THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
1 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;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 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.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
In 1982 a man by the name of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar founded a popular course in spirituality, in the state of Karnataka, where he began teaching to his patrons what he calls, the Art of Living. Ravi Shankar became quite a popular spiritual teacher, both locally and internationally, as people flocked to learn his Happiness Program—a spiritual discipline that enables you to become happy.
It’s no wonder Ravi Shankar became quite well known and a popular international spiritual leader. Who doesn’t want to be able to connect to an unlimited source of true joy and happiness?
Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist, writer and theologian, writes,
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views....This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Wow! That’s a quite profound statement.
C. S. Lewis also writes “Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it”. That means we don’t desire enough to be happy.
What do all these tell us about happiness? As far as they are concerned, seeking one’s own happiness is not a sin; it is a simple given in human nature. It is a law of the human heart, as gravity is the law of nature. We all realize that there’s universal impulse that we all desire to be happy. In other words, we all are searching for happiness.
If that is true, then the important question for all of us this morning is this: Can we be truly happy? Or can we have lasting joy? And, if so, how?
I’ve heard people say that when you are young, you think happiness is inevitable… you’re going to find that special person; you’re going to get that fulfilling job… life is good. But by the time you are old, “happiness is inevitable” has been replaced by “happiness is unattainable.”
Is that true? What do you think of that? Or what does the Bible says? The Bible says happiness is neither inevitable nor unattainable; but it is possible.
Our passage this evening gives us a picture that happiness is possible and shows us that true happiness and lasting joy can only come about when we are deeply rooted in God, as we meditate and delight in him in His Word.
So for today, we will look into the pursuit of Happiness: the way of the wicked or irreligious and the way of the religious and at last the way of the gospel.
The way of the Irreligious or Wicked (1-3)
In contrast to the righteous, “the wicked” or “ungodly” of Psalm 1 are those who seek independence from God, those who have only a human or earthly perspective on life and happiness, those who live according to the world’s standards and not God’s. At times this way of life appears to be the way of success, acceptance, and prosperity (see Psalm 73). However, Psalm 1 and even Psalm 73 help us see things in ultimate perspective: the prosperity of the wicked is fleeting, for they are like chaff blown away by the wind.
Verse 3-4 says, “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 prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away”
There are two important things here:
a. We won’t be happy when our happiness is based on happenings
The psalmist assumes that life goes through seasons.
Spring seasons where the thing and situation is favorable;
winter and summer seasons that threaten to kill you;
drought seasons that threaten to starve you.
You can’t cut out the drought and winter seasons from life, and if your happiness is dependent on being in a spring season, happiness will be elusive!
Tim Keller in his book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering: says the modern approach to happiness is to remove any and all suffering: avoid pain; or, if you can’t, sedate it; eliminate disease; discomfort, and injustice. And these are good and worthy goals. But “no amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage.”
We will never succeed at removing all pain and suffering, and if our whole strategy for being happy is getting and staying into a spring season, we will fail.
Friends, for the righteous, seasons of drought actually can deepen our joy; because those seasons drive your roots go deeper into Christ! And in those seasons where Christ is all that you have, you discover he is all that you need.
Let me ask you this; is your happiness dependent on your happenings?
b. We won’t be happy when we have no anchor point outside of ourselves.
A tree with roots is anchored… And this attacks one of our cultural myths: Our culture believes that happiness comes from complete freedom: You’ll be happy when you answer to no one; when you are free to make your own rules, to define your own meaning; when you’re like a room without a roof (e.g. Pharrell Williams song Happy – Because I’m happy, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof).
C. S. Lewis compared this to the fish that decides he wants to be free by escaping the confines of water. So he flops out of the ocean. True, he is now free of the confines of water, but is he happy? No, because the fish was made for water. You and I are made for God.
That’s what Augustine said in his book, Confession, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”
Look at how the psalmist unpacks this… verse 4 “The ungodly (just not anchored in God) are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away”. When we’re not anchored into something outside ourselves, there comes a point at which we are just gone. We are blown away. We are forgotten.
So friends, let me ask you this: Do we have our anchor outside of ourselves? Or are we trying to be happy by finding our own meaning, 12-step program, a breathing technique, a government structure, or a secret knowledge or becoming popular and rich? Or is your happiness is rooted in God and His Word?
The way of the righteous ultimately anchors his or her life and establishes in God and His Word.
2. The way of the Religious
The entire book of Psalms in the Bible opens with the word “happy”: Psalm 1:1: Blessed is the man… (“Blessed” is the Hebrew word “ashray” which literally means “happy.”) That’s what this psalm is about.
So, I guess some of you are wondering then how this Psalm is relates to today’s theme of meditation.
So bear with me for sometime as I explain the connection between this Psalm and meditation and happiness. Let’s read again verses 1-3.
There are two things that this passage calls us to do in order to be happy or blessed: walk away from sin and sinful advice, and walk toward the word of God.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, counsel: he’s talking about the way we think;
nor stands in the way of sinners, the way of sinners: that’s a reference to how we behave;
nor sits in the seat of scoffers; in Jewish culture, where you sat showed where you belonged, he’s talking about where we find our identity.
He’s saying: Let our mind, our behaviors, and our identity be not shaped by the world.
And now Psalm 1 adds one more and very essential characteristic of the righteous—he delights in God’s law, God’s instruction, and meditates on it day and night.
God wants us to be righteous and happy. I want this church to be a righteous and happy people. And the first thing the book of Psalms chooses to say about the righteous is that they do not follow the advice of the world, but also they find pleasure in listening to God in his Word.
