“Whatever He Does Prospers” Psalm 1 January 9, 2011
SI: Please open your Bibles to the first Psalm.
Last Sunday I started a sermon series on the book of Psalms that will take us
through the winter and right up to Easter.
The Psalms express the inner life of our walk with God, and our wrestling with
God, more vividly than any other book of the Bible.
The church father Athanasius said:
“Among all the books, the Psalter has a very special grace . . . within it are represented and
portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture in
which you see yourself portrayed.”
As we read Psalm 1, look for yourself portrayed.
INTRO: Are you happy?
Is your life characterized by a sense of fulfillment, joy, and blessedness?
Are you a fundamentally happy person? If not, why are you unhappy?
Psalm 1 is about being happy. That’s what “blessed is the man” means.
It’s a Hebrew word for one who is favored, fulfilled, joyful and happy.
This Psalm introduces us to the way in which we may find
true happiness and fulfillment in life.
It’s highly significant that this is the first Psalm. That’s no accident.
The Psalms were the hymnbook of the Old Testament church.
Like any hymnbook, they were written by different people, over many years.
The final arrangement didn’t happen till after the Babylonian captivity.
And like any hymnbook, the selection of the first hymn says something.
This Psalm was selected because there is a sense in which all the Psalms
that follow this one, all other 149, expound on this theme of happiness.
What is the blessed life? How do you find it? How do you experience it?
How do you answer the challenges to it in a fallen world?
All the Psalms speak to this theme in various ways.
The question of happiness is one of the great questions of life.
What is true happiness and how do you get it—
the way you answer that will shape your life and destiny.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Catholic philosopher, said:
“All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they employ,
they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the
same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to
this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang
Why do some people fight? Pascal says, They are seeking happiness.
Why do some people avoid fighting? They are seeking happiness.
Why do people do anything? Why do some people even take their lives?
They are seeking happiness. And he’s right.
It’s no surprise that the Psalms start with this profoundly important theme.
Almost all of us start out in life thinking happiness is natural.
In the early years it seems that happiness will just come to you.
You think that if you are good enough and work hard enough, will be happy.
If people are unhappy, it’s because they’ve messed up.
But then as times goes on, you start to see that happiness is not as easy
as you thought. Maybe it starts when you realize that the most successful,
and talented and beautiful and popular people aren’t happy.
Maybe you get some things you thought would make you happy and they didn’t.
Then you experience some deep unhappiness and are unable to overcome it.
Sometimes people are so hurt by life they become cynical
and think that happiness is unachievable.
The Bible doesn’t teach that happiness is natural.
Far from it, the Bible teaches that “man is born to trouble as sparks fly upward”
and “the span of our years is but trouble and sorrow.” Psalm 90.
This is a fallen world, we are fallen people. Happiness doesn’t come naturally.
But at the same time, the Bible doesn’t teach that happiness is unachievable.
It teaches that true happiness is possible.
It’s possible in his life to be a fundamentally happy person.
And three key questions about happiness answered in this Psalm.
1. How do you see it?
2. How do you get it?
3. How do you keep it?
MP#1 How do you see it?
What do you imagine would make you happy?
A change in your situation? Financial or relational changes maybe?
According to the Psalm, happiness is not circumstantial, it’s not situational,
it’s a matter of your roots.
Remember last week, when I introduced our study of the Psalms with 23rd Psalm,
I pointed out that one thing the Psalms do for us is sanctify our imagination.
They give us vivid pictures of the life of faith. They help us see things rightly.
Here is one of those images. It’s the picture of a tree.
But not just any tree, this particular tree is planted by a stream—
so its roots have permanent access to water even when drought scorching land.
Even if everything else is dried up, this tree is green and fruitful.
What does this show us about true happiness?
It’s not dependent on the weather. It’s not determined by seasons.
This is probably the biggest mistake most people make when they are
looking for happiness—they think it is a matter of their circumstances.
They see their happiness as being determined by externals.
It has to do with money, work, marriage, health, children, achievements, whatever.
