Skip Heitzig - Happy (Psalm 1)
It's an honor to be with you this morning. Before we get started, let's start... well, before we get into the Word, let's get started the right way, as we always do, and let's talk to the Lord about what we're going to hear.
Father, we rest in the fact that you are all-powerful and all-knowing, that you know everything and you can do anything. And we bring you our lives. We worship today the first day of the week, the day that commemorated to the early church the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. And it's because of that resurrection that we have life promised to us spiritually, as well as our own resurrection that is coming. Lord, I pray that you might lift our horizon and pick us up and be able to see what your plan is for us, the design and model that you have for us in living the life that we have now. As this psalm declares, so I pray, Lord, we would understand and we would be fueled with enthusiasm put there by your Holy Spirit, in Jesus' name we pray, amen.
One of the most successful songs is the song that you have heard over the introduction to this message. It's a song called "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. Unless you've been in a coma for a year, that song has been everywhere, not only in this country, number one in this country, number one in the United Kingdom, number one in Ireland, number one in Australia, number one in New Zealand, and number one in nineteen other countries. On YouTube the music video had garnered 325 million views, very popular. It's a very simple song that invites people to be happy in the midst of bad news, or whatever their life's doing, to be lifted higher. And I reckon... isn't that a great word? I reckon that it's a popular song because it reflects what everybody wants at the core of their heart.
If you ask anybody: What do you really want out of life? They would say, "I want to be happy". And, yet, according to USA Today that cited the Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans are unhappy with their jobs. And another New York research team said most Americans are unhappy with their lives. Everybody has a picture of what would bring them happiness, some idea. So when the person says, "All I want is to be happy," the follow-up question is: What do you have to do to get there? And so people have a picture of what would bring them happiness. For some it's owning something: "Man, if I had, like, that car, I'd be happy". "If I can make that much money, that income stream, I'd be a happy person". Or, "If I could marry that person, I would be happy". Or, "If I wouldn't have married that person, I could be happy".
There were three guys standing around talking about this. One was from England, one was French, and the other was Russian. And the Englishman said, "Happiness the when you come home after a long day and your slippers are warmed by the fire". And the Frenchman said, "Oh, you English have no romance. Happiness is a fine meal at a fine restaurant with your wife". And the Russian said, "You're both wrong. Happiness is when you are at home in bed, you get knock on the door, it's secret police, and they say, 'Ivan Ivanovitch, you are under arrest!' And you say, 'Oh, Ivan Ivanovitch? He lives next door.'" It's all a matter of perspective, is it not? Well, God has a lot to say about happiness, and it's all the things the world will not tell you.
And so we come to the book of Psalms, the very first psalm on God's playlist, the song, the "Happy" psalm. And I take the title "Happy" from the first word, I want you to notice, in it. It's the word "blessed". "Blessed is the man" that is like this, the psalm says. The word "blessed," esher/ashrei- in Hebrew means literally happy, oh, how happy. And it's written in the plural in this psalm, so it could better be translated: "Oh, the joys," or "the happinesses," or "Oh, how very happy is this person". This is God's way of being happy. We have in our Declaration of Independence in the second paragraph those famous words: "We hold these truths," it says, "to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of... happiness".
Our constitution guarantees you can pursue happiness, never promises you'll find it, but you can chase it. And people are chasing happiness, and yet so many are never finding it. And here's why: happiness is never found by direct pursuit; happiness is a by-product of another pursuit. When you pursue him, and when you pursue holiness, happiness tags along. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God... and all these other things will be added to you". So we're going to get into this psalm, only six verses, and we're going to take it phrase by phrase and verse by verse. Simply, it is a description of the happy man, the happy woman, the happy person. And the happy person is described first by what he declines or says "no" to.
Look at the opening phrase of the song. "Oh, how happy, blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful". So far everything is negative, right? It's all "no". It's as if he is saying, "Happy is the person who is marked by what he does not do, the people he does not hang out with, the places he does not go". Now, before you think, "Boy, the Bible is surely negative," understand that the positive comes after the negative, and there's a lot of power in negative thinking. Happy is the person who understands that "no" is the first step many times to "yes". Just ask an athlete who has to say "no" to doing certain things, and certain lifestyle, and restrict his or her intake, so that he or she can become a great athlete. So ten o'clock at night rolls around and that quart of ice cream in the freezer, "No"! Even though that sounds really good, "No". What is he to say "no" to? First of all, bad advice. "He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly".
