Psalm 1 “Mirror to the Soul: An introduction and invitation”

February 5, 2018

Series

Psalms

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Bible References

  • Psalm 1:1 - 6

Summary

Brand new study

Today we will begin a brand new study in the Psalms. There are 150 psalms in the book of Psalms written by a variety of people. King David who wrote the most at 73, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Heman the Ezrahite, Ethan the Ezrahite and the Sons of Korah. The Psalms were written over the course of hundreds of years and compiled together to form a hymnbook of sorts for the Jewish people. The use of the Psalms is both corporate and personal. We read the Psalms here on Sunday mornings in the same way that Israel used the Psalms 3,000 years ago when they gathered together to worship.

Personal use

And we also use the psalms for personal study and reflection. This is because the content of the psalms gives us a mirror into the human condition and it also brings people together to worship the Creator King. It helps us understand ourselves better and to understand God better. So it navigates through the soul to discover what is in there that may restrict our worship. And then the Psalms compel us to once again worship and adore the Lord together.

Broad picture

This will be both an introduction to the book of Psalms as a whole and also an invitation to go on this journey together. The invitation will come from Psalm 1 that we will get to in a bit.

First off, let’s paint a broad picture of the Psalms.   There are multiple authors that contribute to the book and there also a variety of styles or types of psalms. There are hymns, songs of confession (Psalm 51), wisdom psalms (or songs that highlight wise living), Messianic Psalms (songs that point us to the Christ), imprecatory psalms (songs that cry out for justice), enthronement psalms (the Lord is King), laments (my life is so hard right now, won’t you do something to help me?), thanksgiving psalms (joyful expression of gratitude for God answering prayers), and historical psalms (psalms that detail Gods’ work in history).

Expressing the human experience

So you can see that the psalms are meant to give expression to any and every experience a human being could ever go through. It is “a mirror of the soul,” as Tremper Longman says. If you are happy, there is a psalm for you. If you are down, there is a psalm for you. If you want justice to be served, there is a psalm for you. If you need to be gut wrenchingly honest with God, there is a Psalm for you. And on and on the list goes. The Psalms do not tell us what to feel. They help us express what we are feeling. They give language or words to feelings that are not easy to put into words.

For this reason, and many others, the Psalms are an enormous blessing to us. Hassel Bullock says this of the psalms, “Wherever an individual finds himself on the journey of faith, the Psalms provide a place of rest and a time of repose and reflection, as well as stimulus to send him on his way.”

Written by people

The reason that the psalms are so intensely personal is because the psalms are written by people, persons (from which we get the word “personal”).   They were born of out of real life experiences. So Moses says in Psalm 90, “Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Why does Moses say this? First of all, it true. Second of all, He has seen this to be true.

Egypt and beyond

He was there in Egypt when God’s people were slaves. God was their dwelling place then. And when the people are brought out of Egypt, God leads them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God is their dwelling place in the dessert. And God will become their dwelling place in the Promised Land. Our home is God. He is our dwelling place, or as Paul says, Christ is your life. You are seated with Him no matter where you move your couch. Moses writes of what He has experienced.

Caves and poetry

Another example of this intensely personal nature of the psalms is Psalm 3. David has fled from his son Absalom. So David says, “Many are my foes! Many rise against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you o’ Lord are a shield about me. I lay down and slept; I woke again for the Lord sustained me…” He says something very similar in Psalm 142, when he is in a cave. “With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord…” These psalms are born of out of real life situations.

Prayer for all seasons

And this is the message: Prayer is for all seasons, situations and circumstances of your life. Prayer is not something we need to get ourselves dressed up for. We come as we are in prayer. Or we pray where we are now. And the circumstances of our life will shape the way we pray. And that is what makes prayer dynamic and unpredictable. We are taught by the psalms to pray from the heart and mind with authenticity. Paul echoes this in Ephesians 6:18, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication….” In other, words pray in a variety of ways within a variety of circumstances.  Pray without ceasing.

The invitation of Psalm 1

So with that brief introduction, let’s get into the invitation of Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is called a wisdom psalm. It highlights wise kind of living. Two types of people are represented here. The blessed man or person who delights in the law of the Lord. And the wicked person who does not. One scholar calls Psalm 1 the gatekeeper to a literary sanctuary of the 149 psalms that follow. The physical sanctuary in Jerusalem had a gatekeeper who permitted the righteous to enter into the worship gathering. However the unrighteous or the wicked were not permitted to enter. That is the idea here.

The wicked made worthy

Those who love God are welcomed into the literary sanctuary of the psalms. Those who do not love God will not enter into this sanctuary. This does not mean that the wicked person has no chance of changing or becoming blessed. The wicked are also invited to enter the presence of the Lord through Christ making people un-wicked and worthy to enter. And that is where we will end up at the end of the message.

