17 Nov Psalm 1 – The path to happiness
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; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 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. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Let me start with a question. Is it possible for us to be happy? How many of you say yes? How many of you say no? You might not know but some of the most gifted and smartest people in the world are very cynical on their view of happiness. So if you answer no, you are in the category of some of the most gifted and smartest people. If you answer yes, you are… you can finish off the sentence of yourself. The path to happiness is one that every people from every age and nationalities are trying to find. All of us were born with the desire to be happy. None of us was born with a cynical mind that thinks it is impossible for us to be happy. We were born thinking that happiness is natural. When we were young, we think that happiness is inevitable. We see life like Cinderella. Sure, there are difficulties and challenges that we must encounter but as long as we persist in doing good, one day that glass shoe will finally fit us. There is a happy ending for all of us if we just persist in doing good. We deserved to be happy. But as we grow older, our view of happiness begins to change. We begin to realize that happiness is not as easy as we thought. If before we think life is like Cinderella, age teaches us that life is more like Romeo and Juliet. Do you guys know what happens to Romeo and Juliet? They pursued happiness and at the end of it, everyone died. If before we think happiness is inevitable, now we think happiness is unachievable.
If you do not believe me, you can ask the most successful people you know in your life. “Are you happy?” And they would laugh at you. Usually what happen is the more successful a person is, the more a person achieved in life, the closer a person is to the top, the more money and fame that person has, the more aware that person is on the impossibility of happiness. One of the examples is Robin Williams. Here is a person who is the enigma of happiness. He spent all of his life making other people happy but he ended his own life because of lack of happiness in his own life. So we have two opposite spectrums when we think of happiness. At one end we think that happiness is inevitable and at the other end we think that happiness is unachievable. So, is it possible for us to be happy?
Let me give you the answer that the Bible gives us. Are you ready? God wants you to be happy. Happiness is possible. Let me give you a quote from Jonathan Edwards. If you do not know who he is, he is possibly the greatest Christian thinker in the last few hundred years. “God created man for nothing else but happiness. He created him only that he might communicate happiness to him.” Did you get that? Here is a man who looks at the Bible and thinks deeply about life and he comes to a conclusion that it is God’s desire for us to be happy. But the way the Bible defines happiness and the way the world defines happiness is very different. We often define happiness in how we feel when things work out the way we wanted. Happiness is when we have that six figures salary, when we have that new car, new house, new wife, when we have that job or that position, when we have sexual gratification etc. But that is not how the Bible defines happiness.
The Bible describes happiness as a spiritual condition and not so much a feeling. Our feeling does not determine our happiness. Happiness is a spiritual condition where we experience delight and satisfaction in our relationship with God. And when we are satisfied in God, it affects our feeling. We feel happy. But happiness is not first and foremost a feeling but a condition. Let me put it differently. Happiness is the result of what we are seeking. We cannot seek and pursue happiness directly. We know this. We feel happy when we seek and find something that satisfies us. If we seek happiness directly, it always evade us. For example, when I am not feeling good, I often run to comfort food. Eating good food makes me feel better, happier. Anyone like me? In that situation, happiness is the by-product of seeking and eating good food. Are you with me? The reason most of us are not happy is because we are seeking happiness directly or we are seeking the wrong thing. The only way we can be happy is if we seek the right thing. Here is my sermon in a sentence. Happiness is the by-product of being known by God and knowing God through his words.
This is what Psalm 1 is all about. Psalm 1 begins with the sentence, “Blessed is the man.” The word bless is from the Hebrew word “asher” which literally means happy. So you can read it “Happy is the man.” This Psalm will show us how to be happy in life. How many of you want to be happy in life? Pay attention to this psalm. Psalm 1 is short but it is extremely crucial as it is the psalm that set the tone for the entire book of Psalms. Some commentators say that Psalm 1 is the gateway to the entire book of Psalm and the Bible. Psalm 1 gives us the picture of God’s ideal person, the kind of person that God wants every one of us to be. It is very practical. Psalm 1 shows the contrast between the happiness of the godly and the condemnation of the wicked. This psalm offers us two different paths. One is the path of a righteous person and one is the path of a wicked person. There are only two paths. Righteous path or wicked path. There is no third path. And only one of them produces happiness. Which path are we in?
