This sermon is part of the sermon series "Txt Msg". See series.
I love in scripture. And I especially love Scripture when it gives me one of those really visual pictures. I'm a visual learner, so it's one thing to see a bunch of words on a piece of paper, but when I begin to see those words form into visual pictures it really, really helps me to comprehend things.
I think about the Psalm that says that God takes our sins and casts them as far as the east is from the west. That's such a powerful visual picture for me. When I mess up and I ask God's forgiveness, he chucks my sins so far that it never reaches the end of where it's going. Those visual pictures excite me about the Word of God. I love Revelation chapter 3 where we see all the people worshiping around the throne of God, and all of a sudden they get so upset because no one could open up the Lamb's book of life—the book that says who gets into heaven and who doesn't. They begin weeping because they can not get it open. And all of a sudden, in comes the Lamb! But it's not the pretty white lamb that we see so many times in kids' storybooks. It is the bloody slain Lamb—the visual picture of Jesus Christ on the cross. So as I think about "Txt Msg," as I think about Scripture as God's Word, I think about the power of visual, Scriptural pictures.
I want to take us to a Psalm 1. This may be one of the most visual Scriptures in all the Bible. I love it because it opens up God's Word but does so in such a way that whether you get it through hearing words or you get it through your eyes, you can see exactly what the Bible is talking about. The words paint the picture. No matter who you are, you're going to see yourself in the first Psalm.
Whether you've been following Christ for 40-plus years of your life or you're just so new in all of it you're trying to soak it in, Psalm 1 paints a picture of you. But Psalm 1 also does something else. Maybe you're here today and you don't even know why you came. Maybe you're not even sure you believe in God, or you've kind of put God on the shelf for a while, like Solomon did in the book of Proverbs. Psalm 1 takes this continuum of people and draws a picture such that if you're far left or far right or somewhere in the middle, you will be able to see yourself visually through what the psalmist wrote.
Let's take a look at this Psalm:
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or seat in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by the streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does, it prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like the chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
A tree planted by streams of water.
Let's look at the first visual picture: the tree planted by streams of water. To really understand what the psalmist is writing about, you've got to go back a little bit and understand what area of the world he are living in—in Israel: a very dry, dusty area. So a tree planted by streams of water was not a common sight there. Even by watching the news today, you can get an idea of what that region is like. I've thought about this on many of my drives to south Texas. Take south Texas times ten, and that's a lot what the region was that the psalmist was writing about. And I know all the times that I've driven in south Texas I don't recall seeing these incredible, enormous trees growing with full leaves and blossoms.
In the time this Psalm was written, the horticulturists of the day would find the rivers and streams, and they would actually plant trees along the riverbeds. As soon as you would come upon a river there, you would see rows and rows of these beautiful, incredible trees. The psalmist is saying, Blessed is the man who has a relationship with God. Blessed is the man who strives not only to live the way God wants him to, but to live in intimacy with God. That man is like a tree planted by streams of water. When you're in Jerusalem, and you see all that dry, dusty area, and all of a sudden you see a beautiful tree, it just sticks out! And the Bible says that the man who lives for God and with God sticks out above everybody else. And there's something that draws people to him saying, "I want to be like that."
Not only is it a beautiful tree, but the Psalm says that the roots run deep. When the storms of life come, even though those storms may be difficult, that tree stands strong. And so does the man who lives with God and for God and in intimacy with God.
I like the way Jeremiah 17:7-8 describes the same visual picture: "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that does send out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green." Jeremiah goes on to say that this God-trusting man "has no worries and never fails to bear fruit."
The chaff that the wind blows away
Would this picture characterize you? Because the Bible also describes the other extreme. The Psalmist says that those who don't walk with God—who don't abide in a relationship with God—are not like trees planted by streams of water. They are more like the chaff that the wind blows away.
I don't know a whole lot about farming and crops, even though I went to Texas Tech, but here's what I do understand: that when farmers harvest the wheat, the wheat is not ready to eat immediately. Here's what takes place: the farmers take the wheat once they harvest it and just let it lay and dry out for a few days. That wheat has a hull around it called chaff, and that chaff is not really good for anything. So after a few days of drying, the famers take a pitchfork and just toss that wheat up in the air. With the movement and the juggling and the shaking of the wheat with this chaff around it, the wind comes and literally separates the grain from the chaff. The grain, being heavier, falls to the ground, and the gentle breeze of Israel would just blow the chaff away. Rather than trying to do something with it, the farmers just let the wind just carry it away to be done with it.
Scripture draws us that picture here. The lives of those who don't walk with God are so meaningless, that there will come a day that God just winnows them, he separates them; he'll throw them up himself and let the wind blow them into nowhere. In Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist put it this way: "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gather his wheat into the barn, burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
So Psalm 1 gives us these visual pictures—these groups—into which literally every single person can be divided. You are either like the big, strong tree planted by the streams of water with full leaves—a tree that storms cannot blow down—because you have a relationship with Christ and are seeking to abide more and more in him. Or maybe you've put God up on the shelf thinking that you don't need him to live your life; you don't need to prioritize him. If so, God views you as the chaff that the wind will blow away, because he has no use for you.
