Blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked [following their advice and example],Nor stand in the path of sinners,Nor sit [down to rest] in the seat of scoffers (ridiculers). But his delight is in the law of the Lord,And on His law [His precepts and teachings] he [habitually] meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted [and fed] by streams of water,Which yields its fruit in its season;Its leaf does not wither;And in whatever he does, he prospers [and comes to maturity]. The wicked [those who live in disobedience to God’s law] are not so,But they are like the chaff [worthless and without substance] which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand [unpunished] in the judgment,Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows and fully approves the way of the righteous,But the way of the wicked shall perish.
Psalm 1: 1-5
Korean Airline Flight #007 departed Anchorage, Alaska, on October 31, 1983, for its direct flight to Seoul, Korea. However, unknown to the pilot and crew, the computer engaging the flight navigation system contained a one and one-half degree routing error. At the point of departure the mistake was unnoticeable; one hundred miles out the deviation was still too small as to be undetectable. But as the giant 747 continued through the Aleutians and out over the Pacific, the error was picked up by Soviet radar. Jets were scrambled for the intercept and over mainland Russia Flight #007 was shot out of the sky. All aboard were lost.
A small error made at the departure point resulted in a tragic trajectory and a destructive finish,
Psalm 1 presents two possible navigational plans which result in far different endings, and offers a checklist for measuring our direction.
As we begin a new year, Psalm 1 is a great source to check our direction in life. It is said that those who become lost will wonder in diminishing circles until they finally perish. If we lose sight of familiar landmarks, signs, and other indicators of direction, it’s easy to lose our way. In the journey of life we need some landmarks and signs to help us keep going in the right direction.
The questions that Psalm 1 poses aren’t ones that can be easily and nonchalantly answered. They require soul searching and honesty. Most importantly we need a helper to walk us through the process and God in His graciousness has provided such a one in the Holy Spirit.
Let us begin the examination.
Psalm 1 first asks us whether we are “walking in the counsel of the wicked.” The counsel of the wicked occurs whenever my own feelings or the advice of my acquaintances urge me to do what is inconsistent with God’s Word. George Wood says, “It is a matter of choosing to live outside God’s stated will (as expressed in the Bible) and the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.”
In our world today, quite often people make choices by “following their heart,” following the trends, or yielding to impulses that are usually driven by the sin nature. The Seventies coined the phrase, “If it feels good, do it!” Many took that advice without considering the consequences and it appears that we are reaping those results now. The only sure way to choose the right and the best is to seek the counsel of God and mistrust the counsel of our feelings and friends.
Psalm 1 next asks us to consider whether we are “standing in the way of sinners.” George Wood defines this position as: “Standing means taking a fixed and steady position. I have progressed past walking with the wicked to taking on their point of view. I can be counted on to stand up for my wrong choices and justify my sinful behaviors and theirs.” The story of Lot in the Old Testament illustrates this progression. We are told that he is first attracted to the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah and then we soon find him sitting in the gates with the elders of the city. He has now become part of the community and as time progresses, it’s not long before he has almost fully embraced its culture and ways. We would do well to consider whether our values and positions are rooted in the Scriptures or in the culture of the world around us. Worldly values shift over time but God’s Word never changes. As Christians we must choose to set our course and fix our position with the compass of the Bible. Every compass and every GPS device is set to fixed points. Just as our story tells us, even the slightest deviation can cause us to miss our destination by miles.
