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The Happy Life – Psalm 1

April 11, 2021

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Series: A Heart for God
Scripture: Psalm 1

Introduction

Read Psalm 1.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

Robert Frost is clever in his poem. We know it “has made all the difference,” but we don’t know what the difference is. He’s “telling this with a sigh,” so there seems to be some regret.

But he’s right about the lives we live. They are filled with places where “Two roads diverged in a wood,” and you could take only one.

Whichever one you choose, there’s “The Road NOT Taken,” the title of the poem.

Psalm 1 is telling us the same thing but with a lot more clarity. It presents two roads diverging in front of us. You have to take one but you can only take one.

And it really does “make all the difference” which one you take. Fortunately for us, God tells about these two paths and the lives that they lead to.

We get in Psalm 1 “Two Paths that lead to Two Lives and Two Destinies.”

This is the first sermon in a new series, “A Heart for God” from the Book of Psalms.

John Calvin called the book of Psalms, “An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul.”

And Martin Luther:

You may rightly call the Psalter a Bible in miniature, in which all things which are set forth more at length in the rest of the Scriptures are collected into a beautiful manual of wonderful and attractive brevity. 
Martin Luther, Works, Vol 3[1]

The goal of the series is to cultivate a heart for God. To stir up one another to more affection for God and to know him better.

This isn’t a long series. We’ll be in the Psalms through June 6th and then go back to the Gospel of Mark to finish out that book.

The 8 Psalms we’ll look at were chosen because they’re different kinds of Psalms. They give a good overview of what the Psalter contains. They also allow us to speak to some issues connected to regathering on June 6th (Lord willing, that is). The pandemic has pressed us as a church. As excited as we are to combine our services, we also want to speak to some issues related to our church unity. Next week we’ll look at Psalm 133 that opens with, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

But this morning is Psalm 1. OT scholar Bruce Waltke called it “the wicket gate” for the whole book of Psalms. Borrowing from John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim had to go through this gate in a field and only through the gate to get to Christ. Bruce Waltke means that Psalm 1 is placed there as a motivation and reminder.

Psalm 1 is like a warning sign over the whole book of Psalms: “Don’t treat the words of these Psalms as meaningless diddies. Recognize these words as the LORD’s very instruction to us. They are guidance to live the happy and blessed life and avoid destruction.”

Sermon: (1) Two (very different) Paths that lead to (2) Two (very different) Lives and (3) Two (very different) Destinies.

Prayer—a heart for God…Agua Viva & Misi Schlax.

I. Two Paths

The Psalm opens with a word, “Blessed.” Blessed is the man who does not do this but instead does this. The Psalm is concerned with being “blessed.”

Being “blessed” in this way means more a superficial happiness. In John Calvin’s commentary he says it means, “It shall be always well” for the person who lives this way.

One translation, the Christian Standard Bible, translates it this way:

How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! (Ps 1:1)

How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the LORD’s instruction! (Ps 119:1)

“How happy” works as long as you see it as a full, life-giving happiness. It’s truly happy life we all want.

Like Frost’s poem, the Psalmist takes us to a place in the wood where “two roads diverge.” And the road taken “makes all the difference.” But…unlike Robert Frost’s poem, these roads are very different from the start.

The Bible often makes its point by contrasting two different roads to take. Two ways to live are contrasted. There’s a fork in the road of our lives. You can live one way or the other. The choice you make makes all the difference.

At this fork in the road the question presented to us is this: “What will inform your thinking and decision-making and values? What will you turn to in order to learn how to live life?”

Verse 1 starts with what NOT TO DO: Psalm 1:1.

The three phrases here are like a descending stairway where each step takes you further from God.

  • First, you take advice from bad people: “Walks…in the counsel”
  • Second, you adopt the lifestyle of bad people: “Stands in the way”
  • Third, you identify with those bad people: “Sits in the seat.”
  • There’s a progression from “Walks” to “Stands” to “Sits.” More and more you internalize the thinking of the world around. More and more you identify with it.

The last step in this decline is being among “scoffers.”