Psalm 1 is separated into three parts. Choices; Results; Destinations. We’ll take a look at them and I’ll give you a few applications at the end.
Psalm 1:1-2 – 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; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
If you want to be happy, you have to make the right choice. Psalm 1 offers us two different choices: world and word. In order for us to be happy, we have to say no to the world and we have to say yes to the word. First, say no to the world. The psalmist opens his psalm by telling us that happiness is found in saying no to three different things. We are told to walk not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seats of scoffers. To walk not in the counsel of the wicked means that we have to guard our minds against the belief of this world. Who are we listening to? Be careful whom we listen to. Do we listen to what Oprah says or do we listen to what God says in the word? To not stand in the way of sinner means that we have to guard our conduct. We are not only to protect our mind from the world but our conduct must also be different from the world. We do not take our cue from what is acceptable in the world but what is acceptable in the word. To not sit in the seat of scoffers means that we have to guard our company. To sit with a particular group is to belong to that group. Who is our company? Who is our circle of friends? Because our friends determine who we will be. If we want to know who we will be in a few years, all we have to do is look at the company we keep. Is our company the people of the world or the people of the word?
You can see from these three parallel statements the progression of sin. It starts off from thinking like the world to acting like the world and ends with living like the world. Sin always lead you from bad to worse. Let me give you an example. I grew up in Sunday School where I was taught that sin is bad and it is not good. You don’t want to have anything to do with sin because it’s yuck. And I believe it. I was told that sex was “eyyeeeew” and lying was ugly. But as I grow up, I begin to question whether my Sunday school teacher lived in the same universe as me. Everyone around me tells lies. So I start to think that it is okay for me to lie if I need to. Only if I need to though. I start to think like the world. Then a situation comes up where I have to choose between telling the truth or lie. Telling the truth would get me into trouble, telling a lie would free me from trouble. So I choose to lie. And let me tell you, lying feels good! It gets me out of trouble. And before too long, lying becomes a lifestyle to me. The same applies to sex. Lots of big-name preachers said it’s one of God’s greatest gift for mankind and who am I to argue with them. So it starts with the thought that everyone around us has sex outside marriage. Then we choose to have sex. And before we know it we are living in a free-sex lifestyle. And we make mockery of God and his commandments on sex. Let’s just be honest. We are in church. Sin feels good. If sin does not feel good, you are not doing it right. Let me teach you how to sin properly. Well, no, I’m a pastor now. That’s not right. But I don’t think any of you can argue with me that sin feels good. How do I know? Because I know you. I know me. So let’s put it out there. Sin does give some satisfaction. But sin cannot give us true happiness. Sin excites us for a season. It’s like sky-diving. It feels free when you first jump. Until you realize that you don’t have a parachute on you. Sin always promises one million dollar but only delivers one cent. Always! But the funny thing is, we keep listening to sin’s empty promise. Why? Let me tell you why. Because it is not enough to simply say no to sin. We can only escape the way of the world through the way of the word. Saying no to the world alone is not enough. We need to also say yes to the word.
