Summary: Our world wants so deperately to be happy. Here, in the first, psalm, God gives us the recipe: choose your friends carefully, devote yourself to his word, and allow him to plant you into spiritual maturity so that all you do will bring about kingdom success.
The Pursuit of Happiness
[Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for sermon outline in Word.]
A while back there was a movie called, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and it was a good movie. Yet, the title is also an accurate description of our society today. America is on a pursuit for happiness. Just look at our entertainment industry, our pharmaceutical industry, alcohol sales, and the illegal drug market. All in an effort to be just a little...bit...happier.
God promises in Psalm 37:4 to give us the desires of our heart, as we follow him and allow him to make our heart like his. Today’s psalm focuses on how to have a joyful or happy life, how to feel blessed despite your circumstances. I’ve put three ideas on your handout; you may find more. Let’s start with the first one, which is to...
1. Choose your friends carefully.
Our friends shape us more than we care to admit. My nephew is a white-collar crime parole officer in Alaska, and he reports this as the one area that leads most people astray: the friends they choose. Steve Maraboli says, “If you hang out with chickens, you're going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you're going to fly.” This Presidents’ Day weekend, consider the words of George Washington, who said, “Associate with those of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
Look at what verse 1 has to say about the subject: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” There is a progression here, from walking in step with (sounds like marching in formation, right?), to standing in the way, to sitting in their company. The world woos us in one step at a time. John MacArthur calls this “sin’s sequential downward drag” (NKJV MacArthur Study Bible). I am reminded of when Lot gazed from afar the city of Sodom, went down to visit it, and then moved in. It turned out to be a really bad idea, especially for his wife, who couldn’t give it up. Or consider Eve who looked at the forbidden fruit, saw that it was pleasing to the eye, then took it in her hand and ate it. There’s a gradual slide toward evil. How do you get a frog to stay in boiling water? You put him in cold water and slowly heat it up, until it’s too late for the frog.
In his high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for us, and he says we are not of this world, even though we are on mission in this world (John 17:14-19). If we’re not of this world, we should hold different values than people who do not know God. We should use different speech. We should spend our money and our time differently. We should be careful who we talk to, who we hang around with. Yes, we want to have friends who are not yet believers, because otherwise they will never hear or see the gospel. Yet, your core friends, your closest friends should be people committed to their faith as you are.
Want to be happy? Choose your friends carefully. And #2,
2. Invest time in God’s word.
Verse 1 told us what NOT to do: don’t hang out with the wrong crowd. Now verse 2 tells us what we OUGHT to be doing, and that is investing time in God’s word. Listen to the verse: Blessed is the one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
The word for “law” here in the Hebrew is “Torah,” what the Jews called the first five books of the Bible. The Torah was considered the most holy of all of God’s writings. In a general sense, though, the term came to refer to ALL of God’s teachings and instruction.
Note the psalmist says it’s not enough to read God’s word. You need to “delight” in it, and you need to “meditate” on it. Let’s consider those terms. First, we need to delight in God’s word. I know there are some difficult passages in the Bible. If you find one, don’t get bogged down, just move forward. Some parts are more readable than others. Mark Twain once said, “Some people are troubled by the things in the Bible they can’t understand. The things that trouble me are the things I can understand.” So there’s enough you can find to understand.
And as you read God’s word, don’t approach it like any other book. God wants to speak to you through his word, so expect to hear him. In Bible study last month, we talked about using the acronym P.T.S.D., for “Pray, Think, Stop, and Decode.” First pray, asking him to speak to you through his word. Next think about what you’re reading: what did it mean back then and what is the timeless truth for today? Stop when you get to something that grabs you, and decode what God is telling you through the Holy Spirit [source: “God Understands When We Have Doubts,” American Bible Society].