The Blessed & Prosperous Life
Today we start on a new journey together through one of the most historically important books in Scripture. The psalms have been central to the worship and study of God for thousands of years. They are a collection of 150 psalms, or songs and poems, written over a period of time. Many of them were probably sung and set to music and many of them have been recreated as songs throughout generations. The wide range of topics covered and the personal and beautiful way in which they are written has been deeply impactful throughout history. Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century, said of the psalms, “You may rightly call the Psalter a Bible in miniature, in which all things which are set forth more at length in the rest of the Scriptures are collected into a beautiful manual of wonderful and attractive brevity.”
Athanasius, writing in the 4th century, said, “all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as it is written; but to those who really study it, the Psalter yields especial treasure.”
That is what we are after in our study of the Psalms; and I pray we would all find them to yield a special treasure as we look at them together. What we will do overall is jump around a bit, not looking at every psalm. Perhaps we will slow down in one particular psalm and spend more than one week on it, sometimes we will do sequential psalms. We will see! John Calvin preached through the Psalms over a 10 or 11 year period so we have time to match him!
Today, we start at the beginning, Psalm 1, which is a great introduction to the psalter as it introduces many themes that will come up throughout. And we are going to focus on the idea that is brought up right away, being blessed, or living a blessed life. This psalm contrasts the life of the righteous and the life of the wicked. The righteous, it is said, are blessed and prosper. But what does that really mean because when we first hear that, at least this is my own experience, when I first hear that, I say, that isn’t true. That is not what I experience and see in the world. It appears that those who help themselves prosper. The most ruthless get ahead. So what are we to make of this?
What I hope we will take away this morning is that,
In order to have a truly blessed and prosperous life, we must follow God’s prescription, not our own.
How do we have a blessed and prosperous life?
What we are going to do then is tackle this overarching question of, “how do we have a blessed and prosperous life?” What does that life look like? The psalm starts off by saying, “blessed is the man who…” This person is blessed, or finds joy in life. And later, in verse 3, it says, “in all that he does he prospers.” To prosper, is similar to being blessed, it means to thrive, to be in a state of favorable circumstances.
So, we are left asking, how do I get myself into these joy-filled, favorable circumstances and thrive in all that I do? How do I live a joy-filled, blessed and prosperous life? I think Psalm 1 answers that question for us in two ways.
- We define it by God’s word.
First, in order to have a truly blessed and prosperous life, we have to start by letting God, through his word, define for us what that even looks like, he sets the terms, not us. What do I mean by that? When you hear the word “prosper” what comes to mind? I bet most people would think of things like money, fame, material possessions, career success, good luck, lots of friends and family. If we took a poll this morning the answers would probably be a combination of all of those things and more. So, when we read in verse 3, “in all that he does he prospers,” we most likely each think of different things. There is no clarity, no set-definition in our minds of what it means to be truly blessed and to prosper.
The problem is worsened by the fact that we are all sinful, fallen creatures who are very easily distracted, tempted and led astray. We continually redefine and dilute what it means to be blessed and to prosper and our lusts and sinful cravings are never satisfied. We can’t even agree on what those terms mean so how do we know if we have achieved our goal in finding it? When we set off on our own, the feeling of contentment and satisfaction and prosperity is always going to be elusive. We can never reach it in our minds.
There must be a better way; a more steadfast and sure measure and goal. Thankfully there is. God has told us, he has defined for us what it means to be blessed, what it means to prosper. He has revealed in his word, the Bible, what it looks like and how we get there. But we have to let him define the terms for us. He did not just use the words with the intention of letting us fill in whatever definition we want based on our whims. As in, he says we will be blessed and prosper, so I get to say, "oh that means i will get x y and z."
No, he has spoken to us through his word and told us what it means to be truly blessed and to prosper, what it means to have true joy. But the only way we can know what a truly blessed life means and what it looks like is if we are people that put ourselves under his terms.
