søndag 26. juli 2015

Psalm 1: True Happiness

Psalm 1

Imagine if I told you there was a way to be truly happy. A guaranteed method to experience joy!
Do you want to be happy? I do! To be happy, full of joy, at peace. What a delight.

Well, that’s what we find in today’s passage. The path of true happiness.

Happiness is difficult to get, isn’t it? Buying things promises happiness – fast cars, big houses, good food – but they rust or need painting or give us indigestion, and it’s gone. Experiences promise happiness but they disappoint or all too soon they are over.
People, people can make us happy! But they are sinners like us and will let us down - especially if you burden them with the impossible burden of making you happy all the time.

Happiness comes when you’re not looking for it. You cannot demand happiness, buy happiness, force happiness. Because happiness is a by-product of unselfishness. Only when we stop trying to make everything and everyone make us happy does happiness sneak up on us! Why? We were designed to be happy! That’s where our need comes from. It is God-given. The source of our happiness is not found within ourselves but in Him or reflections of Him. God is our happiness.

V1 Oh the joys of those… v2who delight in the law of God. The words translated “joy” in v1 is the word eh-sher, often translated Blessed or happy. In the Hebrew it literally says Blessed, Happy is the man... who delights in the law of God”.
And the “law” of God is Jewish shorthand for the holy Scriptures: the inspired (breathed-out) word of God.

So: you want to be happy? Delight yourself in the word of God!

Now this morning we’re looking at the first “Psalm”. The word Psalm is a Latin translation of the Hebrew “Tehillim” which means “song of praise”. Psalms are songs or poems, yes, but they are more than that: They are inspired songs. Inspired means words that God has breathed out and caused to be written. These are his written words.

Let’s turn to Psalm 1 and find out how we can be happy!

1. Happy is the man who turns away from sin and throws himself into God’s word

Ps 1:1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. 2 But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.

The first key to happiness is… repentance. Repentance: turning away from what is wrong or evil, and turning towards what is good and right.

Do not listen to the wicked, to what they say is true and right. Because out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. So if they are against God, their words, their “wisdom” is anti-God. It pulls us away from God.

Just think about some of the things we’ve been learning recently, and what the world says in contrast.

The Lord says “Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. The world says “Love money, money brings happiness”. God says “be generous, all you have is a gift”, the world says “grab all you can, because you only live once. It’s yours! You deserve it!”
Jesus says “Do not worry about anything, what you will eat, what you will wear – seek first the kingdom”. But we seek first our own kingdom, and live in fear, trying to protect ourselves from everything that could go wrong.
Jesus says “Go into all the world and make disciples”. The world says “Faith is private and shouldn’t be shared.”
Jesus says “I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”. The world says “there is no such things as absolute truth – and that’s absolutely true!

The “advice of the wicked” is all around us. It infects us. It’s in the songs that we listen to on the radio, in our movies, books, articles, in our conversation. How do we not fall into just doing what the wicked advise?
By counter-acting it with delighting in the law of God. The more we fill our minds with His words, the less we will be fooled by the words of the world. When we know the genuine, the true, we will not be fooled by the counterfeit, the false.

And the battle starts here – in our minds. Rom 12:2 says Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may know what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We start by transforming our mind – absorbing the mind of God as we study his thoughts, and we will start to think more like God, seeing his will, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Let me read v1 of Psalm 1 again, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.

Do you see the progression there: from following advice, to standing with sinners, to joining in with the mockers. We move from listening to wickedness, to approving of (standing with) wickedness, to joining in with those who mock God with their words or lives or actions.
And it’s easy. None of us ever sets out to sin, do we? But infected by worldly wisdom, we think “that sounds like a good idea – look at them, they look happy” and then in we go. Think about Eve and the forbidden fruit: listened to the advice of the serpent, stood listening to the serpent instead of leaving, and then joined in – mocking God’s word – “you know nothing, God!”.
And we’ve never stopped falling into the same trap as Eve!

If you’re battling with some sin, the first place you need to start is with your mind. You need to replace the lie with Truth. You need to delight in God’s word. If you’re struggling with greed – meditate on 1 Timothy 6. If you’re struggling with sexual temptation, meditate on 1 Corinthians 7. If you’re struggling with revenge or bitterness or anger or hate – read Galatians 5:19-22 The fruits of the Spirit. Or read the praise Psalms and simply rejoice in our great God. If your mind is filled with Him and His glory – everything else seems to fade away.