Second, say yes to the word. The psalmist gives us a picture of someone who delights in the law of the Lord. The phrase “the law of the Lord” does not simply means the commandments but the whole Scripture, the Bible. And I love the word delight. The word delight means so much more than duty. Delight means to take pleasure and to enjoy. So we have a picture of someone who sees the Bible not as a book to be read but a book to delight in. He does not see the Bible as duty but delight. He finds happiness in the Bible. He understands that everything that is written in the Bible is written for our happiness. God wants us to be happy so whatever he writes in the Bible is for our happiness. Thomas Chalmers in his sermon “Expulsive power of a new affection” argues that it is not enough for us to know that we should not sin. Because before sin becomes a problem of doing, it is first and foremost a problem of delighting. Do you know why you sin? You sin because you believe that very thing will satisfy your desire. Every time you sin, you believe the lies of the devil that God is withholding something good from you. God does not want you to be happy. God is stingy. Therefore it is up to you to pursue your own good. You sin because you believe it makes you happy. You lie because you believe lying will give you greater comfort than telling the truth. You sleep with her because you believe it is what will satisfy your sexual appetite and give you happiness. You sin because you believe you will be happy. No one sins out of duty. The battle against sin is a battle of desire. That is why you need to battle the desire to sin with a greater desire. And that greater desire comes from meditating on the word of God day and night. It is a constant meditation on the word of God that produces the desire to battle sin.
Let me give you an illustration. For those of you who do not know, I recently made my way back to the gym. I know you guys want to congratulate me but it’s not a big deal really. I don’t like to boast about it but I just like to remind you every week that I am back at the gym. So, if you remember, I’ve been telling you in sermons that I planned to go back to the gym since early 2018. But I never did. Especially after I dislocated my knee, I was too comfortable with not going to the gym and could not find the motivation to exercise. Why would I go back to the gym and torture myself when I can use the time to eat KFC and watch Netflix? But after 20 months of no gym, I am finally back. What happened? It’s because I found a greater affection. I have three collections that I treasure in life: Books, One-piece figures and suits. I love suits and I take a really good care of my suits. And not only that, but I also have a bit of OCD. I have a systematic order to wearing my suit. I have a suit to wear in January, another in February, another on March and so on. You would not see me preach on Sunday morning service wearing the same suit twice in the same calendar year. And everything was fine until September. The night before I preached in September, I had this urge to try on the suit that I was going to wear the next day. I didn’t usually do that. Usually, I just put them on Sunday morning according to the rotation. But this time I wanted to try them on, and I did. And I was shocked. My suit did not fit. I can’t button it. So, I can’t wear the suit for September. Then I tried the suit for October, and it did not fit as well. I was horrified. I ended up trying all of my suits and found that 5 ½ of my suit did not fit me anymore. Why half? Because there was one that just barely fit. I can button it, but it looked like the button would break anytime. So, I had a choice to make. Either I stay comfortable and sacrifice 5 ½ of my suit or I go back to the gym and lose weight. And that night, I finally found the desire and motivation to go back to the gym. I chose suits over comfort. And I’ve been hitting the gym regularly ever since. I fight the desire for comfort with a greater desire, namely my love for suit. This is how we fight sin. We say no to the world and we delight in the word. We delight in the word by meditating on the Bible. When you start to think deeply and often about something, your appetite for that very thing increases.
Psalm 1:3-4 – 3 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. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Just like we are given two different choices, in these verses we are shown two different results. The one who delights in the word is pictured as a fruitful tree while the wicked are pictured as useless chaff. Let’s look at the image of the fruitful tree first. Those who delight in the Bible is “like a tree planted by streams of water.” Here is what we know about a tree planted by streams of water. The land in which the tree is planted might be dry and barren. The tree might be planted in the middle of the desert. The wind might be extremely hot. The weather might be terrible. The condition and the situation around the tree might be very bad. But the tree planted by streams of water will not fail to produce fruits. Do you know why? Because the roots of the tree draw its nourishment from the streams of water. It does not matter what the circumstance is, the tree won’t fail to bear fruits. This is what happen when you delight to meditate on the Bible. You won’t fail to produce fruits. You can be happy in all circumstance because your happiness is not dependent on circumstance. Your happiness comes from what you are. You are a tree planted by streams of water.