2 categories

These are the 2 categories of people in the world, Psalm 1 says: Those who love God or delight in the law of the Lord and those who do not. Let’s begin with the first kind of person. The psalmist says, “blessed is the man (or the righteous person) who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….” This is not necessarily a path to the blessed life. Like if you do or do not do certain things, you will be blessed. It is more comprehensive then that.

Fixed and dynamic

The word blessed is both a fixed thing and a dynamic thing. The blessed person will not do these things and the blessed person will be blessed by not doing these things! He or she will be happily blessed in not doing certain things. So the nation of Israel was blessed through the covenant made with Abraham. And the people would maintain their happiness, their blessed state through obedience. That is the idea here.

The influences

To not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers is to remain un-influenced by the wrong things. It points to layers or levels of influence.

So it could be illustrated like this: you are going for a walk and you see someone else going for a walk and so you walk with that person. And then you arrive at that person’s house and you stand and have a conversation with that person. And then that person invites you inside for glass of ice water. So you sit down in the person’s living room. You have gone from walking to standing to sitting. And the idea here is don’t do any of those things with the wrong people or influences. Avoid the influences of certain people. That is very wise and you will be happy or blessed in doing that.

Counsel, way and seat

This does not mean that we don’t meet our neighbors or have conversations with non-believers. The Psalmists points instead to 3 things to avoid: the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners and the seat of scoffers. This is a perspective, a lifestyle, a way of thinking or behaving that we are to avoid.   There is counsel all over the place. People are telling people how to think through twitter, blogposts, Facebook and television. It is a very opinionated world. Blessed people are not following those trends or living a lifestyle that may be common to everyone else around you.

Delighting in the law

Instead, His delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law He meditates day and night. So notice what is lacking here. The blessed person is not folding his hands in disgust or shaking his head in anger at the messiness of the world. This person is delighting is something else: in the law of the Lord. His or her mind is transfixed on the beauties of God’s law. He in fact does not stop thinking about it, musing over it, day and night.

Delightful

Now we have a few instructions or standards in our home. I have never casually or accidently overheard any of our sons, musing over the instructions to brush their teeth or wear their hat when it’s 10 below. I have not heard them say, “man, I am just amazed at how much my dad loves me. He told me to wash my hands before dinner. Incredible!” Maybe that is happening but I have never heard it. And I wonder if very many of us think of the law of God as something to delight in or something we find “delightful.” And yet the psalmists, says here that the blessed person delights and meditates on the law of God. Why?

Love           

I think the answer boils down to one word: love. The blessed person loves the Lord and therefore delights in the law of the Lord. He is so connected to the law Giver that the law itself becomes an expression of God’s love. (God loves me; He is speaking to me!) The blessed understands Who God is and that knowledge of Who God is leads to obedience and even love for what God says.

Before the law

Before the 10 commandments are given in Exodus 20, God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Why does he start with that? Because that knowledge of what God has done is necessary for obedience to what God has said. This is not blind obedience. This is eager and informed obedience. It is a response to being loved by holy God. God loved us first. We love Him in response and that love leads us to obey.

If you love me

This is what Jesus said in John 14:15, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He does not say, If you keep my commandments, you will love me. That would be man’s attempt to be good without the power to be good. God first loves us. Then we love Him and that love leads us to obey from the heart. And that is why the blessed man delights in the law of the Lord: because He delights in and loves the Lord of the law.

Like a tree

The blessed person who delights in the law of the Lord is “like a tree planted by the streams of water, that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.” So let’s think about trees for a minute. A tree does not have wheels or legs or tracks or anything else that helps things move. It has roots. It is a fixed thing.   It does not go from one place to the next. This does not mean that the blessed person never moves or transplants to a new town or leaves the country.   It points to an inward stability, a solidness, fruitful living wherever you are. The blessed person, like the tree, has a source of life and vibrancy and it never moves from that Source.

2 more things

2 more things to notice here: First of all, a tree does not decide where to be planted. It has no say in the matter. So it cannot take any credit for its proximity to a water source. Second, these streams of water do not point to a natural river flowing through a dessert. It points to an irrigated water source, a canal of sorts. So 2 incredible things have happened here. The tree has been planted next to a water source that has been dug out.

The big picture

And this is the big picture. We are born like trees with no water. God sends Jesus to bring water to the dessert, to bring life where there was death. And Jesus finds us, causes us to be born again, blesses us and plants us next to Him. He in fact attaches us to Him and becomes our Source of life and vibrancy. So there is no room for arrogance in the mind of the tree. These are humble trees. These are Bob Ross kind of trees. Happy little planted trees that are glad to be next to the water.

