A Summer in the Psalms
Pastor Jefferson M. Williams
Chenoa Baptist Church
This song, from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack by Pharrell Williams, was the number song of 2014. In fact, it went number one in 19 countries and the video has been watched almost one billion times!
The chorus says it all:
Because I'm Happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I'm Happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I'm Happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I'm Happy
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do
It’s an ear worm and you will probably be humming it all day now. But more than that, there’s a reason why this song was such a huge hit.
We all desire happiness but, for many people, it’s hard to find.
On the 2021 Happiness Index, the happiest countries were Finland, Denmark, and Switzerland. The United States was 18th on the list.
2020 was a particularly rough year for happiness in America. In a poll, only 14% of Americans said that they were very happy down from 31% in 2018.
The Barna group recently tweeted,
“51% of Gen Z say happiness is their ultimate goal in life. "Social media tells them how to be happy, but then reminds them that they aren't happy."
Thomas Jefferson believed that happiness was an American right:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This week, I asked friends on Facebook what made them happy. Here are some of their answers: family, coffee, nature, mountains, hobbies, babies, sunshine, campfires, cool breezes, stars, good sleep, watching movies, good weather, checking things off my to-do list, being creative, rescue work, gardening, home cooked meals, baptisms, learning about the Bible, vacation, grandchildren, and Jesus.
Does the Bible say anything about happiness and, if it does, how can we find it?
Introduction to the Psalms
This morning we begin our series, “Summer in the Psalms.” The book of Psalms is actually a collection of 150 Hebrew poems written by multiple authors
David wrote 73
Asaph - 12
Sons of Korah - 11
Heman and Ethan - 2
Solomon and Moses - 2
Anonymous - 49
These poems/songs were written over a period of 1,000 years and collected into what would be Jesus’ Spotify playlist.
There are different types of Psalms: Psalms of praise, psalms of lament, imprecatory psalms, Temple psalms, songs of ascent, Messianic psalms, Royal psalms, and thanksgiving psalms.
They are divided up into five books with a conclusion, Psalms 146-150, and an introduction, Psalm 1 and 2.
In fact, if you were to read the scroll of the Psalms the first Psalm would be unnumbered and written in red.
[Slide] Psalm 1 wasn’t written first. It was written as an introduction to the entire Psalter. It contains one of the main themes of the entire book of Psalms - two types of people - righteousness and wicked, two paths - blessings and curses, two destinies - heaven and hell.
Turn with me to Psalm 1.
We can divide the Psalm into two parts:
the righteousness will prosper 1-3
The wicked will perish 4-6
1. The Righteous will Prosper
We will see three things that the blessed person doesn’t do, then two things they make a priority, and then a beautiful word picture of what their lives look like.
“Blessed is the one…(Psalm 1:1a)
The very first word of the entire book of Psalms introduces us to a type of person - the blessed one.
The word “blessed” means “Oh how happy!” Or a deep contentment in the Lord. It’s actually in the plural so it reads, “Oh the happinesses.”
The writer of the psalm will begin the entire book by driving home the point that true happiness is a byproduct of seeking God.
It’s used 26 times in the Psalms and always points to a deep seated joy in the Lord:
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)
Blessed is the man (one). Calvin makes the point that it doesn’t say that blessed is the scholar, the doctor, the professor but the man. Any ordinary man can live out this blessed life in the face of extreme adversity.
What are the areas that he is to avoid in order to not lose that happiness?
“who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” (Psalm 1b, ESV)
They do not walk in the counsel of the wicked. In the Bible, walking is a metaphor for way of life.
Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” (Eph 4:1)
[Slide] Who walks not in the counsel of the wicked. This means taking ungodly advice from people in the world. Be careful who you listen to when you are seeking counsel. This speaks to our worldview versus theirs, our beliefs.
[Slide] nor stands in the way of sinners. This person has now stopped walking and is standing in the path of sinners. This has to do with actual behavior that violates God’s will.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians:
“Bad company corrupts good character.” (I Cor 15:33)
[Slide] nor sit in the seat of scoffers. Do you feel the downward motion? This person walks, then stands, then sits down at the table with those who mock God.
I was watching YouTube videos the other and a comedian was riffing on church. It was profane, blasphemous and, honesty, just wasn’t funny but the crowd wads roaring with laughter.
