Using Scriptures in Our Lives
Using Scriptures in Our Lives
We're going to start today at the very beginning of the Psalter: Psalm 1. In many ways, Psalm 1 lays out the format for the entire Psalter. And, as we go through it, you'll see why.
Not too long ago, I read about a man who took a journey throughout the United States, polling different people, asking them what was the one thing they wanted out of life, more than anything else. What would you guess the majority of responses were? Money? Fame? Power?
Well the one response he got far and away above more than anything else was happiness. Everywhere he went, and he asked people, "What is it that you want more than anything else in life?" almost everyone without exception said, "Happiness." And then he asked about those other things, about money and fame and power. And they said, "Well, those things are means to that greater end. What we really want is happiness in life."
I think that most human beings throughout the world want happiness in their lives. For example, in the US, the Declaration of Independence states that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are human rights. And this culture, especially in the last thirty or forty years, has made the pursuit of happiness a national pastime.
The pursuit of happiness.
All you have to do is watch television and you see this. They say that if you buy that new Toyota Camry, you will be happy. If you take that vacation to Mexico, you will be happy. If you lose those extra ten pounds with Ultra Slim Fast, you will be happy. Even the advertisers know that, above all else, the one thing we want is to be happy.
But the question is—how do we go about finding that happiness? A lot of the things we do to find happiness are stimulating, but they're not satisfying in the long run. We chase after something and we grab it, but when we finally get it, we realize it didn't quite deliver up and deliver the happiness we thought we'd get.
Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. In New York City there are 8 million cats and 11 million dogs. As you know, New York City is basically just concrete and steel. So when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can't simply go out in the backyard and bury it. So, the city authorities decided that, for fifty dollars, they would come and take care of your deceased pet, and dispose of the carcass for you.
Well, this one lady was a little bit enterprising and she thought, "Hmm … what I can do is render a service to people here in the city and yet save them money." So she put an ad in the newspaper and said, "When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25."
What she did was this: she would go to the local Salvation Army and she would buy an old suitcase for $2. And then when someone would call her about their pet, she would go to their home. She would take the pet that was deceased. She would put it in the suitcase. And then she would go and ride the subway.
Now on the subway there are all kinds of thieves. And so what she would do is set the suitcase down, and then act like she wasn't watching. Eventually, somebody would come by and steal her suitcase. And she'd look up and go, "Wait. Stop. Thief."
My guess is the people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home. A lot of Americans are like that. We're chasing after happiness. We go and we grab what we think will give us happiness, and yet when we get it, it doesn't quite deliver.
Is happiness possible?
As I've thought about that the last couple of weeks, I thought, "Is it possible, is it really possible, to find happiness in this life?" And as I thought about that question, it drove me back to the Bible and back to the Old Testament and finally here to Psalm 1. Because here in Psalm 1, we will find a biblical understanding of happiness and how to achieve it.
Here at the very beginning of verse 1, he says, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." The word that the psalm starts out with is the word "blessed." There are a variety of words in the Old Testament which mean "blessed" but this one means "happy." It means to be completely happy.
And yet that raises the question: do they define happiness in the Old Testament like we do today, which is mainly as the absence of problems, pains, hassles, and headaches? No, I don't think so at all. In the Hebrew mentality, when they meant happiness, what they meant was a sense of satisfaction, a sense of joy, a sense of completion, a sense of fulfillment. It's not that life is without hassles or problems or pains. No, what the Psalmist is promising us here is a life of fulfillment, a life of satisfaction, a life that makes a difference.
Back in the fall of 1989, I started the final phase of my PhD program, and began working on my dissertation. For four years after that, I worked on my dissertation six days a week, sometimes seven days a week. In the process of doing my dissertation, if you had asked me if I was happy with it, I think it would have depended on when you caught me. Sometimes I would have said, "Yeah, I love it! This is great! I love it! It's wonderful!"
At other times, like last summer, when I was in the process of writing my fourth draft, if you had asked me if I was enjoying it, I would have said, "No I hate it! I can't wait 'til I'm done." When I finally finished it and defended it in December, if you'd asked me am I happy now that it's over, I would have said, "Oh yeah!" And a couple of days after I was done defending it, if you asked me am I happy I'm done with it, I would have said, "No, I'm depressed. I miss it."
