The Environment of Blessing [Psalm 1, part 2]

Psalm 1

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.[1]

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]


[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Follow Me (Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources, 2008).

Living Blessed [Psalm 1, part 1]

Psalm 1.jpg

The book of Psalms in the Old Testament is a collection of prayers and songs that show us what it looks like to live a life with God. The psalms were used in the worship of the people of Israel, both in the Temple and later in the synagogues. The Christian church continues to utilize the Psalms as avenues of prayer and worship to God.

This week, I want to walk through some reflections on Psalm 1. This psalm sets the tone for the entire book of Psalms by contrasting two different ways of life: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Or, to put it more plainly, the way of growing life with God or the way of atrophy apart from God. Let’s look at the first verse:

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.

Psalm 1 begins with an important biblical word: blessed. The word ‘blessed,’ as one Bible teachers says, basically “means ‘happy’ in the rich, full sense of happiness rooted in moral and mental and physical wellbeing.”

Being ‘blessed’ is to have the fullness of God’s joy brought into our lives.

Throughout the psalms this idea of being blessed shows up in relation to the way a person lives their lives:

  • “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” (Psalm 32:1)
  • “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud.” (Psalm 40:4)
  • “Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law.” (Psalm 94:12)

Throughout the psalms, both in these other places and in Psalm 1, the concept of being blessed is a gift from God. On the one hand it is a direct gift from God of His goodness into our lives, while on the other hand it is the indirect result of God’s guidance when we live life in a way that reflects God’s truth. Either way, whether directly or indirectly, blessing is a gift from God.

In Psalm 1, the emphasis found in the contrast calls us to a recognition of a powerful idea: there is a way of living that actually brings us into God’s greatest generosity and goodness to us. As we continue with Psalm 1, we will receive an even more full picture of the blessed life.

[This is the first in a series of posts on Psalm 1.]

The Beatitudes and What it Means to be “Blessed”

Sadao Watanabe, The Sermon on the Mount, 1963.

As the Sermon on the Mount begins, Jesus offers a series of sayings that begin with a simple phrased “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…” This pattern continues over the course of nine sayings as Jesus offers insights into what it truly means to be blessed.

Jesus did not invent this sort of pattern of teaching. It was common to have sayings like this, both in the Bible and in other wisdom or philosophical traditions. In fact, Jesus draws upon a rich tradition of such sayings about what the blessed life looks like. We hear this in other parts of Scripture, especially in Psalms and Proverbs. One example is Psalm 1, which begins:

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked… (Psalm 1:1)

Such sayings aim to describe what a blessed, or good, life looks like. They hold up an ideal toward which we should aspire but also a reality that is accessible now in our lives through God’s grace.

Each of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5:3-12 begin with the Greek word μακάριος. The Latin translation of that word is beatus, which is where the name “Beatitudes” for this section comes from. Because this word, μακάριος, is so central to this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, it is incredibly important to understand its meaning. It literally means: “blessed, happy, it will go well with, fortunate, or flourishing.”

The μακάριος life is what we would describe as “the good life.” But it is not just a generally good life in the abstract. The μακάριος life is a good life that is rooted in God. From the inclusio – the bookends – in verses 3 and 10, which say, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we see that Jesus is using these μακάριος statements as a summary description of what life in God’s kingdom is all about.

Jesus’ μακάριος statements place before us a description of what the kingdom life with God looks like; a life that is fortunate, flourishing, happy…blessed. Simultaneously, the μακάριος statements are a gracious invitation to enter into that sort of life – to move toward that sort of life – with God now.

Think with me about the people who have begun to throng around Jesus that we heard about at the end of Matthew 4. They were everyday people, like the fishermen, but there were others – the sick, the poor, the demon-possessed, those suffering severe pain, those with seizures, the paralyzed. These are just everyday people with everyday problems.

Now, the prevailing mindset in Jesus’ day was that when you had problems like this, then there was something wrong with you. People like this, it was thought, were most definitely not blessed and were perhaps either being judged or cursed by God. Definitely, it was thought, God didn’t want anything to do with people like that. But Jesus says, “Well, that’s not the way it is. Turn around, pay attention. God’s kingdom is right here. Come on in and find your place. God is bringing a future blessing in the fullness of time. But even now you are blessed. So live into that blessed life day after day.”

Re-speaking God’s Good Words

Gods-blessing.jpg

If blessing means “to speak good words over something or someone,” what a powerful message of blessing comes to us from Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:3-14. He tells us that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3). Every spiritual blessing. Just that one word sets the tone of this entire letter. God has not held anything back but pours out the full extent of all His blessings upon believers. So, God speaks good words to the full extent possible upon us. Paul enumerates those blessings one after another:

  • chosen before creation
  • predestined to adoption to sonship
  • redeemed through Christ’s blood
  • forgiveness of sins
  • lavished with God’s grace
  • knowledge of God’s will
  • sealed with the Holy Spirit

It seems not that Paul has run out of blessings to mention, but rather that he has run out of room in the sentence he is writing to contain any more blessings. God speaks all these good realities into us through Christ.

If God speaks so many good words – so many blessings – over our lives, why is it that we speak so many bad words over our lives and the lives of others? Why is it that we fill our moths, our ears, and our lives with all so many negative messages? Why do we erode the abundance of God’s blessings through the poisonous waters of human cursing and negativity?

If God speaks so many good words over our lives, what might it mean to know those good words and to echo them into our lives by recounting them and speaking them forth daily? The old hymns says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” Counting our blessings first of all means knowing those blessings, some of which Paul listed for us in Ephesians 1. We need to know the content and significance of the good words that God has spoken over our lives. Secondly, it means speaking those good words over our lives again and again. Maybe today we just pick up those words of blessing and say, “I have been lavished with God’s grace. I’ve been forgiven. I’ve been redeemed in Christ.” When we re-speak God’s good words over our lives it keeps us centered in what is true. Thirdly, counting our blessings means giving God praise with our mouths for the blessings He has given to us. God blesses us and we bless Him back. God speaks good words over us and we speak good words over Him in return.

When we not only hear the blessings of God but re-speak them over our lives, our outlook changes. We are not limited by our circumstances but are transformed through the truth of God’s blessings. Even if many things do not change, we know who we are and whose we are in God through Christ.

Chaff

Rooted sermon slideI concluded our series, “Rooted,” from Psalm 1 this weekend at Eastbrook Church. My message, “Chaff,” looked at the final three verses:

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the 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 leads to destruction.

You can listen to my message, “Chaff,” at the Eastbrook web-site here. You can also follow the RSS feed for Eastbrook sermons or follow Eastbrook Church on Twitter or Facebook. My message outline is included below:

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