But according to the Psalm, real happiness is found where your roots are.
A Christian is a person planted and rooted in something besides himself.
He’s drawing from the life of God and his union with Christ.
But even though true happiness does not depend on the weather,
the tree still feels the weather, it feels the harsh desert wind.
The tree is planted by a stream, but it’s planted in this world.
It experiences affliction—but its leaf does not wither.
There’s a great verse in 1 Peter 1 that speaks of this. Peter says:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”
He doesn’t say: You used to rejoice, then trials and grief came, and quit rejoicing.
And I hope those trials and griefs go away so you can start rejoicing again.
No, he says that both are happening at the same time—
You are greatly rejoicing and suffering grief in trials.
Most people would say that’s impossible.
You can’t be fundamentally happy and deeply sad at the same time.
You can’t rejoice greatly and at the same time suffer grief.
Because they would say that happiness is determined by your circumstances.
Things have to change or improve before you can find happiness again.
But here’s where the image of the tree is so powerful.
When a tree feels the drought, what does it do? It sends its root deeper.
It draws more deeply from the moisture underneath.
For a Christian, that means true happiness is stimulated by drought.
It’s not a lack of pain or grief that brings you the deepest sense of blessedness—
but the very pain itself that drives your roots deeper into Christ.
This week Allison got a letter from the wife of a couple we were close to in Florida.
We had not heard from them in a very long time and assumed all was well.
But she told us that her husband left her several years ago.
I want to read you a few portions.
It’s very painful—but I want you to hear the voice of someone whose
leaf has not withered and who is bearing fruit in a difficult season.
“Sorry I didn’t get to send many cards this year. I moved over Thanksgiving and had just started my new job before that. I feel like I told you already what happened with Jim and him leaving me, or maybe I didn’t and thought Michelle would probably have told you. Forgive me if I’m repeating myself and forgive me for shocking you. Well, he’s been married since 2006. Just came to me and the kids and church as a totally bizarre thing the night before Annemarie’s college graduation. He was having an affair with our bookkeeper. We had opened a second store and were planning on a third. She was married and a friend of course. God has grown me in an amazing way through his love and grace on me. I pray for Danny and his loss at 12 years of age. He rarely sees his dad who moved to Port Charlotte a couple of years ago. Proverbs tells the story better of how things unfold when this happens. I lost my house and after a knee replacement last year, I can finally move on. God gave me my first job working as a chiropractor assistant. My God has supplied all my needs, mentally and spiritually to such a point of awe. He saw me capable of handling such a horrible experience of cruelty and hatred from the man I trusted and loved for 23 years. I just pray each day (minute) that my children will see and know God as they all journey through life as it is in a fallen world. Everything else is just so small in God’s Bigger Picture.”
In her grief, her roots have gone deep. She is that tree, bearing fruit in season.
Do you understand how important it is for you to see happiness rightly?
If you imagine your happiness is founded on circumstances and situations,
you can lose that in a moment. Life as it is in a fallen world, as our friend put it.
Life as it is in a fallen world is full of things that change and decay.
But if you see clearly, that the source and essence of your happiness is down deep,
in Christ, in the Lord, then you have something that cannot be taken away.
What do you imagine will make you happy?
What are your daydreams?
What do you think about and hope for when the rush of life is quieted?
Let your imagination be sanctified by Psalm 1.
A tree by a stream with roots that are going deep, deeper every year.
Deeper still when all the land is scorched with drought.
Is that you? It can be. That’s the person God wants you to be by his grace.
Brings us to the second question:
MP#2 How do you get it? How do you get happiness?
How exactly do you sink your roots down deep?
According to Psalm 1, happiness is found by seeking righteousness.
The Bible never says: Blessed is the man who seeks blessedness.
Happy is the person who seeks happiness.
Always says that blessedness is the result of seeking something else.
The Lord Jesus said it best in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and . . .
all these things will be added to you as well.”
Seek happiness more than righteousness and you will get neither.
Seek righteousness more than happiness and you get both.