See my circumstances were different throughout the whole process. Sometimes I loved it; sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I was happy; sometimes I wasn't. But if you asked me, "Am I fulfilled that I've done it now?" the answer is "Yes." Am I satisfied? Yes. Is it completed and am I satisfied with that? Yes.
How we can achieve happiness.
What the Psalmist is telling us here is that he wants us—and God wants us—to be happy, to be satisfied and fulfilled. That raises the question "How do we get that?" He tells us two ways here in this Psalm, and the first comes in verse one. Happy or fulfilled or satisfied is the man or woman who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. Interesting words that the Psalmist uses: "wicked," "sinners," "mockers." Most of us who are church folk, when we read these words in the Bible, we—or at least I—have a tendency to think of people who are very very evil, wicked people—people who are terrible people, dangerous people, scary people.
Newsweek magazine recently had a cover story on murder in the United States. They devoted about twenty pages to this story. I was perusing through Newsweek, reading this article, and it was pretty scary. They talked about an individual named Craig Price. He's only 21 years old. He's been in prison for about six years. He murdered four people before he was fifteen. He promises to make history when he gets out of prison. When we think of "wicked" and "sinners" and "mockers" that's what we generally think about.
But that's not who the Psalmist is describing at all here. No, when he uses the terms "wicked" and "sinners" and "mockers," what he's referring to are people who go throughout their lives without God. In other words, they're what I call "practical atheists." They can be good people, nice people, people that we have in our families, people we have in our neighborhoods, people we work with, people we play with. They're good people. They pay their bills; they go through life okay. But the one thing they do is always leave God out of the equation. He never enters into life. Practically speaking, they are atheists.
And what the Psalmist is telling us here is if we want a fulfilled life, a satisfied life, a happy life the way he describes it, the very first thing you and I need to do is remove the influence of these people in our lives. When it comes to the big decisions of life—the important decisions about who God is and how he wants to relate to us, about who we are and how we relate to others, about how we carry out marriage and friendship and parenting, about what we do with the money and the resources we've been given—when it comes to the big decisions, we don't want their influence in our lives because they leave God out of the equation.
These people aren't necessarily evil or wicked in the real terrible sense. They're the types of people who say it's okay to mess around in life as long as you practice safe sex. They're the voices out there that tell us that if you want to climb to the top, it'll cost you, and the cost might be your marriage and your kids. They're the voices out there that make fun of the Church and they mock its leaders and they want nothing to do with Jesus.
What the Psalmist says here is this: Don't try to avoid them, because you can't. Love them, yes. Serve them when you're in a position to do so. But if you want happiness, do not let them influence you on the big things of life. Because they always leave God out of the equation.
The second thing he tells us, in verse 2, is about if we want happiness or fulfillment or satisfaction. He says, but the happy man, the fulfilled man, his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. The word "law" here stimulates our minds in a certain way, doesn't it? When we think of "law" we often think of rules and regulations, or that term—"legalism." You have to do things this way. Stay within the boundaries.
But the word that's used here for law is the word "torah." And what it simply means is instruction, wisdom from God. In other words, what the Psalmist is telling us here is that God has given us instruction for living in his word. That this is torah, all the way from Genesis to Revelation. It is instruction on how to live life and how to do life and how to make good decisions. And what he says here is this: The happy person, the fulfilled man or woman, is the one who delights in torah, the whole counsel of God, who meditates on torah, the whole counsel of God.
What are some things in your life that you delight in? As I walked in today, I was talking to one of the guys. He mentioned the Bronco game. I can tell—he delights in the Broncos. I mean, I like the Broncos too, especially when they crush the Raiders. I delight in going for a nice walk on a summer evening. And of course I delight in almost any Star Trek episode. Those are things I delight in.
To delight in something means to take pleasure in it. The word he uses here at the second part of the verse, "meditates," is an interesting word. To meditate on something does not mean to read it or to study it or to memorize it. No, the word meditation already takes that into account. It's assuming that we've already done it. To meditate on something means to mull it over in our minds, to chew on it, almost like a cow chews on its cud. It means to think, to reflect, to focus on.
