You don’t often hear anyone say, “Turn to Psalm 1 please.” It seems that with the grand exposition of the glories and downfalls of humankind, with the declarative exclamations, praises for and pleading with God that follow this humble Psalm, it is often overlooked. But this small Psalm, a simple setting of God’s feeling toward the righteous and the unrighteous, gives a compelling frame of reference for the entirity of the Psalms.
Much like the familiar beattitudes in Mark 5, Psalm 1 begins “Blessed is the man who…”. Right from the start, God desires to reveal to us his love for us. Like a proud father, like a husband glowingly gazing at his bride, the Lord says, “Blessed is the man!” In a move that makes my heart sing, God doesn’t say, “In the future, the man will be blessed…” or “The man will be blessed if he can acheive great things…” Two glorious words begin the Psalms, the greatest poetic expression of the heights and depths of man and the wonderous unfolding of God’s character. These two words are present, and always: Blessed is.
What is the blessing that God is so eager to share with us? The Amplified Bible (a favorite of mine; if you've never plunged into this meaty resource, I recommend it, especially if you dig words) defines "blessed" as "HAPPY, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable." The capital letters there, btw, are in the text--not my emphasis!
I don't know about you, but I'm coming out of a time where, as I think back on it now, I don't recall being particularly happy. I was definitely fortunate in a number of ways, and perhaps even enviable due to my "dream job" of working with college students and the faculty who mentor them. And of course, working in a non-profit, I didn't feel very prosperous, but I'm going to chalk that one up to "first-world problems."
It's pretty amazing that God wants us to be happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable. And are there any strings attached? Only ones of beauty, and love, and communion with God. What shouldn't we be doing? It's a pretty easy list, on the face of it, thought I've gone wrong with it before:
Don't mess around with or live in the counsel of the ungodly. That means not following their advice, their plans, and especially not to get mixed up with the purposes of the ungodly.
This is trickier than it seems. It seems to be perfectly common sense. And yet, in Mark, we listen to Jesus give us a pretty sophisticated juxtaposition. In verse 38, the followers of Jesus ask him about a man who isn't part of their group, but who is driving out demons in the name of Jesus. "Don't forbid him to do this," Jesus instructed, "because no one who does a mighty work in my name will soon afterward be able to speak evil of me." This seems to imply that function follows form: if you do a big-deal kind of thing, you're going to join the team. But within a breath, he also says, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to lose a limb or pluck out an eye than be separated from the Father." Is it possible that aligning ourselves with the purposes of the world causes us to stumble?
Second Corinthians 6:14 tells us not to be "unequally yoked with unbelievers." When I was younger, I heard that phrase mostly from youth pastors who were desperately trying to keep their young group members from the clutches of the hormonal evildoers. To whatever extent that may or may not have worked, as I grew older I found that the human heart can be deceitful, and frankly, believers making "mismatched alliances" or yoking themselves to a "different yoke, inconsistent with their faith" happens more frequently than we might imagine. Paul asks, "what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" I can hear the anguish in his voice; I have felt it myself.
This foundation was laid in Psalm 1. For all its beauty, for all its blessings, God says, "Blessed is the man...who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly--following their advice, their plans and purposes--nor stands submissive and inactive in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down to relax and rest where the scornful and the mockers gather."
Even as I copy-and-paste these words (plagiarism fiends, calm down--I cited the source at the bottom), I hear a plea in my heart; a plea to all believers, to our leaders, to our children. A plea to be in the world, but not of it; to stand righteous and holy before God and become the priesthood of believers, full of integrity, and a "peculiar people" among the depravity pulsing around us.
What a delight this is to the Lord! Psalm 1 continues: "Blessed is the man...[whose] delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates, ponders, and studies, by day and by night." And what lovely amazingness does God promise in return? This blessed man "shall be like a tree firmly planted and tended by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper and come to maturity."
Beautiful father! Loving Jesus! Compassionate Holy Spirit! Blessed are those who walk in the ways of the Lord; everything they do will mature and prosper. No need for scheming! No need for crooked dealings or dishonesty. The Lord tends to us, waters and feeds us, and we bring forth our fruit in season.
"Seek, aim at, and strive after, first of all, His kingdom and His righteousness," Mark writes. "His way of doing and being right--and then all these things, all taken together, will be given to you besides!"
Blessed is the man, and blessed is the Lord!
______ All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from theAmplified Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.