The Key Nutrient of Blessing [Psalm 1, part 3]

Psalm 1

When Kelly and I were newly married we had a knack for killing the house plants we had in our apartment. One day, we saw one of our neighbors, an elderly woman named Elsie, digging a plant we had killed out of the dumpster. We watched as she took it back in her apartment, left to wonder what she would do with the pot or how she might reuse the soil. It was only later that Kelly discovered that Elsie’s apartment was filled with house plants that she had carefully nurtured back to life. Every plant needs healthy nutrients to experience life. Without those required ingredients, it will die.

The same is true in the spiritual life. The first two verses of Psalm 1 set the tone of how God brings blessing – life – into our lives. Pay attention to verse two with me for some insight into the nutrients required.

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,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

If the environment for growth is related to our relationships and our activities or choices, then the psalmist shows us that the essential food for growth is the Scripture or, as stated here, ‘the law of the Lord.’

The word here is literally the ‘Torah of Yahweh.’ The Torah could refer literally to the law of Moses, or the first five books of the Bible. It is more likely here, however, that the phrase refers to the instruction God gives to human beings for their guidance and livelihood. It does not seem like too far of a stretch to include the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, as relevant to this Psalm.

The Psalmist tells us that, in contrast to one who takes up wicked and ungodly relationships that slowly drag them down into a life of ruin, the truly ‘blessed’ person – the person who experiences the full joy of God’s plans for humanity – is the one who takes delight in and meditates upon God’s instruction.

There are some who come to the Bible with a sense of weariness day by day. Surely, there are times when it is hard work and discipline to get focused on reading the Bible, but the writer’s description here is quite different.

The psalmist says this reader of God’s instruction finds delight in it daily.  Because the Scripture is the powerful and truthful instruction of God, it is not just something we have to read but it is actually a source of deep joy and life for us. It is the place where blessing is found. If we really believe that the Bible contains the instruction of God, we will soon be able to exclaim words similar to those found in Psalm 119:

I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches….I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:14, 16)

Secondly, we come to the Scripture to meditate upon it. Meditation doesn’t mean that we hit some gongs and sit in the lotus position. What it means is that we consider it deeply. We do not simply read it and pass on, but we take time to mull it over. We read it and chew on it, as one author says, like a dog chewing on a bone or like a child who could read the same short book over and over again. We allow our minds to be deeply shaped by the instruction of God instead of by the foolishness of the wicked, or sinners, or mockers mentioned in verse 1.

When we take delight in and meditate upon the Scripture it becomes the food by which we grow in experiencing the blessed life with God. It becomes the source by which, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Like a plant, we were made to grow. But we need to have the essential food for growth or we will not grow at all.

Would you say you are getting the right nutrients for blessing in reading Scripture regularly?

What hinders you most from finding delight in reading God’s word?

What might it look like to take a step forward in reading Scripture regularly?

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

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).

Why the Psalms are Essential for Spiritual Growth

When I am asked where a good place is to start reading the Bible, I often refer people to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John), Paul’s letters known as Ephesians or Galatians, or the book of Exodus. Inevitably, however, I always encourage people to spend time in the book of Psalms. In fact, I have come to believe that the Psalms are essential for spiritual growth.

In the psalms, we learn how to connect with God through important spiritual practices of Scripture reading and prayer. The psalms are first of all part of God’s inspired word and, thus, reveal to us the character of God. As we read the psalms, we understand who God is and what it looks like to relate to Him. But the psalms are also the prayerbook of the Bible, teaching us how to hear God and respond to Him in prayer. The psalms bring together these two powerful resources—Scripture and prayer—like two wings that help us fly toward God in the spiritual life.

In the psalms, we also learn how to bring our whole selves to God. When you read the psalms, you will see both intellectual and emotional aspects of life brought into God’s presence. The thoughtful reflection upon the significance of God’s revelation in Psalm 119 sits right alongside the deep emotional heart-cries of Psalms 22 and 69. Not only that, but the entire range of human experience is captured in the psalms, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. The psalmists are not afraid to bring fear, delight, shame, exuberance, repentance, and restoration into prayer with God. As we read and pray the psalms we learn that we, too, can bring our whole selves to God.

While there are many ways to read and pray the psalms, I would encourage two different approaches that I have found helpful. The first method is to read one psalm per day, while sometimes breaking up longer psalms into two or more days. After, or even while, reading the psalm, one can pray back to God all or portions of the psalm to God. If there is a verse that sticks out to you, stick with it in prayer. If the whole psalm captures you, then pray it all back to God. For example, the beloved Psalm 23 is an easy psalm to either pray verse by verse back to God, or to rest in prayer within one phrase, such as “he refreshes my soul.”

A second method for approaching the psalms is to read through the entire psalter over the course of a month, praying certain psalms in the morning and others in the evening. This is a common practice in many church traditions, perhaps most known through the daily psalm readings in the Book of Common Prayer. While this may seem like a lot to move through in a day, book-ending the day with the psalms helps us begin and end our day with God in prayer and Scripture. Many Christians recommend this approach to engaging with God in the psalms.

While there is much more that could be said, let me refer you to some of my other posts on the Psalms:

Stepping Forward into 2021 with Dedication and Praise

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Stepping Forward with Dedication

Related to this focus on God is a dedication of our lives from the inside out. Psalm 86 is a one of my favorite psalms. Verse 11 has become particularly important for me.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
(Psalm 86:11)

That phrase about God giving us “an undivided heart” is a powerful picture of what it means to live with focus on God and dedication of life. It means that the center of our being – our heart; the place from which our life flows – is dedicated to God entirely. There is a unity – an integrity – to it.

