"The Vital Habit of the Blessed"
(Delivered Sunday, December 10, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
At the beginning of each year, I have sought to challenge our church family to take up a resolve or a habit—one that, I hope, will be used of God to strengthen each individual in his or her personal walk with Christ. And though it's a bit early in the year to do so, I'd like to spend the next few weeks presenting that challenge to you from the Scriptures; so that, when the new year comes, you will be ready and encouraged to embrace it.
If I were to point to just one habit that has most enhanced my walk with Jesus Christ—one practice that God has most used to direct me in His way and to keep me from falling into disastrous pitfalls in life—it would be the daily habit of reading from the Bible. My hope is that, this year, every person in our church family will make it his or her earnest resolve to expose themselves daily—in a serious and prayerful manner—to God's holy word.
To get us thinking about the value of this habit, I ask you to turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 1. I believe that the Holy Spirit has led that this psalm be the first psalm in His great scriptural 'hymn book' because it sets the tone for all that would then follow. It teaches us the fundamental attitude that the man or woman of God must have in order to experience His blessings in life. And by the way, it would be a good psalm to commit to memory.
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Before we read it together, with your Bible opened to it, I ask you to pause first and look at its very first words of this psalm. See for yourself how it begins. It begins with the words “Blessed is the man . . .”
In the original language of this psalm, the word translated “blessed” (or “happy”) is plural. Plurality in the Hebrew language is sometimes used to express something in an exclamatory way. And so, it can be translated as an exclamation—'Oh! how very blessed; Oh! how very happy, is the man” who does what it says in this psalm. That's basically how it's translated in the New American Standard version: “How blessed is the man . . .”
Dear brothers and sisters; I have to resist the temptation to preach a whole sermon on just those four words: “Blessed is the man . . .” Remember; that is God the Holy Spirit speaking! He is telling us, compassionately, that He wants people to be genuinely blessed and happy in life. And here, He tells us authoritatively what it takes for a man or a woman to truly be immeasurably happy and blessed . God Himself is telling us that when someone does what is said in this psalm, Oh! how blessed that person is! To put it another way: you have, in this psalm, the pathway to real, substantial happiness and blessedness in life—a pathway that is more authoritative than anything that all the self-help books and day-time talk shows and seminars and workshops put together could present to you! If you will take God at His word, then you have His own council in this psalm as to what you must do in life—what habit you must take up—that will result in the greatest possible happiness and fulfillment and blessedness over the long-haul of the course of your life.
You and I have more in this one psalm than anything else the world has to offer—if we will just heed it and obey it! Keep that in mind as we read it together.
This first psalm in the book of the Psalms says;
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This psalm speaks of the “law of the LORD”; and at the time when it was written, that was a name given to the only written word of God that would have been available—that is, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. It's a name for the whole written word of God. Perhaps you will remember when Moses placed the whole of the Scripture revealed to him by God into the hands of his assistant Joshua—just before Moses himself died and went to the Lord. Moses told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
The “law of the LORD”, then, is a phrase that refers to the whole written word of God; the whole of Scripture. It is the Bible that you are holding this morning in your hand. And we're being told by our Creator that the truly blessed man or woman in life is the one who makes the word of God his or her 'delight'. The blessed person is he or she that—as a regular habit of life—'meditates day and night' in His written word.
And so, it is my hope, dear brothers and sisters, that every one of us in this church family will make it his or her resolve in the coming year to love the word of God as more delightful to them than anything else that this world offers; and to daily read it and study it and reflect on it so that it will change their lives. With regard to no other habit does God say that the man or woman who does it will be “blessed” in so rich and wonderful a way. But here in this psalm, He clearly testifies to us that a daily habit of delighting in and meditating on God's word leads is what will lead to blessedness in life.
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Now; whenever we talk about this subject, I feel like I need to make it clear that a daily time in the Bible is not an end in and of itself. Reading the Bible is only a means to an end. It happens to be the a divinely-appointed means to a divinely-appointed end; but it is still only a means to an end. And we need to keep the 'end' in mind if we are going to draw the greatest benefit from the 'means'.
What is the 'end' or 'goal' of reading the Bible? It's not merely to fill your mind with Bible knowledge. Rather, it's to cultivate a relationship that leads to salvation. The Bible is all about a wonderful Person; and a relationship with that Person is what leads to salvation.
