Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Prosperous Way of God

How happy is the man
Who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
Or take the path of sinners,
Or join a group of mockers!
(Psalm 1:1 HSCB)
A new month, a new year, and a new decade (although some will dispute that last one, being mathematically correct but culturally irrelevant). And a fresh turn at the psalms.

It has been my habit for the past twenty years or so to pray through the book of Psalms each month (150 psalms divided by 30 days in a month comes to 5 psalms a day). Each time I come around to Psalm 1, it always captures my attention, calibrates my heart and excites me with the prospect of a life well lived.

The world has a lot of advice and counsel to offer us, about how to succeed and prosper. It is trumpeted abroad, even more now with the coming of the digital revolution and the ease of worldwide communication. We are discipled in it from a very early age. It can be very enticing, offering us a way to success that often seems fast and easy. It may even appear to work in the short run, but it does not create a prosperity that endures, nor a life of lasting value. See Psalm 73, where the writer laments the prosperity of the wicked, and is even envious of it for a time, but finally realizes that the way of the wicked, which at first seemed so effective, is not well-founded and inevitably end up in ruin.But there is a counsel that is wise, teaches us the right way of doing things and leads to prosperity that endures.
Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
And he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
That bears its fruit in season
And whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:2-3 HSCB)
This is the way of extreme happiness the psalm writer speaks of with in verse 1: “How happy is the man.” Not the person who follows the advice of the wicked, but the one who delights in the instruction of the Lord.
The Hebrew word for “instruction” is torah and is usually translated as “law.” But that often carries such negative connotations when it really is a very positive thing, a guide for living well. “Instruction” is captures that well. When you realize that God wants you to enjoy a prosperous and successful life and know abundant happiness, His words of instruction become a source of delight.

This requires a change in how we think. The world has been very effective in training us up into seeing and thinking and doing things its own way. That’s why Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 HCSB). J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English translates this as, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” The Message version says, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

When you change how you think about things, you change how you live your life. The way to change your mind and live a prosperous and happy life is to let God change it by His instruction. He will work in you in by His Word and Spirit to bring about a change of heart and mind that brings about a positive change of life. That is why the psalm writer speaks of meditating on God’s instruction day and night. He is talking about immersing in it, marinating in it, soaking in it in order to be changed by it.

Look at what it leads to. You will be like a tree plant by rivers of living water, and your life will be full of good fruit that will not wither but endure, and whatever you do will prosper! What a contrast to the way of the wicked:
The wicked are not like this;
Instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
And sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
(Psalm 1:4-6 HCSB)
Two ways lay before you. The way of the world may seem good for a season but ultimately leads to ruin. The way of God leads to prosperity and happiness. All it requires is a change in thinking, and God knows how to bring that about by His Word and Spirit.