The Blessing of God's Instruction
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re trying to swim through peanut butter? Life is difficult; living without God’s blessing adds unnecessarily to that difficulty. Living life with God’s blessing – while not removing all the difficulty – gives us perpetual access to a genuine and true experience of joy and happiness.
What does it look like to be blessed by God? How can we inhabit the zone of God’s blessing? What does a blessed life look like? Thankfully, the Lord has not left is in doubt; rather, touching on this central theme, numerous Psalms lay out in clear language how we can experience God’s blessing. In Psalm 1, setting the tone for the rest of the book, we learn about blessing both negatively – what not to do – and positively – what to do.
Blessed (שֶׁר Ashrey)
Note the first statement of Psalm 1: blessed is the man. This raises a basic question: what does it mean to be blessed? The word translated as blessed (ESV, NIV, KJV) can be rendered as happy (GNT); the NLT simply says ‘Oh, the joys of those …’. What, then, do we mean by blessed?
Blessing, or the state of blessedness, is the deep sense of well-being and satisfaction experienced in a covenant relationship with God. There is a kind of blessing God makes universally available – what we call common grace – available to everyone, both inside and outside a relationship with God. In his goodness, God brings shares a degree of blessing with everyone he permits to live on planet earth; ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45).
But there is a kind of blessing, a kind of joy, a kind of happiness, marked by an inner sense of satisfaction, only experienced in knowing God is only found in a relationship with God. That’s why Augustine could write:
You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.
Conversely, many people’s lives look more like the Rolling Stones than Augustine’s; Mick Jagger sang, ‘I can’t get no satisfiaction’. The satisfaction we most need is only found in God. And the good news for us is that God teaches us in Psalms how to get it.
WHAT NOT TO DO
In Psalm 1:1, we learn what to avoid if we want to live in God’s blessing.
‘How 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’.
First, notice three categories of ‘badness’ the Psalmist describes: the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. A wicked person is a criminal, one who has committed a crime. In this case, it is those who disregard God’s law. Sinners refers to those who go their own way; those who refuse to acknowledge God’s law, God’s ways, God’s instruction. Scoffers are those who scorn, make fun of, mock, and speak arrogantly.
Now, when we think of wickedness, we think really really bad sin. In the Bible, the wicked are simply those who build a life without reference to God. The wicked are those who ignore God, those who are a law unto themselves. The wicked are those who live life as if God doesn’t exist.
Second, notice the three categories of behaviour – walking, standing, sitting. Walking implies a lifestyle pattern – it’s about action, it’s about doing things. Standing in the way speaks to a habitual lingering in a path or manner of life. And sitting points to a settled identification that moves beyond a value system to a lifestyle.
So the person who is not blessed is one who builds a life on the instruction, advice, or counsel of people living outside a relationship with God. What is that counsel? Here are some examples:
- God was not involved in creation;
- This life is all there is;
- This is the best life you’ll ever have so get all the pleasure you can.
- God is not good because if he were, all of this bad stuff would not be happening.
- This age is the only one that matters; eternity is irrelevant.
At its heart, this age unites around one rallying cry: we do not need God.
The blessed person does not listen to this story. The blessed person does not adopt a lifestyle as if God does not exist or is irrelevant. The blessed person does not build a life in the presence of those intentionally living contrary to God’s rules. The blessed person does not share the value system of those who reject God’s Lordship.
REMEMBER: every step you take away from God, someone’s going to be there, patting you on the back, saying, ‘You’re doing fine, you’re on the right track, now you are enlightened!’.
WHAT TO DO
Thankfully, the Psalmist does not leave us with only a negative lesson; he also teaches us what to do. The simple but powerful key to experiencing the blessed life is found in verse 2:
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
First, this person delights in – derives great pressure from – God’s law – his instruction. This is the attitude that leads to victory – finding pleasure in God’s word.
The picture that comes to my mind is the relationship many of how with vegetables. For me, loving vegetables has been an acquired taste – this is not something I was born with. Your parents tell you they are healthy, but that’s not enough. Some adults still have a child-like palate; they still dislike those scrumptious vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus.
Some people have a negative view of God’s law; rather, a mature perspective understand that we need God’s input. An example of this is what Jesus calls the Great Commandment from the Old Testament: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. Loving that law, delighting in that law, meditating in that instruction – this is where blessing is discovered and experienced.
So here’s the question – how can we cultivate delight in God’s Word? The problem is that most of us wait until we delight in God’s instruction before we start doing it. But that’s backwards. Delight is the end of the journey; the beginning is desire. Rather than delight leading to the discipline of reading the Bible every day, it’s actually the opposite: discipline leads to delight.
So here’s the secret: let the desire to know God lead to the discipline of reading the Bible every day, and eventually you’ll discover that discipline leads to the delight.
The idea that we are called to delight in God’s instruction implies that we need to be taught. At the time this Psalm was written, this referred to the first five books of the Old Testament – the Pentatech, known as the five books of the law. The point here is that God had clearly expressed all that was necessary for covenant faithfulness. And in the Psalms, he is underlining the idea that prioritising God’s word.
Second, in addition to the attitude of delighting in God’s instruction, we are invited to the action of meditating in the word day and night. The Hebrew word for meditate (יֶ