Blessed When Life Isn’t #blessed
When Susan’s younger sister was a little girl, she wanted her parents to change her name to “Pookie”. Needless to say, as an adult she is very thankful her dad didn’t grant the request of her younger self.
For most of my life, I’ve seen prayer as a tool or a means of getting things from God. Like Susan’s sister, I’ve prayed lots of Pookie prayers that, from my point of view, went unanswered.
We can come to God in prayer with great confidence – but not for the reasons I once thought. I’m not confident in prayer because I presume to know what God’s will is, and now I’m going to tell Him to do it in Jesus name or even because I am going to get what I ask for.
To borrow from author and apologist Timothy Keller, the scriptures reveal that ‘God’s answers to prayer are what we would have asked for if we knew everything He knew.’
Over the last year, I read through the prayers in the Psalms, the prayers of Jesus and the prayers of the apostles. While the scriptures do invite us to pray and ask God for things, the primary reason for prayer is not get things at all. As many of the church fathers rightly pointed out …
We don’t pray to get things – we pray to get God.
Prayer and meditation are gifts of God’s grace to bless us with His strength in times of our weakness.
The Psalms are the prayer book of the bible. Psalm 1 however, is not a prayer. It’s actually about meditation and it reorients our hearts. The following 149 psalms are prayers.
Psalm 1 is all about the blessed life we have in Christ. It begins with “blessed is the man” or “happy is the man”. Let’s examine it and see how gospel rich it is …
PSALM 1 – THE BLESSED LIFE
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Again, this psalm is a meditation. Biblical meditation is not the emptying of the mind like various forms of transcendental meditation. Biblical meditation involves using our minds intensely: because our hearts can’t rest in what we don’t understand.
First things first. While Psalm 1 applies to you and I, it doesn’t find it’s meaning in you and I. After His resurrection, Jesus said that all scripture finds it’s interpretation and fulfillment in Him – and in explaining this, He specifically mentions the Psalms.
Jesus is the righteous man in Psalm 1.
He fulfilled the requirements in Psalm 1 and He has achieved the blessing of Psalm 1. He never walked in the counsel of the wicked once, He never stood in the way of sinners once and He never sat in the seat of scoffers once. Jesus kept God’s law perfectly and He meditated on God’s ways day & night perfectly – for us. The Psalm says that the wicked can’t stand in the day of judgement and thankfully, Jesus bore our judgement because without Him, we’re the ‘wicked chaff’.
Good news …
We’ve been grafted into the tree planted by the rivers of water. Christ received God’s judgement so that we could receive God’s grace. Thanks to the great scandal of grace, we’re no longer the wicked chaff, we’ve been grafted into the tree.
Jesus is righteous by nature – we are not righteous by nature, we are sinful by nature. We have been given a new nature, yet our sinful nature remains, thus all Christians sin. If we were righteous by nature we would never sin. Amazingly, though we are still sinful by nature, we are declared righteous by grace. The scandal of grace is that God calls sinners, righteous – in Christ.
The roots taking in water is a picture of our mediation. The picture is nourishment, stability, sustainability, fruit. This is the blessed life.
Prayer and meditation are gifts that take what is objectively true about the grace in Christ and makes them experientially true in us. The gospel changes us. It strengthens us, sustains us and produces the fruit of the Spirit in us.
Prayer and meditation are not mechanisms for getting better circumstances, they are gifts of grace that give rest to our hearts regardless of our circumstances.
Consider the powerful contrast of imagery in Psalm 1. On the one hand we have a stable tree producing fruit. On the other hand we have dead chaff, blowing around producing nothing.
The tree doesn’t blow over because it’s by a stream. The image here is constant nourishment in dry times.
Being nourished in dry times is the blessed life.
During trials and suffering and upheaval – we are grafted into Christ, the righteous man in Psalm 1. We are blessed.
We don’t have to live like chaff, though we often do, becoming spiritually dry.
We can be blown away by disappointment when we trust in puny gods that fail to satisfy us. We can be blown away by the anxiety that can come in endless forms and in endless ways. We aren’t the chaff, but when we fall into the sin of self sufficiency – in whatever form that takes – we live like the chaff.
The reason we can meditate on God’s law and have it guide us without crushing us is because Christ, the righteous man of Psalm 1, has met the impossibly high standard of God’s law for us.
Therefore on this side of the cross …
… meditating on God’s law is a joy because it is always done in light of His gospel.
Meditation reshapes our reactions. It reshapes how we come to God in prayer, how we react to others and how we react in pain & suffering.
Mediation and prayer is a gift of God’s grace that reorients our hearts so that increasingly, we desire to live as the Righteous Man lived. God’s rescuing grace has a reforming trajectory. Like the tree that has its roots in the water – we are changed.
Therefore, when we don’t pray, we aren’t simply breaking some sort of religious rule – we are failing to relate to God like He’s God. The problem with this of course is that we make lousy gods.
The blessed life is a life of drawing strength from God in prayer and relating to life from that strength.
It’s important to note that the blessed life doesn’t look like a life of ‘bearing fruit’ all the time.
The text clearly says we bear fruit ‘in our season’. Breathe. We must come out from under the burdensome expectations that we put on ourselves and our churches that the Christian life is a non-stop flurry of fruit producing activity.
While we’re at it, we must also kick our North American ideas about ‘the blessed life’ to the curb.
‘Blessed’ in Hebrew surpasses externals. A blessed person is in a ‘position worthy of congratulations’.
While favourable circumstances could be included in what the bible calls “blessing”, they are not central to the biblical understanding of “blessing”.
The grace of Jesus Christ and the promise of the gospel has put you a ‘position worthy of congratulations‘ regardless of the physical conditions of your life.
The passage clearly says the righteous man ‘prospers in all He does’. A Christian can have no physical blessings whatsoever and still be ‘blessed’ so we would do well not to reduce ‘blessed’ and ‘prosper’ in terms of externals, otherwise we miss the depth and power of the blessed life entirely.
Christians in hospitals battling diseases can enjoy the blessed life and prosper.
Christians whose hearts are mending from broken marriages or whose hearts are reeling from the loss of a loved one can enjoy the blessed life and prosper.
The Christians in Syria can enjoy the blessed life and prosper.
The blessed life, historically and globally speaking, is in a direct contrast to the way many North Americans would define and teach it.
Notice that even though the tree is not bearing fruit all the time – the leaf never withers.
Prayer and meditation is a gift that provides us with constant strength and stability that nourishes our souls while all hell is breaking loose.
The blessed life is enjoying rest in a world that is at unrest.
Even if all hell is breaking loose in your life, you are united to the blessed, righteous man of Psalm 1.
God’s grace is constantly flowing toward you to strengthen you, like a stream of water in a dry season – because the blessed life is yours.
Christ earned the blessed life through His perfect work and by grace has given this blessed life to you.
May the Spirit give rest to your restless heart. As you meditate on God’s law through the lens of His gospel, may your soul be blessed.
You are loved.
You are forgiven.
You are free.
You are His.