Psalm 1

We are spending this summer looking at eleven individual Psalms. Here is a description of what to expect. Read the Introduction.

Psalm 1: Spiritual Formation’s Choice and Four Questions I Must Ask

What kind of a person am I? How would I describe me? I know those questions can sound rather narcissistic, but I assure you that what I have on my heart today is far from self-centered. What I have on my heart is a life that is God-saturated. As noted earlier, what I want to do is spend the summer in the Psalms with you, in what Ambrose called God’s spiritual gymnasium. Psalm 1 is our starting place. It reminds me that the right choice is fundamental to an ongoing spiritual formation that is grounded in a God-centered worldview. A long obedience, a life devoted to the worship of our Creator and Redeemer begins with a right relationship with Him. Or to say it far more succinctly, this right relationship begins with the right choice. My friend, Dr. Walt Zorn, says it as well as anyone, “The first Psalm, a suitable introduction to the book, might properly be designated The Two Ways. It contrasts two opposite directions that one’s life may take, the one leading to blessing, the other to despair and ruin.” (Tesh and Zorn, The College Press NIV Commentary: Psalms Volume 1, pg. 85). Here is our first prayer installment this summer.

1 Blessed is the man (the woman)
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers,

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he mediates day and night.

3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This Psalm is concise. Only 65 words are used to describe life’s most important choice. Four questions will help you and me to navigate the right path, the right way, and the right choice this summer. Here is the first.

Question 1: Am I blessed or perishing? The first and last words of this brief Psalm underscore the importance of formation’s choice. “Blessed” here (1:1) is not the typical Old Testament word for blessed. This word could be defined as “unanticipated good fortune.” “Blessed” is a state of living that is bathed in happiness, fulfillment, and contentment. It is why Eugene Peterson translates the opening line of Psalm 1 in this way, “How well God must like you…” Blessed implies an all-in-relationship with God. In contrast, “perish” (1:6) implies a terminal condition. Blessed and perish are opposites. If blessed is a fortunate condition, perish is an unfortunate one. If blessed is happy, perish is sad. The psalmist is not celebrating. He is expressing his heartache. “Blessed” is full of life. “Perishing” is death.

Question 2: Am I walking with the wicked or the righteous? The “blessed” person has made a second choice. He or she chooses to not walk with those who intentionally reject God. The “blessed” person shuns the path that leads to destruction. Notice how “wicked, sinners, and scoffers” are all synonyms for those who live life without God. The “blessed” person does not seek advice from someone who has pushed God out of the center of their life. The “blessed” person’s wisdom comes from God’s Word. To be someone who “walks, stands, and sits” with a God-denier is to be someone who has left the narrow path, who has failed to “delight” in God’s clear revelation. “Delight” means to “bend toward,” to “find pleasure in,” or to “respond to wholeheartedly.” The person who walks with the righteous is a person who “meditates” routinely on Scripture. This meditation is a filling of the mind and not an emptying of it. The psalmist is not describing some strange practice of eastern mysticism, but rather a passionate devouring, a healthy chewing, a real enjoying, even a playful absorption of God’s revealed truth. The righteous fill their thoughts with God. The wicked empty their thoughts of Him.

Question 3: Am I like a tree or chaff? These are such strong metaphors. The imagery is perfect. A tree describes deep roots, while chaff portrays an obvious rootlessness. One is alive and the other is dead. One can sustain life even when drought comes. The other simply is picked-up and becomes dust in the wind. Choice matters.

Question 4: Am I in the way or on the way? The Psalm obviously highlights the importance of choosing the right road, the right path. The Psalms are filled with this imagery some 97 different times. Here the anonymous writer inserts “the way” 3 times (1:1 and 1:6 twice). The easy way leads to destruction. The hard way leads to life. The easy way leads to folly. The hard way leads to wisdom. Christ-followers are obviously consumed with the One who said, “I am the way…” (John 14:6). Dr. Luke, in the book of Acts, describes the early church as a people of “the Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, and 24:22). All of us are journeying. Our way is either His way or we are simply in the way of God’s revealed and glorious purpose. Decisions matter. Choices have eternal consequences.             Psalm 1 perfectly prepares us for the rest of the Psalter and portrays the consequences of choice. The wise choice that is God-seeking is headed for the Celestial City. The foolish choice that is self-seeking is headed for a dead-end and eternal separation from the God who loves us more than we can imagine. Choose wisely. This is spiritual formation’s fundamental decision.

Introduction

This summer, at CU Church, during our worship times, we will preach from eleven of the one hundred and fifty Psalms. We will start where the Psalms start with Psalm 1. We will also preach from Psalm 3, 8, 19, 23, 46, 51, 107, 110, 139 and 150. For reasons that go beyond the scope of this devotional, I have always been drawn to athletic coaches. They served as surrogate fathers for me during my troubled teenage years. In my adult years, I found a spiritual coach that has not only helped me to navigate the Psalms and learn to pray, but has also guided me to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in my ongoing spiritual formation. His name is Ambrose (339-397 AD). He was bishop of Milan, Italy, a pastor, teacher-preacher and theologian, who on Easter Sunday, 387 AD, baptized Augustine. Ambrose was a Christ-follower who found in the Psalms a place to exercise his faith. For him, the Psalms were not a spa or a place to search for comfort, but the Psalms were a place to vigorously learn how to train to be a faithful apprentice of Jesus. Ambrose wrote: “In it (the Psalms) there is a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise…” (Commentary on Twelve Psalms, Psalm 1; 4:7-8).

I like the imagery of the Psalms as a work-out facility. In my younger years, I was a “gym rat.” Though an average athlete, I loved exercising my body. It was a priority for me. As I have aged, I still maintain a commitment to care for my body, but I have found the care of my soul to be a greater priority. I suppose it is why Paul’s wise words to Timothy mean so much to me these days, “…Bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul’s “training” counsel to Timothy draws on that same imagery of going to the gymnasium. So every morning I go to the spiritual gym. I encounter various exercises for my soul. I pray them. I sit, stand, bow and kneel according to what I find in these individual prayers. Some of them are hard to pray. Even after all these years, I still have so much to learn about praying and prayers.

I encourage you to look at these eleven Psalms in advance, ponder them and pray them as we spend the summer in the Psalms. Tim Keller’s helpful methodology might serve you well. He offers three suggestions:

  1. Pray the Psalms as they are. Allow them to be your prayers.
  2. Paraphrase and personalize the Psalms into your own prayers.
  3. Pick themes and sentences from the Psalms and allow them to prompt adoration, confession and petition (Prayer. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2014, pg. 256).

Together, as a CU family, let’s spend the summer in the Psalms.

Introduction: Summer in the Psalms at CU Church
Dr. J.K. Jones Jr.