THE CHOICE IS YOURS
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Growing up there was a song that I liked. It was called The Choice is Yours. The hook went like this – “You can deal with this or you can deal with that.” That line repeated a few times and then the chorus ended “I think I’ll deal with this, cos this is where it’s at.” While the Psalm we’re looking at this morning doesn’t have a heading, I think I would call it “The Choice Is Yours”. This is how the Psalm answers the question “Where is wisdom to be found?” Let us look at how this Psalm answers this question and see what God may have to say to our hearts this morning.
So far this summer we’ve looked at a Psalms of praise, of lament, of thanksgiving, and of remembrance. We’ve been talking about Psalms as prayers and how making them part of our prayer life changes us. This morning we’re looking at what’s known as a Wisdom Psalm. Wisdom literature in the Old Testament concerned itself with what it means to live a happy or satisfied life. It usually delineates this as a choice – between the wise and the foolish for example, or as the case of Psalm 1 the righteous and the wicked. There are two ways that are being described here. As one writer reminds us – “The two ways metaphor does not assign people to permanent categories of good and bad but rather dramatizes the moral life as two fundamental options are in polar opposition.” This is the choice that lies before us today and the choice lies before us every day.
It’s a choice that is fundamental to the Psalms. This is why Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to this collection of song/prayers. It’s not a prayer itself so much as a beatitude – an instruction and a commendation about what it means to live a happy life. It’s important that we talk about what happiness means to the follower of Christ. How would we answer the question “Would following Christ make me happy?” or “Does following Christ make you happy?” This is how the Psalm starts – “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…” What does it mean to be happy?
I think there are a lot of messages out there that describe what it means to be happy. Imagine the freedom. Imagine having so much money you could do anything you wanted. Every day a new adventure somewhere. Wouldn’t that make you happy? If you lived in this place or bought this product or looked a certain way you would be happy, or at least happier, right? If you aspired to and reached a certain type of lifestyle, you would be really happy.
The Psalmist points to something else. A choice that is before us, as I said, every day. We start off with a beatitude, which describes what happy people don’t do first of all – “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take a path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;” There’s an interesting thing going in here that we lose in our NRSV translation. Our NRSV Bible generally goes for gender neutral terms. The original reads “Happy is he…” while the rest of the terms here are plural – the wicked, sinners, scoffers. This speaks I think to the choice that we’re talking about. It’s an individual choice. Happiness, salvation, will not come about because of a system – whether it’s an economic system, government system, educational system. You will not be saved or find happiness or find fulfillment in life by being part of a group. This doesn’t mean systems are bad or that belonging to a group is bad in and of itself (I’m glad you’re part of this group this morning). It means that when we’re reading Psalms like this we’re invited to examine ourselves. We’re invited to examine the choices that we are making every day.
What all this talk of two ways comes down to is essentially this – do we choose to live a life that acknowledges our need for and dependence on and regard for God or do we choose to live a life based on self-reliance and self-sufficiency and self-regard? This is what it all comes down to. I can’t make the choice for you, you can’t make it for me. You can’t make the choice for your children or your parents or your friends. The question for me and for you is – “Do we want to commit ourselves to a life in which turn toward God and seek his face and praise and thank and lament and remember and have confidence in and all those things that we’re talking about these summer weeks as we are immersed in the Psalms?”
Well, do you?
If the answer is yes, this life will look like certain things, which we’ll talk about in a few moments. First though the Psalmist talks about what it doesn’t look like. Notice how the action described here gets more and more involved – Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. Following advice, taking paths, actually sitting and resting in scoffing. Does all this talk of wickedness seem overly judgmental to you? We’re not using the term to be judgmental. The term is being used to describe people who have no need or use for God or for God’s ways. There’s a great line to describe such people in Job 21:14 – “They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We do not desire to know your ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? And what profit do we get is we pray to him?’ Is not their prosperity indeed their own achievement?” Well, isn’t it? There’s a lot of that around us, isn’t there? It’s inside us too if we’re completely honest, because none of us has reached the goal yet. We all need to come to a knowledge of what it means to trust God. We need to be vigilant about when we’re not trusting God. We’re not called to exclude ourselves from any association with people who hold a different world-view. Wasn’t that what Jesus ministry was partly about? Eating and drinking with sinners? With those who did not see their need for God? With those who said “Leave us alone!” God did the exact opposite. We’re not called to leave people alone. There’s too much loneliness around as it is. We’re called to watch that we’re not unduly influenced or affected by this view.
