Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Songs (psalms) for a Good Life

Songs (psalms) for a Good Life1 (Psalm 1)

Six psalms2 begins with the word, “blessed.” They describe various aspects of what is involved in living a good life.

Psa. 1:1    How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, 
Nor stand in the path of sinners, 
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 

Psa. 32:1    How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, 
Whose sin is covered! 

Psa. 41:1    How blessed is he who considers the helpless; 
The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble. 

Psa. 112:1    Praise the LORD! 
How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, 
Who greatly delights in His commandments. 

Psa. 119:1    How blessed are those whose way is blameless, 
Who walk in the law of the LORD. 

Psa. 128:1    (Psalm of Ascents) How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways.

A good life is lived, not in the counsel of the wicked, but in the counsel of Jesus. We are to bring every and all the issues of life into the light of his understanding, rather than the viewpoint of the scoffing world which speaks of that which it does not understand (Jude 10).

It is Jesus who is the fulfillment and enfleshment of “the law of the Lord” (v.3). Christians read the written Word (Scripture, or, the Bible) in order to find direction and instruction for living in loving relationship with the Living Word (Jesus, God’s Son). It is in Jesus and with Jesus that we are to “delight” and “meditate” (two words that are almost as churchy as “blessed”).

The phrase “day and night” helps me process these two words, “delight” and “meditate.” It has to be more than going to church or doing daily devotions. What is it that makes up the day-and-night fabric of my life? What are the essential tools of my life “day and night?” I’ll try and illustrate.

For the farmer who lived always with “an eye to the sky,” this practice is not merely discerning the clouds (cf. Luke 12:54-56), but, for instance, recognizing that we serve at the pleasure of the Lord of skies and dry land (e.g., Exodus 9:22,23), and that either flood or drought is not merely a natural calamity, but rather a feature of his good and wise providence. It changes the way one farms. 

Likewise, today’s younger generations live with a smartphone in their hands “day and night.” These devices boast constant contact and instant communication. But, the Christian young person who seeks the goodness of life that only God can give will recognize that Jesus is the only one with whom we must be in most constant contact, with a depth of relationship that goes far deeper than that of a friend list, and with a conversation that extends way beyond 140 characters or a 10-second image.

I’m a book guy. I read books “day and night.” This study has convicted me, that so much of my reading has been Christ-less. It is not that I have read ungodly books. But I have read them in ungodly fashion, because I have so often failed to talk to Jesus about what he thinks of the material, and to seek to gain his understanding of the author’s argument. We are taught in school to read critically (e.g., discerning the author’s bias). Psalm 1 tells me that, even more than reading critically, I need to read Christianly, bringing it all to Jesus for review. For the Christian living in the light of Psalm 1, the endeavor can never be merely gaining a perspective or finishing a book, but rather, learning from the ultimate Author. 

And for the mom occupied with young children 14 hours a day, trying to keep track of things, rein in attitudes and misbehaviors, fix meals and clean up messes, and still do something fun and educational, perhaps some perspectives include knowing that our God “mothers” all of us constantly, never missing a beat, and that He must find us (adults) as difficult to keep in check as we do our kids (Matthew 6:25-34); or, that Jesus was able to minister to multitudes, and he did indeed grow weary, and yet somehow he never seemed in a hurry, or frustrated (Mark 1:32-34); or, that Jesus chided Martha and held sister Mary up as an example, and that we have a lot to confess about being “worried and bothered,” and a lot to learn about “the good part” (Luke 10:38-42).

What then, do we learn about “the good life” from Psalm 1. That I cannot wring goodness from this life with the strength of my own hands. Rather, it is a gift that is discovered in consort with Jesus. We must learn to live out what we sing, “alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair;” or, “you’ve no other such a friend or brother, tell it to Jesus alone.” Those who desire to live out God’s good life will seek to put into practice the art and discipline of practicing a moment-by-moment companionship with Jesus that does not distract from the business of life, but rather, blesses it.

1Why do the title of this series say, “a good life?” Why not, “a blessed life,” or, “a happy life,” or, “a successful life?” The “blessed” word is so “churchy,” I find it hard to translate into daily life. “Happy” sounds a little “sappy.” That’s not what these songs are singing. I struggle with the word “success,” since it has to be so thoroughly re-defined in the face of everyday usage in society.

By “good life,” I really mean “God-life.” These are songs for life lived in right relationship with God. They are psalms that help round out a godly life, that is, a life lived in fellowship with God.

2This collection of psalms is my own, based on a concordance search of psalms that begin with the word אַשְׁרֵ֤י (blessed). There are many other uses of this word in Scripture, but these feature “blessed” at the head of the psalm. Two of these psalms are a little irregular. Psalm 112 actually begins in Hebrew with the words (translated) “Praise the Lord.” Since this may actually be a title that heads three psalms in a row (Psalms 11-113), I see the word “blessed” as beginning the psalm. Similarly, Psalm 128 begins with the Hebrew words (translated) “song of ascents,” common to psalms 120-134, a title for the collection.

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