Be careful who you listen to. Be careful what you listen to. Two quick ways to disaster: take no one's advice; take everyone's advice. There are some people, you know them, who are isolated. They take no one's advice. "No, don't tell me what to do. No, I won't ask your advice. No, I'll figure this out on my own". Not a healthy place to be. But the second is also disastrous when you take everyone's advice. There's some people that process every single choice to everyone else's opinion. And you know what? Everyone has an opinion on how you should live, and it's not always the best opinion. It's not always godly counsel. It might be well-intentioned counsel, it might even be from your own family, but it's not necessarily godly counsel. There's an old Danish proverb that says, "He who builds according to every man's advice will have a crooked house," and a crooked life to go with it.
The second thing the happy person says "no" to is bad associations. The next phrase says, "Nor does he stand in the path of sinners". So first you're walking and now you're standing. The word "stand" means to linger, to stay a while, to loiter. Let me put it to you this way: if you walk in the footsteps of bad advice, you will soon stand among those who give it. You're slowing down. You got to be careful who you hang with. Paul said in First Corinthians 15, "Bad company corrupts good character".
Now, I want to say a word that looks at this from the other side. It is not bad to make friends with unbelievers. And that psalm that we just read is not saying this. Even Jesus Christ himself was called the "friend of publicans," the "friend of sinners". He hung out with the unrighteous. But he didn't hang out with them in order to become like them; he hung out with them in hopes that he could raise them up by his life, by his example, so that they would want to become like him. And Christians who move the world are those people who don't let the world move them. That's why we need to be careful in what we listen to, and whose advice, and who we hang with. The third thing we say "no" to is bad actions. Look at it yourself. "Blessed is man, oh, how happy is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor", here it is, "sits in the seat of the scornful or the mockers".
This is a very popular seat to take these days. If you sit in the seat of the scorner, the mocker, especially mocking all things "God," you will be very popular. It's popular to say, "Oh, those unintelligent people who actually believe in the Bible. Didn't you see your latest PBS documentary? We know the things in the Bible can't be true". And so we find ourselves in a unique position. Today we are the enemy. We are the ones, at least many of them say, who say, "Yeah, those religious, crazy, right-wing nuts, they're the ones that are preventing real progress to happen in this country".
So, once again, just notice the slowing: walking at first, slow down to a standstill, and eventually you take a seat. And this is a position of influence. You have something to say. You have something to say that's not good. You are mocking. Let me submit to you that Peter took this route. Peter was once walking, following, pursuing Christ. Jesus got arrested. Peter that night got himself in a courtyard standing among people who were not sympathetic toward the cause of Christ. Eventually, he himself sat down and denied that he even knew Jesus, walking, standing, and sitting. So the happy person is described by what he declines.
Second, the happy person is described in what he delights. Verse 2, "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night". So now the psalmist moves from all the "don'ts" to all the "dos". A lot of people brag about what they don't do. It's a negative righteousness. "Well, I don't listen to music. I don't watch movies. I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't go with girls that do". Well, yippee for you. What do you do? Not just what you don't do, but what do you do? A lot of people have enough of God to make them decent, but not enough to make them dynamic. So the psalmist moves from what he doesn't do to what he does. And notice what his attitude is toward the Bible: "His delight is in the law of the Lord". It does not say, "His duty is to read your Bible every day"; "His drudgery is picking up the book and opening it up". "His delight is in the law of the Lord". One translation says, "He finds his greatest pleasure in the law of the Lord".
He looks forward to it. Why? Because this Book is the means toward an end, and the end is an encounter with the living God. So I want to know the Word of God, so that I can get to know the God of the Word. I want an encounter with him, and this Book does that for me. Let me give an example: A young woman has a boyfriend. She can't always be with him, but she can carry, and she does, in her purse a photograph of him. The photograph is a reminder. It speaks to her of him. So when she's away from him, when nobody is looking, she'll pull it out and she'll look at it longingly, and maybe even give a serendipitous kiss toward it. Now, the picture isn't him, it's a substitute of him, and not even a great substitute. But it reminds her of him and speaks to her of him. And so does the Bible to us. It remind us of him. It speaks to us of him. It gets us in touch with him. And we encounter him.
Now, here's what's even more amazing. I want you to consider this: when David wrote Psalm 1, and he talked about the happy person delighting in the law of God, the only Bible he had were the first five books of Moses. He was talking literally about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. His delight is in that. How many people do you know today that would say, "My delight is that". There's only one group I know, and that's you. I mean, when Wednesday nights come and you're going, "Hot diggity dog! We're in Leviticus, Numbers". We, however, have sixty-six books. We have the whole Bible. We have a treasure trove of truth. And concerning the laws of God it was David who wrote, and we will see it in Psalm 19, "More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey in the honeycomb".
