I have been spending a lot of time in the Psalm’s recently. A few days back I wrote up a short meditation on Psalm 1. Here is a longer sermon I preached this morning.
How do you stay happy throughout relentless suffering ? I’m writing this as we come to the end of a year of pandemic. This is a year that has seen lockdowns, job losses and many deaths. As Christians we are meant to be a joyful people, this should be part of our witness. But how can we be joyful when that’s the last thing we feel.
Psalm 1 is about the blessed or happy person. It is helpful to remember that when applying Old Testament passages, we are first to apply them to and through Christ. He is the happy man. This Psalm was written for him to sing. He was the one who found delight and joy in his father, refusing to be drawn into the ways of the wicked. We can be happy because we are in him. God knows us in Christ. God blesses us in Christ.
Christ is also the one who is God’s living Word, so when we delight in the word and meditate on it, we do so be delighting in Christ. Again. We are to find our joy and delight in him.
Choose your direction of travel and your fellow travellers carefully (v1)
It’s a Friday evening and we need to get up to Bradford quickly to help take care of ill parents. My sister has headed home for the weekend and we are due to relieve her. We head towards the nearest motorway junction only to hit a traffic jam before we have even left Smethwick. Both of us realise at this point that we were aware of a difficult set of roadwork traffic lights at this junction. We should have found a different route. We switch on the Satnav. Not only does it talk us through a diversion here but it also advises us to go up the M1 instead of the M6 as we were planning. This helps us avoid further delays.
Choosing the right direction of travel and the right fellow travels is important and is the first thing that sets apart the happy person. The happy person is one who is blessed or content and this blessing, contentment and happiness is rooted in righteousness.
The happy person does not walk, stand or sit with wicked, unrighteous, slanderous people. I remember one preach once pointing out that there is even a sense of development there, the person who becomes a fellow traveller with the wicked eventually stops to spend time with them and finally is sat passing the day with them. Think of Lot who progresses from living near Sodom, to living in Sodom and is finally say with the town elders at the city gate.
If Christ is righteous on our behalf, then he is the one who chose the right direction of travel. He is the one who for the joy set before him chose the Cross. To choose the right way is to choose to listen to him, to follow him and to put your trust in him. It is also to choose him as your fellow traveller. We are in Christ and he is in in. We used to sing a song in Sunday School as kids:
“With Christ in the vessel you can smile at the storm … as we go sailing home.”
The secret of true joy and contentment, of finding happiness through the storms of life is to stay close to Jesus.
Get rooted in God and his word (v2-3)
Hebrew poetry uses parallelism and repetition to reinforce the same point. So when we read that the happy person delights in God’s Word and meditates in it, the Pslmist is reinforcing the point that instead of spending time in bad company, he is to give his attention to God’s Word. There in Scripture, he meets with the Living Word. This is not about intellectual study but enjoying God’s Word to us and allowing it to burrow deep into our lives and take root. Because it is his word, we are enjoying Christ.
How can we meditate on God’s Word. Well, think about the Psalm in front of us. If meditating on it, I want to take time to allow it to sink in. So, I might read it through slowly, carefully and prarefully several times. As I read it, I might do the following
BLESSED is the man who does not walk…
Blessed is the MAN who does not walk
Bessed is the man who does not WALK
Read it as speaking about Christ
Blessed is Christ because he does not walk…
Christ is like a tree planted ….
Read is with your name in it
Blessed is Dave ….
Dave is like a tree, planted
The Lord knows Dave …
“Thank you Lord for your blessing, the joy that you give me. Help me to prioritise your word and your way, not to be distracted by those who slander you.”
The person who is rooted in Christ, rooted in his Word is like a tree, rooted on the banks of a river. It finds all the nourishment and refreshment it needs and so is stable and able to bear fruit. Fruitfulness for the believer is found both in the fruit of the Spirit as we grow in love, patience and kindness. It is also found in the fruit of a harvest as people turn to Christ through our witness.
Heed the warning of the wicked (v4-5)
The tree with deep roots, anchored and living is contrasted with the chaff that blows in the wind. Then image here is of the farmer who threshes the corn, the heavy seeds which will be later ground into flour are separated from lighter waste material which then blows away with the wind. God judges. Whilst at times it may be difficult to tell apart the true followers of Christ from false and whilst we may go through intense suffering during which corrupt, powerful bullies appear to prosper, something else is going on. God is at work sifting, so that his true church perseveres through.
At the start of the Psalm, the singer refuses to stand with the ungodly. That is because he has hope in a better place to stand. He is looking forward to standing in the assembly of God’s people. This of course will have pointed to daily gatherings at the Temple and annual attendance at the festivals but it also points to a day when God will assemble all peoples before his throne. The wicked will be judged and so not admitted in to that great throng.
We are warned by the fate of the wicked not to be like them, to steer clear of them and their ways so that we one day will stand in that great company knowing that Jesus is not ashamed to call us “brothers.”
Our happiness is not in present circumstances but in past and future Grace. We have assurance that we will stand confidently and boldly approach the throne because of Christ’s death on The Cross. How will you stand on judgement day?
Trust God with your days (v6)
I recently took the funeral for a man who had sadly died at a youngish age from Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy. His wife asked us to play the song “Future Days” by Pearl Jam at the service. They lyrics go:
If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself
Everything I have found dear
I’ve not found by myself
Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me
All my stolen missing parts
I’ve no need for anymore
And I believe ’cause I can see
Our future days
Days of you and me
It is obviously a love song and spoke of the life they had found together but they were believers too and the words ran a little deeper. It was not just that they had found each other. Rather they had found someone together, someone who offered them hope against frail mortality that death does not have the last word.
God knows. This is again contrasted with the wicked. It is not that God knows about the righteous but is ignorant about you and me. The wicked’s end is destruction. So for God to know me, is for him to know my future destiny. I know the one who knows me future. That is what gives me confidence to face life now. I know that my life is completely in his care. He foreknows and predestines. God has a purpose for my life, God has a plan for my final destiny.
True happiness is found in the living God who knows us and loves us. It is found in knowing him and clinging to him. Specifically, we are called to know Christ and to be found in him in his life, death and resurrection.
It is this happiness that enables us to face present circumstances. There are real tears at sadness and suffering but the darkness does not have to overwhelm. I can be contented in Christ.