Preparing the soil
There are only these two categories here, and all of us—no matter our age, no matter our gender, no matter our background—all of us fall in one of these two categories. Yet when I see these two visual categories, I feel a little tension in my soul. I know I have a relationship with Christ, and I try to live for him. I know I'm not like the chaff, because of his forgiveness and my relationship with him, yet I don't always feel like that tree planted by the rivers either. I don't always feel like I stand strong when the storms come my way. I don't always feel like I stick out as something so strong and vibrant in a dry land. So what does that make me, God? I think as we dig into this Psalm a little bit more, we'll come to a greater understanding of it.
Verses one and two read: "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the ways of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." Scripture gives us an insight: though you may have a relationship with God, you may not always feel like a tree because there are some negative factors in your life. Negative factors always inhibit growth. For those trees to be planted along the streams in Israel, someone had to have gone and moved the big rocks out of the way. Someone had to come put some mulch and soil there. Someone had to pull up any weeds that were there. Any negative factors had to be removed in order for the trees to grow. Scripture says here that we have negative factors in our lives, and we need to make sure those are removed if we're really going to have growth.
My wife and I have two teenagers right now, and we spend a lot of time in my family removing negative factors. If they're going somewhere on Friday night, we want to know who they're going out with. If they're supposed to be studying, are they? We find so much of our time spent managing behaviors. I think the same is true in our spiritual lives as followers of Christ. Psalm 1 says that we need to make sure we're managing our behavior. We need to make sure that we're not walking in the counsel of the wicked. We need to make sure that we're not standing in the ways of sinners, and we definitely want to make sure that we're not sitting in the way of mockers.
Ask yourself today: Are there negative influences right now in your life—whether big or small—that are inhibiting the growth of the tree of your spiritual life? I bet you can think of a few things to work on. I also bet that you can come up with a bunch of things you've done pretty good about taking out of your life. Here's why I mention that: while it is extremely important that we remove negative factors, I'm also concerned that in our spiritual life, in our intimacy with God, we spend more time just doing the "do not do these things" list—that that's what we focus our Christian life on. We focus pridefully on all of the negative things we've been able to avoid. We poke our chests out about what we've done, and we judge the people around us regarding those things.
While it's necessary to work on removing negative factors in our lives, we also need to be just as focused on putting the positive influences into our lives as well. Look what it says in verse 2: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." If we spent as much time meditating on God's Word day and night as we do trying to remove the bad things from our lives, I wonder what our relationship with God would be like. If I went out to my backyard to plant a garden, and I spent all my time pulling the weeds and taking the rocks out of the way, but I never watered it, I never put fertilizer on it, I never made sure the sun was shining on it, how well would that garden grow? My garden wouldn't grow well at all. It is just as crucial to make sure we're adding the positive things to our spiritual lives as it is to take away the negative things.
Chewing the cud
I love the visual word picture of meditating on God's Word in this Psalm. Now, meditating might sound a little intimidating—like it requires a lot of spiritual depth and maturity. But I want to break this word down for you, because when you see the visual picture it creates, it will really come alive. When the Psalmist wrote about meditating on God's Word, he's describing the same thing as when a cow chews its cud. Here's what it means to chew cud. A cow does not have enough enzymes to digest its food properly, so it has to chew the food, swallow it, regurgitate it, chew it some more, swallow it, regurgitate it again, and so forth. I read some research that says that cows chew their cud almost thirty thousand chews a day! What would our spiritual health be like if we took a nugget of God's truth on one morning and we chewed on that thing thirty thousand times? Let's go easy. What if we chewed on that twenty times a day? What if we took that truth and we chewed on it three times a day? If a cow doesn't chew its cud, before long the cow becomes so sickly, it will end up dying. This is what the Psalmist is telling us. It's time to start chewing on God's Word. It's time to start taking God's Word and digesting it in your own life. So what does that look like?
Practical helps for your meditation
I want to share with you how I meditate on God's Word. This isn't prescriptive for you, but maybe it can offer a helpful picture. First, I believe that if you're going to really meditate or chew the cud, you need to get a Bible that you love. I say that because the Bible is more than just a book; it is God's word to you. When I was in junior high school I had a youth pastor who really helped begin to show me the importance of God's Word. One of the first things he did for me was buy me a Bible and a special book cover. Now, I already had a Bible, but he said, "This is a new day in your life. I want this to be God's love letter to you." I don't use this Bible anymore, because it's just worn out. It's full of notes that people have written me, it is full of highlighted verses, but I hang onto this Bible; this the Bible I love. If there is a fire in my house, this Bible is one of the first things I'm going to grab.
As you start reading this love letter from God, ask him to give you delight in it. Some people love to read, and some people don't. But this is the word that God gave us to read. Maybe your confession today is simply, "God, help me even to love reading more so that I can love your Word." And make sure you have a Bible that you love.
