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I substitute preached at 2 churches yesterday (first at 9:30, the next at 11). I decided not to follow the lectionary and spoke on Psalm 1, but also brought in the Sermon on the Mount. Earlier in the service, the Scripture reader read Matthew 5:1-10 and 7:13-14. Before my message, I read Psalm 1. Then my husband helped me do a creative reading of the Psalm. You can’t hear my husband’s voice as loud as mine as he was in the pew, while I was in the pulpit.

Audio link HERE. It is only 19 minutes.

I gave out a Bible reading handout, which I will place at the bottom of this post. It is page 88 from the book: Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks. The creative reading of Psalm 1 came from: Creative Teaching Methods by Marlene LeFever.

First is Psalm 1, and the creative reading we did. My sermon manuscript follows it.

Chorus (me): Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

Response (Bob): I never do anything like that.

Chorus: or stand in the way that sinners take

Response: I never do things like that either

Chorus:   or sit in the company of mockers,

Response: Well, hardly ever.

Chorus: but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

Response: The Bible really is a wonderful book

Chorus:  and who meditates on his law day and night.

Response: Someday, after I retire, I’m really going to take more time to read the Bible

Chorus: That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season

Response: That sounds like a slow process

Chorus:  and whose leaf does not wither—

Response: Leaves? Fruit?

Chorus:   whatever they do prospers.

Response: Now that’s the part I like!

Chorus:    Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Response: Serves them right

Chorus: Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Response: It is nice to know that God is going to give them what is coming to them

Chorus: For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Response: I’m glad you know which of us are righteous, God.  If only everyone were as good as I am.


The Psalms are considered the song book and prayer book of ancient Israel. It’s a collection that came together over time, and reflects the common experiences of life. In the Psalms you will find praise and thanksgiving  – which may be what we mostly think of. But in the Psalms you will also find remembrance and repentance, disappointment and lament, even anger.

Psalm 1 was likely composed as an introduction or preface to the Psalms. It’s been described as a faithful doorkeeper into the Psalter. And Psalm 1 has similarities to the Wisdom Writings – such as Proverbs.

Psalm 1 is boldly written. It challenges the reader to make a choice between two distinct ways. There is no third way. Through descriptive language it leaves no doubt that the 2 paths are not only in contrast, but they lead to different ends. The roads part forever,  and there are eternal consequences.

It begins…Blessed or happy is the one who:
“does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers.”


That is the NIV, and other versions have slightly different wording, but there is a progression here. Each expression becomes more intense. It moves from someone being just casually influenced by ungodly people to… actually identifying with them or becoming one of them.

We usually spiritually drift. We do not jump all at once. Influence can be subtle. Slowly we move in the wrong direction. We have not gotten to the tree in this Psalm yet, but our spiritual landscape begins to erode.  And “suddenly” we end up where we did not intend to be. But it really was not sudden, but an accumulation of small moves.

Verse 1 with these 3 negatives  (things the blessed should not do)
clears the way for the positive:  characteristics that the blessed should possess – as we see in verse 2.

The blessed:  delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.

The law technically refers to the first 5 books of the Old Testament, but we can understand it to refer to God’s Word in general. The more we know the Bible, the more resources we have to guide us in our daily decisions on the path of life.

It says we should meditate on God’s law “day and night.”  – I don’t think that means 24 hours a day as God knows we need to sleep and do other things in life. But we should regularly  read,  study,  and reflect on Scripture. Psalm 119:105 says that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light on our path. But the Bible can’t be that lamp if it is not lit because we don’t know Scripture. Hearing Scripture once a week on Sunday is not enough – the light of our lamp will be very dim.

Verses 1 and 2 together point directly to a central issue in our spiritual life:

What do you give your attention to? What do you immerse yourself in? What do you take pleasure in? What do you give priority to?

And the verbs in verses 1 and 2 suggest habits of life: Walking, sitting, meditating. – Are the routines and priorities of your life helping or hurting you spiritually?

As we approach the year of our Lord 2020, this can be a good time for some spiritual self-assessment. We don’t want a self-centered faith, but there is a proper time to spiritually examine ourselves.

And I want to briefly focus on Bible reading. If we are honest, many of us struggle with consistent Bible reading. We encounter Jesus in the Bible. In fact, it is the whole purpose of the Scripture – to show us Jesus. How often do you crack open your Bible?

If you are not immersed in the Scripture like you should be, why not?
I do not mean “why not” in a point-the-finger judgmental way. But just in a practical way. If there is anything in your life that you should be doing but you are not doing it, “why not” is a logical question.

What’s hindering you? Jot down a list. Maybe there is a fairly simple solution. Maybe you just need to try something different (if what you’ve previously tried has failed). What’s that saying – “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”? – Well, stop it!

Maybe one of those read the entire Bible in a year plans is just too much. How about trying to read one book of the Bible for each month of the year? I brought an example here for you, and can give out copies at the end of the service. It has a book of the Bible for each month. If you use this one, it takes you through different types of books and books of varying length. It can keep you from getting bogged down. If it is a long book, it may take you the entire month to read it once. If it is short book, you can read it multiple times – and really reflect or meditate upon it.

