I recently started teaching through the book of Psalms on Sunday mornings. Already there has been much fruit from my personal time in this wonderful book and during the teaching of it to the people of Calvary Chapel of Lima.
A couple of months ago I was praying and asking the Lord what He wanted me to teach after I finished the book of Revelation. Normally I would start back over again with Matthew and then work my way through the New Testament. However, given that it took 13 months to go through Revelation this time I sensed that if I was ever going to teach through another Old Testament book on Sunday morning now had better be that time.
About 15 years ago I taught through Genesis and Exodus on Sunday mornings and enjoyed it tremendously. I have also taught through Isaiah and Daniel on Wednesday nights and through most of Jeremiah. I have taught a survey level study through the entire Old Testament but it has been some time since I dug into an Old Testament text to mine those gems God has stored there. There was something about the book of Psalms that grabbed my heart and the more I prayed the more convinced I became that I should jump into this most fascinating collection of songs and poems with both feet.
I have read the book many times devotionally but have never taught through it. Those of you who teach know that devotionally reading a book and reading and studying a book to teach are two different things. Even though I have just started, I have been richly blessed in my personal life by this encounter with Psalms. It has given me a fresh perspective on a number of things and has been the impetus for change in a couple of areas.
As a result I’ve decided to post some of my notes on the Psalms here on The Transforming Word blog. I hope that you will enjoy them and utilize them for your own devotional time and for those of you who teach I pray they will encourage you and give you some food for thought.
An old pastor who was a wonderful mentor to me many years ago told me in answer to my question about how to do sermon preparation responded, “I milk a lot of cows but I churn my own butter.” Thus at the outset I will acknowledge a debt to James Montgomery Boice’s series on the Psalms as well as Spurgeon’s classic work The Treasury of David. Additionally I have found the teachings of Matthew Henry, Joe Focht, Bil Gallitin, Coy Wylie and Darryl Dash helpful and recommend them to you. But of course the key to good sermon preparation is prayer and so my brethren I encourage you to meditate upon the Psalms, pray the Psalms and sing the Psalms as you prepare yourself before our Lord to stand and share these rich and uplifting words with those you shepherd, mentor or disciple.
I entitled Psalm 1, “The Two Paths.”
Psalm 1 has been described as a gateway of sorts; a checkpoint by which all those who enter into this book are alerted to the truth that to benefit from the counsel of God in this book one must be of the fellowship of His people. In other words, to be “blessed” means to be in right relationship with the One who inspired the human writer the book.
Interestingly, the writer doesn’t launch into a lengthy description of what blessed means but chooses instead to define “blessednesses” – which is what the Hebrew means here – by contrasting what it is with what it is not. Thus we read that the blessed man is one who knows what path he is on and what path he must avoid.
He knows what path he is on because it is distinctly different than the path of the wicked, sinners and scoffers whose paths are all leading them far from God. There is a progression of sorts demonstrated in verse one, both of character and situation. Notice “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” then, “nor stand in the path of sinners” and finally, “nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” I am reminded of the proverb that says in effect “sin will take you farther than you planned to go, keep you longer than you planned to stay and cost you more than you planned to pay.” This is clearly evidenced in this opening verse. Listening to the advice of ungodly people can lead quite easily to following it (walking in the counsel). Follow ungodly advice long enough and you begin to frequent the same places as the sinner (standing in the path). Ultimately you will find yourself quite at home with those who thumb their nose at God (sit in the seat of scoffers). HA Ironside shares an illustration of this downward spiral in his tract Hindrances to Prayer.
Psalm 1:1 is like an Old Testament Romans 12:2 which tells us not to allow the world to fit or form us into its image. Here then is your first point of emphasis – the blessed man has a crowd resistant mentality. He/she does not listen to the advice of the world, does not follow the world’s philosophies and does not go along to get along. The blessed son or daughter of God recognizes the path of righteousness and stays on it. Proverbs 4:10-19 is a good passage to highlight here and especially verses 14-15:
“Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.”
Verses 2-3 present the reader with what we expected to begin with – an explanation of what characterizes or defines the blessed person. Instead of listening to the advice of the ungodly the child of God finds great satisfaction in meditating on His Word. This is more than just a morning or evening time of devotion. What the writer is describing here is a mindset that leads to lifestyle. Obedience always leads to blessing.
