Two Ways Of Living
Over the Summer we are looking at several of the Psalms out of the Old Testament. The book of Psalms was the hymnal of the Jews and the early church. They are a group of poems or songs that the early followers of God used to express their worship, and they are filled with emotion. Some of them are songs of triumph and joy (Oh, Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…). Others grow out of agony and grief (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?). Still others are teaching songs, poems to guide us through the pathways of life, to help us to choose to do the right thing and to walk away from doing the wrong thing. Those are called “Wisdom Psalms” and the very first one, Psalm 1 (the Psalm that Joe began our service reading) is one like that. It is written to introduce us to the idea that we have a choice whether to live a life of godliness or to reject that life for what the Psalmist calls “the path of the wicked.”
Throughout the Bible there is this consistent theme that we are always standing at a fork in the road, and constantly before us is the choice of which direction we will take. There is a path that leads to God, and there is another path that leads away from Him, and the choice is yours and only yours which direction you will take. In Proverbs 4:25-27 (NLT), Solomon said, “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; then stick to the path and stay safe. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”
Jesus made the same kind of claim. Near the end of His “Sermon On The Mount” He challenges us to recognize that not every path in life leads the direction we want to go. “Enter through the narrow gate.” Jesus said, “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.”
When we come to the last verse of Psalm 1, we once again find ourselves standing at a crossroad in life, and it is clear that one of the paths goes the way we want, and the other way leads a place we don’t want to go. “For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1:6 NLT) Now don’t miss the big idea that all of these verses are telling you. With every choice you make, you are setting the course of your life. And the point that Solomon and Jesus and the Psalmist all are trying to get us to understand is that the choices we make will either take us down a dead end road or they will lead us to a place where God is going to bless us. And even though other people might try to influence you to take a right here or to veer left here in your life, ultimately you hold the steering wheel of your own life. The decisions you make and the pathway you choose to follow in your life determine your destiny.
Now I want us to look closely at Psalm 1 this morning to see the roadmap that God has given us to help us follow the right path. When we are standing at these forks in the road, we don’t have to decide which path to take without knowing what is at the other end of the road. God has been good enough to us to give us some directions in how to make the kind of choices that will please Him and lead us to live lives that are pleasing to Him. Let’s notice what He tells us in Psalm 1:1-2 (Have congregation read together from screen)
1. Be Selective About The Influences In Your Life.
Over the years I have heard preachers read verse 1 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…” then launch into a diatribe saying that you shouldn’t be hanging around with non-Christians. They usually quote Paul’s proverb, “Bad company corrupts good character” and then say “Your friends need to be Christians.” As a result of that kind of thinking, there are a whole lot of churches that are just “holy huddles” where Christians get together and talk about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They shake their heads and scuff their feet, all the while thinking they are doing a good thing.
But they are wrong. This verse doesn’t say you shouldn’t have non-Christian friends. Jesus surrounded Himself with very ungodly people, so much so that the religious people got mad at Him because He wasn’t giving them enough attention. The Psalmist doesn’t say “Don’t walk with the wicked, or be around the sinners and the mockers.” It does say that if you want God to bless you, you won’t fall under the influence of the wicked, and you won’t live like the sinners, and you won’t be found joining in with the mockers (those are the people that laugh and make fun of everything, even the things that ought to make you cry). I think Eugene Peterson got the gist of this verse right in his paraphrase called The Message, “How well God must like you—you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.”
You see, what the Psalmist is warning us against isn’t to guard ourselves against being around people as much as he is telling us to guard ourselves from being influenced by people who don’t have godly priorities. In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon said, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”
A large number from the youth group of our church went down to Kentucky Christian College for a week long camp experience called Summer In The Son. (I’ve noticed that whenever Hoosiers want to get spiritual, they go to Kentucky) Ryan was telling me yesterday about what a great week it was, but as he was talking about what a spiritual high the kids were on, he said that he told them “It’s easy to be on a spiritual high when you are down here separated from all your friends, no TV and all the other trashy influences you have. It’s tougher when you get back to the real world at home.” That is so true. I know whenever I get away for some sort of retreat and leave the influences of the world behind, I am blessed with a sense of clarity. I get fired up about being godly, and I want to serve Him.
But what inevitably happens is that we come back into our routine of life, and we don’t have our guard up around our heart, and we let polluting influences in. We get around the people who are smart-mouthed and what they say is pretty funny, so we join in. We turn on the television and fill our minds and hearts with the trash that ungodly people are promoting and before long the sparkle of our spiritual high is gone. The Psalmist says “If you want to be blessed by God, Be Selective About the Influences in Your Life.”
When you step back and look at it objectively, much of the entertainment that is available today is some of the worst influences that we can avail ourselves to. TV and movies are not only filled with unwholesome images, but the tone of many of the sit-coms is certainly “smart-mouthed” and “mocking.” And I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next of parking in a chair and grabbing the remote. If the Psalmist were thinking about the “seat of mockers” today, he’d probably be describing the recliner in front of the television. But Psalm 1 says you are blessed if you turn off the television and fill your mind with something substantial. The Blessed person “delight(s) in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Instead of filling your mind with the drivel that entertainment executives have decided will sell the most advertising, you will be blessed if you fill your mind with God’s direction for your life. That brings us to the next direction on God’s roadmap to blessing.
