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Psalm 1

[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. (ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the psalms lately. A friend of mine mentioned a couple months back that one year he set a goal of writing out the psalms as a spiritual discipline, and for some reason, that stuck out to me. I’m not doing it on a daily basis, but the first thing I do when I get into my office is sit down and write out at least a part of a psalm. Sometimes, the psalm is long, so I spend a couple of days on it.

It’s been a good practice for me so far this year.  It helps bring some focus to my day as I start my work, and, more importantly, it gives me an opportunity to slow down and listen for God’s voice.

I recently started reading Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson.  I can’t seem to get enough of his writing, having read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction last year.  It’s deep.  It’s challenging.  It makes me stop and think about my role as a pastor, and my role as a follower of Christ.

In Working the Angles, Peterson makes the case that the psalms were the most important part of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that we have treated them more like an optional add-on. In the psalms we see worship. We see anger.  We see joy.  We see sorrow.  The psalms run the gamut of human emotions, and they show us that worship is not all about good feelings, happiness and joy.  It’s about being our true selves before the Lord, and allowing God to work in, and sometimes in spite of, us.  It is when we spend the time meditating in the psalms that we see this.

One of the most important roles that I have as a pastor is to be the one who is intentional about hearing from God on a regular basis.  Some people may say that it’s nice that I’m writing out these psalms, but I’m not getting any work done while doing it.  I would argue that I’m getting the most important work done.

Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed man is the one who is rooted in the law of the Lord. His righteousness comes from where he spends his time. His time is not spent walking, standing or sitting with those who have no interest in the Lord. He is firmly planted in the Word, and the Lord is with him.  Now this doesn’t mean that his life is going to be smooth sailing either.

Many of the, especially early, psalms have a similar theme of the wicked and the righteous.  And, often, it seems as though the wicked are doing quite well for themselves. But the psalmist reminds us again and again that the Lord is with the righteous.  And then we come across this in Psalm 37:

[23] The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way;
[24] though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24, ESV)

The language here is reminiscent of Psalm 1, but here is the part that stuck out to me the most: “though he fall…”  The righteous, whose ways are known by the Lord (Ps 1:6), will still fall along the way – even when his steps are established by the Lord.  Righteous does not mean perfect.  It means that the Lord is with them.

As a pastor who, at times, struggles with perfectionist tendencies that can lead to paralysis for fear of making the wrong decision or doing things the wrong way, these are freeing words.  It doesn’t mean that one has a license to fall, or that one shouldn’t be intentional about avoiding said fall, but that when the fall happens, it will not serve to destroy, and one will not be alone “for the Lord uphold his hand” (Ps 37:24)

Who establishes your steps?  With whom do you walk?  Do the important work of meditating on the Word of God, and allow him to establish your steps.

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