The first step in the path to happiness is repentance: turning away from what is evil, and turning towards what is good.

I’m sure many of you have heard the parable, supposedly told by an American Indian chief, of the two dogs inside? One dog represents the sinful or worldy man versus the other dog: the Spiritual man. And they are in a battle, a fight to the death. When asked which dog would win, the chief replies “The one I feed the most”.

There is much truth in that, and gets at what these two verses in psalm 1 are saying. Feed your soul, Christian! Delight in the words of God. Fill your mind with Him.

So what do we do with this?
Impossible application from this is to avoid going to church and Bible study, or to be lacklustre about it “I’ll go if I feel like it, I’ll go if nothing better comes up”. And to have an “oh, must I” attitude towards reading the Bible. The impossible application as a Christian is to resist God’s word. To be annoyed when he says no to things that you don’t want to do.

The true application is to delight in God and his word. To be filled with joy when we read his word or hear them preached. To love obeying him. To see that obedience brings life and joy and happiness. To really believe that happiness comes from obeying the Lord.

Possible application: Go to church and bible study. Make it number 1 priority – not the last thing you do, the first thing. No, it’s not a law. But it is weird if you don’t. Set aside time every day to read the Bible and pray. It’s not a law. But it is odd if the Bible says the man of God delights in the law of the Lord and we can’t even be bothered to read it.

So delight in the Lord and in his word. We know him. We love him. He loves us! That is deep joy.

Happy is the man who turns away from sin and throws himself into God’s word.

2. The man who delights in God’s word will prosper

3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. 4 But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.

So many of us struggle in our lives. Often we feel like our lives are empty, purposeless. What are we actually here for? Our lives feel like worthless chaff - the bits of the wheat plant that can’t be used and at harvest time is just flung up in the air for the wind to blow away.

Well, if that’s how you’re feeling, maybe it’s because you don’t actually know the Lord? It is warning to you to get right with him.
Or maybe we do know him but we’ve stopped delighting in his word? Maybe we’ve stopped meeting with his people or reading his word – or I know what it says but I’m disobeying?

How often in my life have I felt uneasy, angry, snapping at Debby or the kids (or both) – feeling unsettled, without purpose. And I think “what’s wrong with me?”. And then I think – when was the last time I spent some quality time alone with the Lord? Sat down and read His word, not for a Bible study or a sermon, but just sat down with Him and prayed and listened to Him.

Because when we delight in His Word we are rooted. Life flows through us. Like a tree planted by a riverbank we give out life. We draw from His deep reserves of joy and generosity and truth and love. And we start to reflect Him.

Isn’t that the type of people we want to be?

Christian and Johanna are a great example of this delighting in God’s word leading to being like a tree planted by streams of living water. As they have put the Lord first, as they have thrown themselves into ministry, as they have made Bible reading and church and Bible study their number one priority, wow, have they grown! And their joy in the Lord radiates out from them, and is shared with us, with their neighbours, with their job colleagues.

Do you want to be like them? Then delight in the word of the Lord.

They’re not the only ones. Many of you have experienced the same thing. Many of you have said that this church has changed your life. And that’s right, that’s what church should do. Because church should be a bunch of people together delighting in God’s word. His word is our life! As Jesus says “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4 quoting Deut 8:3).

Psalm 119, the biggest Psalm in the Bible, has, in almost every one of its 176 verses, the “word of the Lord”. The word of God is central to the life of God’s people. Our God is a God who speaks!

Much of the weakness, lack of power and error in today’s Christianity can be traced back to one thing – our attitude towards the “law of God” the words spoken by God once for all time. We substitute with music and emotion, with “prophecies” new words from God which are more acceptable to us, or we fill it with ritual and religion – anything to avoid reading and thinking about what God has really said. Or we just go full liberal and completely ignore his word and overturn what he has said.

Much of the weakness, lack of power, and error in our own lives can be traced back to one thing: how we view God’s word written here for us in the Bible. Do I avoid his word in my life?

And just in case you’re thinking but it’s just a book, that God threw a book at us and said read that and then left… no, His Spirit is here with us, and when we open the Bible those words come alive with the Spirit’s power. As we obey blessings flow out. Is that not true? Have we not all experienced that? As we obey, take that scary first step – in that moment we are suddenly aware that the Spirit has been alongside us all the time, and as we obey we see!