Experts tell us this: In conversation, we kind of phase out every seven seconds. We're only able to concentrate in a conversation for seven seconds before our minds wander. So, that means if you're paying attention to me, you're going to pay attention to me for seven seconds, and then you're going to space out to something else briefly. You might come back, but our minds work that way. Whatever it is that your mind goes to when you space out, that's probably what you're meditating on.
Some of you came in here this morning, and you're in love. So when you meditate, you think of the person you're in love with—whether it's your spouse or your boyfriend or your girlfriend—you meditate on them, you think about them. They're always on your mind. Some of you came in here this morning and you're in pain. And so when your mind slips away from what you're trying to concentrate on, it slips to the source, to the origin of your pain. It's what you're thinking about when you're working over the stove, or when you're stopped at a red light. That's meditation.
What the Psalmist tells here is this: If we want satisfied, fulfilled lives, what we have to do is take the whole counsel of God, and delight in it and meditate upon it. We have to reflect upon it and digest it and make it a part of our lives.
There's a story that's told about a farmer who lived out in the middle of Kansas who raised two sons. Both of his sons eventually joined the Navy and loved it. The farmer's brother was a psychologist, and he came to stay with him one day. They were having dinner and he said, "Listen I've got a question for you. You're a psychologist. You're a sharp guy. I want you to tell me something. How is it that a farmer living out here in the middle of Kansas, where there's almost no water, can raise two sons who eventually go off and join the Navy and love the Navy?"
The psychologist said, "That's a good question. I don't know if I can answer it. Let me think about it."
Well that night, he spent the night in those boys' rooms in that house. And the next morning when he got up, he came downstairs and he told his brother, "I think I've got an answer for you." He said, "I want you to come up to this room with me."
So, they walked into the boys' room and there on the wall—the first thing you see when you walk into the room—was a very beautiful, eye-catching picture. It was a picture of the sea, and in the middle of the sea was a ship. And he told his brother, "Now I want you to lay down on the bed, and tell me what you see when you get up from the bed." And he said, "I see the picture."
He said, "The first thing you see when you walk into this room is this picture, and the last thing you see is the picture, and the first thing you see in the morning when you get up is the picture of this ship on the sea." He added, "Did the boys have this picture for a long time?"
And the father said, "Yes, since they were about three years old."
And he said, "So what they saw was that picture of that ship on that sea."
See, if you think about a picture like that long enough, you might become a sailor. The point I'm trying to make is this: If you think about Scripture long enough, if you delight in it and you meditate upon it, you might become a saint. And what the Psalmist tells us is this—he says, I don't want you to take the short-term view; I want you to take the long-term view. Because satisfaction and fulfillment in life often come near the end, not in the middle.
The fruits of biblical happiness.
Look what he says here in verse 3 about the person who delights and meditates on the whole counsel of God. He says, "He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." In other words, the person who delights in the whole counsel of God—who meditates on it and makes that the basis of their life—they become as he says here, like the tree, nourished by that stream of water.
Now as you and I both know, trees do not grow up overnight. What the Psalmist is saying here is this: Let's look at our lives over the long haul. If we want satisfaction and fulfillment, we've got to look at it for the long haul. That means nourishing our lives over a long period of time with the whole counsel of God, and when that happens, then we grow into maturity.
I know a lady who's had, and continues to have, a great deal of influence in my life. She herself has had a very hard life—a lot of losses when she was young, a lot of pain in her life. She's the wisest person I know, and so I asked her one time, "How is it that you got so wise?"
She said, "I've studied a lot. And I've primarily studied two things: people, and the Scripture." She said, "When you've been studying people and studying the Scripture for forty years—that will make you wise." And she's had a tremendously fruitful life, where she's impacted hundreds of people.