Verse 2 also presents you with a second point of emphasis – the one who is blessed according to God has a one-track mind. Winston Churchill once stated that a fanatic is “someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Notice these key words: delight and meditate. These descriptions of what characterizes blessedness call us to the discipline of Bible reading and simple devotions. The picture here is of a heart so in love with God that spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer become a top priority. Do you long for times of quiet with the Lord? When He beckons you to join Him in a time of communion do you see it as an interruption of your day or do you with joy stop what you are doing to run into His arms for a time of refreshing?
Over the years I have had many people bemoan the fact that in their early Christian years they did not discipline themselves in regular Bible reading and prayer. Many are sorrowful over lost years and believe they could have a much deeper relationship with God at this point in their lives if they would have done more earlier. My answer is always the same – your desire to have that close personal relationship now is evidence that God desires to redeem those busy years when a deeper walk was not understood or neglected. Instead of being remorseful over what cannot be changed determine to use that as the basis for becoming what God wants you to be today. Meditating day and night on the Lord and His word to you will provide a new energy and spiritual vitality. Being open to hearing God and then obeying Him is the key.
When seeking God and His desires for us are a foundational focus of who we are, verse 3 will naturally follow. Here is your third point of emphasis – the one who is blessed according to God has deep roots in Him. Note the opening statement “He will be like.” The blessed person is one that delights in God and in the personal, intimate relationship that he/she has and is constantly being encouraged through the discipline of Bible reading, study and meditating upon those truths we discover. Here we see a picture of the source of every believers strength – we draw from the “streams of water” that we are “planted by.”
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of this same truth:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
In this verse we are also reminded of a number of other truths worth exploring and I encourage you to follow the Lord’s leading in that effort. For example you could explore and develop (1) Christ our living water; (2) What “streams” of God are flowing through us? i.e., His mercy, grace, forgiveness and how are we allowing these streams to flow to our friends, families, neighborhoods and cities? (3) What does yielding fruit for the Kingdom look like “in its season”? (4) What is the meaning of “in whatever he does he prospers”?
Verses 4-5 presents the fourth point in this Psalm – the one who is blessed according to God has a weather-proof faith. Rough times come to everyone eventually. God nowhere promises an easy life. There will be times of bitter cold and scorching heat. There are good reasons why God allows suffering in our lives not the least of which is to shape us and make us better able to minister to others. Here in these two verses we see that those who reject God will not be able to remain standing in defiance when the King returns and judgment comes.
I am reminded of the song many of us learned in Sunday School so many years ago: “The wise man builds his house upon the rock . . . and the rains came tumbling down.” Do you recall the result? Of course you do! “The rain came down and the floods came up and the wise man’s house stood firm.” Contrast that with what is said of the foolish man’s construction – the house on the sand was washed away.
Verse 4 says “the wicked are not so.” The foundation upon which the unbeliever builds is sand as Jesus tells us Matthew 7:25-27. When the trials come their world crumbles and they are driven by their difficulties much like chaff in the wind. The greater point however, is found in verse 5. There is coming a day when all people who have denied Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will stand before Him. Without the foundation of rock – trust in Jesus Christ – unbelievers will be separated from God for all eternity. That is the meaning behind “sinners (not being in the) in the assembly of the righteous.”
You can explore several points related to these two verses. I recommend (1) the sheep/goat judgment; (2) every knee will bow one day; (3) the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 and the significance of “wedding clothes.”
Finally, we see in verse 6 that our God watches over His children and makes the path straight for those who love Him.
We find in this Psalm three very important questions asked and answered. First, what does it look like to belong to God? Answer? Blessed (v.1) and righteous (v.6). Second, What are the results of belonging to God? Answer? Stability and vitality (v.3). Thirdly, what is the destiny of those who belong to God? Answer? By contrast with verses 5-6, we are justified (having standing), sanctified (set apart by God on His “way”), and eternal life (we are part of the “assembly,” a picture of eternity).
There is of course much more that can be gleaned from this Psalm. I hope you will dig into it for your own nourishment. As always, I enjoy hearing back from you.
God bless you today as you seek Him.