2. Be Connected To Your Source of Life.
In describing the person that God blesses, the Psalmist writes this. (Have congregation read vv. 3-4 together) Now you really can’t separate this from the previous idea of someone who delights in God’s Word and meditates on it. It is the idea of a desert tree planted in an oasis with its roots running deep down to the water that provides life and fruit. The Psalm is saying that our life as a godly person is derived from and sustained by the Word of God.
I don’t apologize for telling you, you desperately need to be regularly reading God’s Word, and letting it sink into your mind. I know for myself there is a definite difference in my attitude and my actions when I am reading the Bible regularly and when I skip my devotional reading. You need a regular method of reading the Bible that works for you. It is as much your source of life as water is the source of life to a tree in the desert. So how do you get your thirst for God’s Word quenched. (Not “Ask the preacher!)
1. Find a regular place.
2. Set aside an established time.
3. Have a systematic method.
4. Don’t Gulp! Drink Slowly!
There’s a story that I think will help you know the difference. In late October, 1944 there was an officer commanding a platoon of American soldiers during WWII who received a call from headquarters that ordered him to lead his company to capture a small French city from the Nazi occupying force. HQ told him that for weeks the French Resistance fighters had risked their lives to gather information about the German fortifications in that city, and they had smuggled this information out to the Allies.
The French Underground’s efforts provided the Captain with something that was worth more than it’s weight in gold: a detailed map of the city. But this map didn’t just have the names of streets and landmarks; it showed specific details of the Germans’ defensive positions. The map identified shops and buildings where German soldiers bunked, as well as where machine gun nests and snipers were stationed. Every block of the city was mapped out in great detail. For a captain who was already concerned about mounting casualties, receiving such information was an answer to prayer. Although the outcome of the war wouldn’t depend on this one battle, to him it meant he wouldn’t have to write as many letters to his men’s parents or wives telling them their loved one had died in battle.
So before the soldiers moved out, the captain gave each soldier a chance to study the map. To make sure they read it carefully, he gave them a quick test covering the major landmarks and enemy strongholds. Just before his platoon moved out, the officer graded the tests, and with minor exceptions every man earned a perfect score. As a direct result of having that map to follow, the men captured the city with little loss of American lives.
About 30 years later, an army researcher heard this story and decided to do a study. He went to France where, instead of a platoon of soldiers, he arranged for a group of American tourists to help him with his research. For several hours, the men and women were allowed to study the same map the soldiers had, and then they were given the same test. You can guess the results. Most of the tourists failed miserably.
It’s not hard to recognize the difference: motivation. The soldiers knew their lives were on the line, so every detail was important. The tourists only motivation was to satisfy the curiosity of some Army researcher, and their lives weren’t at stake, so even though they were exposed to the same information, it didn’t stick.
When we read the Bible, it’s not like reading a textbook for information. It’s not like reading a novel for entertainment. And it’s not even like reading a devotional book for inspiration. Your life is on the line, and this book is the means of learning the direction that God wants you to take. You need to let these words sink into your spirit as if your life depends on it, because it does! I won’t say that having the discipline to do these things is easy, but I will say, if you want to be blessed by God, you need to listen to Him speaking to you through His Word.
According to Psalm 1, to be blessed by God, we need to be selective about the influences we let into our life, we need to be connected to the source of our life, and
3. Be Intentional About Your Destiny In Life.
(Have everyone read together Psalm 1:5-6)
The truth of the matter is, life isn’t just about the few years we get to spend here on earth. The Bible teaches us that we are eternal beings, created to live forever with God. And the Bible is also very clear that one day the path we choose will come to an end here on earth. What happens from there is completely up to God. The Good News is that God is merciful enough to let us know what is at the end of the road we choose right now. One pathway leads to heaven, and another pathway leads to hell, and according to Jesus, the only way to be able to walk on the heavenly pathway is to follow in His footsteps. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and nobody comes to the Father except by me.”
Now don’t get me wrong, you can be on the path with Jesus and get sidetracked. There are times in every Christian’s life when we take detours that separate us from our fellowship with Jesus. There are all sorts of forks in the road that can distract us and get us off track. When we get down those wrong roads we often need the help of other Christians to get us back. But when you find yourself at a fork in the road where you know which way Jesus is leading you, but you just want to check out a little detour, think about it. Which pathway is going to take you where God wants you to go.
Oswald Chambers once said, “The beginning of all sin is the suspicion that God is not good.” The truth is, God is good, and He wants your life to be solid, prosperous (not necessarily financial wealth, but steady, a spirit filled with peace, a life filled with the fruit of the spirit). God wants you to know the kind of life that in our best moments we all dream about, but we have to follow Him where He is leading. The road that God leads us on isn’t always going to be easy, but in the end it is easier than going the broad path that most people are traveling. You see, those that don’t follow Christ are going to face major obstacles along the way too, but what they don’t realize is that they are facing those obstacles alone, and they are climbing over them only to find that the road they are on is a dead end.
But when we are in Christ, we know that at the end of the road there is a heavenly reward, purchased for us by the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.