One of my values is productivity. For me, satisfaction comes from knowing that I have achieved something – that my day has moved things forward. I have done quite a bit of reading about time management, project management, and efficiency and effectiveness. I’m all into goal-setting, having strategies and accountability and you-name-it.
Often that is a complete frustration to other people. When I ask for annual reports that include goals and so on, some people are just not wired that way. I’m a bit weird. But, from my point of view, my sort of weird is actually important for achieving results and not just drifting aimlessly.
I think that, whether you are wired with my sort of weird or not, all of us want to know that we have made a difference. None of us wants to think that our life was wasted. Our sense of significance comes from knowing that we have achieved something. Whether that something changes the world or changes the life of one other person, we want to know that we have made a difference. If the world doesn’t even notice that you existed, because you made no difference, then you were utterly insignificant. None of us wants to feel that our existence made no difference.
The Bible does have things to say about planning. It has an awful lot to say about leadership. I can justify my sort of weird – from the Bible! I am biblically weird. You have only to move one letter to turn wired into weird. But here is the thing – there is something much more important than goal-setting and time management. There is a key to everything.
Rubbish! That is just hype. There is no silver bullet. How can you claim there is a key to everything?
Well, let’s read Psalm 1.
This psalm contrasts two different pathways that affect everything, both now and for eternity. Two different pathways that determine whether or not our lives make any difference – whether or not we have any significance – and two different ultimate destinations. And it all depends on one thing.
Let’s start in the middle of the psalm, with verses 3 and 4. “They are like…” We will need to clarify who “they” are. For the moment, let’s just say “some people”. Some people are like what? Look at the image here. Some people are like trees planted by streams of water. It is a picture of lushness and health and fruitfulness. The next line says that this tree (or these people) yield their fruit in season. Their leaves don’t wither. Fruitfulness has its seasons. Sometimes we are more fruitful than others but the tree is always healthy. It is always lush and green. The leaves don’t dry up. It is drawing on the nutrients from that water and the soil and enjoying the life-giving powers of the sun. It is a picture of health.
A tree does not bear fruit for itself. It bears fruit for the benefit of others – the people who might eat that fruit or even the next generation of trees that grow because of the seeds in that fruit. These healthy trees are a blessing to others.
Whatever they do prospers. Their lives are always producing good things. Everything they do prospers. Does this sound like your life? Could it be?
There are no limits on these verses. They are not promising success in business only or academic success only. They are very general; whatever they do prospers. They simply talk about bearing fruit, whatever that fruit is. One person’s calling might be to be a mother and to shape the lives of her children. Another person might be called to work in business or in health or education. Another person might be called to work voluntarily, serving others. Someone else might lead a Bible study group. God is not limiting it. Whatever your field, there is one thing that will ensure your fruitfulness. So, I don’t think it is just marketing hype to say that this is the key to everything. Whatever they do prospers. Maybe it is our relationships that prosper. Maybe we do make a lot of money (although be careful about that one.) Maybe our fruitfulness is in seeing people come to know Jesus.
Now here is the contrast: that is true of some people but not so with others. This other group is called “the wicked” so that is a clue as to how we might understand these two very different groups. But look at the contrast. The image used for these other people is chaff – the dry, flaky husks that are winnowed off the grain and thrown into the air to blow away. On the one hand, the tree lush and green, deeply rooted, drawing up the water and producing healthy fruit that is a blessing to others. On the other hand, dry chaff that is utterly useless. The wind blows it away and, actually, people are pleased to get rid of it. Could there be a more startling contrast?
Remember, this is not talking about plants. It is talking about people. Some people are like the tree. Some people are like the chaff. Don’t we need to know what is the difference between these groups? Who does God see as the tree and who does He see as being as useless as chaff?
The contrast gets even sharper. It is not only a matter of what difference our lives make now; our eternity is also dependent on this one key. It effects forever. Look at verse 5 and 6. This psalm really is about everything – life and eternity.
The wicked will not stand in the judgement. We will all stand before God to be judged but one group of people will not come through that well. Neither will they be in the assembly of the righteous. There will be a great gathering of the righteous but these people will not be part of it. This is sobering. Eternal judgement is sobering. This should cause us serious thought.
Again, there is a sharp contrast, although it is not spelled out. Verse 6 simply says that God watches over the way of the righteous. God cares and protects and guides. God is the shepherd. It doesn’t talk about the ultimate destiny of the righteous. It doesn’t describe what the assembly of the righteous is going to be like. All this psalm does is contrast it with the destiny of the wicked. The way of the wicked is destruction so what are we meant to conclude is the opposite of that? Maybe we could say the options are death and life. Those over whom the Lord watches receive life. That is certainly a biblical way of expressing it. Or it is the contrast between heaven and hell.