But listen carefully. The tree “yields its fruits in its season.” There is a season for everything. There is a season to bear fruit and there is a season where you do not see fruit. Life goes through seasons. It is not always spring. Life has its summer and winter. It does not matter how awesome you are, unpleasant season will come. You cannot avoid the dry season. But watch what the psalmist says next. Even in the dry season, “its leaf does not wither.” This is amazing. While other tree’s leaf might wither, your leaf does not wither in the dry season. Why? Because you are planted by streams of water. You continue to receive nourishment from the word of God. While other trees are dying, your leaf remains green. The happiness of a person who delights on the word of God is deep. It does not depend on circumstances but it receives its life from the word of God. Habakkuk 3:17-18 – Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Christians, we should not fear the dry season. Because it is in the dry season that we can deepen our happiness. The dry season drives our roots to go even deeper into Christ. It is in those seasons where Christ is all we have, we discover that Christ is all we need.
“In all that he does, he prospers.” I love it. It does not mean that you will always be healthy and wealthy. It can’t mean that because as we already see that there is a season for everything. But it does mean that even in a season where there is no fruit, you still prosper. The word prosper does not mean financial earthly blessing. It means that God is with you in everything you do. You are a blessing to everyone around you in all season of life. It’s like Joseph. Joseph was sold by his brothers and he ended up at Potiphar’s house in Egypt and became one of his servants. Then you find one of the most staggering statements in the life of Joseph. Genesis 39:2 – The Lord was with Joseph. This is not normal. I don’t know about you but being sold as a slave by your own brothers and bought by Egyptian master does not look like the Lord was with Joseph at all to me. Yet the Bible is clear that the Lord was with Joseph and Joseph prospered as a slave. To the point that he caught the attention of Potiphar’ wife. One day Potiphar’s wife walked up to Joseph and said, “lie with me.” She was very direct. No introduction. She went straight to the point. Literally what she was saying in Hebrew is, “Jo, sex, now!” She kept doing it day after day and Joseph continued to refuse till finally one day she accused Joseph of trying to rape her and Joseph was sent to jail because of it. And again the Bible mentions that the Lord was with Joseph in prison. Being accused of rape and sent to prison does not look like the Lord was with Joseph at all to me. It gets from bad to worse. From slavery to jail. But don’t miss the point that the narrator tries to communicate here. Both in the high and low point of Joseph’s life, the Lord was with Joseph. The Lord was not only with Joseph when he was promoted by Potiphar but also when he was thrown into jail. In everything Joseph went through, he prospered. This is the kind of life that comes from delighting and meditating on the word of God.
But the other picture is a picture of useless chaff. Now, most of us are city people. We have no idea what chaff is. I have to google this as well. Chaff is the shell around the wheat seed. It is very light. To separate the wheat from the chaff, they would put the wheats in a basket and throw it up in the air and the wind would carry the chaff away. So chaff are rootless, weightless and useless. It is the opposite of everything a planted tree is. This is the picture that the psalm gives us of wicked people. They are weightless and useless. At the end of the day, they have no root and they are easily carried away by the wind. This is the picture of our culture today. Our culture believes that in order for you to be happy, you need to have absolute freedom. Happiness is when you are free to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do and no one can say no to you. But that is not true. This is not happiness. This is slavery. Take a fish for an example. Let’s say that the fish thinks that “I am free to pursue my happiness and do whatever I want wherever I want. This is happiness.” So one day the fish decides that it is no longer happy in water and wants to pursue happiness by living in the land. So the fish jumps out of the water into the land. Now, what happens to the fish? Is it happy? Of course not. The fish goes “glepek glepek” and die. The fish can only be happy when it is in water. The wicked people try to find their happiness in freedom to do whatever they want. It’s not going to work.
