1 Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. 3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do 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 be destroyed. (Psalm 1)
One of my goals this year has been to grow in the practice of Christian meditation.
Why meditation? The most extensive and revealing book on prayer in the Bible is the Psalms, and the first Psalm is the gateway to all of them. Psalm 1 has one of the most compelling images found anywhere in Scripture: “the man or woman who meditates on the Law of God is like a tree planted by streams of water.”
I am going to do a couple of posts on some of what I have learned from Psalm 1. The first learning comes from the contrast of the images used in this text.
Image 1: Chaff (that the wind blows away)
What is chaff? It is the outer shell or husk of a plant that must be removed to get at the valuable kernels of grain inside. Chaff is very light and is carried away by even the slightest wind.
Here is why this image means a lot to me now:
I grew up in a Christian home, and I would say I was taught this principle in different forms – that if you build your life on anything but God you will be like chaff – light, unanchored, and easily blown away. The only problem was that what I was being taught in church didn’t square up with what I was observing in real life.
I watched many people that I admired put their trust in their own wisdom and intentionally ignore the wisdom of God. In a high percentage of the cases this decision did not lead to them being chaff. It was quite the opposite – it produced wealth, education, achievement, and popularity for them. Usually far more than the Christians I knew. It seemed like a tough sell to me that God’s wisdom was the more pragmatic approach.
But over the years, many of those men and women who seemed so successful when I was young seem so distraught now. The wealthiest of them all had a terrible divorce and is now spinning in circles. The one who seemed to have the highest potential got crushed by the economic downturn and now struggles with severe depression. Another lost a loved one in a car crash and now suffers from a deep seated rage that by his own admission he can’t control.
The point of sharing these stories is not to be dramatic. And it is not to suggest that the adversities they encountered would not have come had they put their trust in the wisdom of God. The point, at least for me, is that when the storms came to them (as they come for all of us) they were not trees with deep roots in the living waters of God’s wisdom. They had bet the farm on their wisdom and the price tag was steep when the debt was collected. When the storms came they had an experience more like chaff than a rooted tree.
Image 2: A tree planted by streams of water (which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither)
Stability – I was talking to someone this week experiencing a struggle and the metaphor they used instinctely to describe their struggle was a tree. “It feels like I am pushing a 70-year old tree. I can’t move this thing.”
That is what a tree provides – stability and rootedness. When the storm comes a tree has a very different experience of that storm than chaff does. The tree feels the storm and maybe is even negatively affected by the storm (i.e. bruised up, broken branches, etc) But the tree is still standing when the storm comes.
This is the image I have used when talking with my friend who went through the devastating divorce. I told him that this might be an opportunity to revisit what it is his life is based on, and what his source of wisdom will be moving forward. I shared with him the contrast of the two images in Psalm 1. I reiterated that the Bible never promises or even suggests that if you follow God there won’t be storms. Instead, the Bible promises that when you learn how to dwell on and live from wisdom of God, you will be like a tree planted by streams of living water.
The older I get the more convinced I am that this is not just what the Bible says – it is actually true.
I want to be like a tree planted by streams of water. I want to have poise and stability in good times, but I also want to have poise and stability when the storms come. I am more convinced than ever that meditation is the gateway to that kind of an experience.
In the next post I will give some ideas about how to meditate.