OK, so there are these two groups but what is the difference between them? The psalmist has used the terms “the wicked/sinners” and “the righteous”. That seems straight-forward: good people/bad people. No, there is more to it than that. What does God actually say here? We need to go back to the beginning of the psalm to discover what this key to everything is.
Verses 3 and 4 describe the contrast in terms of the significance of our lives – fruitful or useless. Verses 5 and 6 describe the contrasting eternal destinies – life and death. Verses 1 and 2 describe the contrast that leads to these very different outcomes. This is the key. This is what makes all the difference. Verses 1 and 2 describe two starkly contrasting lifestyles. Actually, they describe only one group of people (the righteous) but they describe them in terms of what they don’t do and what they do do.
This group doesn’t do three things. These people, firstly, don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, or, do not live by the advice of ungodly people. Secondly, they don’t stand on the pathway of sinners. Thirdly, they do not sit in the seat of scoffers.
The contrast is with v.2. They delight in the law of the Lord and they meditate on it day and night. “The law of the Lord” could refer specifically to the first five books of the Bible – the books of Moses – but probably refers to the scriptures more generally. So, these people do not listen to the advice of the wicked; they listen to the word of God.
What shapes our understanding? How much are we influenced more by television, the internet, Facebook, magazines, podcasts? How do we decide what is right and what is wrong? How do we decide what our values will be? How do we decide on our priorities?
Consider one example: sexual ethics including all of the issues of sex outside of marriage, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, etc. etc. etc.. The reality is that many Christians have absorbed the values that bombard us all of the time through the media. Last Sunday, over morning tea, someone told me of Christians gathered for a prayer meeting, saying they have no problem with a pastor being gay. I can imagine many people saying “Well, yeah. So what?” because that is now generally accepted in our society. But that is the point here. Blessed are those who do not walk by the wisdom of this world but who go to the word of God.
Of the two categories of people described in this psalm, which one lives by the standards of the world? The wicked; those who are like chaff; those who will not be in the assembly of the righteous.
Secondly, blessed are those who do not adopt the lifestyle of sinners, who are not on the same pathway. If everybody else is doing it, maybe it is OK. Maybe it is OK to cheat on our taxes. That’s just the way you play the game. And, if everyone else is doing it, it can be hard to stand out as being different. We fear being different. We fear being labelled as goody-goods or prudish. There is a temptation to show that we are modern and broad-minded. But it is wrong and there are consequences.
Thirdly, blessed are those who do not sit in the seat of mockers. I want to play you something I hope will offend you. It is Richard Dawkins reading from Chapter 2 of his book, The God Delusion. (Play audio)
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
But you can find any number of examples on the internet of people being utterly scornful of God, of the Bible and of Christians. But the righteous person never scoffs at God or pooh-poohs what the Bible says.
On the contrary, he/she delights in the law of the Lord. He/she says, “I love the word of God. I love reading the word of God. I love it when God opens my eyes to new truths. I love doing the word of God.” There is nothing here that says the delight is limited to pondering the Bible. The law is not just something to be looked at. It is to be lived. This person says, “God’s ways are good. I delight in them.”
The righteous person also meditates on them day and night. At first glance that could sound like just sitting quietly and pondering the Bible, but if you do that day and night you will never get any work done. Mediating on it day and night means meditating on it in the context of everything we do. What does God say about my work? What does God say about my family and my marriage? What does God say about how I use my money and about sex?
Meditating implies that we have read God’s word, and that we are thinking about how to follow it. That is a good framework for our Bible reading: read, think, do.
What is the key to everything – the key to living a life that makes a difference, and the key to eternal life? It is not just about good people versus bad people because there are no good people. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. That is quoting from Romans and yet it is exactly the same message as in this psalm. God’s word is consistent throughout
There are no good people, only sinners who have put their faith in God and been forgiven. Those people know that God’s ways are best. They have chosen God’s ways. They delight in knowing what God says and doing it. They bring God’s word to bear on everything they do. It is obedience stemming from faith
This term we are going to look a lot more at the Bible because it is central to both abundant life and eternal life. But often there are obstacles. We perhaps don’t read the Bible as often as we would like or we struggle to get much of value out of it. I want to see if we can address those so that we all delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.