Unbridled enthusiasm and expectation – he could hardly stand still, eyes gleaming, hands gesturing and huge smiles on his face – Jonathan, my six-year-old grandson, gleefully began reciting a project he had been working on in school (homeschool). He was so excited that he had to begin several times. Each time he continued with an even bigger grin.
Jonathan was reciting Psalm 1, which stands at the beginning of the book of Psalms and functions as an introduction to the entire collection. It sets the stage – God’s people live completely different lives from others. We also have a completely different future. To summarize, there is a huge difference between the people of God and others in this life and the next.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Jonathan recited it perfectly. Of course he was very proud of himself and so was I. His mother and grandmother applauded his fine effort. Jonathan continued to beam with joy. He knew he did a great job!
As Jonathan declared these words to us, I was struck by the importance of negativity. In a way, this surprised me. In recent years, we’ve been schooled concerning the benefits of the positive: the power of positive thinking, the axiom: “it’s better to be for something that against something.” Positive attitudes are applauded. While negativity is taboo.
This morning, I reread Psalm 1. It really is a celebration of the negative! The person blessed of the Lord does not walk in the counsel of the wicked; he does not stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. There they are – three big negatives – no way around them. This is a solemn reminder that God’s people are different from those all around them.
God’s people have different values and lifestyles. We are not to be like everyone else in, our culture. We are warned about following the advice from the wicked. This probably has something to say about “conventional wisdom.” What makes sense to the cultures of this world might not be the best advice to follow.
Next, we are warned about standing in the way of sinners. Although God’s people are to be “in the world but not of the world,” we must be wary of the hazard of accepting and adopting sinful or wrong values, practices and attitudes. Sin is contagious and infectious.
Finally, we are admonished not to identify with scoffers. The entertainment media (television, movies, etc.) make this particularly difficult. It’s easy to be enthralled and absorbed with things that either ignore or belittle righteousness (living according to God’s word).
But the negativity is replaced with the positive. (This is the same strategy that Paul encourages in the New Testament. Christians are to put off the old nature and put on the new.). Psalm 1 instructs us that continuous meditating on God’s law yields benefits. The prosperity of God’s people is contrasted with the emptiness and barrenness of the wicked – God’s blessing and God’s judgment are both present and future realities to be considered.
Jonathan’s recitation of Psalm 1 clearly sets before us the stark contrast between the people of God and the people who ignore him. God’s people delight in God’s word. While others either ignore or scoff at it. To God’s people, God’s word is “the Torah.” This word Torah or law means instruction. God has given us his word in order to instruct us in all areas of life. As our kind maker, God provides an in-depth operating manual which indicates the best procedures for us to follow. Since our operating system has been corrupted by evil, and we have not followed code, he identifies our issue and has provided a perfect solution. He tells us what is wrong and how it must be fixed.
In other words, our sin and rebellion has not only put us at odds with God. It has also fouled our relationship with others and ourselves. This yields barrenness and judgment. The divine solution is Jesus Christ. Jesus came and did what we could not do by living a life of perfect obedience to God. On the cross, he acted as a substitute for sinners. He took our penalty for us and at the same time passes on his righteousness to those who call on him.
When we trust in Jesus, not only are our sins forgiven, but we are brought into God’s family. Once in God’s family we must learn to live by his directions. This is where Psalm 1 starts. It reveals the importance of living by the standards of God’s family.
I don’t come into God’s family by keeping his rules; I have not and I cannot. I come into God’s family by trusting in Jesus who offers forgiveness and acceptance based on his death and resurrection. Once in the family, I apply myself (meditate day and night) to pleasing my Father by trying to obey him. I learn what he expects and then try to do it. Even in this, I rejoice that Jesus has met all the family expectations for me. So, the negativity that I celebrate is really a positive expression of love and adoration to my Savior.