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, which began here.]

 


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

 

Rick Howerton, “Multi-generational Small Groups” (Exponential 2010)

Rick Howerton has been a small group pastor, church planter, and senior pastor. He is the National Director of Events and Training and Small Group-ologist for Serendipity by LifeWay. Rick is also the co-author of Small Group Life Manual and the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual, an all-encompassing guide to creating a small group ministry and starting and leading passionate, life-changing small groups. I first met Rick through Lifeway’s Online Small Groups Summit a few months back.

Here are my notes on Rick’s seminar at Exponential:

Consider the necessity of intergenerational groups

What is a disciple? “A learner.”

What is disciple-making? There are different processes

Can children be disciples?  Absolutely

Can children be discipled?  Yes, but how?

In what setting are they best discipled?

The elephant in the room: are disciples best made in ‘classrooms’ or through ‘relationships’?

  • They go hand-in-hand, but…
  • We tend to go one way or the other…
  • “I am not convinced that sitting in a classroom with curriculum for 1 ½ hours/week will make disciples.”
  • Importance of relationship

Multi-generational Groups

Pros:

  • Modeling (children wathinc parents do biblical community learn to do so themselves)
  • Synergistic/Organic Mentoring (spiritual gifts and experiences of those in the group at work) – allows for opportunity for all gifts to be utilized
  • Single parents can Read More »

Close friends?

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I came across a pretty interesting piece today on the importance of proximity and background (e.g., race, religion, similar experiences) on in forming friendships. The reporter is looking particularly at how this plays out in college and the longevity of those friendships, but the general data is applicable across the board.

As we talk about community within the church, I am interested in how this shapes both how we define community, why we often struggle with the importance of diversity within local churches, and how this impacts the shaping of small group communities within the church.

Take a listen to it and let me know what you think.

Are You a Lonely American?

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My friend, Ryan, recently caught my attention with a book entitled The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century.  This book was written by two professors of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz, in an effort to uncover the increasing disconnectedness in American life and its startling effects. It has been garnering a lot of attention, from Oprah to Newsweek. For anyone who has looked into the work of Robert Putnam and his book Bowling Alone, this book builds upon that important research.

Here’s a taste of Olds and Schwartz’s insights:

  • from 1985 to 2004, the number of people in America who said they did not have a single confidante – someone they could discuss deeply personal and important matters – tripled to a stunning 1 out of every 4 people
  • being disconnected reduces happiness, health, and longevity, increases aggression, and correlates with increasing rates of violent crime
  • today’s busy parents “cocoon” themselves by devoting all of their non-work time to children, leaving no time for partners, friends, and other forms of social contact, and unhealthily relying on the marriage to fulfill all social needs

The directions I could go in responding to this fascinating book are almost endless: socialization of children, family life, singleness, depression, small group communities, and more.

However, I’d like to get some discussion by simply drawing an excerpt from the conclusion of the book on religion’s impact on loneliness. Even though this excerpt is a bit long, I would love to get some interaction going on the important topics it touches upon.

One thing is certain. Religious life speaks directly to the discontents that arise from a socially disconnected life, and it offers a cure. Remember that the cognitive effects of social exclusion include meaninglessness and lethargy. A welcoming pastor and a welcoming congregation solve the problem of social exclusion and at the same time offer direct relief from meaninglessness and lethargy. The dramatic rise of membership in evangelical churches over the last several decades is no doubt a response to a complicated mix of yearnings, but the yearning for human connection has played a major role. Some of the more successful churches are very clear on this point and have explicitly organized themselves into just the kind of small groups that are best at making lonely individuals feel connected and held, the kind of small group that formed the basic survival strategy of the human species. We are ‘built’ to need and to respond to the connection and holding that small groups provide….Religious life and religious organizations remain a vital source of social connectedness in the personal lives of individuals. Even if religion is not currently the wellspring of social capital that it once was in America, it still plays a major role in countering the social isolation of individuals and families. To us as clinicians, that is no small point. (187-189).