Delight in the law of the Lord. Embrace his word. And be not like chaff - blown by the wind – but like a tree of life deeply rooted in Christ’s life-giving waters.

Happy is the man who turns away from sin and throws himself into God’s word. Happy is he, because the man who delights in God’s word will prosper, deeply rooted, full of joy.

3. Happy is the man who knows the Lord, for he will be saved

5 [The wicked] will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. 6 For the LORD watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

It is a serious business with eternal consequences. The godly, the one who delights in the word of God, and avoids sinning - that person, they are the one who will not be condemned at the time of judgement.

So don’t fail. Because if you fail to delight in the Lord, if you fail to meditate on his word day and night. If you fail to bear fruit every season and prosper in all that you do – you will be condemned. Worthless, like chaff, scattered in the wind. Do not fail!
Sinners will have no place among the godly. The path of the wicked leads to destruction.

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, your word is clear. If we fail to delight in you, we will have no place among the godly. Please Lord, help us not to fail, because we don’t want to go to Hell. Amen

>>> Sit down

But wait a minute! I don’t delight in the Lord day and night. And, unless I’m very much mistaken, you don’t either. My life is not lived in complete obedience to Him. And neither is yours.
And if that’s the case, then we have a problem. Because according to Psalm 1, that means that we are the wicked!

This was a problem the Psalms understood. There is this tension throughout the book between knowing what the man of God should be and do – and the knowledge that, however hard we try we fall short.

A quick search of the book of Psalms for the word transgressions or sins gives 192 verses: and scanning through them we see how the Lord hates sin, the realisation that we sin, and therefore our only hope is confess our sin the Lord Ps32:5 I said “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord” – and amazingly the Lord has mercy. 32:5 continues And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Now to the Psalmists this was a mystery. How could God forgive those who continually fall short? How could God bless those who did not delight in the law of the Lord? How could he treat us, the wicked, as if we were the righteous?

I want you now to read Psalm 1 again. This time recognizing that we are the wicked; who then is the righteous one? Who is the Psalmist describing?

Who did only what his Father willed? Who brought life wherever he went? Who prospered even amongst his enemies? Whose path did the Lord watch over, even unto death and beyond? Who did not advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers, but instead delighted in the law of the Lord?
Jesus. Jesus is the great hero of Psalm 1. And he is the answer to the Psalmists puzzle: How can God treat the wicked as the righteous?

The answer is through the great swap on the Cross, where Jesus took your wickedness and my wickedness upon himself, and walked the path of destruction, the path to hell that we deserved. And he gave us his perfection, his righteousness, his delight in the Lord. Given to us.

So we can say we are blessed. Blessed beyond belief! We have a new heart, new desires. We suddenly WANT to listen to God’s word. We WANT to be with his people. We WANT to be with Him. Just like Jesus because His Spirit lives within us.

That’s why someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t delight in God’s word – disobeys it, ignores it, is never in church or studying the Bible, someone who says “I know, but…” whenever confronted with the word of God – are they really a Christian? If you’re in Christ you become like him.

So if you’ve found yourself drifting away from the Word, being ho-hum about church, trying to ignore God. Whatever the reason: repent, turn around, away from wickedness, and embrace the forgiveness that is your in Christ Jesus.

And then, in joy, remember that His Spirit is within you and start living like it: taking delight in the law of the Lord. Rejoicing that this God whom we serve, this holy, powerful, pure, perfect God – has made a way for people like us to know him and enjoy him forever.

Because the wicked may be destined for destruction, but the forgiven are destined for Eternal Joy. A celebration of our God, a festival of delights, never-ending. That’s what we were built for, and, in Christ, that is our future. Put your roots down into that glorious truth, and spread the joy of knowing God.

Happy is the man who repents, knowing that he is forgiven in Christ, and so delights in the word of the Lord. For he is in Christ, and His Holy Spirit is a river of life in him.

Let’s pray (properly this time!)

Lord, we repent of disregarding your word. Help us to delight in you. Help us to put church and Bible study first, help us to set aside time to be with you each day, help us to obey you in everything, however hard or costly that might be. Thank you for your forgiveness.
Thank you Jesus for not stumbling, for delighting in your Word, and for giving us your Spirit that we may too delight in your Word. Thank you for taking our wickedness, so that we who were chaff can now say “The Lord watches over my path”. Oh how we bless your Name!