PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

How To Be Happy (Psalm 1)

01/03 How to Be Happy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160103_be-happy.mp3

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence, 1776)

The Pursuit of Happiness

It is not just an American thing to pursue happiness. We all want to be happy. We all endeavor to pursue our own happiness. That is part of what it is to be human. We bought Satan’s lie and bit the fruit in the first place because we saw that it ‘was good for food, …a delight to the eyes, , and …to be desired to make one wise’ (Gen.3:6). We want to be happy. We eat lots of sweets because we want to be happy. We try to eat healthier because we want to be happy. We lounge around and watch TV because we are seeking happiness. We decide to exercise more because we want to be happy. We indulge in great pleasures, we make great sacrifices, all in pursuit of our own happiness.

I thought it would be fitting, at the beginning of this new year, to preach on how to be happy. It is not wrong for us to desire happiness. We are wired for pleasure. God designed eyes with the ability to perceive color and texture and depth and beauty. God created taste buds capable of savoring all varieties and complexities of flavors from salt to sweet to bitter to sour. He created ears that could delight in beautiful melodies. He gave us a nose that can appreciate savory aromas. God saturated our skin with nerve endings that respond to touch and warmth and sensation. God made us with the capacity to experience a rich complexity of emotions. God placed mankind in a garden of delights and he blessed them and said be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, exercise good authority, enjoy. God holds out to us the prospect of happiness. He invites us to pursue happiness. The book of Psalms begin with the word ‘happy’, and the word ‘happy’ occurs 25 more times throughout the Psalms. Most English translations render it ‘blessed’, although there is another Hebrew word that more properly means ‘blessed’.

What we are talking about is a happiness that is substantial. This is not empty frivolity, but settled joy; happy in the richest, deepest, most lasting sense. Happiness that satisfies the longings of our soul at the deepest level.

So what does the Bible say about how to be happy? How should we pursue our happiness in such a way that we taste it and enjoy it and it lasts? How do we pursue happiness in a way that it is not continually just out of reach, that it does not, as so often happens, slip through our fingers?

Look with me at Psalm 1.

Psalm 1

1 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.

Three Paths to Death

This Psalm starts in the negative; telling us three things that do not bring happiness. That which is morally wrong does not bring happiness. That which is offensive to God does not bring happiness. Happiness is not found in pride, scorning, mocking, or looking down at others. Getting advice from those who are morally bankrupt will never bring the happiness we desire. Fixing yourself in the path of resistance to God will never satisfy. Proud looking down at others will never bring true joy.

We say, ‘of course, who would embrace a wicked, sinful, prideful lifestyle as a means to happiness?’ The reason this Psalm lays out these three things as paths that do not lead to genuine happiness is because these are three places we naturally seek happiness in. Is there not something within us, when we see the ‘no admittance, danger keep out, do not touch’ sign, that thinks that pleasure is found in that which is forbidden? This was the first seed of doubt planted by the snake in the garden; ‘Did God really withhold a pleasure from you?’ Or do we not look around and ask ourselves ‘why do the wicked prosper’ (Ps.73:3)? You can’t really make it in the world without bending the rules, stretching the truth, cutting some corners. Do we not, in our minds, or among our friends, criticize others, point out their flaws, their shortcomings, and think that we are just a bit better than they? The Psalm warns us because these are paths we often take. That which is morally wrong, that which is offensive to God, that which inflates self, these are not paths to the joy we seek.

The Path to Life

The Psalm warns against three paths that do not lead to happiness, but only one that brings true joy. That is the law of the Lord; the Torah, the instruction, the direction of the Lord. This is inclusive of all God has said to us, all God’s instruction, all his Word. What we know as the Bible is the collection of all God’s instruction to us. The counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers all lead to ruin, but the instruction of the Lord leads to lasting happiness.

Notice our response to God’s word determines our eternal happiness. The one who is happy delights in God’s instruction. John Calvin wrote “that forced or servile obedience is not at all acceptable to God, and that those only are worthy students of the law who come to it with a cheerful mind, and are so delighted with its instructions, as to account nothing more desirable or delicious than to make progress therein …all who are truly actuated by love to the law must feel pleasure in the diligent study of it.” Grudging or obligatory attention to God’s word is empty. We may take medicine because we are supposed to, and we hope that it will be good for us, but it tastes terrible. We plug our nose and swallow the pill. It is distasteful, but good for us. God’s truth is not like that.

Psalm 19 describes God’s word as “pure, reviving the soul; …sure, making wise the simple; …right, rejoicing the heart; …pure, enlightening the eyes; …clean, enduring forever; …true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. … in keeping them there is great reward.” (v.7-11)

Psalm 119 says:

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 34 says:

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 139 says:

Psalm 139:17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

God’s word is precious, good, sweet, rewarding, valuable, more to be desired, reviving, rejoicing, enlightening. The one who finds true happiness finds God’s word as a treasure, as a pleasure, as delicious, as a delight. The one who is happy views God’s instruction with delight.

Notice also, the one who would be truly happy meditates on the words of God. Taste, take time to enjoy, savor, pay attention to, focus on, study, speak it, mutter it, muse on it, memorize it, turn it over and over and over.