Let me give you a story about how this plays out.
Andy and Ginny are in their early 40s had been married for 18 years. They had a 15, 12, and 8 year old. Andy’s a tax accountant and tax season has been totally draining. The kids schedule is nuts, they haven’t been to church all summer because of sports, and he can’t remember the last time he kissed his wife. They were like two ships passing through the night.
One day at work, he mentions to his co-worker that he isn’t happy at home and he needs some advice. Brad tells him that life is too short to be unhappy and that he’s got an idea that might solve the problem. That idea’s name is Rene, a friend of his from college. Andy cocks his head and reminds Brad that he’s married. Brad laughs and says, “Believe me, she doesn’t care.”
Two days later, a very attractive woman walks into the office and Brad introduces her to Andy. Her name is Rene. She pretty, witty, and very flirtatious. Andy finds himself blushing and his knees are a little weak. They stand and talk at the door for 45 minutes.
Two weeks later, Andy tells Ginny that he’s got to work late and then some guys from the office are going out. What he doesn’t tell her is that Rene will be there.
As he pulls up to the bar, Andy’s heart is racing. He sits in the car and talks to himself - “Brad is a friend but I wonder if this is going completely off the rails. I love Ginny and the kids. I don’t want to do anything to lose them.” Just then, Rene knocks on the car window, leaning over, with a low cut blouse. Andy swallows hard and says out loud, “Just one drink.”
Two hours later and after several shots of liquid courage, Andy feels Rene’s hand on his leg under the table. He looks at her and, in desperation, says, “You know I’m married, right?” She replied with a smirk, “Adultery is only wrong if you get caught.” At that the whole table explodes into half-drunken laughter.
Andy is about to do something that will blast his true source of happiness to kingdom come.
The blessed person understand that part of our true happiness is found in being separate from the world. This doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from our unsaved friends, family and neighbors. Jesus said to go and make disciples.
We are to be in the world but not of it. Jesus was called and friend of sinners and was accused of being a glutton and drunkard. (Matt 11:19)
I love the way Steve Lawson puts it:
“Our boat should be in the water but there shouldn’t be any water in the boat.”
If we are seeking counsel, it should be from people that we know are spiritually mature and knows God’s Word. That’s why it’s so important to seek out a Christian counselor when you are struggling.
Andy could have called his pastor and asked him for advice. His pastor, let’s call him Jeff, would have told him that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greenest where it is watered the most. He would have encouraged him to plug back into Biblical community and he and Ginny take some time away, just by themselves. He would have also offered to meet with Andy and disciple him. And that discipleship would have begun with Andy memorizing Titus 2:11-14:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
The Psalmist then focused on two priorities of a blessed life.
[Slide] “…but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)
The word “but” indicates totally different belief systems than those that walk, stand, and sit with the wicked.
First, the blessed man delights in the law of the Lord. He has a different set of affections, different loves, a new heart, and a new appetite.
The prophet Ezekiel spoke these words to wayward Israel:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek 36:26-27)
Alistair Begg has said, “We delight in what we desire.”
The blessed man finds great joy, magnifies, and honors the law of the Lord. In this context, the law of the Lord represents God’s instructions found in the Bible.
David wrote in Psalm 40:
"Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:7-8)
Then the blessed person is said to “meditate on His law day and night.”
When we think of meditation, we often have in mind Eastern meditation in which the whole goal is to empty your mind. But Christian meditation is the exact opposite. It is a filling of the mind with God’s Word.
The Hebrew word “meditate” is fascinating. It can mean to coo like a dove, the low growl of a lion, to whisper, to mummer, to mutter, or talk to oneself.
Imagine you walk by my office in the church and you notice that I’m sitting at my desk and you hear, very softly, over and over:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses but I will trust in the name of the Lord my God. God I don’t have chariot or horses. All I have is you and I will trust in your name.”
Christian meditation means to not just read the Bible but to ponder (pond), to reflect upon, to chew the Word like a cow chews its cud, methodically and patiently, until they squeeze every last morsel of nutrients out of the grass.
This is in the present tense so it is a continual, ongoing desire for God’s Word. In fact, the author writes that this meditation should go on day and night.
The Essenes, who were a Jewish sect who isolated themselves from the culture, took this literally and had a twenty-four hour rotation so that God’s Word was being mediated on day and night.
