I grew up in Northern Ontario, home of a million plus trees. There are big differences between trees, not just because they are different kinds of trees, say jack-pine, spruce, oak or popular trees, but differences because of where they grow and how much water they have access to. Being on the Canadian Shield, we have a lot of scrub type of trees, trees that grow in places you would never expect them to find a place to set their roots, crevices in cliff faces, narrow ledges, cracks in the shield itself, in places where the soil is only a couple of inches deep, but the one thing in common with all of them is that they aren’t able to flourish in the ways they should because of the lack of water and proper soil conditions. I grew up by a stream that flowed through the woods behind our house and the trees there were all tall and strong because of the abundance of water always available, even when the rain didn’t fall for months.
The book of Psalms is a book about wisdom, about what a well lived life looks. Wisdom is about living in good relationships with God, our community, ourselves, and with creation. It’s about being honest about life, about how it often feels unfair and confusing and yet in our confusion, anger, pain or sorrow, God wants us to keep coming to him in honesty. He’s not going to turn his back on you if you cry out in rage or fear or hurt; he wants you to know that you can be completely honest with him and you don’t have to pretend. The psalms are poetry, meant to reach our hearts even more than our heads since biblical wisdom is about how you live.
Psalm 1 starts this wisdom book by showing us what a blessed happy life looks like. The psalms will often describe the difference between a healthy wise way of living and an unhealthy way of life and Psalm 1 is no different. It begins by letting us that happiness comes from not doing certain things, by not hanging around with certain kinds of people. “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.” If you’re looking for happiness in life, for a blessed life, don’t walk with those who are wicked. This is that more casual relationship with those who worship themselves over God, who consistently turn away from God’s way and walk their own way. When you walk with someone, your conversation is often distracted by the things around you and it quickly shifts from one thing to another.
But when you hang out with people who don’t honour God, it’s not hard to get drawn deeper into a relationship with them that draws you further away from God. When you’re walking and talking and something the other person says connects with you, what often happens? You stop to go deeper into the conversation, this is what the psalmist is getting at, don’t stand in the way sinners take, don’t open yourself up to being drawn away from God and into a way of life that pulls you away from how Jesus has called you to live. This is often the time you start getting used to saying “No” to Jesus more and more often.
The next step is sitting with those who walk a different way than the Jesus way, giving them the serious time and attention that can change you. The psalmist identifies “mockers” specifically, people to take joy in knocking people down, in laughing at the morals and values of others with the intention of making them feel small while implying their view is untouchable. Mocking is meant to hurt, to belittle and dismiss people because they’re different while saying that if you feel hurt it’s because you have no sense of humour, that you’re too sensitive, placing the fault on you. Coming from a family that has raised sarcasm to an artform, I know how hurtful words can be, sorry to say.
The saddest thing is that we’re so attracted to these people, it’s like they’re able to reach into our souls and grab hold of us, tickling these places inside us that want to be in control, that don’t want to submit to Jesus or anyone. Tim Keller writes that “all sin against God is grounded in a refusal to believe that God is more dedicated to our good, and more aware of what that is, than we are… we believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him. This is the lie of the serpent, the original temptation of Satan to Adam and Eve.”
The psalmist now shares with us what a person who is feels blessed, who experiences happiness out of life is like, it’s someone “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 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.” It strikes me that happiness, being blessed isn’t about what we do or accomplish, it’s not about how much we have, it’s about being well watered like the tree planted by streams of water. At first it sounds rather random, not every seed gets to land by a stream, so is our happiness based on something out of our control?
The streams mentioned here are not like Wolf Creek which meanders through our area; these are irrigation canals that are planned out and placed in such a way that all the trees in the orchard, vineyard or garden all receive generous amounts of life-giving water so that they’re constantly nourished, even during times of drought. These canals are fed by streams and rivers that flow through the area and which are diverted into the fields. The farmer works hard to make sure his trees receive everything they need to produce luscious wonderful fruit.
The farmer here is God and the streams of life-giving water is the Torah, the teachings of God. This usually referred to the first 5 books of the Bible that Moses wrote, but now can mean the entire Bible as we know it. For the Jews, God’s teaching is life giving, life changing, showing them the way to a well lived life. Jesus takes this teaching and summarizes it as loving God with everything we are and have, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. The Torah shows us who God is and who he has created us to be as his people, his children. This is why Psalm 1 tells us that we find happiness in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night because that’s how we get to know God, we get to know Jesus and ourselves.
I often talk to people who find wisdom for life, nourishment and encouragement from writers such as the Dalia Lama, Jordan Peterson, and various Christian writers and preachers, but the psalmist points us back to the Bible, to the word of God himself for these things. Along with the words of the Bible comes the Holy Spirit who gives us guidance, life, wisdom and encouragement from the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is that stream of water that nourishes us and the Spirit flows from Jesus who is the ultimate life-giving water. In Jesus we receive life through his sacrifice on the cross for our sins, we receive forgiveness and acceptance and a renewed relationship with our heavenly father. In Jesus’ resurrection, we share in the promise of eternal life. This shapes our lives as we embrace Jesus’ way of life, his teaching and example as the structure for our lives and this leads to lives lived out in gratitude and grace.
Meditating on Scripture connects us to Jesus. It’s learning to see how Jesus is present in our day to day lives and we do this through spending time regularly in the Bible and in prayer, learning to see how he’s present in our lives. It’s about learning to see God in the creation around us, being aware of how a tree by a stream of water shows us who Jesus is as the living water, how he provides by observing how the tree provides a home for different animals, food for us and other creatures, reminding us that when we are nourished through Jesus, we are also called to produce good fruit and can find rest under his shade.
Psalm 1 is about who we’re becoming, not about what we do. Meditation on God’s word shapes us into the people he has created us to be, shaped by his love, his righteousness, his mercy and justice to be a blessing wherever we are.