The psalmist shows that here in verses 1 and 2. Blessed, or joyful, is the man who, doesn’t follow after the world’s way of doing and thinking. We won’t find joy in living like those who go against God. But we will find it when we delight in and meditate on the word of God. When God’s word is a regular part of our lives, not just as a check-list item, not just on Sunday morning, but is a delight to us, it is then we will understand and find blessing and prosperity. When God’s word is a desire of our hearts, when we take pleasure and find joy in knowing God through his word, it redefines all of life for us.
And that word in verse 2, meditates, will come up a lot throughout the psalms. This word means to really think about, dwell on, and consider something. This does not mean that we sit around only read the Bible all day but it does mean that it truly sinks into our hearts, and shapes the way we think and act throughout each and every day. It means that we view all of life through the lens of scripture because it has bearing on every part of us and is soaked deep into our minds and hearts. And God says that when we do that, when we let him, through his word, define life for us, there we find joy and discover what a truly blessed and prosperous life looks like.
Again, we will never find joy in thinking like the world, or as this psalm describes them: wicked, sinners, and scoffers. This is poetic language for those who go against God and his word. This is how the world operates, thinks and defines life. And the problem is that we are tempted to look at the world and see all of the stuff, all that they have and do, and we let them set the terms for us and tell us what it means to have joy and prosperity. That is a huge temptation for all of us, let’s just be honest about that, we have to be aware of our tendencies and temptations. Too often we let the world, we let our sinful cravings, lead us. But God says there is no true joy there. That is not prosperity. It is all fool’s gold. A life spent chasing those things does not create joy, or blessing or prosperity. It leads us to a life where we are as Proverbs 13:7 says, “pretending to be rich, but have nothing.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of these things can be good gifts from God, yes. Money and possessions are not the problem. They are just objects. The problem comes in how we view them.God can give us anything he wills, and he blesses us with an abundance of material possessions. Especially in this country. We are more blessed than we could realize in comparison to the rest of the world. And those are all God’s good gifts to us that are meant to point us to the gift giver. They are not an end in themselves. They have no security in themselves, they are not what make a prosperous life. and to make them the object of our cravings, the things we put our trust in, the things we define our lives by or spend our lives chasing is sinful idolatry and will only lead to emptiness, pain, suffering and destruction.
God wants us to have true joy, lasting happiness, secure blessings. That isn’t found in the world, but only in knowing him, and letting him define our lives for us through his word. And we can only know what that looks like if we are in his word, if it has a central place in our minds, hearts and lives. If it is only of secondary importance, if it only gets open on Sundays, then we will begin to follow after the world and its definitions of blessing and joy and prosperity. We will not be after God’s terms, but our own. We will be continually pulled away if we are not regularly reoriented to the truth of God’s word and how he has defined life for us.
When his word continually sinks deep into our hearts, then we will find what it means to be truly blessed. Then we will continue to find and dive deeper and deeper into the immeasurable riches of grace and joy that are found only in knowing God. Then we will see that we can be content in every circumstance in life regardless of the things around us because we know Jesus Christ as our savior, mediator, intercessor, advocate and friend. We will find joy when we see God’s deeply loving and abiding heart for us as he has revealed in his word and it will give us peace and rest even when the world is in chaos. Even when all of the material security is taken out from under us, we will say we are blessed, we can have joy, we will thrive, because we know God.
That can only happen, though, if we are letting God, through his word, regularly speak into our hearts, showing us more of himself, to bring us more and more joy in him. As the great hymn writer John Newton said, we should “be daily hungering and thirsting after him, and daily receiving from his fullness…that you may rejoice in his all-sufficiency, may taste his love in every dispensation.”
- We follow God’s will.
And as we dive deeply into God’s word, one thing we will discover there is God’s will for our lives. God has revealed, in the Bible, how he wants us to live and this is how we have a truly blessed and prosperous life, when we follow his will.