You’ll get righteousness and happiness thrown in the bargain.
Psalm 1 tells you tells you how to seek righteousness. It’s very practical.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
As we look at the specifics, I’m going to give you some specific applications.
You might think they are too specific.
But seeking righteousness always gets down to brass tacks, so to speak.
“Do not walk in the counsel of the wicked” has to do with your thinking.
Counsel refers to the realm of the intellect. The life of your mind.
If you are seeking righteousness, there must be a big difference between the way
you think and the way the world thinks. A big and growing difference.
You have to develop your Christian mind. You have to control your thoughts.
And you have to resist the thinking and values of the world that are pushed on you.
See them for what they are. Call them out as empty and foolish.
Here’s my application:
Go on a TV fast for several weeks and then re-evaluate your TV watching.
Television does not develop your Christian mind. It teaches you to think
and feel superficially and immorally. It glamorizes image over character.
There was a news story recently lamenting the fact that virtually all teenage girls on
television are depicted as sex objects. That’s no surprise.
That’s how the world thinks. But that’s not the way to righteousness or happiness.
So if you are going to continue to develop your Christian mind,
then you must not walk in the counsel of the wicked.
“Do not stand in the way of sinners” refers to your behavior.
There is the conduct of unbelievers and the conduct of Christians.
Paul is always making this point in his letters.
Don’t live as the pagans do, as you once lived. Live as followers of Christ.
It’s not enough to have different beliefs, must have a different way of life.
Do you remember from the book of Acts, what Christians were called before
they were called Christians? The Way. Because behavior so distinctive.
Here’s my application: Have family devotions.
It’s a distinctive thing you can do in your home to set yourself apart from world.
This is something non-Christian families never do.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. After supper get a Bible, or Bible story book.
Read a chapter out loud. Ask a few questions about it. Then pray together.
It says this is who we are. We are a family that is sending our roots deep.
You’re leading your family in the way of righteousness and blessedness.
“Do not sit in the seat of mockers” has to do with your belonging and identity.
It has to do with the company you keep. The people you like to spend time with.
People who are seeking righteousness know they belong with the people of God.
They don’t identify with people who ignore and mock the truth of God’s Word.
You have to live and work among people like that. You have to love them.
You have to seek to win them to Christ. But it must always be clear with you,
and to some degree with them, that you don’t have a place with them.
Your place, your identity, your hopes are with the people of God.
Here’s my application: Start attending church services you normally miss so that
you spend more time with God’s people in worship and fellowship.
Everybody is providentially hindered at times, but often it’s a decision not to go.
When you regularly attend the services and events of your church, not only are
you blessed by the means of grace, you are identifying with the people of God.
And that fellowship is a pathway to righteousness and blessedness.
“Delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Pursing righteousness and blessedness means not just
knowing the Bible, but taking it into your heart, and working its teachings in.
Reading the Bible is not a duty. It’s not a box that God expects us to check.
It’s God’s own voice. His will. His wisdom. His fatherly instruction.
Reading it and remembering it and thinking about it is like having
the Lord at your right hand.
If you make the Bible your daily companion, and read it to hear the Lord’s voice,
you will live a very different life from those who do not know the Word of God. And your life will be better, happier, and holier than it would otherwise be.
Here’s my application, very specific for the times we live in.
Read your Bible before you read your email or log on to Facebook
or check the internet or look at your text messages. Do it first no matter what.
Martin Luther said that if he didn’t read his Bible first, if he said to himself,
I’ve just got a few things to do real quick—then he was
ruined for the day. Couldn’t read and meditate as he should because he was
distracted by the busyness of life. And that was in the 1500s!
Human nature doesn’t change, but I think that we do have the potential
for even more distractions, and more competing voices.
So take this challenge to heart.
How do you get happiness? By seeking righteousness first.
How do you seek righteousness?
By deliberately thinking out and following the negatives and positives
in this Psalm—renouncing the thinking, behavior, and company of the world—
and delighting in and meditating on the law of the Lord.
Brings us to the last question:
MP#3 How do you keep it?