Francois Fenelon describes that in this way:

What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature. It is a will pliant in his hands…which wants without reserve whatever he wants and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want.[1]

The New Testament describes this a life given over to God with the word “discipleship.” Discipleship has God as its focus, and gathers our desires around God in such a way that our everyday living is ordered by God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We live dedicated to God from the inside out, both in our desires and in our decisions.

Dallas Willard says:

The priorities and intentions – the heart or inner attitudes – of disciples are forever the same. In the heart of a disciple there is a desire, and there is decision or settled intent. The disciple of Christ desires above all else to be like him…[and there is] the decision to devote oneself to becoming like Christ.[2]

So we enter into this year not only with focus upon God, but also with our whole lives dedicated to God.  We want an undivided heart – a life that has integrity in the fullest sense – both in the form of our desires and our decisions as disciples of Jesus.

So we can ask ourselves, “How will I order my life as a disciple of Christ this year? How will I bring my desires to God as part of my discipleship? How will I make decisions this year that reflection my discipleship to Christ? Is there any area of my life that is held back from Christ, such as time, finances, relationships, work?

Jesus said this: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

Moving Forward with Praise

The final word of the psalms, as seen in Psalm 150, is praise. Psalm 150 provides the capstone of the entire structure of the psalms. It is a psalm of high praise.

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 150:1-2, 6)

As we head into the year, we remember that this is more than the passing of time, more than the setting of priorities or establishing of resolutions, and more than the lament, confession, or thanksgiving. All of life, according to Scripture, is worship. We live in the daily presence of the Living God and He is worthy of praise. The end of our days, according to the book of Revelation, will rise up in the heavenly scenes of worship in the presence of God.

Julian of Norwich says,

All of the strength that may come through prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything. For the highest form of prayer is to the goodness of God. It comes down to us to meet our humblest needs. It gives life to our souls and makes them live and grow in grace and virtues. It is near in nature and swift in grace, for it is the same grace which our souls seek and always will.[3]

The sum total of our life is a response of worship to God. As the calendar turns from December 31, 2019, to January 1, 2020, we continue to respond to the ultimate goodness of God with a life of worship.

And so, perhaps the end of the year can be more than just a celebration of an apple sliding down a pole in Times Square or a thronging party with friends and family. None of this is bad, but might we remember there is something more: worship of the Eternal Creator who has made us for Himself.

So, what are your plans for the New Year? In the midst of all that is happening as we count down the days and hours into the new year, let me suggest setting aside some space and time in our lives to look back and step forward.


[1] Francois Fénelon, “A Will No Longer Divided,” in Devotional Classics, ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 49.

[2] Dallas Willard, “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” Devotional Classics, 15.

[3] Julian of Norwich, “The Highest Form of Prayer,” in Devotional Classics, 77.

Looking Back at 2020 with Lament and Repentance

Emmaus Road

This week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Looking Back: Lament

Sometimes, however, when we look back over the year, particularly in this devastating last year, even while we’re trying to give thanks, we remember experiences, events, or relationships that we’d rather not have experienced. The options or more than we’d like to name: that diagnosis, that job loss, that divorce, that death, that financial hit, that relational rupture, that opportunity that disappeared…perhaps even all of 2020.

In times like this, our gratitude is mingled with sorrow. There is a space for this in the life with God that is exemplified in the psalms of lament. Lament offers us the space to express our sorrows and griefs in the presence of God.

Psalm 13 is one example of lament. The first few verses say:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
(Psalm 13:1-3a)

Lament is a valuable way to look back at the past year. Sometimes we need to name the painful areas of our lives in the presence of God without papering over them with false positivity or wishful thinking.

Writing about lament, Martin Luther said:

“What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…. And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.”[1]

I want to give permission to each of us to look back over our year with God and lament. We may need to name something in our life as a source of great sorrow or wounding, and also bring it to God from the depths of our souls.

Perhaps you may do this verbally or, as I often do, you may want to write out your own personal psalm of lament. There is something powerful about laying it out in words, and giving that to God in prayer.

Looking Back: Repent

But it is not just painful things that have happened to us that we must bring to God, but also the painful things we have done that we must bring to God. We do this so that we can name them, confess them, and turn from them. The biblical word for this is repentance.

Psalm 51 is an extended prayer of repentance that is well known. It references a time of deep crisis in the life of King David, when he has committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband, Uriah, killed, and then tries to cover it all up. Nathan the prophet confronts him about it. Psalm 51 is the repentance response that David offers in response to his failures.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Here is the naming of wrongs David has done. And it is followed by the request for forgiveness, cleansing, and turning away from sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

We all recognize that there are things in the past year that we have done to others and ourselves – ways that we have fallen short of God’s best for us. Let me suggest that it is not the best thing we can do to carry these things into the next year with us as a burden. It is important to lay them down in prayer with God, like burdens laid at the foot of the Cross.

Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Although I think this is a good practice daily, I also believe the end of the year is a good time to draw near to God and name our sins – our wrongs – before God, to ask for forgiveness and cleansing, and to turn from them in our hearts.

Something I’ve done in the past is to write certain sins on  notecard or piece of paper, and then (safely) burn them as a sign of these sins being forgiven and cast away by God.

We receive assurance in many places in Scripture that God is forgiving, most notably in 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


[1] Martin Luther, Word and Sacrament, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. E. T. Bachmann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 255 –56.