In verses 5 and 6 there are two types of people: the wicked and the righteous. And the entire psalm is about contrasting them; here is how the wicked live, here is how the righteous live. And we will see them brought up a lot throughout many different psalms, so it’s good to make sure we know what is meant by those words.
The righteous refers to those who love God and seek to do his will. They are people who have a relationship with God and are responsive to his word. As one commentator put it, “The righteous are people who have entered into covenant with God by faith and seek to live according to his word.”
The wicked, on the other hand, are those who do not follow after God’s word, are not responsive to him, and do not have a relationship with him. This does not mean that they are all as evil and wicked as they can be, but that they are not God-followers and they are still dead in their sins, as the New Testament says. And the life of the wicked, the unsaved, those of the world, is described in verse 4. They are not blessed; they do not prosper. Even if it may look like they are from our vantage point; they have everything they could ever want, money, fame and fortune. And we may be tempted to follow after their way of living because it looks like it is paying off, we have to see what God says about them. We have to see that God says their way of life is not prosperous, but instead it is like chaff that the wind drives away. It is all for nothing, it is useless, easily destroyed. There is no joy, there is no blessing, there is no security and there is no eternal hope.
But the life of the righteous, those who know God’s will through his word and seek to follow him, they are blessed, they are prosperous. Why is that the case? Because, as verse 6 says, the Lord knows the way of the righteous. The way of the righteous refers to their walk, their life of following God’s will as revealed in his word. When we walk in that life, God knows us. Obviously, God knows us in all things, he knows everyone and everything more perfectly than we can imagine. But this word means much more than just having knowledge about something. It is a deep, personal intimate relationship characterized by care and love.
That is the way that God knows his people, those who have come to him by faith in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and have declared their allegiance to following him. Those who seek to follow his will and let him define the terms of their lives. The God of the universe is intimately involved with and watches over his children in a real and personal way. And he calls us to walk in his will, his way, to stay within the bounds that he has set-up and revealed in his word, his circle of blessing. We are called To think how he tells us we should think. To view the world and the things of the world how he has revealed. To act how he has called his people to act. And God says that in that life we will find true blessing, joy and prosperity.
The way of the righteous, following the will of God is the only way of life that is blessed and prosperous.
If that is really the case, why would we ever want to throw that away? Why does the world attract us so much? Why do material possessions and money blind me from following God more closely and knowing him and his love and care for me more deeply? Why do I continually choose my sin and the world’s way of doing things over God’s?
The way of the world is not where blessing is found. God says that will only lead to emptiness and destruction. If we go outside of his will for our lives by following after the world we will not find his blessing, true prosperity. And this is a constant struggle isnt it? that is the lifelong battle of the Christian life. We have God’s word and his will; we know what it is, that is not the problem. The problem is our sinful nature that is still within us, even though we who have been saved by Christ and we have been given the Holy Spirit and a new nature. But that old nature, our sinful way of thinking still pops up, it still tempts and allures us. It still calls out to us and we follow after it. And God says when we do that we go outside of his blessings, outside of a life of joy. Our relationship with God doesn’t change, he doesn’t love us any less. But he wants us to grow in seeing that when we do that we rob ourselves of blessing, we hurt ourselves by wandering away from his will.
We are called as followers of Christ to be continually growing in knowing God and his will through his word and depending on to help throw off our sin, reorient our minds to what is the truth, to conquer temptations by his power and to set our eyes on him above all else.
That is a continual battle, a daily struggle. But that is where we must keep growing by the grace and strength that God so graciously supplies. That is what he wants for us! He wants us to taste and see that he is good and all else is bitter in comparison to him. He wants us to see his good gifts and to enjoy him through them and not lust after the world but be devoted to him and following his good will for our lives. He wants us to see that what he says is what is best for us. The world and the ruler of this world does not want to bless us, it wants to use us, to destroy us for its own profit. God wants us to follow him and his will so he can truly prosper us and bless us in all that we do.
- Then we will be blessed and prosper.