When you find happiness, how do you hold on to it?
The dominant word picture in this Psalm is the tree planted by streams of water—
the righteous man, the blessed man, whose roots are in Christ.
But there is a second word picture.
“Not so the wicked, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”
Now pardon me if you already know this, but in the old days,
after grain was harvested, it was brought to a threshing floor.
That was an open area where there was bedrock exposed.
The heads of grain were spread all over the threshing floor,
and a working animal, like an ox, would pull a heavy sled over it.
That would knock the wheat or barley kernel loose from the husk.
Then the farmer would take a pitch fork and toss it into the air.
The kernel, being heavy, would fall—but the wind would blow the husk away—
and that was called the chaff. It was light and worthless.
The Psalm is saying that there is a kind a kind of happiness like chaff.
It’s happiness apart from God and divorced from righteousness.
People call it happiness. They say they are happy.
They even feel happy. And who’s to argue with their feelings.
But it’s very different from the blessedness spoken of in verse 1.
In another place, the Bible talks about eternal pleasures at God’s right hand,
and it also speaks of the pleasures of sin for a season. Calls both pleasures.
But they are very different. One is real and lasting, the other is not.
One is pure and good, the other is not.
It’s the same idea here. There is a happiness that can be lost.
It’s happiness based entirely on feelings, following the desires of the sinful heart.
It feels good but it’s chaff. There is no life in it. No value. No substance.
And eventually it comes to nothing.
When a man leaves his faithful wife of 23 years and his three children
and his church and his Christian testimony to chase happiness—it’s chaff.
When a person finds his happiness in anything in this world—
even if it’s a respectable thing like making money,
if the Lord is not in it, then it is chaff.
And at some point, in this life or on the person’s death bed,
or in eternity—the wind will blow it away.
My friends, what a sober warning this is. It’s easy to see it in other people.
But how often have we been deceived by this?
We’ve followed our hearts, followed our feelings and ended up with chaff.
And so often, we’ve determined to follow the path of righteousness,
and we’ve been distracted and failed miserably.
That’s why we need Jesus. Who is the blessed man of Psalm 1?
James Boice tells the story of a missionary to Palestine from an earlier era—
a man named Joseph Flacks.
Once Mr. Flacks was speaking to a group of Jews, sharing Gospel with them.
And after reading the first Psalm he asked them:
Who is the blessed man of whom the psalmist speaks?
Who is the man who never walked in the counsel of the wicked,
or stood in the way of sinners, or sat in the seat of mockers?
Who is the man who always delighted in the law of God
and meditated on it day and night?
Nobody spoke. So Flacks said: Was it father Abraham?
One man said: No, it cannot be Abraham. He denied his wife and lied about her.
Well, was it the lawgiver Moses?
No, someone said. He killed a man in anger. And lost his temper at Meribah.
Then Flacks suggested King David.
But they shook their heads—No it was no David.
There was silence. And then an elderly Jew said:
My brothers, I have a little book here called the New Testament. I have been reading it.
And if I could believe this book, if I could be sure it is true,
I would say that that man of the first Psalm was Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus is the blessed man. He is the only perfect man and he’s the savior of sinners.
He stands in this first Psalm, this gateway to the Psalms, and promises
to show you the way to live, help you in it, forgive you when you fail.
How do you keep your happiness?
By being yourself kept by the blessed man our Savior Jesus Christ.
If you are in him, trusting him, finding your righteousness in him—
you can’t lose your happiness.
You may be shaken. You may be in great sorrow.
There may be such clouds in your life that it seems you’ve lost your joy.
But the true blessedness of your condition is unchanged.
You will be a person of substance, with roots going ever deeper into the stream.
How do you stay happy? How do you keep blessedness in this life and forever?
It’s not up to you. Here it is in the final verse:
“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.”
He watches over you, he knows you, he keeps you.
No greater promise than that.
Are you happy? If not, why not? Here is the way.
Put your trust in Jesus. Give your life to him. Walk in him.
And he will watch over every step of your way.