Let me tell you my story. A few months ago I was on an airplane, a Southwest flight to be exact. And I was next to a man who had a book. He was devoted to his book. It was a book of crossword puzzles. His head was in it. His head was down. He's writing and he's thinking. He didn't come up for air except maybe like when we are about to land. And, you know, he, like, took a breath and had a swig of water. So it was, like, it was my opening. So I said, "So, you like crossword puzzles, do you"? And he goes, "Oh, I love crossword puzzles". And he goes, "I have a knack for them". He goes, "I can see patterns in a maze of letters". And I don't know if this is fast or not, but he said, "My record is thirty-three words in nine minutes".
Now having, I don't know anything about it, but I thought, "Wow! That's good". I'm hoping it's good, because I really don't know, but I'm just going along in the conversation. And then he said this, this is what I want to share with you. He said, "The first thing I do when I pack my suitcase is get a book of crossword puzzles". He said, "It takes my mind off flying". And the reason that made an impact on me is I thought, "Is this the first thing I think to pack when I pack my suitcase? Am I delighting in the law of Lord as much as Mr. Crossword Puzzle is delighting in that book of his"? I mean, you could say, "His delight is in the crossword puzzle and in the crossword puzzle doth he meditate day and night". He was all about that. Look at the word "meditate" in that verse, by the way: "He meditates day and night".
What does meditation mean? Well, it's not talking about transcendental meditation where one disengages the mind and kind of goes nowhere. Biblical meditation is exactly the opposite. It means you consciously engage the mind and you focus it upon revealed truth, in this case the Word of God, the Scripture. But the word, the Hebrew word "meditate" is the word hagah/yehgeh, which means to coo, to mutter, to moan, to read in an undertone, or to talk to oneself about. The root meaning of this word is the low moaning of an animal, especially when he chews its cud. Can you picture it? You and I do that sometimes when we eat: "Mmmm, that's so good". You're talking to yourself about it. You're reacting to what you're eating. The picture then of meditation is that you just don't read the Scripture, but you feed on the Scripture. You slow down long enough to hear each word, to emphasize a different word, to say it out loud back to yourself to get an impression. You slow down. I have a problem when I eat; and that is, I eat fast. I always have.
My wife has told me over the years to slow down, echoes of my mom who used to tell me growing up, "Slow down". Well, let me explain to you, just to get you on my side a little bit, why I eat so fast. I grew up with three older brothers. I'm the youngest. I'm the baby of four. So when it was mealtime, they were serious. It wasn't a little bit of banter back and forth, it's like whoever gets the food first, wins. And I was sometimes last. I'm the smallest. So I learned to eat very fast. Well, that's dangerous if you go to an expensive restaurant. It's like five bucks a bite. It's, like, slow down. So can I suggest that when you read the Scripture, when you have your devotional time, that you will slow down and consider it carefully and more slowly. Meditation is the link between theory and action.
You ask yourself: Is this a command? Is this a promise? Am I to do something in following this up? Why did he say that word? What if I emphasize that word? And meditation is that link between theory and action. It forms your worldview and it will determine your behavior. So here's the happy person so far, described by what he declines, by what he delights in; third, he's described by what he depicts. Look at verse 3, "He shall be like a tree". "He shall be like a tree". It doesn't say, "He shall be like a stump of a tree," or "He shall be like a twig lying on the ground," or "like a two-by-four"; no, but something alive and something growing, something flourishing.
You know, growth is a normal part of life. You expect growth to happen if there's a living thing. If you have a seed, you plant it in the ground and you water it, you expect to see results. You expect growth. When a baby is born, you expect a baby to grow up. That's the normal, natural expectation of parents. If the child's thirty-five or turns to be thirty-five years old and still in diapers, you know, you've got a big problem, no growth. Well, when you see a believer, a Christian, somebody who's been born again who has spiritually life, they're just sort of always at the same level, you think, "Something's wrong. There ought to be growth". And as much as I love evangelism and love to call people to follow Jesus, Christianity is more than obstetrics. It includes pediatrics, it includes some emergency room visits, and should go all the way to the geriatric old-age stage.
So, the tree depicts progress. It also depicts permanence. For you'll notice it says, "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water". Can you picture a tree with its roots going deep down into the soil, deriving the nutrients, anchoring itself, and becoming a permanent fixture of the landscape? I have a tree in my backyard I want to tell you about. It's an unusual tree. It's only seven years old. It is, no joke, at least fifty or sixty feet high. It has had enormous growth. All my neighbors have said, "So, what's up with that tree"? It's like Jack and the Beanstalk tree, because all the other trees in the neighborhood are not like that tree, even the ones that have been around a while.