So, how do we live a life of blessing and prosperity? By following God’s word and his will. When we do those things, then we will find true joy and a thriving life. And I love the image of the blessed and prosperous life in verse 3. The person who follows God’s word and his will is like a tree planted by streams of water.
Whenever we come across illustrations in Scripture it is best to dwell on them for a second and think about what they are telling us. Illustrations are used a lot throughout the psalms and one of the best ways we can understand them is by asking questions. For instance, what is a tree planted by a stream like? Why is it good for a tree to be there?
Well, a tree planted by a stream would be constantly fed, nourished and refreshed. It would never have to worry about where its source of food is going to come from. It would be able to sink its roots down deep into the ground and remain in that place steadfastly. It will be strong when the wind blows and the weather changes.
And thinking about the opposite of that kind of tree is beneficial as well. A tree that has no water source will wither up and die. It will spend its life searching for water, spreading its roots out in vain, never being able to go down deep into the ground and be firm in its place. It will topple over in the wind.
That is the picture of the righteous one; those who seek to grow in their walk with God, by knowing him through his word and who follow his will. When we do that we are constantly refreshed, continually nourished and fed by his word. We can grow deep in God and rest secure and steadfast through all of the storms of life because we know him as our refuge and strength. We do not have to spend our lives seeking after worldly treasures, throwing our roots out in vain trying to grasp onto anything that we hope will give us meaning and security and happiness. Instead we will find ourselves joyful and at peace in him in every circumstance. And like a tree planted by a stream we will not wither, but instead we will bear fruit; we will be testimonies of God’s power and goodness to everyone around us as he works in us and through us.
This is the life that God wants for us. A life of blessing and abundance and joy. He doesn’t want us to define the terms on our own, and grasp out at anything that catches our eye to try and satisfy us. He wants us to find our joy in him.
And he has proven that by giving us his word. He has revealed himself so clearly to us. He has stooped down to our level, condescended to us, and spoken in a way we can understand. The transcendent, almighty God has had his very words written down in black and white so that we would be able to know him and the way he wants us to live. That is a gift beyond measure! We can’t take it for granted or neglect it. “We can’t be,” as John Newton wrote, “like fools, with a prize, an inestimable prize, in our hands, but without heart or skill to use it.” Let’s recognize that gift for what it is and dive deeply into it so we can dive deeply into God, our place of true joy and prosperity.
And more than this, God has proven that he wants to truly bless and prosper us by giving us his Word, capital W. His Word, Jesus Christ, God the Son, was given to us to reveal the Father. Christ has shown us the heart of the Father for his children. Jesus said that he came so that he could give us life and life to the fullest. He came to make our joy complete! Not by padding our bank accounts or filling our houses with stuff, although if he wants to do that he can. But he came to give us so much more than that stuff, he came to give us himself, our joy is not found in things but a person; the only one we can give us rest and security in all things. The only one that can fill us to overflowing, to help us to be content in everything. Our only shield, our only rock of refuge. The only one that can let us stand in the judgement, as verse 5 says. He is the only one that gives us life, life to the fullest, in this world, and an even more full, beyond measure, eternal life in the next.
God wants us to be blessed and to prosper, to be joyful and thrive in everything. And he wants us to see that the only way to do that is in knowing and following him.
I love how the puritan pastor Richard Sibbes said it when he wrote, “Others may take whatever course they desire, but let us take this course: to draw near to God. A man’s sanctified soul does not delight in the times, currents and opinions of the age. He does not seek…the getting of riches, or the attaining of an imaginary present happiness. He has other thoughts and opinions. The Spirit of God boils in him to live contrary to this world. Drawing near to God is our chief good. It is our happiness to seek him. The nearer anything is to the principle of something, the better off it is. Nearer to the sun, the more light; nearer to fire, the more heat; nearer to goodness, the more good; nearer to happiness, the more happiness. Therefore, it must be the greatest happiness to draw near to God.”
Let us take this course: to draw near to God and there find true and lasting blessing and joy.