Do you remember when, after Jesus was resurrected, He was found walking along with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? Luke tells us that that “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27)? And do you remember how, a short time later, He presented Himself to the whole group of disciples as alive from the dead, and told them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (v. 44)? The whole of Scripture points to Jesus Christ. It draws our attention to Him—who He is and what He has done for us on the cross. And it calls us to salvation through a personal relationship with Him by faith.
To read the Bible as an end in and of itself, and to fail to enter into a relationship with the One who it directs us to for salvation, is to miss the whole point of the Scriptures. Jesus once told the Pharisees, who were great experts in the Scriptures, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). The apostle Paul praised “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). So we need to remember that the Scriptures are a wonderful means to a wonderful end—and that end is the cultivation and advancement of a relationship with a wonderful Person, Jesus Christ, by whom we are saved.
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Let me take this just a bit further. Think for a moment about all the 'advice' and 'counsel' that there is in the world today. Watch the typical daytime talk-show on television, or listen to the typical call-in advice programs on the radio, or check out the 'self-help' rack at the bookstore. Have you ever noticed that the topics that are addressed in these different things are usually not things that the Bible addresses in a clear and direct way? The questions that they answer are very often not the questions that the Bible answers.
The questions that are being answered in the world's sources of advice are the things that the people of this world consider the most relevant; and the Bible is typically considered 'irrelevant' because it doesn't seem to address these things. On a very superficial level, the topics addressed by the world's sources of advice are such things as how someone can be more attractive to the opposite sex; or how someone can be more successful or wealthy. Those types of things are always of interest to the people of this world; and they want to know how these “felt needs” can be met.
Perhaps on a more serious level, these advice and self-help programs talk about things like how someone can get over the loss of love, or rise themselves out of depression, or get past the terrible harm that someone has caused them. Sometimes, they show how deal with children who are out of control, or how you can build-up your sense of self-worth. Sometimes they even advice you on how to do wrong and get away with it. I've heard some such programs explain, if you are going to have an affair on your spouse, how to do it 'tactfully'.
These things are things that people need answers for; and the fact is that the Bible does have something to say about these things. I don't hesitate to say that there isn't a single, real problem in life that anyone could have that God's word doesn't give the answer for. But it doesn't always answer our “felt needs” directly. It doesn't seem to the people of this world that it answers the questions they're asking because they're not asking the right questions; and so, they don't consider the Bible to be relevant to their daily life. They turn from the written word of God, and turn instead to the answers and advice and council of this world As the Bible says, “according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). They are as Paul said, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
But do you know why the Bible seems to irrelevant to their needs? It's because the Bible gives the answer for the real need—not merely the 'felt needs' that people of the world are constantly demanding. The real problem that people have—the problem that is the cause of all other problems—is that, because of sin, they are alienated from the God who made them. And the great need that they have—the need that, once met, results in all of the other things of life progressively falling into place—is the forgiveness of their sins and a restoration of their relationship with God. This great need is fulfilled in Jesus Christ—the one to whom the Bible points.
“Therefore,” as the Bible tells us, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). Once we are right with God through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ, and once we begin the wonderful journey of walking with Him through a life of obedience, all of the other problems—the problems that the world scrambles here and there to find the answers to—progressively become resolved. Jesus has told us not to fret and worry about the things that the unbelieving people of this world fret and worry about. God knows all about our needs. Instead, He says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:32).
The problems and trials of life are real. But the Bible doesn't answer the questions that the world is asking about these problems and trials. The Bible doesn't merely put out our little 'fires' for us and slap mere 'band aids' on the wounds we keep inflicting on ourselves. Instead, it points us to our great need—our real need—a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ by which we are made into 'new creations'. It points us to a relationship with Christ in which our past is completely forgiven by the blood of His cross and our brokenness healed by His loving grace; a relationship in which He ever lives with us to guide us and direct us through whatever trials of life that we may face; a relationship in which He lives His own life in us and through us; a relationship in which we are empowered to do what He calls us to do; a relationship of love in which we enjoy the glorious expectation of being with Him forever.
