in the company of mockers.”

The NIV Study Bible suggests that the people described here are “those for whom evil is habitual, for whom wickedness is a way of life.”

So the Psalmist is saying that in order to experience this blessedness, this happiness from God, many times over, we need to live in a place of uncompromising purity in our life and relationships, i.e. choose our friends carefully!

Note the Psalmist’s use of poetry in describing this:

Walk……………………………..counsel…………………………wicked /ungodly

Stand……………………………way/path……………………..sinners

Sit………………………………..seat……………………………mockers/scoffers.

There is a progression here. At first one ‘walks’ or just checks things out casually concerning what these people believe and what they get up to.

Charles Swindoll suggests that these verses could be paraphrased as:

“Oh the happiness, many times over, of the one who does not even casually go through the motions or imitate the plan of life of those who live in ungodliness…” (see references # 32)

This then progresses (or maybe degenerates) to ‘stand’ -finding oneself more and more comfortable with this particular company of people and their precise way of life.

And finally ‘sit’ – permanently settling down into the way of thinking and way of life of those the Psalmist describes as those who continuously make light of that which is sacred – even to the point of blaspheming God, by their words or lifestyle or both.

“If we begin to walk in the counsel of the wicked,” says the Psalmist, “it is too easy to slip slowly into the habitation of the scornful…we shall be happy many times over if we maintain a pure walk, free from even the slightest flirtation with evil.”

These words reminded me of my first job. At the age of 18 I left school and began my training as a cartographic draftsman working in an office in the city. At that time I was not a follower of Jesus and had no idea that I ever would be one.

Amongst the staff there was a culture of having a drink at the local hotel after work on a Friday night. Now, to be honest, I had never really liked alcohol. It was most probably more a reaction to an abuse of alcohol with disastrous consequences amongst certain members of my family than anything else. But, not to go on a Friday after work and not to drink was not only to be unsociable with my workmates, whose approval I desperately desired, but it was also to stand against the norm, which I had no plan, or courage of my convictions to do. So I went. My drinking was purely ‘token’ and it remained something I didn’t have much heart for.

At the same time when this was happening there was another young draftsman, Colin (not his real name) about a year older than me who had been resisting, what appeared even to me as unnecessary pressure, to come and drink with the ‘boys’. His initial resistance was due to a conviction related to his Christian upbringing. So, for a very long time he refused. I didn’t understand him, but I admired him! The longer he refused though the more it became a bit of sport for the others to see if they could wear him down and get him to become like them.

After a year in the job I became a follower of Jesus and found a new freedom in Him. I no longer had to just go along with the crowd, pretend I liked alcohol and I no longer needed their approval. So, my times with them in the hotel slowly decreased and finally stopped. But Colin, in the meantime had sadly given in to their constant pressure to conform. Tragically, after some years he had actually developed a drinking problem. He had walked, stood and then he eventually sat down!

In the context of the day, for the average Jewish believer, a major temptation that came with walking-standing-sitting in the company of evil companions, in the way the Psalmist is describing, would have been idolatry and all its accompanying vices and therefore disobedience to the laws of God.

For us in the 21st Century, walking-standing-sitting in evil company in order to learn from them their evil ways could also lead us into idolatry and addictions of many forms. But, when you think about it, these days, with what is available to us through the many forms of media we have, e.g. TV, DVD, internet, smart phones, social media, etc. we don’t even have to be in the actual presence of a single person to walk-stand-sit with evil people, taking on board all the vices of our society. In so many ways the wisdom offered here in this Psalm is very applicable to us today. I know this from personal experience!

Proverbs has some good advice:

“The righteous choose their friends [and their programs and downloads] carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray…[so] Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” (Proverbs 12:26, 4:23)

And in the words of Paul:

“For the free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone;  and along with this gift comes the realization that God wants us to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures and to live good, God-fearing lives day after day,  looking forward to that wonderful time we’ve been expecting, when his glory shall be seen—the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.  He died under God’s judgment against our sins so that he could rescue us from constant falling into sin and make us his very own people, with cleansed hearts and real enthusiasm for doing kind things for others.” (Titus 2:11-14 Living Bible)

And, in the context of this subject, we shall look later at what it means to do “kind things for others”, particularly to those the psalmist says not to walk, stand and sit with.

 

 

# 44 Psalms of Wisdom (#2) Is it possible?

In response to my last post, Esther, who also writes her own Blog (https://esthermurrayblog.wordpress.com/) wrote:

“Living a life of intention is definitely the hard part! It’s easier to read (or write) words but much harder to act upon them.”