So here's the deal I found out, I wanted to find out. My tree is planted next to a pond. I have to fill the pond by hand with a hose. And I'll fill it one day; it will be down the next. And it's just a little pond that has a pump with a hole in a rock, and it bubbles, and it makes a nice sound. But I gotta fill it all the time, especially in the summer. And so somebody came to my yard one day and he goes, "You've got a tear in the liner of your pond. You're going to have to rip that out and fix it. There's something wrong with your liner". So, pulled up all the rocks, liner was perfect, not a tear, not a cut, not a hole, intact. But we discovered the tree is a very smart tree. The roots not only go down, but some of the roots have gone up just above the liner and back down into the pond, and it's like getting mainline water. It's, whoosh! You turn on the hose, it's going.
And that tree's roots extend into the yard, and it has become this massive, permanent fixture. The idea here is permanence, planted, not potted. "Planted by rivers of water". Same word Jesus used or thought of, same idea when he said, "Abide in me". Remember that word? Good New Testament word. "Abide in me," means "Remain in me". Have you ever met a person who's sort of in and out, back and forth with the Lord? They make a commitment, they backslide; they make a recommitment, they go do their thing; make another recommitment... it's like forty times. Yes, God is a God of mercy, but stay put. David prayed, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, renew a steadfast spirit within me". So it speaks of progress and permanence. Also, calling us to be like a tree is productivity. And the next phrase says, "Who brings forth fruit in its season". It's not an overnight success; it's seasonal. It takes time to grow, but he brings forth fruit.
If you've read the Bible very long, you know that fruit is a picture of... anybody know? Results, spiritual activity. If you say something, you better do what you say. That's the fruit of what you say. It's got to be evident. There has to be some activity, results that show what you say is true. "You'll know them by their fruit," Jesus said. So, fruit is a picture of results, a picture of spiritual activity. But let me add to that, how about this: fruit is also a picture of refreshment. A piece of fruit on a summer day? Come on. A cold watermelon on a day like today? Come on! So refreshing. A happy person is the kind of person that to be around you feel refreshed. Ever be around some people, it's like, "Man, I'm so drained". And there's a place for that. There's time for that. I understand some people are burdened, but you know what it's like to be around somebody who fills your tank up, and you feel refreshed. And they're usually the type of person described in this psalm.
The Lord spoke of Abraham and made him a promise in Genesis 12. "I will make you a blessing," he said, "I will make you a great nation. And you shall be a blessing". "You will be a refreshment". That's the happy person. Whenever we travel to Israel, we on one day take people from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. It's a few hours' drive by bus. And it's a day they are able to see the two bodies of water inland that exist there in that country. First is the Sea of Galilee, that's up north. And around the Sea of Galilee there's farms, it's green, it's beautiful. And then it empties into the Jordan River and you follow it, follow it, follow it, follow it, keep driving, keep driving, follow it, follow it, get down south to another big body of water called the Dead Sea. You want to know why it's called the Dead Sea? It's dead. Nothing lives in it, except for some weird microbe, but it's dead. And it's such a picture of two ways to live.
The reason the Sea of Galilee is alive and the Dead Sea is dead is the Sea of Galilee has an inlet and an outlet; the Dead Sea has only an inlet, no outlet. So it is with people. There's some people that are filled with life because they bring in, they take in, there's growth, there's vibrancy. Then they give out. They export it. And then there's other people who are dead. They're just like, "Give me, give me. I want more. I need more". It's all intake, no outtake. The happy person will be productive and refreshing. It also speaks of perseverance, for you'll notice that it will say, "Whose leaf shall not wither". No explanation needed. It doesn't give up. It keeps on going. It doesn't quit. It's evergreen. Also speaks of prosperity. Look at the end of that verse: "And whatever he does shall prosper". What a life. The word "prosper" means full grown or mature.
Here's the picture of a life who is balanced, a person aligned with God, and thus the rest of life is in balance: personal life, spiritual life, family life, business life, leisure life, all in balance. Because that person is connected to God in that connection and in that blessing, everything he or she seems to touch is just blessed. They're happy through a lifetime. I've always loved the story about the little boy who went into the pet store to pick out a dog. And he put his face up to the window and there's a little puppy wagging his tail. And he goes, "Daddy, I want the one with the happy ending". Don't we all want the life with the happy ending, a life marked by growth, a life marked by productivity, and refreshment, and God's touch of blessing and prosperity and maturity upon it?
