The blessed life
by Kat Cowell
Extra passages: Luke 4:1-21; Colossians 2:5-6
For many people, the Psalms are some of the most familiar and beloved parts of Scripture. Containing memorable words of comfort, encouragement, praise and petition, they have been read, sung and prayed by Christians down through the centuries and right around the world. As words from God that can be taken up on our lips to God, they can help us know how to pray, lament, give thanks, trust, confess and praise God in all seasons of life, giving us words to use when we cannot find them ourselves.
So even though many of these ancient prayers and songs were composed in historical settings very different to our own, as God’s Word they still speak His truth and goodness to us today. More than that, the Psalms consistently point us to Jesus and find their fulfilment in Him, the long-awaited Messiah who God’s people were expecting for generations.
While these devotions will take us through a range of different psalms, let’s take our cue from Maria von Trapp and start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start! The very first psalm of the whole Psalter gives us a striking image of what it looks like to be in relationship with God: it is to be a deep-rooted, well-planted tree, bearing fruit in its season, never withering, always prospering. This is a picture of the “blessed life”; but this raises the question, what does it mean to be blessed?
For many people today, the popular social media phrase #blessed is understood to be somewhat of a brag. It may refer to any number of good things a person owns or has experienced in life, but there is often little regard for God. God doesn’t need to be in the picture to be blessed.
But in the Bible, the idea of blessing is inseparable from God. Going right back to Genesis, when God told Abraham that the world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3), blessing involved experiencing the favour and goodness of God, His provision and protection, His love and care. To be blessed was to live in right relationship with God, to follow His ways and to enjoy His presence. And in Psalm 1, we read that this blessed life comes through delighting in the Lord’s law, or instruction, and meditating on it day and night.
The result of this is to be “like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in it seasons and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Ps. 1:3). This is a beautiful picture of life and vitality. Unlike the wicked, who the psalmist describes as being like “chaff that the wind blows away”, the person who grounds their life in the word of the Lord will ultimately prosper. The Lord watches over their way.
This is a beautiful psalm, and it is no coincidence that we find it right at the beginning of the whole collection. In a way, it is an instruction manual for life and for how to read the Psalms, putting before us two clear paths : to either listen to God in His word, or to walk, stand and sit in the ways of sinners and mockers. The choice, the outcome and the final destiny are all clear. But there is also a tension that runs through this psalm for two reasons.
Firstly, our experience of life seems to suggest that those who trust God do not always “prosper”, at least not in a worldly sense. Christians are no more immune to suffering than anyone else, and while there is a good logic to God’s instruction and following His ways, this does not equal an easy life, or one free of injustice.
Secondly, while we might long to be the tree of Psalm 1, strong and rooted in our faith, does this live up to our experience? Do I always delight in the law of the Lord, or meditate on it day and night? Definitely not! In fact, I know I have chosen the way of sinners too many times to count. We all have, for none of us on our own are able to perfectly and whole-heartedly obey and follow the Lord.
This is where we have to remember that this psalm is just one part of God’s bigger story of salvation, and like all parts, it points us to Christ. Because when we come to the New Testament, we read of Jesus who was tempted in every way yet always resisted sin (Heb. 4:15). He fully embodied the well-planted tree that bears fruit, living in perfect obedience to His Father, submitting to His will, depending on His Word and achieving our redemption at the cross.
This means we do not need to read Psalm 1 with shame or discouragement. What Jesus has achieved on our behalf enables us to walk with God confidently, even while imperfectly. Yet this psalm also challenges us to consider where we are “planting” ourselves and who we are listening to. Am I making for myself a seat among the sinners, following in the ways of those who have no regard for the Lord? Am I listening to voices in the world more than the voice of God?
Delighting in and meditating on God’s Word in Scripture is the key to a relationship with God and to life itself. As Tim Keller says, “Views contrary to God’s Word are no anchor in time of need. God’s Word gives us the resilience of a tree with a source of living water that will never dry up.” May we drink deeply from that source each and every day.
Quotation from Timothy Keller, My Rock; My Refuge: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (Hodder & Stoughton, London: 2015)
A prayer for today:
Thank you for being a God who has given us Your Word so we can know You and know how to live for You. Please help me to delight in and meditate on Your Word each day, and to make it the foundation of my life. Thank you for your grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, which covers us when we fail to live Your way. May I always look to Jesus and His perfect example of obedience and love, and would You strengthen me by Your Spirit to listen to You each day, and walk in Your good and perfect ways.
In Jesus’ name I pray,