Thriving – A Study of Psalm 1

Prospering at Whatever You Do: How to Turn Each Day into a Blessing & Your Life into a Legacy

Introduction: Many years ago, a wise woman told me to memorize Psalm 1, saying, “It is the door to the entire book of Psalms.” I did memorize Psalm 1, and most days quote it to myself. It’s one of my go-to passages in life:

Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sit in the seat of mockers. But their delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in this Law they meditate day and night. They will be like trees planted by rivers of water that bear their fruit in season. Their leaves also will not wither, and whatever they do shall prosper. Not so the wicked. They are the like the chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly will perish.

BLESSED!

The first word of Psalm 1 is Blessed, which is also the way Jesus began His first recorded sermon in Matthew 5. We call these biblical “Blessed are” statements “beatitudes” because in the Latin the word Blessed is Beati. I’ve found 82 of them in the Bible. God specializes in blessing us. That word Blessed (‘Ashar in Hebrew and Makarios in Greek) is like a golden sphere around us into which are poured all of God’s infinite grace, gifts and goodness. This is the atmosphere of Christ-followers. It’s the climate of our souls. It means enviable, in a great place, fortunate, happy, to be congratulated.

Packed into Blessed is the kind of life described in Psalm 23. Packed into this term is John 10:10, when Jesus said, I have come that you may have life and that you may have it more abundantly. Chocked into this one word is Ephesians 1: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

 Packed into this word is all of 2 Peter, chapter 1: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has also given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

 You can almost open your Bible randomly and find in verses that are an exposition of this word. That’s what Psalm 1 is about. The kind of person God blesses. And as you read through Psalm 1, you notice four different emphases.

1. Our Separation (verse 1)

Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, not sit in the seat of mockers.

In other words, we are to separate ourselves from certain people, or, at least, live a separate life. “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17). One evening I spoke from this verse, and a teenager came to me afterward, quite troubled, saying, “I have few Christians where I live. Most of the students are not Christians, and can I not be their friend? Do I have to keep all of them at arm’s length?” The thought of that quite troubled her.

Here’s the answer: We shouldn’t sever all our friendships, but we must make sure they don’t pull us down and that we remain distinct. There are four stages of separation that are critical to us. The first is in our allegiance. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). That makes us different from everyone else.

Second, we should be separate from the world in our attitudes. The world is oud and angry and sensual, but the Bible says, “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Third, we should be separate in our actions. All the New Testament letters were written for one purpose. The apostles had gone through the land preaching the Gospel, but the new believers didn’t know how to live as Christians. They had grown up in a pagan culture. Paul and Peter and James and John and the others wrote letters to them, telling them how they should now live. They were to be very different from the culture around them, and sho should we.

Fourth, we have to be separate from the world in our availability. The Bible says, “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not” (Proverbs 1:10). If a friend or family member tries to get you to do something that goes against your better judgment or your conscience, you need to say no.

2. Our Meditation (Verse 2)

Verse 1 begins with the wonderful word “blessed” and immediately tells us about our separation, but verse 2 tells us about our meditation: But their delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in this Law they meditate day and night.

If you want to be blessed, you have to study the Book that’s full of blessing. You have to delight in it and meditate on what it says day and night. David wrote Psalm 1 after spending time thinking about Joshua 1:8: This book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.

As I say in my book, Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation, meditation is the powerful habit of pondering, personalizing and practicing Scripture. I love to begin quoting Scripture to myself when I awaken in the morning. Then I get up and brew a cup of coffee and sit down for my daily time of Bible study and prayer. I start reading where I left off the day before, and I try to study and ponder and think about every verse. I mark passages I like. I memorize verses I come to. Later in the shower I train my mind to mull them over. All day I ponder them. At night, my work behind me, I open my Bible and read a comforting passage. I try to fall asleep thinking about a verse of Scripture, and if I awaken during the night I’ve found that quoting passages like Psalm 1 is a great way to relax and go back to sleep.

Those are the habits that lead to the next verse—our maturation.

3. Our Maturation (Verse 3)

Verse 3 says: They will be like trees planted by rivers of water that bear their fruit in season. Their leaves also will not wither, and whatever they do shall prosper.

My home in Roan Mountain, Tennessee sits alongside Doe River, which is formed by the melting snow and underground springs of Roan Mountain, one of the highest elevations in the Appalachians. Sometimes it’s terribly hot in the summer, because the valley traps the heat and humidity. But the trees along the riverside never fade or falter because they are planted by the river, which never runs dry. In fact, I have an oil painting in my kitchen of a grove of trees leaning over Doe River not far from our home. The roots spread out through the soil and soak up the cold mountain water and are perpetually refreshed.

According to the book of Colossians, we’re to be rooted and grounded in Christ; and according to Christ, the rivers of the Holy Spirit should be flowing within us and through us. That happens as we cultivate this habit of continual separation from the world and meditation on the Word.

This is a recurring theme in the Bible. Jeremiah 17 says, Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like trees planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

One morning at a retreat where I was speaking, I woke up thinking about this passage. I walked from my cabin to the dining hall to get some coffee. One of the staff came up to me, a 20-year-old named Alec. He knew my wife, Katrina, suffered from multiple sclerosis. He told me when he was seven, he was hit by a convergence of three serious infections and almost died. During his prolonged recovery he had to work hard to regain strength. His favorite biblical character is Job, he said, because Job had a lot of trouble in life but ended up twice as strong at the end of it than before. Alec said, “I came out of that illness twice as strong in my body and heart. Then when I was fifteen I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The vision in my right eye comes and goes and I have other of the classic MS symptoms. But the Lord is helping me and I’m determined to be twice as strong and twice as blessed through this process.” I watched him work and realized he was determined to thrive alongside his fellow workers at the retreat center, despite his disability. That 20-year-old had developed the spiritual maturation of Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17, and it’s a process that keeps going all our lives.

Psalm 92 says, The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.”

If we separate from the world and meditate on the Word, whatever we do will prosper—that is, we will joyfully fulfill the plan God has laid out for us. We will fulfill it successfully in His eyes, joyfully, and productively and by His grace. We will mature. We are not people who think in terms of failure. We may not always see all visible success, but the same God who knows how to turn curses into blessings also turns blessings into benefits that compound from here to eternity for His glory.

4. Our Destination (Verses 4-6)

And speaking of eternity, the last three verses describe our destination: Not so the wicked. They are the like the chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly will perish.

Most of us are not farmers and don’t know much about chaff. But think of little bits of straw caught in wind. Now picture a huge cherry tree, planted in a will-irrigated zone by a river. A stiff breeze blows the stray piece of straw to oblivion. But the tree simply sways gracefully in the wind.

That represents the difference between a Jesus follower and those without Christ—no matter how rich or powerful or successful or arrogant they are.

 Conclusion: I sometimes wonder if Jesus modeled His Sermon on the Mount after Psalm 1. Both portions of Scripture begin with the same word—blessed. Both go on to describe the righteous life of a believer, and both end by contrasting two roads leading to different destinations. Here in Psalm 1, we’re told that God watches over the highway of the righteous, but those on the highway of the wicked will perish. Which road are you on? Psalm 1 is the foundation of the Psalms because it is foundational to the prosperity of blessings unlimited.

Two roads converged in a wood, and I—

I took the Jesus Road, less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

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