The third question Psalm 1 asks us to consider is whether we “sit in the seat of the mockers.” George Wood defines this position as: “Sitting is a posture which is finalized. I refuse to be uprooted; I remain fixed in my seat. I scorn and ridicule those seeking God’s will and way. Ultimately, my departure from God becomes so extreme I become a critic of God and others- and a foul one at that.” When we read the story of Judas the betrayer, most of us focus on the act of betrayal the night in the garden as he led those who had come to arrest Jesus. Vivid in our minds is the kiss of betrayal. But careful reading of Scripture reveals that long before this act, Judas had begun betrayal in his heart. The progress that led to the ultimate act of betrayal began one day as Jesus was being honored and worshipped by the woman who washed Jesus feet and anointed them with oil- costly oil. Judas saw that act as a waste for it didn’t benefit him personally. That’s the heart of the mocker. Whenever God and life doesn’t operate to benefit them, they fix their hearts against those who choose to walk on the will of God and ultimately against God Himself. The longer they remain seated the more rooted in their ways they become. Again in the story of Flight #007, we find that the longer the plane was directed by the one and one-half degree error, the farther off course it drifted. Sailers of old knew that they could always calibrate their compass and correct their course by finding the North Star. We too have a point of course correction. Both Christ and the Holy Spirit point our attention to the Scriptures and these three witnesses recalibrate our spiritual compasses.
The fourth question Psalm 1 asks is whether we choose to “delight ourselves in the law of the Lord.” George Wood says: “In the depths of depression, hurt, or rebellion, I may resent God’s standard. I may feel it precludes my happiness as a person, intrudes on my options, and loads me down with injunctions I neither want nor feel I can obey. Were it not for the grace of God, I could never delight in His law. It is, however in choosing to obey Him that the joy progressively comes as I see what He is up to in my life.”
John in his little letter of 1 John says this:
“For the [true] love of God is this: that we habitually keep His commandments and remain focused on His precepts. And His commandments and His precepts are not difficult [to obey].”
1 John 5:3
As we yield to the instructions and in obedience follow them, we discover that they always bring us into the place of blessing. Sometimes we may feel that God’s directions are wrong for us but if we will choose their way we will often find that they were actually best. We’ve all been victims of “short cuts” that have led us dead ends with no way forward. The only way out of that place is to turn around and take the directed route. Sometimes even our built in sense of direction can lead us astray. I have always had a sense of direction as it pertains to points on the compass but I’ve discovered that my sense of direction can lead me wrong. One late night driving to Florida and following I95, we approached Jacksonville. For a space of time, the road signs disappeared and we had no sense of direction. My inner sense kicked in and I knew I was traveling north. For a moment I panicked and then I saw a sign that said I95 South. What a relief! The next day as I looked at the map, sure enough, South I95 went north as it looped around Jacksonville. In my panic moment, left to my inner senses, I would have turned around and went the other way. That’s what it means to learn to delight ourself in the law of God. We choose to follow God’s ways even when it feels contrary to what we may feel at the moment. And the more we yield to God’s way, the more we find ourselves in the best places.
Finally Psalm 1 asks us to consider what we spend the most of our time doing as we plot the course of our lives. What resources do we use, where do we search for direction and where do we seek advice? The answer to this question is critical. George Wood asks: “Do I reflect upon His Word- memorizing, studying, and integrating it into my life- and thereby find stability, healing, and restoration?”
Psalm 1 tells us that each choice gives an outcome. If we choose to “forsake the postures of walking, standing, and sitting with the wicked and embrace waiting upon the Lord, delight in His Word, and meditating there on, my life becomes like a tree planted by streams of water, whose leaf does not wither, bearing fruit in its season.”(George Wood)
Or I can become like chaff blown about by every wind of change, having no fixed point on the compass like a rowboat tossed about by the waves of the ocean. George Wood says: “In the end the wicked are lightweights, persons of no real substance or depth of character- rootless, weightless, and useless.”
“So that we are no longer children [spiritually immature], tossed back and forth [like ships on a stormy sea] and carried about by every wind of [shifting] doctrine, by the cunning and trickery of [unscrupulous] men, by the deceitful scheming of people ready to do anything [for personal profit]. But speaking the truth in love [in all things—both our speech and our lives expressing His truth], let us grow up in all things into Him [following His example] who is the Head—Christ.”
It’s our choice- it really is.
Dr. John Thompson