In other words, it’s not enough to come to church, “be a Christian;” or even “be saved;” like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we have to drive the roots of our soul deep into the gospel, so that our thinking, our actions, and our identity are all shaped by it. It must become an anchor for our soul; roots that go so deep that whatever seasons we pass through that our soul remain steadfast.
Now what does this meditation means? The word “meditation” in Hebrew means basically to speak or to whisper. When this is done in the heart it is called reflection or meditation. So meditating on the Word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it.
Unless you read or memorize Scripture you will not meditate on it day and night. So I urge you to read and memorize Scripture, and meditate on it day and night. It will change your life and you will be blessed or happy.
Example: Community Bible Reading (CBR) and Challenge next month
And what about this delight again?
We struggle with Bible reading and memory and meditation because we don’t find pleasure in it. We have other things we delight in more - TV or breakfast or work or newspaper or laptop or Netflix or phone. Our hearts incline to other things and do not incline to the Word. And so it is not a delight.
Christianity is a matter of what we love, what we delight in, and what tastes good to us. The righteous and the wicked are separated by what they delight in—the revelation of God or the way of the world.
The deepest mark of this happy person in Psalm 1 is that he delights in the Word of God (verse 2). Bible reading and Bible memory and meditation are not a burden to him, but a pleasure. This is what we want. But to be honest it is sadness when Bible reading is just toil and not delights. Something is wrong. What shall we do then? Well, we will come back to this in my last point.
Verse 6 says, “The Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.” You can either be among the righteous or you can be among the wicked. These are the only two categories of human beings.
Along with these two alternative kinds of persons, the psalmist warns of two alternative destinies in this life and at the judgment:
3. If you are righteous you will be like a tree (v. 3).
4. If you are wicked you will be like chaff (v. 4).
5. If you are wicked your way will end in destruction (v. 6b).
6. If you are righteous your way will be known and attended and protected by God even unto glory (v. 6a).
For the wicked: chaff-like and ending in destruction. For the righteous: treelike and ending in the glorious congregation of the righteous.
7. The Gospel
Now there is a strange and difficult puzzle for us when we read this Psalm. It says that “The righteous, or godly delights in the Word of God day and night”. The mark of a godly person is not, that they go to Church every week, or they preach to unbelievers day and night, that they speak in tongues or fast, but that they delight in the law of the LORD and meditates day and night. But how does that happen?
C. S. Lewis, when trying to answer this questions, says,
This was to me at first very mysterious. “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery”—I can understand that a man can, and must respect these “laws”, and try and obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they can exhilarate [excite].
In other words, on one hand it’s easy to say, yes, I agree, the law of God is important, but on the other hand, when you truly meditate on it, when you hear that Jesus says that even the slightest thought of anger and lust is murder or adultery, you become undone. When you realize that you’ve listened to the advice of sinners, that you’ve participated in sin with the wicked, that you’ve even had a bad attitude towards God before, you are destroyed. The law crushes you, how can you delight in it when you realize that you fall so short!
What God gives us in Psalm 1 is not a happiness solution that comes from within us, but from outside of us.
Is that hard for you? How do we resolve this? Where’s the hope for me, someone who didn’t delight in God’s law even this morning but viewed it more as a task, a duty, that I needed to get over with so I could finish writing my sermon. If that were my only sin, even today, I am unable to stand in the judgment before a holy and righteous judge. So where’s the hope for me?
Well the hope is in another clue that the Psalmist gives us. And let me say this, this blew me away when I first saw it. Look at verse one. “Blessed is the man.” It’s singular…not “blessed are they…” Look at verse 2 “His delight.” Also singular. Look at verse three. “He is like a tree.” Also singular. But now look at verse 5, “the congregation of the righteous.” Plural. Verse 6 “righteous” in English it can be either singular or plural, so when we look at the Hebrew, the original: Tsaddiqim. It’s plural. What am I trying to say here? Why is this significant?
Because where else in scripture do we see an example of the multitudes being made righteous by the merit or faithfulness of one single man? Yes, I am talking about Romans 5:19: "for by the one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” We read in 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
On the one hand, Jesus was pre-eminently a person who delighted in the Word and meditated on it day and night. He is the One who meditated so profoundly on Scripture that he virtually “bled” Scripture, quoting it in the most extreme moments of his life. That is how he stood firm — how he was truly a tree “evergreen” — using the Word of God even when on the cross. When the winds of adversity were blowing hard, as he was dying, rather than doing what I would have done, cursing and spitting at those injuring him, he blessed them and prayed Scripture back to God. “My God my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22).
He was the only one who truly delighted in God’s law, he was the only one who truly deserved to be called a tree, and yet, my friends, he became chaff, forsaken by God his Father, so that we could be called a tree. He did not stand in the judgment, but was crushed with the wicked, so that we could be counted in the congregation of the righteous.
When we meditate on that truth, when the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the lens through which we read all of Scripture, we can’t help but erupt in praise and delight. We can’t help but long to grow and know more of God’s precious, loving word. Reading the bible and meeting with God every morning and evening in his word becomes less of a chore or duty, and more of a joy. Not “I have to do it,” but “I get to do it!” And that, more than anything else in this world, more than anything you can do, will make you truly happy.
Without Jesus and the cross, without the gospel, it is frightening to meditate on “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous” (v. 6). Who in the world is righteous enough for God? Without the assurance of Jesus’ death for me and his righteousness imputed to me (2 Cor. 5:21), I will lose confidence the more I meditate on Psalm 1 and the Word of God. But if I meditate on what Jesus has done for me, I truly will find my assurance growing. That will bring real delight and happiness into our lives.
We must meditate on him and with him. Then, not only will Psalm 1 come to life in new ways, but we will become unshakable trees, as he was and truly delight in God’s law.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The God of peace be with you all. Amen. (Romans 15:13, 33)