  • “Scoffers” make fun of God, people who follow God, and all things pertaining to God.
  • Respectful disagreement can be a sign of true appreciation.
  • But when you get to mocking something, you’re saying, “That’s just stupid, and only stupid people would believe such nonsense.”
  • Derek Kidner calls it “the most fatal of its attitudes—for the scoffers, if not the most scandalous of sinners, are the farthest from repentance” (Psalms 1–72, 48) — Recommend Kidner![2]

This road will take you farther and farther away from the “happy” and “full” and “blessed” life.

Then verse 2 describes the good road: Psalm 1:2.

Instead of living “in” the wisdom of the culture, you live “in the law of the LORD.” In our day, these words are just odd. You want to “delight in” and “meditate on” “the law”? A book of laws is supposed to be a “delight”?!? What?!?!

The Hebrew for “the law” is Torah. Torah can refer to the first books of the Bible, what’s called “the law of Moses.” But it can also refer to “guidance” and “instruction,” something that guides in how to live and where to go. Torah here just means the Word of God.

Christian Standard Bible: “the LORD’s instruction” (Ps 1:2).

The Psalmist is after our HEARTS here. Instead of walking IN the wisdom of the world, we challenges us to DELIGHT in something in our hearts. We are to “DELIGHT” in God’s Word, his instruction.

But the blessed person won’t just DELIGHT in God’s Word. He’ll MEDITATE on it. The word meditate is a great word.

Meditate is that kind of mumbling you do to yourself when you’re thinking through something. Just take some words from this Psalm. It would be like saying, “like a tree planted by streams of water….tree planted by streams of waters…streams…”

You can’t do that unless the words are in your mind. So memorization is often part of it. That way you can do what the Psalm says, “meditate day and night.” You can call to mind a verse as you walk the dog. Lay in bed.

Now, all of this includes OBEDIENCE. But interesting the Psalmist doesn’t start there. The book of Psalms will be filled with calls to obey, to walk with integrity, to have a pure heart. But here at the start it’s a matter of “DELIGHTING in God’s instruction” and “MEDITATING” on. That’s what you do when you delight in something. You think about it. Turn it over in your mind.

OT scholar Bruce Waltke says this kind of “delight” in God’s Word and “meditation” on it can happen only with a new heart. We need new hearts from God to delight in the things of God. Otherwise, they’re just “foolishness” to us (1 Cor 1:18).

II. Two Lives

Like we said, “Two (very different) paths that lead to two (very different) lives.” Let’s look at the different lives.

The lives connected to these two paths couldn’t be more different. He starts with the results of taking the good path, the path of delighting in and meditating on God’s instruction: Psalm 1:3.

Someone who takes this good path will be marked by a life that’s fruitful, enduring, and prosperous. A people living in a desert and rocky region would see this picture differently than us. We assume rain. They wouldn’t. We assume a fierce humidity most of the year. They wouldn’t.

But hear the images in Psalm 1:3:

  • “By streams of water” – Filled with life!
  • “Yields its fruit in its season” – Fruit-bearing just as it’s supposed to be!
  • “Leaf does not wither” – Enduring, strong!
  • “In all that he does, he prospers” – Successful in all endeavors

Someone who delights in God’s Word and turns his mind to it and lives by it will be strong, fruitful, enduring, and successful.

Doesn’t mean that every business venture will turn a profit and every relationship will have no conflict. Hard things happen to the people of God.

But there’s still blessing and life and fruitfulness—even amidst the hard things.

And then there’s the alternative in Psalm 1:4.

Verse 4 is like those movies where the whole thing plays out for a while and then something happens and the story stops. The story goes back to an earlier point. But this time the character makes a different choice and the whole thing plays out in a totally different way.

Verse 4 is that different life. What is the different life of the person who lives like “the wicked,” “the sinners,” “the scoffers” of Psalm 1:1?

The Psalmist says that person is like “chaff that the wind drives away.” In a society familiar with growing wheat, they’d know about chaff. I had to watch a bunch of YouTube videos to get a sense of it.