Another thing about chaff is that it is extremely light because it has no root. It is easily carried away by the wind. It means that you are easily swayed by the public’s opinion. You have no anchor in life. You have no deep conviction. You have no root to hold you from the wind. I love this image. It begs to ask the question, do we have a deep conviction in our life? Do we have anything in us that remains true no matter what happens? Do we have an unnegotiable value that no one can take from us? That’s a root. Chaff does not have a root. Listen. You can confess with your mouth that you believe in God but yet you are not rooted in God. You can believe in God but not have God as your life source. My concern is that for many of us, we know the truth of the Bible but we are not rooted in the Bible. We know what the Bible says but the Bible has yet to become the unnegotiable weight in our life. For many of us, the truth in the Bible is negotiable. Let me prove it to you. I need you to be honest with me though for it to work. How many of you believe that it is a sin to tell a lie? All hand should be raised. How many of you would tell a lie for $5? No one. How many would tell a lie for $10,000? All college students raise their hand. Now think carefully about the next one. The next offer is $1 million. Think about all you can do with that money. Think about all the good you can do. Think about all the orphans you can support. Think about all the donations you can make. Think about the tithe you can give to the church. And all you need to do is tell a single lie. Ready? How many would tell a lie for $1 million? If you are not raising your hand, you are lying for free right now. This is the life of the wicked. It has no substance. It is weightless. It has no root. The only way for you to have substance in life is to be rooted in the word of God.
Psalm 1:5-6 – 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Two choices. Two results. Two destinations. Your choice determines your destination. Every person has a date with destiny. Every person has to answer to God on how they live. The Psalmist is extremely clear. The wicked, the chaff, will not stand in the judgement. God will punish them for their sins. They might seem prosperous in life. It might seem to us that they are having their best life now. But in God’s perspective, it is only a matter of time. Their judgement is certain. The wicked have no future. Judgement day is not a myth. One day, all of us will have to stand before Christ our Supreme Judge. And there are two possibilities to our verdict. Guilty or not guilty. Condemned or forgiven. The wicked will perish.
The righteous, however, has a different destination. I love the way the Psalmist puts it. Notice that the Psalmist does not tell us what will happen to the righteous. But he says, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” This is incredible. Does the Lord not know the way of the wicked? Of course he does. The Lord knows everything. But the word that the Psalmist used for “know” in here is not a regular word for knowledge but the Hebrew word “yada.” Yada means to know and to care about someone intimately. It is to have a deep personal intimate relationship. So here is what’s cool. The destination of the righteous is not a place but a person. The wicked will perish but the righteous is intimately known by the Lord. Oh yes, the righteous will also have a place of destination. It is called heaven or the New Jerusalem. We have many things to look forward to in heaven but let us not forget what makes heaven, heaven. Heaven is heaven because the Lord is there. And the Lord of heaven knows us and cares about us intimately. He is guiding our ways. He is watching over every step we take. And he will not fail to lead us to himself. This is the key to happiness. Happiness is not found in seeking happiness. Happiness is the by-product of being known by God and knowing God through his words.
I know what some of you are thinking right now. You are thinking, “Yos, I want to know God. I want to delight in the word of God but I don’t. What do I do?” Good questions. Let me give you three steps.
First, recognize the only righteous one. I hope none of you looks at Psalm 1 and thinks that it speaks of you. Psalm 1 gives you a picture of the true righteous person. He always say no to the world and he always says yes to the word. He always delight in the law of God. He never tire of meditating the law of God day and night. His leaf never withers and he always bears fruits in his season. He is always connected to God and never shaken by the wind. This is not a picture of you and me. This is a picture of Jesus. Jesus is the only righteous one. Jesus delights in the law of God. He not only obey it, but he also loves it. Jesus meditates on it day and night. When the devil tempts him in the wilderness, he speaks Scripture. When he is dying and mocked at the cross, he bleeds Scripture. Jesus is fully saturated in the word of God. He is the only one who fulfilled Psalm 1. However, Jesus died at the cross. This is not right. It is the wicked that should perish, not the righteous. What happens? Jesus goes to the cross because he loves the law of God. Jesus knows there are only two ways you can fulfil the law. You keep the law perfectly or you pay the penalty of the law. Jesus goes to the cross and pays the penalty for us. One of the things that Jesus says at the cross is, “I thirst.” What happens? Isn’t he planted by streams of water? He becomes chaff. He is not rooted and connected to the streams. He is blown away by the wind. He is getting what the wicked deserve. He is getting what we deserve so that we could be planted by the streams of water. Now when I see Jesus fulfilled the law for me and paid the penalty of sin for me, when I see myself failing the law of God and know that God loves me enough to die for my failure, it turns the law of God from duty into delight. Now I want to know the Bible not because I have to but because I delight in it. It is a way for me to know the one who loves me enough to die for me. Jesus turns the law of God from duty into delight.