Can I ask you a question? Do you delight in God’s Word? Do you find great joy in reading, studying, and memorizing and meditating on God’s Word?
One of the first things the Holy Spirit will do when you become a Christian is to draw you to His Word. If your Bible is sitting on a shelf collecting dust, there is something wrong spiritually. It may be that you are not even saved, or it may be that you simply don’t know how to study your Bible or where to begin.
I always encourage people to begin with the book of John. It is a first-hand account from Jesus’ best friend of his life, death, and resurrection.
[Slide] Earlier this year, we made the book “How to Eat your Bible” available earlier this year. If you want a copy, let me know.
[Slide] By the way, you can trust the Bible. Last week, Michael Packard was diving for lobsters off of Cape Cod and…was swallowed by a whale!
Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically. It is in direct correlation to the amount of the time you spend with God in His Word.
I read of a pastor that was brilliant and could prepare a sermon in an afternoon. (It takes me about 20-25 hours). He said that he thought that his friends that spent that long pouring over commentaries and Hebrew words were wasting time. His sermons were amazing, his church was exploding, he wrote several books that were selling, and…he was committing adultery with a woman in the church!
Later in life, he said, “All that time my pastor friends spent in the Word was growing them up spiritually. I got by for a time on just being really smart and gifted, but soon my spiritual immaturity caught up to me and completely destruction was the result.
That’s why it’s so important to be in a Bible study. It’s where we, as a group, chew the cud of Scriptures and seek to apply it our lives.
Now, what if you dared to be honest in church, admitted that you don’t delight in God’s Word? Then I’m going to double dog dare you to pray a dangerous prayer:
“God, if I’m honest, I don’t desire to read and study the Bible. I know You already know that, but I want to you to know that I don’t like it and want that to change. So, you would please give me a desire to delight in your Word?”
The last portion of the way of the righteousness is an amazing picture that the Psalmists paints for us.
[Slide] “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither -whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)
The blessed man, the one who does not walk, stand, or sit with the wicked but delights and meditates on God’s Word is like a tree, not a stump, but a full grown tree that isn’t wild but planted by a master gardener. The tree is planted by stream of water, literally canals.
“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:7-9)
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
Israel is a very dry, hot climate and almost nothing grows unless it’s near water. In the north, near the Sea of Galilee, the land is verdant and green. That’s because there is an inlet and an outlet. But in the south, near the Dead Sea, nothing grows. The Dead Sea has an inlet but no outlet.
Its roots goes down deep and the tree is productive. It yield fruit in season.
This fruit is spiritually refreshing good works. When I ran the marathon in Champaign, mile 20-25 was through winding neighborhoods and there were very few people along the route to cheer. For a while, I felt like I was running in jello. But then I turned the corner and thought I might be hallucinating. Stretched across the entire road were volunteers with platters of fresh fruit - bananas, apples, grapes and more. The runners were stopping and shoving the fruit in their mouths as fast as they could.
The results were incredible. We all felt refreshed and had energy to finish strong.
The prophet Jeremiah picks up in this theme:
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jer 17:7-8)
Then the author of the Psalm writes something that should makes us scratch our heads - “whatever they do prospers.”
Wait…what? That’s not the world I live in. I look around and see the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering. Is the author of this psalm naive?
Let’s look at Asaph’s words in Psalm 73:
“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” (Psalm 73:1-12)
Asaph then wonders if walking with God is even worth it:
“Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” (Psalm 73:13-14)
We are going to look at Asaph’s conclusion in a minute but let’s admit that, in the here and now, it very much looks like the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer.
But we are to have a different perspective:
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” (Psalm 37:7)
But what does “prosper” mean in this psalm? Does it mean that God is going to drop a Lexus in your driveway and that you will never be sick as some pastors preach? No.
The actually means “successful, to bring to a successful conclusion.” How is a tree “successful?” It bears fruit in season.
Even in times of drought, this tree is green and vibrant.
Paul wrote these words of hope to the Christians in Rome:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28-30)
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” (Psalm 119:67:72)
[Slide] Many of you are familiar with Joni Eareckson Tada. She has been paralyzed from the waist down for 50 years. She is an author, painter, podcaster, and leads an international ministry called, “Joni and Friends.” She has recently battle stage three breast cancer and deals with chronic pain daily.