  • When you harvest the wheat, you gather the wheat plant into sheaves.
  • You bring the sheaves to the threshing floor, where you beat it or drag a sledge over it or use your feet—all that to separate the wheat berries from the stalk.
  • Very labor intensive.
  • As you do that, you’re also crushing the wheat berries.
  • In that pile left you’ve got chaff and the wheat grain, the good stuff used for bread and nutrition.
  • You have this huge pile of wheat and chaff mixed together. How do you separate it?
  • The chaff is so light, it’s like dust. The wheat grains are much heavier.
  • The smallest breeze will carry the chaff away.
  • So when there’s a small breeze you use a tool or a container of some kind and simply throw the wheat and chaff into the air.
  • The breeze will carry the chaff away and the wheat grains will fall to the ground.
  • The whole reason this works is because the chaff is so light and empty, hardly more than dust.
  • In this process the wheat stalks can be used as hay for different purposes.
  • The wheat grain is the nutritious and edible part.
  • But the chaff?
  • Chaff is USELESS and UNDESIRABLE and INSIGNIFICANT AS DUST.

You see how great a contrast the Psalmist is making. The good path makes you a fruit-bearing treat whose leaves don’t wither.

The other path makes you chaff where the slightest breeze takes you away.

Robert Frost said, “Two paths diverged in the wood,” and the one taken “has made all the difference.”

The Psalmist is telling us the same thing. Two paths are presented to us. The consequences for choosing the path to take are massive.

One path brings a life of fruit, substance, and prosperity.

The other path is useless, undesirable, and nothing more than “Dust in the Wind.”[3]

III. Two Destinies

Two paths lead to two lives and two destinies.

But the paths don’t just affect your life today. The two paths diverge eternally and only get further and further apart: Psalm 1:5–6.

Now that idea of the Road Taken making “all the difference” becomes even more true.

In these last two verses it’s not just this life that’s impacted. It’s also what happens after this life.

There’s a “judgment” coming. One day we’ll all be presented at this “judgment.” And the question is on that judgment day, will we STAND or will we fall?

We need to see the connection to where the Psalmist began his Psalm: Those who STAND with the wicked in this life will not STAND in the judgment to come.

And those SITTING IN THE SEATS OF SCOFFERS will not join the CONGREGATION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.

But even more, “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.” Of course God “KNOWS” all things. He’s omniscient, “all-knowing.” There is nothing in the future that’s a surprise to him. He’s bringing it about.

This is a special way that “the LORD knows” us. It’s a statement of his relationship with us. He knows us in a special saving and personal way. He knows us in the closest of ways. It his saving us, blessing us, sustaining us, walking with us.

You get a hint of this kind of knowledge in the teaching of Jesus.

Matthew 7:21–23:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:21–23)

Conclusion

Two paths that lead to two lives and two destinies. The difference? Delight in, meditate on the Word of the Lord.

Four things as we close.

FIRST, Given this series, maybe this is a good time to spend more time than usual in the Psalms. You could read the whole book of Psalms a couple times in the space of this series.

SECOND, In your prayer times it’s a good time to consider, is my thinking being controlled by the voices of our culture or the Inspired Voice of God’s Word? The apostle Paul called it “Breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16). Only this Word has that stamp of 100% “Breathed out by God.”

THIRD, Memorize Psalms 1, 23, 100.

FOURTH, wherever you are, start today. Part of the point of Robert Frost’s poem was that fork in the path in the wood came only once. You could never go back and re-do the choice.

But our God is the God of second chances. You can’t undo the past, that’s true. But it’s never too late to start living the “Blessed” life. We’re all unworthy and undeserving. We receive God’s blessings because of his grace—not our perfection.

So, don’t let your unworthiness keep you back from the Lord. Start today.

Jesus said that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Psalmist in Psalm 1 tells us that the “WAY OF THE WICKED WILL PERISH.” But Jesus points to the first step in the way out. “Believe in him.” Believe in Jesus and escape perishing.

And then, wherever you are in this journey, DELIGHT IN GOD’S WORD, MEDITATE ON IT. And live a blessed life.

1 How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!

2 Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. (Ps 1:1–2)

Prayer and closing song

[1] P. 356.

[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (IVP Academic, 2014). An excellent shorter commentary. Available at Amazon.

[3] Kansas, 1977.

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