Let’s read the first verse of Psalm 1 again:
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers.
There is an environment in which blessing takes root and the psalmist draws our attention to it with these three parallel phrases.
Now, Hebrew poetry consists of a wide variety of parallelism and here we have an example of synthetic or additive parallelism, which means that these three phrases convey similar yet expanding meaning.
We have the development of thought along these lines:
- Walking in step with the wicked – which means that a person orders their life with the ways of wicked people
- Standing in the way of sinners – which means that they come to station themselves with those for whom sin is a habitual activity
- Sitting in the company of mockers – which means that they have settled into a community of defiance to or ridicule of God
There is a progression of relationship and activity here that the psalmist serves as a contrast with the life that is ‘blessed.’ These two elements – relationships and activities – form the environment in which blessing takes root.
I grew up in the agricultural heartland of the Midwest, near the headquarters of John Deere. Everyone knew about the cycle of plowing the soil, planting the fields, nurturing their growth, and then preparing for harvest. In summer, the corn’s growth was measured as on-target if it was “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” In late summer and early Fall, you could hear the whisper of corn growth blowing in the prairie winds. In Fall, if all the conditions of the environment were right, the harvest would happen. The right elements and conditions within the environment were critical to life springing up.
In like manner, if we want to grow toward life – toward blessing – the right elements and conditions are important. If we want to live into blessing, we must pay attention to the environment that we establish for growth.
Psalm 1 first of all tells us to pay attention to the relationships we establish for our lives. The psalmist is not urging his listeners toward some strange sort of separationist faith, here, but is highlighting the importance of our relational environment for blessing. We need to pay attention to the relationships that we have which most deeply feed and nurture our lives. Are the most critical and life-shaping relationships that we have with the sort of people who will fuel or hinder our growth with God?
Secondly, Psalm 1 calls us to give attention to our choices and activities in life. It is not only relationships that are part of our environment for blessing in life, but also the things we do and pursue, and the manner in which we engage in our relationships. Here, in Psalm 1, the movement tracks how we transition from walking to standing to sitting with negative relationships. The people who we establish our most critical, life-shaping relationships with will have great influence upon our lives. But we have a choice on how we engage with those relationships. We all need people at the center of our lives who we walk, stand, and sit with who are life-giving and help us grow with God.
A 2008 study of the ways in which people grow spiritually revealed that two of the four most important influencers for spiritual growth are related to the relationships we have with others, whether through activities within the church or activities happening outside of the church. The study showed that spiritual friendships, spiritual mentoring, and small groups all factor largely in the start-up and continuation of spiritual growth in people’s lives.
We are not meant to do life alone, we need others and we need to actively engage with some core, life-giving relationships that will help us enter into God’s best blessing for us.
While different in many ways, we are like plants in this characteristic: we were made to grow and we need the right sort of environment for growth to happen.
How could you step forward into God’s blessed life today?
What relationships do you have that help or hinder this?
What changes might you need to make with God’s help?
[This is the second in a series of posts on Psalm 1, which began here.]
 Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Follow Me (Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources, 2008).