Be a Tree

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Series: 

Psalm 1 Life Songs: New Year’s Resolution: Be a Tree

14 and Mobile
When I turned 14, it was a big deal to me that I was able to get my driver’s permit.

Because we lived in such a small town, we didn’t have a permanent driver’s license station. In fact, it moved around. One day it would be in Sheldon, the next day in Sioux Center, and so on. You had to look in the paper to figure out where they were going to be.

And I remember, the day I turned 14, the driver’s license station was in Orange City. So I convinced my mom to take me. Taking tests has never been a problem for me, so I passed on the first try, no problem. Then I had to convince Mom to let me drive home.

Now, I was acutely aware of the day my brother turned 14. The driver’s license station that day was in Sheldon, and I rode along and as soon as Ben passed my Dad handed him the keys and he drove home. So that was the way I thought it should be: the day you get your permit, you drive home.

But here’s the thing: my brother—and he’s here this morning—is a gearhead; a very mechanical person. I—manifestly—am not. I mean, Ben was the kind of kid who was driving Grandpa’s skid loader when he was 10. He was the kind of kid who was always hanging out at our cousin’s farm driving tractors and pulling hayracks. I was the kind of kid who was usually reading a book.

So when Dad handed Ben the keys on the day he got his driver’s permit, there wasn’t much doubt he could safely navigate the car home. On the day I got my permit, the issue was a bit more uncertain.

And yet, I convinced Mom that because I had passed, I should be allowed to drive. So, with great reluctance, she handed me the keys.

Now, for some reason, we had my grandparents’ car that day. It was this big brown, 1978 Buick Century LTD. I mean, this thing was a boat. And it was fast. (My brother had turned 16 a few months earlier, and I’d been out with him a few times, and—Mom, you may not want to hear this—but I knew from experience that this baby could move). So I crawl behind the wheel of this whale on wheels—and I wasn’t very big, so I had to jam the seat all the way up—and my Mom is buckling into the passenger seat for safety—and we set out for home.

I don’t remember all the details of that ride home, but I do recall that Mom was very nervous. I think I had a tendency to oversteer, and we spent quite a bit of the time on the shoulder. Mom got prematurely gray hair, and I’m pretty sure this incident hastened that process. But somehow, miraculously, we got home without going in the ditch or running into any oncoming traffic.

We lived on an acreage, so we had a fairly long driveway. And as we got home and I turned down this driveway—and Mom was finally relaxing her grip on the door handle—some of my brother’s friends were there on their mopeds and I was waving to them and kind of showing off. Our garage was set off the driveway a bit, with a cement incline and a big, old tree standing just off the corner. So as I’m preening for the older kids, and mom is trying to calm her heartbeat down, I turned in towards the garage and ran smack right into that tree.

It was a good thing airbags weren’t invented yet, because I hit that tree hard. The Buick was a tank, so it was OK. Mom and I were OK. The only thing damaged was my ego.

In fact, even though I hit it pretty hard, the tree was none the worse for wear either. It was a big, old tree; and I’m not even sure it noticed this two ton vehicle smacking into it. It just kept on standing there, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Like a Tree
On this New Year’s Day—a day where we traditionally set goals for the year ahead and make resolutions for how life will be different—it’s that image—an image of a solid, immovable, strong tree—that I’d like you to have in mind. I’d like to propose that we all set a New Year’s Resolution to be a tree in 2012.

We are beginning a new series this morning from the book of Psalms. We’re calling the series Life Songs because the book of Psalms is the song book of the Bible, and the Psalms touch on the full spectrum of life issues. From joy to sorrow to desperation to repentance to downright anger at God—the Psalter covers it all. Obviously we won’t be able to cover every Psalm—there’s 150 of them—but over the next 8 weeks we’ll get a pretty good sampling.

And this morning we’re going to look at Psalm 1, which encourages us all to be a tree.

Let’s read it now, Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
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,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This Psalm is about the person who is committed to God. A righteous person. A person who values the things God values. A Godly person. And the Psalm says he is like a tree. Solid, immovable, fruitful. Able to stand up to the storms and trials and Buicks of life. This is the kind of person we should all desire to be.