We’re called to delight in the law of the Lord. Here’s the positive part – “But… their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” Now you’re maybe saying “Oh that is so typical OT David, all this talk about law and the OT is always all about law and the NT is all about grace – almost as God changed somehow.” How are we supposed to be delighting in laws, aren’t they just there to restrict us and spoil our fun? The word that’s been translated “law” here it torah, which has many meanings, including a description of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Do you know what the heart of the meaning of torah is though? Instruction. Isn’t that good? We’ve been talking about that for a while now. What it means to be a student of Christ. A disciple. What it means to sit and Jesus feet and engage in the one thing needful. Their delight is in the instruction of the Lord, and on his instruction they meditate day and night. This is partly an introduction to the Psalms and it’s an affirmation that ways to meditate on God’s ways and receive instruction are found in the Psalms. That’s why we’ve been so big on memorizing them traditionally, and it would probably be a good thing to get back to. That word for meditate is also used for murmuring or moving ones lips. Murmuring things like “The Lord is my shepherd, I want for nothing.” I send out an email reading every day that contains two or three Psalms. If you’re not getting it and want to send me a message. Delighting in instruction, meditating on God’s word, repeating it, murmuring it.
What would happen if we did that? “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” What a wonderful image. They are like trees planted by streams of water. Connected to the one who described himself as living water. The source of all life. This is the choice that’s put before us today and every day. Do we plant ourselves by that stream of living water? This is the question of faith friends. Do we commit ourselves to this thing? Do we trust God in this thing? Do we say we do and act like we don’t? Jeremiah uses the same image in Jer 17:7-8 “Blessed (happy) are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
This is trust in God. This is the result. It’s not a reward because the Christian life is not about rewards – whether here or eternal. The Christian life is at its root being like a tree planted by the water that shall not be moved, rooted and grounded beside the stream and not fearing when heat comes, because heat will come, and being able to face drought, and drought will come, with a quiet and confident faith that there is something beyond what is apparent to our eyes.
Though we get reminded of these truths. There’s a great line in Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God where a friend tells of a conversation he had with Lawrence - He told me that God had done him a singular favor in his conversion at the age of eighteen. During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul.
In making these statements of what it means to live a satisfied life, what it means to live a happy or fulfilled live, we must keep in mind that these are statements of faith. The Psalmist is not speaking from human experience when he says that those that delight in God’s instruction prosper in all they do. He is not speaking from human experience when he says that “The wicked are like chaff.” We see those who turn to God experience suffering. Psalms of lament cry out to God in suffering. We see those who say to God “Leave me alone!” seemingly prosper. There are Psalms that ask why this should be. The Psalmist is affirming that the way of faith – the way of grace is the way that is lasting. The way that leads to life. That fullness of life is to be found in communion with God. That death is to be found in separation from God. As the song said, the choice is yours. It’s mine. It’s everyone’s. The way of grace is the way to life eternal, from above, abundant, lasting always.
And it’s always been about grace you know. It’s never been a case of OT law and NT grace. It’s always been about God acting, God revealing himself. Ps 37:31 – “The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.” Ps 40:8 – “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” God had revealed himself in the Torah. In words. This was the delight of the Psalmist. Years later there would be a whole new thing to delight in. God would not only be revealed in words but in the Word who became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. So that we might be brought back to him who loves us and created us in and for love.
I believe these words to be true my friends. I want to seek God’s face and wait on him and be like a tree planted by water with all my heart. May this place beside the river of living water be the place where each and every one of us finds our fulfillment, our joy, our blessedness, our happiness. May this be true for us all.