Psalm 1 The Way of Happiness
Today I would like to do something a little different as I reflect on Psalm 1 under the title: The Path to Happiness.
1. Psalm 1 begins with the Hebrew word ‘esher’ which means ‘happiness’ or blessedness’.
The first word of the book of psalms is a reminder that the divine intention for us all is that we should live in a state of happiness and blessedness.
We were created for happiness. The desire for happiness is part of our default programming.
When we are not living in a state of happiness, we are falling short of the divine intention for us. It could even be said that not living in a state of happiness is a sin in the truest sense of that word. To sin is to fall short. To live without happiness is to fall short of all that God has placed within us to be.
2. Secondly Psalm 1 points us in the direction that which leads us away from true happiness.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.
The psalm uses three phrases in parallel, each phrase seeking to cast meaning on the others:
- the counsel of the wicked
- the way of sinners
- the seat of mockers
The seat of mockers or the scornful is the seat of arrogance, considering oneself higher than others, a law unto oneself and from that place of arrogance and looking down upon others, treating them with contempt. The counsel of the wicked is the counsel of those who would teach the way of gain by criminal or deceptive and false means.
What the Psalmist is saying to us, is that the way of selfish, deceptive arrogance is not a way to true happiness. Instead of helping to connect us with us with others and with life with God, the way of selfish, deceptive arrogance divides us from others, from life and from God, and as such is no path to happiness. It is interesting that the word “diabolical” means literally to throw across, which means to divide. That which causes division, which breaks the unity of the wholeness which God has made is a path that leads away from true happiness.
3. Thirdly, Psalm 1 points us in the direction that leads towards true happiness which it describes as delighting in the law of the Lord, and meditating upon this law day and night.
Before Jesus, a definition of the law of the Lord in the ancient Hebrew scriptures would have referred to the 613 laws of the Old Testament, written laws that Orthodox Jews continue to seek to observe even today in their tiniest detail.
But with the coming of Jesus, Christians were invited to a new understanding of the Law of the Lord, what Paul refers to as the Law of the Spirit of Life (Romans 8:2), not as a list of written commandments, but rather, the law of the spirit which according Paul is summarised as the Law of Love (Romans 13:8-10). Love does no harm to it’s neighbours, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
For Paul, the written law brings death, but the Law of the Spirit, which is the Law of Love, brings life. The letter kills, but the Spirit brings life as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.
The true path of happiness is therefore to delight in the law of love, the spirit of love, and to meditate on that law of love day and night.
4. Psalm 1 describes what happens when we take delight in the law of love and when we meditate on that law of love night and day…
The Psalmist says we become like trees planted by streams of water, constantly refreshed and given that which is essential for life and growth. One could say that in this psalm, love is compared to a river, which waters us at the roots of our humanity and at the roots of our personalities, helping us to grow into the fullness of all that we can be as human beings.
I get the sense that one of the great delights of a parent is seeing a child growing into all that they can be. We were all made to grow and flourish as human beings. True religion and true spirituality is meant to nurture our growth as human beings, helping us to become all that we can be.
It is just the most wonderful thing in the world to see another human being shine. We were all made to shine, and according to the Psalmist, our ability to shine in life and in this world comes as we take delight in the law of love, the way of love, and as we meditate on that way and law of love night and day.
5. The way of those caught up in the way of the arrogant self and who do not follow and meditate on the way of love, find their life of growth,wholeness and fullness undermined.
In verse 4 “not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.”
A life of emptiness with no real substance, and no real meaning.
A few months ago, there was a documentary series on rich kids who go homeless. We only saw one episode. It was a young man in his 20’s who bought clothes for thousands’s of pounds and who would spend easily 1600 pounds on a night out with his friends. But after 3 nights of living on the street and meeting a homeless man, who spent his days and nights clearing rubbish from the river and recycling cans and bottles that people left lying in the street, this young man reflected on this and admitted that this homeless man was a person of greater substance than any of his friends with all their money. The homeless man was living a life of love, love for the God’s creation, and love for the streets and the city in which he lived.
And so may you recognise that you have been made for happiness. May you discover that happiness as you take delight in the law of God’s love and as you meditate on the way of love day and night. May you become like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, with leaves that do not whither, that as you grow, flourish and blossom, your life may be a life of blessing to others. Amen.