Fruit in its season

This tree yields its fruit in its season. It does not get stressed out by the lack of fruit bursting from its branches in January. It accepts the fruit appropriate to the season. If you walk up to an apple tree in the winter trying to find fruit, you will be disappointed. It won’t be there. Why? Because it’s not the time for it. Come back in July and you will probably find some. This is not because the tree is dead in the winter and alive in the spring. It is because the tree endures seasons of the year and responds appropriately. “For everything there is a season,” the Teacher says in Ecclesiastes 3 and “a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Measures of fruit

So the obvious fruitfulness in your life right now does not determine whether or not you are alive or whether or not you are planted by the streams of water. There will be a measure of fruitfulness based on the season of your life. Fruit for you this year might be changing the diaper for the 11th time today (before lunch). Or it may be leading a Bible study.  Our task is to simply delight in the law of the Lord, to be content planted by the streams of water and to bare fruit in keeping with the season of our life.

More on fruit

What would be the fruit for the sick: probably not world evangelism. Bearing fruit would probably look more like patiently enduring suffering or learning to lean on God. What does fruit look like for a mom or dad raising kids. Probably not leading multiple ministries and making an impression on the evangelical world. It will probably look more like being kind and tender and patient with your kids. When we think of fruit, sometimes it is easy to jump right to being an awesome Christian who does awesome and noticeable things. But fruit is first a quality within us given by the Spirit that then manifests itself in whatever ways the Spirit chooses.

The wicked

There is a contrast introduced in verse 4. “The wicked are not so.” The wicked are not planted or fixed or vibrant. They bare no fruit because they are not alive. Instead the wicked are like chaff that the wind drives away. Chaff was the leftover husk and shell after the grain had been threshed. So the pitchfork goes down into the grain and is thrown into the air and the wind blows away the husk or chaff and the grain falls the ground.

Not living

The chaff is not a living thing. It is dry and unattached to life giving soil. It is without any substance. It cannot absorb water. And this is what the wicked person is like. He or she is without life, without the Source of life.   The contrast here is remarkable. You have a well-watered, consistently irrigated tree that survives droughts and weird weather patterns and maintains its life in every season. And then you have a husk that is blown away by the wind.

Overstated point?

Now is the psalmist being hyperbolic or overstating his point here? Are non-believers really just husks that look sort of alive and then simply blow away in the wind proving that they are not alive? Well let’s think about it for a minute. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, death entered the world. People were given a time clock for how long they would live. Humans would be subject to decay and death. And this is what we see now. The body breaks down. The body returns to the earth. We will look more like husks than living things.

We need life

And I don’t say this to be morbid. I say this to be in keeping with the psalmist. Things are not good unless something radically changes. We need an eternal water Source. We need a new body. We need a new start, a rebirth. And that is what the Psalmist is getting at without using the New Testament language. We need water within us, life within us and that is what the gospel offers us.

Do you remember what Jesus told the woman at the well?   “You’ve been coming down to the well to get water to keep your husk alive. You are thirsty and need water. That is fine. But I am here as the Water of life so that even when your husk is blown away by the wind, a spring of water will well up within you to eternal life.”

Planted now and then

Psalm 1 points us to that eternal state. The wicked will not stand in the judgment. They will be the judged. Sinners will not be in the congregation of the righteous. There will be a separating of the wheat and the tares. Those who are not planted in God now will not be planted in God then. So he is not referring only to life now but the eternal state as well. The Lord knows the way of the righteous now that leads to eternal life then but the way of the wicked will perish.

What do you see?

So these are 2 contrasting people and 2 contrasting paths: the blessed and the wicked. If the psalms are a window to the soul, what do you see in there? What person do you more identify with? The blessed person or the wicked person? The tree or the husk? If you think of yourself as blessed or as fruit yielding tree what are some things in your life that do not reflect that true nature? This is not meant to make people feel inadequate and self-loathsome. This description of a blessed person is a standard to strive for. We are to delight in the law of the Lord and flourish.

The questions

The questions we are to ask ourselves is what kind of counsel do I live by? Who or what has the most influence in my life? Are they good influences? If I am a tree planted by streams of water, am I seeking to find water or life from some other source than God Himself? This description of a planted tree is meant to bring stability and vibrancy to our life. It is an invitation to be who you are: Bloom, abide, delight in God. Be the happy, blessed, (Bob Ross) tree that you are.

The other category

For the person in the category of wicked, sinner and scoffer, there are also some questions to ask. How’s it going? How’s life? Do you really feel like you are capable of handling things on your own, leading yourself, following your own way? And how confident are you that you are right and God is wrong? What is the substance of your life beyond your house, bank account, toys or even family? Do you feel like there is something living in you that will keep on living right through the death of the husk? Or do you get a sense that there is no bright future ahead for you?

The invitation

Here is the invitation for you: do not stay where you are. Come. Isaiah 55, Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 6  “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Possible through Jesus

This entrance into God’s presence is made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ.   Jesus left the sanctuary of heaven so that the lost could be brought into heaven. Jesus was treated like a sinner so that sinners could be treated like sons and daughters. Jesus was scoffed at so that scoffers could become worshippers of the one true God. This is the gospel. Believe and be blessed. Let’s pray.


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