I certainly appreciate the truth of that comment! Just this week, in the midst of retiring from my leadership role at the college where my wife and I have served for the last 8 ½ years, I have been reminded again of my own humanity. On the positive side there have been the words of appreciation and encouragement and praises to God for the part we have played, but I have also found myself making a few unwise decisions. Nothing too dramatic, but enough to remind me of some other wise words written by Wayne Cordeiro:

“We don’t forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.” (see references #  31 )

So, is it still possible to live well, to choose to win, to live a life of intentionality (based on God’s wisdom) despite just how very human we are? I think so, but placing the focus not so much on our abilities but on God’s power in us. Let me remind you of the wise words of Peter in his second letter when he said, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness…Through these…you may participate in the divine nature… ”    (2 Peter 1:3)

The Message Bible says that these attributes and blessings of God enable “participation in the life of God.”

And then Paul says: “I can do everything through [Christ] who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

It is possible to ‘run in such a way that you may win’ but only because of who Christ is, what he has done for us, what he is doing within us and who we are in Christ.

I’m told that Benjamin Franklin once said:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

God not only tells, and teaches but gives us the incredible privilege of being intimately involved in who he is and what he is doing in the world. Even when we sometimes struggle with intentionality, the God who indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit does not! For example, just check out a good book giving the ‘big picture’ of how God is building his church worldwide (e.g. Operation World by Jason Mandryk – see http://www.operationworld.org ) to see that “divine intentionality” at work in our world.

So, I guess it all comes down to living a life of dependence upon the One who desires to live this life of intentionality through us. Again, it is true that it something “easier said than done” but it’s a one-step-at-a-time process and God is patient with us. This last week showed me again that I’m still learning this great truth and will until the end of my life!

# 43 Psalms of Wisdom (#1) ‘run in such a way that you may win’ (1 Cor. 9:24)

So we now move on to the next genre of Psalms, which are the Wisdom Psalms.
One definition of wisdom is that it is the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding.
As I consider the world around me, and the lack of wisdom that is too often displayed, I am very conscious of needing much wisdom from God in these days. Generally though, when we think of wisdom literature in the Bible, we are more likely to turn to Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. As Longman puts it, “in these books we read in concrete ways how God wants us to live our lives. They reveal God’s will in the nitty-gritty and difficult areas of our lives.” (see references # 1). But so do many of the Psalms and the most obvious is Psalm 1.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
This psalm reminded me of Wayne Cordeiro’s book, “Leading on Empty – refilling your tank and renewing your passion” (Bethany House Publishers 2009) which talks of “four basic courses by which we can live…” They are:
1. “A life of reaction…[when] we plod forward until something forces us to change direction, [e.g.] the loss of a job…the initiative of another person toward us [which] determines our course, but without it, we aren’t motivated to action…a dangerous way to live, but the majority of people [seem to] have chosen this lifestyle, most of them by default.
2. A life of conformity…[when] we live according to the view of the crowd. We float along on the current of popular opinion…We allow how we look to trump what we believe, and we permit what others think to drive what we do…another dangerous way to live. It puts you at the mercy of opinion.
3. A life of independence…[those] who choose [this] cherish the illusion of autonomy. But when they group together with other like-minded people, carefully steering away from the current majority, they form a clan of virtual clones…a self-delusional way to live.
4. A life of intentionality… When we were young, life happened as a matter of course…[but] somewhere along the line, things moved from automatic to manual, from natural to deliberate, and from involuntary to intentional…[e.g.] Healthy marriages require intentionality and planned investment…The scriptures exhort us to ‘run in such a way that you may win’ (1 Cor. 9:24). It is not automatic. If you choose to win, you have achieved half the victory. If you do not choose, you have gained half your defeat.”
Choosing to “win” (which equals “blessedness”) is what Psalm 1 is about. The psalmist (and we don’t know who wrote this one), offers some good advice on how to win/be blessed in life.
First he suggests some activities not to get involved in:
• do not walk in step with the wicked
• do not stand in the way that sinners take
• do not sit in the company of mockers,
Followed by some positive things to adopt for a healthy lifestyle:
• delight is in the law of the Lord
• meditate on his law day and night
It seems pretty simple, but the beginning of wisdom is to take note of these truths and act upon them, and according to the psalmist, whatever else you do you will “prosper”.
A life of real wisdom, is a life of intentionality lived according to God’s wisdom as revealed in his word. In this way we can’t help but be blessed.
How’s your delighting in and meditating on [and responding to] God’s word going?