That is the great 'end' toward which the Bible is the 'means'. It points us to a relationship with a wonderful Person who saves us completely. And that's why this psalm says, “Blessed”—Oh! how truly blessed and happy!—is the man or woman who has his or her delight in the law of the Lord, and who makes it his or her regular, consistent habit to meditate in God's word day and night! It leads them to the one who answers all their real needs.
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Look a little closer at this psalm with me. Think about what it says concerning . . .
1. THE HABIT THAT LEADS TO A BLESSED LIFE (vv. 1-2).
What does the man do who God calls blessed? First, you see that this psalm tells us what is to be avoided. The person who is blessed before God is the person who makes it a habit of not doing something:
The “ungodly” (or the “wicked”, as some translations have it) are those people who live in enmity toward God. They don't submit themselves to Him, and they don't follow His commands for life. The philosophy of life that they follow is secular or paganistic in nature. And to “walk in the counsel of the ungodly” is to listen to the advice of, and follow the principles of, ungodly and unbelieving people. The man or woman who is blessed of God is the man or woman who walks NOT in the counsel of the ungodly.
Then, there are those whom the psalm refers to as “sinners”. This is a step beyond a mere “ungodly” philosophy of life. This refers to those who, from that ungodly perspective, act out in open disobedience to God. And to “stand in the path of sinners” is to imitate their behavior and do as they do. It is to follow their example of sinful life choices and behaviors. And the man or woman who is blessed of God is that man or woman who stands NOT in the path of sinners.
Finally, there are those whom this psalm refers to as the “scornful”. This refers to those who don't merely hold to an ungodly philosophy of life, nor who merely act out in disobedience to God's commands. This refers to those who aggressively, maliciously mock God and His ways; and who ridicule those who seek to know Him and live in obedience to Him by faith. To “sit in the seat of the scornful” is to be found in company with them and to become identified with them. And again, the man or woman who is blessed of God is that man or woman who sits NOT in the seat of the scornful.
And do you notice that there is a definite 'declining' order in these things? It descends from the realm of the will, to the realm of the practice, and finally to the realm of beliefs. The man or woman who willfully choses to listen to the counsel of the ungodly, and heeds their advice, will soon find that he or she is standing in the path of sinners. They soon discover that they are living like the people whose ungodly advice they follow and are doing the very sinful things that they do. And having stepped onto that 'slippery slope', they soon go from merely acting in disobedience to God's revealed will to setting themselves up in opposition to God's good ways. They begin to join in with the disbelief of those they listen to; and begin to come up with excuses for their disobedience and for their unbelief. Soon, they are ridiculing God's word, or mocking His people, or slandering the gospel. It has been my experience that no one ridicules the faith more than someone who once professed to belief it, but who later left it because of a love for sin.
The way it is put in the Hebrew language1 suggests a complete and one-and-for all action. The man or woman of God who is blessed makes it his or her resolve to not now, and to never in the future, heed the advice of ungodly people, or stand in the way of their sins, or take one's place with them in their scorn. Dear brothers and sisters; it is our natural bent—in the flesh—to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, and to stand in the path of sinners, and to sit in the seat of the scornful. If we do nothing and allow ourselves to 'go with the flow', we will end up doing those very things. As someone once said, “Live fish swim upstream; dead fish go with the flow”. And that's why God says that His blessings rest on the man or woman who makes a heart-felt resolve not to travel down that course.
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That's what the blessed person does not do. But it's not enough to simply resolve not to do something. Notice next what he or she does instead:
First, the blessed person has his or her “delight” in God's word. They love God's word. They love God's word because it comes from God, and they love God and His Son Jesus. But they love God's word for more than that alone. They also love it because of what it accomplishes in their lives.
They love God's word and delight in it because it alone shows them Jesus' love for them; and it teaches them how to know Jesus Christ better, and follow Him, and obey Him. They love it because they trust it alone to be the sole rule for their faith and practice. Here, I think of what it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17; “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” To delight in the law of the Lord is to truly believe those words and take them to heart.
And what's more, the blessed person not only delights in the word but also “meditates” in it. The word translated “meditate” refers to the idea of musing on something and rolling it around in one's mind by “muttering” it over and over to one's self.