So here's the happy man or the happy woman described by what he declines, described in what he delights, described by what he depicts. And, finally and fourth, he is described by how he differs. Verse 4, "The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment". Implication is they won't stand, they'll fall. "Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish". Let me just at this point give you a word about the structure of this psalm. This psalm is structured antithetically, meaning the first three verses describe one person, the next three verses describe a different person, and they are opposites of each other. There's an antithesis going on.
So, verse 1 through 3, the blessed person, the righteous person; verses 3... or verse 4 and 5, the ungodly person; verse 6, both of them in a summary fashion. So he writes about the happy person, then all of a sudden he takes a right turn, and he goes, "But not this guy". The first guy is different from the second guy. And in the Septuagint version it's even a double negative. It's, "Not so the ungodly; not so". As if to say: whatever good things can be said of the first guy, none of them can be said for the second guy. Here you've got a growing, living, fruitful tree; here you got a pile of chaff, it's dead. If you really want to see the difference, look at the results of these two lives by comparing the first word of the psalm to the last word of the psalm. The first word is...? Okay, three people have read the psalm here. First word is, say it out loud, "blessed". The last word is... "perish". Two ends, two results, two lives: one is blessed, happy, fruitful; the other "perish".
There was a young paratrooper who was learning how to jump and instructor told him and all the students, "You cannot get in the airplane until you know certain instructions. Number one: When I say 'jump,' you jump. Number two: You count to ten after you have jumped, and you pull the rip cord, and your chute will open. Number three: If your chute doesn't open, you pull the other cord, the emergency rip cord, and the emergency parachute will open. And, finally, number four: When you get down, there will be a truck waiting for you to take you back to the airfield". So this young man memorized all four instructions, got on the airplane, got to about 10,000 feet, people were jumping. The instructor told him, "Jump"! He jumped.
So he got number one. He counted to ten. At number ten he pulled the rip cord. So he got number two. Problem: parachute didn't open. So he pulled the emergency rip cord. He got number three. The other parachute did not open. He has no parachute and he's falling fast down to the ground and the thought comes to him, "Oh, great! I suppose the truck won't be there either when I get down".
I would have thought of something else. Hey, which plane are you flying in, the one marked "blessed" or the one marked "perish"? Look at the word "chaff". They "are like the chaff". You know what chaff is, right? It's husk. It's the little thin skin that's around the wheat. It's next to it. But when you pluck the wheat, which is nourishing, the chaff is winnowed. You throw the wheat up in the air and the chaff falls off and the wind takes it away. It's at the mercy of the wind. And I thought about that, and I thought, "What an interesting description of the unbeliever". The unsaved person does not believe there is a devil, and yet the irony is they are being driven and controlled by the very devil they do not believe in, carried by the winds. Paul the apostle described our life before Christ, and he said, "You were dead in trespasses and sins, and you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the one, the devil who works in the children of disobedience".
So, does your life resemble a tree or a pile of husks, dead chaff? And I mean deep inside of you. A man was by a river and he reached down in the water and he picked up a rock. And he took the rock and he looked at it. It was all wet. And then he got down and he cracked it open and he looked on the inside of the rock. It was dry. And it just dawned on him, he said, "Here's this rock surrounded by all this water, but deep inside the water hasn't penetrated. It's dry as a bone". He thought, "How many people are like that"? They're surrounded by God's people, surrounded by God's truth, surrounded by God's music, surrounded by God's words, but deep inside them, dry as a bone. No life in them. Is that you? Are you like the first one or are you like the second? It's amazing how the Bible always does that, kind of gives us, not fifty, but two roads, two choices, two results.
Well, Father, as we close this service today, are so thankful for the many who have come out to hear it, inside, overflow, and outside, and those by radio or some electronic device. We're thankful, Lord, for the model you have provided, the model of satisfaction, the model of refreshment, the model of what you called truly a happy person, a blessed person. And, Lord, not as we pursue happiness, but as we pursue holiness, there will be a correspondent happiness. And I pray that you would train us to see that "no" is a holy word, a good word, an important word. And in saying "no" to certain things, and certain ones, and certain activities, we can say "yes" to all the right things that bring growth and depth and refreshment to others. Lord, I would just pray for anyone who hasn't really experienced that yet, for them church is just religion, it's institution, it's organization, but it's not relationship. I pray that would change. I pray that you would draw men and women, young and old, to Jesus Christ the fountain of living waters, the source of all refreshment, and their life would be planted in that stream, and that we would get that mainline drink of water direct from the source.