Then the psalmist goes on to say, "Not only are you a tree which yields its fruit in season, but its leaf does not wither." Some people come to life and they're totally influenced by their circumstances. All of us are to some degree, but some people are completely influenced by circumstances. When circumstances are good, they're happy and there's sun shining. When circumstances turn bad, they turn bad. What the Psalmist is telling us here is that the person who delights in the whole counsel of God is going to recognize that it teaches that hard times come in life, that storms come, and yet in the middle of that, God stands with us and he can get us through it. And because of that, our leaf does not wither.
A friend of mine who lives back in Chicago, three years ago he lost two children in four months. Enormous loss for a parent; and yet his leaf has not withered. He's sunk his roots deeper into the Word. He has produced more fruit. He is a godly person who is making an impact.
And finally, the Psalmist says this: Over the long haul, someone who delights in the Lord, who keeps the evil influences out of their life, whatever he does prospers. A lot of times, in our culture, what we do is interpret that as making money, as affluence.
Just this morning, I was driving to church and next to me was a guy driving a brand-new Mercedes—a really nice, beautiful car. I coveted it a little bit. His license plate said, "tithe tithes." In other words, "I tithe and therefore God gives me this car." And I thought, "Hey, you know, I'm going to put a new license plate on my Volkswagen—'tithe for what'?"
I appreciate that gentleman's intention. But I don't think that just because we're godly people, God makes us rich. No, no, no. I think what the Psalmist is getting at here is this: He's talking about prosperity in the sense of getting those things from God that help us go through life and manage it well—like wisdom, discernment, insight, maturity, and stability—things that help us make an impact.
See, you can go through life and you can make a lot of money, and yet end up not making a life. Whenever I think of people like that, I think of two couples that I know who attend church here, and they have for a long time now. Both of the couples are in their mid-sixties now. I think if you asked them about their lives, they'd say, Yeah there was some heartbreak along the way. There were some tough times. Sometimes there was too much month at the end of the money.
But as I look at their lives now, and here they are in their mid-sixties, each couple's been married for over forty years. They've produced children who are Christians and are now producing grandchildren who are Christians. These couples have been very active in ministry for forty years. They've been active in education. They've impacted hundreds of lives.
And as I looked at their lives, I thought, "That's what life is all about. That's what the Psalmist is talking about here. These people are fulfilled and satisfied. They are happy because they built their lives on God's Word."
Now, the Psalmist says look at it over the long haul, and then he makes a contrast with the ungodly. Look at verses 4 and 5. He says, "Not so the wicked. They're like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous."
The picture he gives us here in verse four is of a threshing floor on a farm. They harvested all the grain and they carried it to the threshing floor in its stalks and put it on the floor. And they took this huge roller, it's like a big rolling pin, and they rolled it back and forth across the grain on the floor. The purpose of that was to crush the stalks and break them open so the grain could pour out. The workers would take pitchforks and pitch the stalks into the air and let the wind blow them away—because when the stalks have been crushed, the chaff will easily blow away, but the grain will remain.
People who leave God out of their lives, who don't build their lives on God's Word, at the end of their lives, they become like those stalks. They're just chaff. There's nothing to them, nothing substantial. They haven't made a good impact. You don't need to be a member of the mob or a drug addict or a bum on Skid Row to make a mess of your life. No, there are people who work in major corporations, who pay their bills, who raise families, and yet they come to the end of their life and there's nothing substantial left because they haven't built it on Scripture.
God tells us to build our lives on our relationship with Him and with other people, and to serve Him and to advance His kingdom. You can go through your whole life and not do that. And when you come to the end, it's nothing but chaff. They come to the end and ask themselves, "Is this what it's all about?" And the answer to that is "No" because according to verse 5, judgment is coming, and they will not stand in the judgment.
This life, biblically speaking, is preparation for the life to come. It's kind of like we're in a semester, you might say—the final exam is coming at the end of the semester, and the question is, "Are we going to pass or are we going to fail when it comes to the final exam?" And how we've lived our life up to the final exam determines whether we pass or we fail.
The Psalmist closes this instruction with a promise in verse 6. He says, "For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." So let's build our lives on the whole counsel of God. And remember that God will make us fulfilled. Because those who are practical atheists, who leave God out of the equation, live lives that ultimately lead to a dead end.
Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.