There are three “tree-like” behaviors highlighted in this Psalm. Three things we should all seek to make part of our lives in 2012.

Not Swayed
First, a tree stands firm. The righteous person of Psalm 1 is not swayed by the crowd. Verse 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

The Psalm begins with the simple line: “Blessed is the man.” That word, “blessed” is a word which could also be translated to say “honored,” “praiseworthy,” or “worthy of celebration.” The idea is that the Psalmist is describing the model person—someone worthy of our imitation. This is a picture of a man who really has things going for him.

And the first thing we are told about this Godly man is that he doesn’t just go along with the crowd. He’s his own man. He stands on his own two feet.

In modern parlance, we would say he does not give in to peer pressure.

There is something about the way of the world that seeks to bring others into its way of thinking. Whether it is the Madison Avenue mentality which sells cultural ideas of success or the schoolyard rascal who doesn't want to be alone in breaking the rules, wickedness enjoys company. Every day we feel the subtle and not-so subtle pull to join in, as though strength in numbers might somehow make it all okay.

But the Godly Man knows better. Even when the advice of those around him is that he needs that kind of car to be considered successful or that he needs to get sexually involved to have fun, he lives by another standard. He doesn't need the approval of others to live his life.

Notice the progression of this verse. From patterns of thinking—“counsel”—to patterns of behavior—“the way”—to full-fledged identification—“seat”—there’s a sense in which wickedness draws us in. The pattern goes from walking, to standing, to eventually sitting in the way of sin. The sense is, the more we expose ourselves to sin—the more we get used to having it around—the more comfortable we get with it.

Alexander Pope wrote this rhyming couplet:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen.
Yet seen to oft, to familiar that face,
We may first endure, then pity, then embrace.

May of us can remember when homosexuality was unquestionably considered to be a sin. But then the Western world started to pity that behavior, then treat it as a sickness, and now it has become embraced by popular culture as a lifestyle to be celebrated. Gradually, we become more and more comfortable with sin.

But not the Godly Man of Psalm 1. Like a tree that stands up to windstorms and floods, the righteous person is not afraid to go against popular thinking.

And so, my first challenge for you in 2012 is to stand firm. Don’t settle for popular opinion or going along with what everybody else is doing. Don’t be afraid to call wickedness evil and to turn away from wrongdoing. Don’t be afraid to be different. Take a stand for what is right, and don’t get pulled in by the crowd.

Thirsty
Second, a tree drinks deep. The righteous person draws deeply from the spring of God’s word. Verse 2 into verse 3:

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,

Instead of taking the counsel of the wicked world around him, the Godly Man of Psalm 1 drinks deeply of God’s word. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water.”

This is a great picture—especially in the arid climate in which most of the Bible was written. What better position could a tree be in than to be planted right on the bank of a stream that never runs dry? A tree needs water to survive and thrive--and lo and behold!--here it is growing next to a never-ending source of water! It's the best imaginable situation for the tree. All it needs to do is send its roots out and drink.

That, says the Psalmist, is how it is for the Godly Man. As he meditates on the Law of God he is like that tree--he is putting his roots down into a never-ending source of water. If water is the life source of the tree, then the Word of God is the life source of the Godly Man. He is going to survive and thrive.

And notice, for the Godly Man, the law of God is so much more than just a code of right and wrong. For the Godly Man the law of God is not just a list of rules passed down from a grumpy deity, it is wonderful source of joy and pleasure.

"But his DELIGHT is in the law of the Lord." I love that word, I love that picture. For the Godly Man God's Word is a source of delight, a source of pleasure. The law is not just something to be kept—Bible reading is not just one more daily chore to cross of the list-- it is something to be relished, savored, and enjoyed.

In fact, the Psalmist portrays his Godly Man as so smitten with the Law of God that he "meditates" on it day and night. You might say that he is preoccupied with it. God's law is so sweet to this man that he is constantly having a personal dialogue about it. The picture is of a man who--when alone--quietly mumbles to himself, and what he is mumbling is the Word of God. He is constantly exercising it in his mind, musing upon it, chewing on it.

