Friday, August 29, 2014

The Courage to Read: Reflections on Psalm 1 (Part One)

The book of Psalms ends in 150:6 with the memorable exhortation: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” This is an invitation to join the whole chorus of creation in the ongoing, vibrant praise and worship of God. Praise in the climax of the book of Psalm.

The book of Psalms serves as the prayer book for God’s missional people as we seek to live out love for God and neighbor in the service of God’s mission to bless the nations and heal creation. The Psalter ends with majestic praise and worship. As we read through the book of Psalms as a whole, we encounter not only praise, but poignant prayers of desperation as God’s people struggle with the dangers and pitfalls of life: enemies, injustice, illness, fear, and the others challenges of life that threaten to suffocate and snuff out the life of faith. We also find also find prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of trust, and hopeful declarations. The Psalter has nurtured and fed the souls of God’s people for millennia through its rich and relevant prayers and praises to God.

In the midst of these many treasures, it is easy to speed through the opening Psalm. It is only six verses. But I want to suggest that we need to hear its message as a guide to making sense of the rest of the Psalms. Psalm one is not a prayer nor is it an audacious praise. But it is foundational to all the rest of the psalms. It suggests that before authentic praise, before passionate and expectant prayer, there is a deep need to ponder.

Let’s listen to the Psalm in its entirety and then begin to unpack its power:

Psalm 1:1 Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. 3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed. (TNIV)


1) This psalm proclaims an authoritative guide to happiness. How can I make it through life happy? Some English translation have the word “blessed.” The word is better translated “Happy” here in 1:1 because Psalm 1 is talking about happy in the sense of being in a state of blessing from God. “Blessed” focuses on God as blesser. All of this begs the question: How do we live this way?

2) Recognize that the life of faith touches every moment and interaction. Look at the verbs in verse 1: walk, stand, sit. These are our options while we are awake. Psalm 1 has all of live in view.  We must be mindful of how we live. We are God’s witnesses to the world. We do not live apart from the world as God’s missional people. This is not an option. Instead, we live in the world. The Psalmist is not na├»ve to think that we can avoid the world. The psalmist has a more audacious vision. The key is to be shaped by God so that we are influencers of the world rather than persons who are influenced by the world. This is the warning of verse 1.

3) Verse 2 offers the positive virtue and practice that serves as the guide and road map to the good and happy life. Its word is simple but not simplistic. It does not offer a short series of steps to happiness or a one time seminar to receive a certification in the state of being blessed. Instead, it advocates an attitude and a habit

4) Delight and meditate. Look at verse 2: delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on it moment by moment. These are the core practices that serves as the foundation for the book of Psalm’s vision for life.

Notice that this is no mere rote or legalistic force feeding of Scripture. It is a coming to Scripture with an attitude of delight that opens us up to the feast that is there. How do we learn to delight in the Word? Pray Astonish me a anew with the riches of your word. Pray not that you become a master of Scripture but that the Scripture masters you.

Then ponder it deeply and continually. In the original Hebrew, meditate also has the connotation of speaking the text aloud. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. It is your roadmap for the journey of your life.

Psalm 1:2 echoes God’s word to Joshua in 1:7-8: Be strong and courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night…

In other words, Psalm 1 as a presupposition and foundation to the journey of faith calls us to a courageous willingness to read and ponder.

Personal/Communal Realignment

What about us?

Do we have the courage to read Scripture, breathe it in moment by moment, and breathe it out through a life of faithfulness, justice, and love as witnesses to God’s kingdom? The courage to pick up the Scriptures and read is a key step in the journey and life of faith that ends in the perpetual praise of the God who saves us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our LORD.


Gracious God,

Embolden us today with the courage to read and receive. To breathe in your guidance and breathe it out in faithful practice and praise. Continue to astonish us anew with riches of your Word so that we may be shaped and formed into the people that you desire us to be. Unleash us to live by faith, be known by love, and serve as voices of hope for all creation. In Jesus’ name: Amen

© 2014 Brian D. Russell