My kids eat candy as if it were a race. Like a pack of insatiable piranhas they are attracted by the scent of sweets. They descend ravenously on the bag of M&M’s that was just opened, and sometimes when its over, I wonder if some of the wrapper got consumed in the frenzy. I don’t think they taste it at all. It seems the goal is to ingest as much sugar as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. I wish they attacked their chores like that! Don’t read God’s word like that. I want to warn you, that is a danger with Bible reading plans. Reading plans are good, they are helpful, and I would encourage you to read intentionally, with a plan. But the danger lies in it becoming a chore, a box to check off, a task to accomplish, something to get through and finish, something you feel bad about if you get behind, or you feel good about yourself if you keep up, a conquest. Don’t read God’s word merely to get through it. Slow down. Savor. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Enjoy him!

Spurgeon said “The inward meditation is the thing that makes the soul rich towards God. This is the godly man’s occupation. Put the spice into the mortar by reading, beat it with the pestle of meditation—so shall the sweet perfume be exhaled.” [Spurgeon, Ps1:1-3, # 3270]

Meditation is a process that cannot be hurried or rushed through. Eliminate distractions. Focus your attention. Think. Ponder. Muse. Prayerfully consider. Savor. Take time to enjoy. Delight yourself in the instruction of the Lord. Meditate on it day and night.

A Tree Planted

The Psalm compares the person who delights in and meditates on God’s word with a tree planted.

Psalm 1

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.

He is compared to a tree, not a vegetable or a grain or a shrub. This is one who stands the test of time, one who has staying power, one who lasts. This is a tree planted. It is not a wild tree, an unplanned tree, a volunteer. This is a cultivated tree, carefully selected, intentionally placed by a wise gardener. Jesus said:

Matthew 15:13 …“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.

This is a tree planted by streams of water. Not in a desert. Not by a stagnant pool, not by a wadi or wash that fills with water during a rain and is dry the rest of the time. This speaks of intentional consistent irrigation. This is a tree that yields its fruit in season. This is not a decorative tree, or a shade tree. This is a fruit bearing tree. It is a cultivated tree, intended to be productive. Fruit trees are beautiful and good for shade, but their main purpose is to bear fruit. Jesus said:

John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. …8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Fruit bearing is directly proportional to abiding, delighting, meditating. The fruitful tree is nourished by the word. A tree without adequate water supply will wither. The one who day and night drinks in the word will not wither.

This is the happiness that comes from a purpose realized. In all that he does he prospers. He advances, makes progress, is profitable. This is not the empty happiness of fleeting pleasures. This is the enduring happiness of a purpose fulfilled, the enjoyment that comes from knowing what you were made for, being who you were created to be, doing what you were meant to do. This is the substantial satisfaction of being fruitful.

The Wicked are Not So

The contrast is drawn between the happy one who delights in and meditates on the truth of God’s word and the wicked. Notice, by the way, there is no third category. There is no category for nominal, complacent, comfortable, non-abiding, non-fruitful trees. There are those who treasure God’s word, and the wicked.

Psalm 1

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.

After grain is harvested, it is beaten and winnowed out to separate the kernel of grain from the chaff. Chaff is the useless husk that surrounds the grain. The contrast could not be more stark. On the one hand, a firmly planted well nourished fruitful tree, and on the other hand, the empty husk of grain blown by the wind. There is the one with purpose, rooted, alive, thriving, growing, productive, and there is the lifeless empty shell. What a description of a life with no purpose, with no joy. A mere empty husk blown away by the wind.

The Way of the Righteous

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The one who is rooted in God’s word, nourished and satisfied, the one who delights in the Lord, knows that there is none righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom.3:10, 23). But the righteousness of God has been manifested, not a righteousness that comes from keeping the commandments, but a righteousness the entire scriptures point to, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Rom.3:21-22), the righteousness of Christ that is counted to us, credited to us as a gift (Rom.4). By the obedience of Christ we are made righteous (Rom.5:18-19). The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The only path to a righteousness that pleases God is the sinner humbly trusting God to credit us with a righteousness not our own, the righteousness of Christ.

There are 25 other places in the Psalms where we are declared to be happy. Those who are truly happy are:

those who delight in the instruction of the Lord (1:1 cf. Prov.3:13; 8:32, 34; 29:18)

those who trust in the Lord (2:12; 34:8; 40:4; 84:12; cf. Prov.16:20)

those whose God is the Lord (33:12; 144:15 (x2); 146:5)

those who enjoy the presence of the Lord (65:4; 89:15)

those whose strength is the Lord (84:5)

those who fear the Lord (112:1; 128:1-2; cf. Prov.28:14)

those who are forgiven (32:1-2)

those who are disciplined by the Lord (94:12)

those who do righteousness (106:3; 119:1-2; cf. Prov.20:7)

those who consider the poor (41:1; cf. Prov.14:21)

those who enjoy their children (127:5)

those who execute God’s judgment (137:8-9)

Known By the Lord

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. Those who are justified, declared righteous, credited with the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus, are known by the Lord. The Lord know those who are his (2Tim.2:19). Those whose delight is in the word of God, who meditate on it day and night, are characterized by an intimacy with God. They are known by God.

Would you find real happiness? Do not seek it in that which is morally wrong, that which is offensive to God, that which looks down at others in pride. Do not listen to the counsel of unbelievers or follow their ways. Seek the righteousness that comes by faith in the finished work of Christ. Delight yourself in the Lord, in his word, treasure it, savor it, meditate on it, draw from it your nourishment day and night.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 3, 2016 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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