Bruce Waltke writes that: “Christian Meditation…is directed by the truth of God, derived from delighting in God, and directed to the praise of God.” (The Psalms as Christian Worship, p. 139)

And so, my second challenge for you in 2012 is to drink deeply from the Word of God. Read your Bibles. Be consistently present in worship. Occupy your mind with thoughts about God and praise for God. Direct your attention to Him in this New Year, and make much of Him.

Endures
Then, third: a tree flourishes. The righteous person lives a life that is deeply durable and fruitful. Verse 3:

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Here is the promise of this Psalm. When you emulate the Godly Man described here—when you live like a tree that stands firm against wickedness and drinks deeply from God’s Word—then you are going to flourish.

You will be like a tree that yields fruit in season. You will be a person who is refreshing and nourishing to be around. A person who blesses the people you come in contact with and who makes your world a better place. You will be a person who is useful to the Kingdom of God.

More than that, you will be durable. Your leaf will not whither.

The point here is that the hot winds are blowing and the rain is not falling and all the other trees that are not planted near the streams are withering and dying—but in spite of the heat and drought your leaves will remain green. Because delighting in the Word of God is like being planted by a stream. Your joy will be durable. It will run deep. It will not depend on which way the wind is blowing or whether or not the rain is falling. It will be able to enjoy the good times and endure. Because you will get your life from an absolutely changeless source: God in His Word.

And so, Psalm 1 says, you will prosper.

This leads to a question. What does the Bible mean by prosper? Does this mean that if I imitate the man described in this Psalm my business ventures will always make big profit and my doctor’s reports will always be clean and I’ll never get into a car accident or have stress or trials in my life? Is this a promise of health and wealth?

Well, there is some reason to believe that some of these blessings will come your way. Certainly, if you avoid walking in the counsel of the wicked and standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the seat of mockers, a lot of negative consequences are going to be avoided. Those who play around with evil invite all sorts of trouble on their heads.

But, at the same time, there is plenty of Biblical evidence that God does not always spare His most faithful followers from trials in this world. Psalm 34:19 says: “a righteous man may have many troubles” and Psalm 73 expresses the reality that often the righteous suffer while the wicked prosper. Often, in this world, it appears that those who defy and ignore God have a much easier time than those who seek to follow Him.

But for a full sense of what Psalm 1 means by the word prosper, we need to the read the rest of it. Verses 4 and 5:

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

When the Psalmist considers the value of being wicked or being righteous, he measures the value finally by what happens in the end. There may appear to be some prosperity for the wicked in this life, but in the end they are swept away like the field trash that comes out the back end of a combine. Meanwhile, the righteous may experience trials for a period of time, but they are guaranteed to go on flourishing into eternity.

And so, my third challenge for you in 2012 is to flourish. No matter what comes your way in this year, do not lose your joy. Continue to live a life that is fruitful and nourishing for others. Endure. And never lose sight of the eternal destiny that awaits you.

God is Watching
So, in 2012, resolve to be a tree. Stand firm. Drink deep. And flourish.

Finally, I want to call your attention to the last verse of this Psalm. Verse 6:

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

The last line there is fairly ominous. We need to take warning from the costs this Psalm associates with godlessness. But the first line is meant to be very encouraging. If we choose to follow God we can take comfort in the knowledge that God will be very close to us.

The NIV says that "the LORD watches over" the righteous, but the Psalmist is trying to convey an idea here that goes beyond God merely observing us. Security cameras watch over us, but this Psalm is saying more than that about God. The idea here is that God is so intimately related to the righteous that they are never out of His sight, or His watchful care. Perhaps a better translation would be to say "the LORD knows the way of the righteous" or, even better yet, "the LORD embraces the cause of the righteous."

This is the only time in the entire Psalm that God is the subject of a verb, and you can see what effect it has. God acts on behalf of the righteous. God works for those who choose to live for Him.

This is the eternal truth which we must never forget, in this coming year or any other. As we make decisions about how we are going to live our lives we must always remember that God watches over--that is, He knows and embraces the cause of--those who choose to follow Him. God is on the side of the righteous.