The blessed man or woman, in other words, is the one doesn't simply hear it and walk away; but rather, keeps it, and chews on it for a while, and thinks deeply about it, and memorizes it, and quotes it to himself or herself—even “muttering” it to themselves—until it transforms them from the inside-out. And here, I think of James 1:22-25; “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
The blessed man or woman of God is the one who exposes himself or herself to the word of God in this way regularly—daily; as it says, “day and night”; that is, when he or she lies down, and when he or she rises up, and all the times in between!
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That is the vital habit, dear brothers and sisters, that leads to the blessed life. We must “delight” in God's word so much that we reject the superficial wisdom of this world; and we must train ourselves to “meditate” in it day and night. This is the path to the blessed life. We have God's own word on it.
And now, consider what this psalm tells us about . . .
2. THE BLESSED LIFE THAT COMES FROM THIS HABIT (vv. 3-6).
First, it tells us about the character of the man or woman who does this with respect to their daily life in this world;
A tree is a picture of stability. It is strong and well-rooted into the ground. Have you ever had the experience of visiting or getting a phone call from a Christian brother or sister you haven't seen for years? Isn't it wonderful when you discover that they are still walking faithfully with the Lord? There are believers like that. You can count on the fact that, when you meet them again after a long time, they will still be rock-solid and faithful to the Lord. That's what the man or woman is like who is well-grounded in the truths of God's word through a daily habit of delighting in it and meditating on what it says. They're as faithful as a tree.
And noticed what else it says. Such people experience continual refreshment and renewal by the Holy Spirit—as if planted by rivers of water. They are used by God to bring about His good in this world—as if bringing forth fruit in its season. They display the beauty and attractiveness Christ's own life in them during times of trial and hardship—as if bearing leaves that do not wither and fall. And the lives of such people are successful from heaven's perspective and truly rich in the things that matter. They find that God blesses all their so that whatever God does through them prospers in His hand.
This is the blessed state of the man or woman who delights in God's word and meditates in it day and night. But by contrast, look at what this psalm teaches us about the ungodly:
Chaff is the husk of grain that is separated from the kernel of wheat in threshing. When wheat was harvested, it was “threshed”—that is, the wheat was beaten so that the husks broke off from the kernel, and then thrown up into the air so that the wind would separate the husk from the kernels and be blown away. Chaff is 'proverbial' in the Bible for that which is worthless and carried away by the wind—never to be seen again.
You might say that chaff is the exact opposite of the kind of stability pictured in the tree. The wind blows it away; while the tree remains stable. And this reminds me of what Jesus Himself said about those who make His word the guiding principle of their lives:
One of the characteristics of the blessed life that springs from a daily habit in God's word, then, is stability in the winds and trials of life. That man or woman who delights in God's word, and meditates on it day and night—and who are thus deep and strong in a vital relationship with Jesus Christ—will live a life that is stable in faith, continually refreshed in strength, fruitful in purpose, attractive in godliness, and prosperous in God's good will. How blessed is that man or woman!
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And there's more! Consider what this psalm tells us about the blessed life that flows from this habit with respect to God's eternal approval!
First, it speaks—negatively—of the eternal destiny of the wicked. It says,
That man or woman who walks in the counsel of the ungodly, and stands in the path of sinners, and that sits in the seat of the scornful, is demonstrating the true nature of his or her character. God's word here warns that they will not “stand” in the judgment. They may be able to boast of certain 'religious' things that they did. They may say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” But the Lord will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23). They will be separated from the congregation of the righteous as the tares are separated from the wheat at the harvest (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43).
For the Lord to “know” the way of the righteous means more than that He simply is aware of it. It means that He looks upon it with favor. He approves of it. He acknowledges it in such a way as to have a relationship with those who are in it. The way of the ungodly will perish; but the way of the righteous He “knows”!
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We are in the “way” God “knows” when we are in a relationship with Jesus Christ by faith, and as we walk with Him in obedient love. And to help us cultivate this relationship is why God has graciously given us His written word. And so, a daily habit of delighting in God's word and meditating on it is the greatest and most important habit we can have.
I hope you will give yourself to this habit in the coming year. Blessed is the man or woman who does so!
1The verbs translated “walk”, “stand” and “sit” are given in the perfect aspect; and with the negative, this suggests a complete and final resolve of heart not to do these things.
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