Second, meditate on the word of God. The word meditate does not mean to empty your mind of everything and try to find your inner self. The word meditate actually means to speak or mutter. It means that we have to speak the word of God to ourselves day and night. Day and night do not mean twice a day but it means continually throughout the day. It requires two things. First, meditation requires you to memorize the word of God. How can you speak the word of God to yourself if you do not memorize it? Now I know, the moment I tell you to memorize Scripture, some of you straight away think, “It’s too hard. I can’t do it. I don’t have a good memory.” Really? I want you to watch this short video and see if your excuse is valid.
If a three years old can memorize a Bible verse, there is no reason you can’t. Second, meditation requires you to chew the word of God. As you read the Bible, choose a portion that really speaks to you and memorize it. It can be one or few verses. Then take that verses with you and chew on it throughout the day. It is like how a cow chews the grass. A cow wakes up in the morning, eat some grass, and then lays down to take a nap. After his nap, the cow regurgitates the grass he ate, chews on it some more, extracting more nutrients out of it, and then he takes another nap. And then he wakes up, regurgitates again, continues this process until all the nutrients are gone, and then takes another nap. What is the lesson? The lesson is not that we need to take a lot of nap to meditate on the Bible. The lesson is that we need to meditate on the Bible like a cow chews the grass. As you do your activities throughout the day, continue to recall the verses you memorize and think about it and speak it to yourself until you truly understand it and until it affects you. We delight in the word by meditating on the word. Do you want to hear God speaks to you? This is the way to do it. As you meditate more and more Scripture, the Holy Spirit will recall the verses that you have meditated on in your time of need.
Third, be planted in a Bible-centred community. All of us need a community. But we not just need a community, we need a Bible-centered community. We need a community that is driven by the desire to grow in love for the word of God. Praise God for good Sunday sermons. But good Sunday sermons can only motivate you. It is in community where we get to chew on the word of God together. It is in community where we get to discuss, think deeply, and ask questions about the Sunday sermons. Sermon inspires you but community shapes you. Do not underestimate the power of community. One last gym story for today. Every time I go to the gym, I join a body combat class. But I always walk out at the last 5 minutes because I hate core training. My body just doesn’t go well with core training. But this week, I have people accompanied me to body combat. On Monday, Richard joined the class with me. And I thought, “Should I stay for core? Richard is here and he wants to do core training. Nah, I can’t be bothered.” So I left him on his own. But yesterday, Richard and Cindy accompanied me to body combat. And I thought, “Should I stay for core? Richard and Cindy are here and they want to do core training. Maybe I should. Okay, I will do it.” And I ended up doing core training for the first time. That is the power of community. Bible-centred community shapes you. It pushes you far deeper into Christ than what you can do on your own. So if you have not been planted in MC, you should. Remember, happiness is the by-product of being known by God and knowing God through his words. Therefore, if you are serious about your happiness, then it is time for you to devote yourself to the word of God and the people of God.
- How does the Bible defines happiness? How is it different from the way the world defines happiness?
- Pay attention to the progress of sin: Walk – Stand – Sit. Give daily life examples on how this progression plays out.
- Why we can’t simply say “NO” to the way of the world?
- “The happiness of a person who delights on the word of God is deep.” Explain.
- What does it mean when the Psalmist says in verse 5, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous”? How does this truth empowers us to walk in the path of the word?
- Give some practical examples on how we can “chew the word of God.”
- “Sermon inspires you but community shapes you.” Share some story of how your MC shapes you as a Christian.