The second thing I recommend for meditation on Scripture is that you find a place in your day to take the first bite. We live in such a fast-paced life that we just go, go, go, go, go. We grab our breakfast on the go, we grab our coffee on the go. And we try to make spiritual growth more convenient; we often take our spiritual bites on the go. Now, meditation is something that you want to do throughout the day as you go, but I firmly believe this: if you never stop and slow down enough to really take the first bite, you'll never have anything to chew on. Think about the cow analogy. If the cow is trying to eat the grass while it walks and walks and walks, it will never have enough nourishment, enough grass, enough vegetation in its stomach to ever regurgitate and chew the cud. It has to first stop and eat. After it's got a bellyful, then it takes it and chews the cud as it goes. So make sure you find a spot to take the first bite.
Growing up in my parents' house, I would always have my quiet time with God while laying diagonal on my bed. I'm not sure how that started, but it became my routine, so that when I hit that spot, all the rest of life stopped, and I knew it was me and God time. Find a spot where you know it's you and God time. Maybe it's in your backyard or somewhere in your house. My father had a table that was worn in places where he met God every day.
This week I asked a mom I know, "Where do you meditate?" She's got four kids at home that she home schools. She said, "You know where my spot is? I go in the bathroom and shut the door." And that is where she meets God. I'm sure every mom in here of school age kids will amen that one in a heartbeat, won't they? Everyone needs a spot where they can meet God—even if you can be there for just a few minutes each day.
Thirdly, when I have my time in the morning with God, I always make sure I get my tools. Be sure you get your tools. Now, here are my tools: the Bible I love, a journal, and a red and blue pen. This is just something I learned a few years ago, but as I ponder Scripture and regurgitate it and journal, I use the blue pen when I'm writing to God. But because a relationship with God is always a two-way street, I make sure I'm listening to him as well. And when God says things to me through his Scripture, I write it down with red pen. Here is how this helps me: if I look back over two or three days in my journal as I've been regurgitating and chewing the cud, if all I is blue ink, I can see that I've done all the talking. I'm learning to find a balance in my life of needing to talk to God, and needing to listen to him.
I want to read a sample page out of my journal for you so you can get a better idea of how I do it. At the top of this page I wrote in blue, "Good morning, Lord. I give you all of me. Now's not the time to relax and let my spiritual focus down, I am yours." And then I started reading his Word and I ran across this verse, which I wrote down in red: "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." Now, notice the honesty and transparency before God in the next part: "I am weary. I don't feel like bearing fruit." Do you ever feel that way? I don't think it's harmful to be that honest with God; I think it's actually beneficial to us. And as I pondered, I wrote, "When did bearing fruit, making the most of every opportunity, and doing good become an option when I feel like it? I am yours." So I began the conversation with God, and then he gave me some meat to chew on. I meditated on it, and on that particular day, that verse went through my mind over and over and over. So for me, journaling is really helpful. If I hadn't written down my conversation with God, by the next day, I would have forgotten that verse. And so the journal helps me flip back through day after day. Sometimes in the evening I'll go back and see what I wrote that morning, and I'll write some more things down. So find what's helpful to you in meditating on Scripture, and make sure to have those tools with you.
And once you've gotten your Bible, found a spot to take the first bite, grabbed your tools, the last thing is to just relax. Sometimes we want to hear from God so much that we almost stress about trying to connect with him and hear what he has to say. We put so much stress on ourselves that we can miss him in the process. As I mentioned, there are days in my journal that you'll see only blue writing. I think that on some of those days I'm just talking too much and God is saying, "Keith, be quiet." And I think some days God just doesn't have anything to say directly to me. Maybe he wants me to see what I'm going to do with what he told me the day before. But when I get so stressed out saying, "Well, God, I did my part. Talk to me, talk to me, talk to me. What are you going to say? What are you going to say to me?" I almost create this tension. It's like when a couple is trying to communicate with each other, but they're so intense on communicating that they miss the heart of it. And so my last suggestion based on what I've learned in my time with God is to just relax.
I love Jeremiah 29:13, especially in the Message translation: "When you come looking for me," God says, "you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me, and you want it more than anything else, I'll make sure that you won't be disappointed." If you feel more like a sapling tree today—more like a tree that's about to get blown over in the storm and not like the big tree that Psalm 1 talks about—God says this: Find delight in me. Find delight in my Word. Meditate on it day and night, and I will so fill you with the streams of living water that in time you will find me.
Wouldn't it feel good to just drink God's Word—to just meditate and chew on it? I don't think there's any cow out there that looks at the cow next to him and says, "I've been watching the way you chew the cud and I think you've got it down better than I do," or, "I sure wish I could chew cud that way." I think cows just do what comes natural to them. So meditate on God's Word and rest. Find the Bible you love, get your tools, relax, and find delight in God's Word. His Word will come to life for us.