When reflecting on the wheelchair that she is confined to she wrote:
“I sure hope I can bring this wheelchair to heaven…I hope to bring it and put it in a little corner…then in my new, perfect, glorified body, standing on grateful glorified legs, I’ll stand next to my Savior…And I will say, “Jesus, do you see that wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that thing was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. It never would have happened had you not given me the bruising of the blessing of that wheelchair.” Then the real ticker-tape parade of praise will begin. And all of earth will join in the party.”
Joni is what Isaiah called an “oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3). Her roots go deep into the living water of God’s Word and she has been sustained by the God who planted her to display His glory.
2. The Wicked will Perish
In verses four and five, the author transitions to describe the wicked:
“Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (Psalm 1:4)
Verse four actually begins with a double negative - not so, not so!
These people do listen to the counsel of the wicked, they do stand in the way of sinners, they sit in the seat of mockers. They have no regard for God’s Word. They are self-sufficient and not like a tree. They reject God and have no love for His people or ways.
[slide] They are described as “chaff.” Farmers would harvest the wheat then, on the highest hill on their property, would have animals grind the grain. They would then take a shovel and throw it all into the air. The chaff, which is practically weightless, would blow away in the wind, leaving only the grain.
There is no value in the chaff, it is useless, only to be burned up in fire.
[Slide} In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar was having a party and ordered that the articles they had captured from the temple to be brought in. They drank out of the cups and praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, wood, and stone.
Just then a hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin” which Daniel was able to translate:
Mene - God has number your days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Parsin - your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
Tekel - you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Hitler they are were all the most powerful men in the world at one time. But now, but in the end, they were just chaff, just dust in the wind.
[Slide] “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psalm 1:5)
The wicked will appear at the judgment but they will not be able to stand because they will have no one to advocate for them.
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:15)
And they will have no place in the assembly of the righteousness:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev 7:9)
There is no hope for the wicked.
If we go back to Psalm 73, Asaph gets a bigger perspective near the end of the song:
“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deep until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies…” (Psalm 73:16-20)
3. A Comparison
The writer ends the Psalm with a comparison between the rightness and the wicked:
“For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1:6)
God shepherds, cares for, acknowledges the way of the righteous. But the way of the wicked leads to hell:
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.(Psalm 34:15)
There are only two paths to take in life. One leads to the blessed life here and eternal life with God in heaven. The other leads to destruction and damnation.
We don’t like to talk about that but Jesus didn’t shy away from it at all:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)
C.S. Lewis wrote: “One road leads home and a thousand roads lead into the wilderness.”
And it’s right there in the most famous bible verse but we don’t usually notice it:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
There are only two paths. Which one are you on?
4. The True Blessed Man
I’m about to blow your mind with a little lesson on Hebrew verb tenses! You ready?
In verse one the verb tenses are in the imperfect. You may say, so what?
The verse reads
Blessed is the man who never, no never, not even once, walks in the counsel of the wicked. Well, I’m out!
Blessed is the man who never, no never, not even once, stands in way of sinners. Yep, I’ve done that too.
Blessed is the man who never, no never, not even once, sits in the seat of scoffers. To my shame, I’ve done that as well.
It’s easy to read this Psalm and become proud, “I’m not like the wicked. I don’t do those things.”
But here’s the truth, Scripture teaches we are all wicked.
Paul wrote to the Romans, quoting Psalm 14 and 53,
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-11)
There is only one Person in all of history that is the fulfillment of Psalm 1 - Jesus Christ. He is the Blessed Man. He never walked in the counsel of the wicked. He never stood in the way of sinners. He never sat in the seat of mockers. He delighted in God’s Word because He was the Word. He was a tree planted that always prospers.
The only way we can live this blessed life and find true happiness is to be in Christ, to have His righteousness applied to our account.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)
There are are two kinds of people in the world - not male/female, black/white, rich/poor but those who are in Christ and blessed and those who are not and will perish.
This Psalm isn’t about trying to be better, but trusting God to make you righteous through faith in Jesus.
Paul wrote to the Philippians:
“…that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil 3:9)
I want to end with this quote from Sinclair Ferguson:
“It is misleading to say God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. Nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son.”
Two paths, two people, two destinies. That’s part of our job as dads, it light the path home.
Ending Video: You’ll Find Your Way - Andrew Peterson YouTube