But we need to get back to Psalm 1. Verse 1 began with a promise of blessing or happiness (Blessed is…) and then verses 1 and 2 told us how to experience it.

Verses 3 through 6, the remainder of the Psalm, declare the end result.
A key observation in these verses is contrast.

Do we want to be like a flourishing tree with deep roots  –or–  Do we want to be like chaff  (the outside of a kernel of grain) that the wind just blows away?
Do we want to be on the secure path of the righteous  –or – on the path of the wicked that leads to destruction?

Verse 3 says that this righteous person, who is like a flourishing tree, will prosper in whatever they do. They will prosper. And I want to talk  about the words prosper and blessed. These are 2 words that I think can be  misunderstood  and  misused. Maybe we have gotten our ideas about being blessed or prosperous all mixed up.

Let’s begin with prosper in Psalm 1:3.  Think of a flourishing, healthy, mature tree. I am sure that tree has gone through some hard winters, and summers of drought.  Trees can send out roots and branches to seek water or sunshine, and end up more established as a result.

I don’t think prosper means an immunity to difficulty in life or some guarantee of comfort and success. But rather that we will prosper in the right way: That we will achieve things of spiritual and eternal significance. That our life will honor God and our soul will prosper, even when life is hard.

Note that is says that the tree bears fruit in season. It took the tree time to reach this state of flourishing. Spiritual growth takes time. It requires patience. The Bible is filled with descriptions of the spiritual life that includes: being patient, enduring, persevering, putting forth effort, pressing forward, watching, obeying, and maintaining an eternal perspective.

If you are told to endure and be patient, what is the implication? The implication is  that there are times of difficulty and frustration and waiting. Right? There is something you must persevere through.

We can be prosperous and blessed in the midst of these things, putting down spiritual roots – as we look to Jesus as our source of strength.

But let’s look at this word blessed. Psalm 1 has striking similarities to the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 to 7.

It begins with the Beatitudes with a series of 8 “Blessed are the…”  and the Sermon on the Mount ends with a pointed emphasis on the two distinct paths in life: A narrow road that leads to life, and a broad road that leads to destruction.

The word blessed or happy in Psalm 1 is translated that way into English from the Hebrew. And the Beatitudes uses the corresponding word in the Greek. But the Beatitudes expand on this idea of being blessed. Jesus really lays it out for us.

Each blessing is associated with a quality: such as being poor in spirit, meek, merciful, being persecuted for righteousness. And I think the 8 reasons for blessing can contradict our usual ideas of blessedness.

When we refer to someone as being blessed, are these qualities the type of thing we are usually thinking of?  No. I don’t think so.

We tend to use the word blessed or blessing to refer almost exclusively to physical and material benefits. We are blessed because something good happened to us, or we avoided a calamity in life. We are blessed because of good health, our family, a nice house, food on the table, and steady employment.

Of course, we should be grateful and appreciative for God’s material provision for us in life.  But how come we never or rarely think of blessing in the way that Psalm 1 does or in the way that Jesus does in the Beatitudes?  Do we think things like:

  • Susan is so blessed because she delights in reading her Bible and obeying its precepts?
  • Jim is so blessed because he hungers and thirsts for righteousness?
  • Lisa is so blessed because she is being persecuted because of righteousness?

Do we earnestly pray for God to bless us in this way? Do we pray for God to help us be meek and humble? Do we pray to be more merciful? Do we pray to be a peacemaker? Do we pray for a rumbling hunger in our soul for righteousness?

Maybe you do, but I don’t nearly enough. I was personally challenged as I prepared this message, and I hope you are challenged too.

I know it has focused a lot on things we should do or not do, and developing good spiritual habits. And we don’t want to drift into self-reliance and self-righteousness. That is the opposite of Christianity.

It is a paradox, but ultimately the righteous person is the one who realizes that they are not righteous. You can’t hunger for righteousness, if you think you’re already righteous. Blaise Pascal put it this way:

“There are only 2 kinds of people: the righteous, who believe themselves sinners; the rest, sinners who believe themselves righteous.”

Jesus is our source of strength and our source of righteousness. The Psalm used the metaphor of a tree, and spoke of bearing fruit. And remember what Jesus said in John 15:5… “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

What can we do apart from Jesus?  Nothing!

If you cut a branch off from its vine or trunk, the branch will not survive because it has lost its source of life. Jesus himself is the vine or trunk, and we as Christian believers are the branches.  And  note that the tree in Psalm 1 was planted by the water, close to its source of life.

Sometimes we pray “Lord, help me live my life for you.”
But it might be better to pray “Lord, live out your life through me.”
Do you see the difference there?

It is not about the branch living for the vine, but letting the life of the vine flow out through the branches. Spiritual life courses through Jesus and Jesus empowers us to walk the narrow road that leads to life.   (ended with prayer)

Bible reading handout: