I’m breaking pattern this week so I can share something I wrote for Father’s Day, a sermon based on Psalm 1:1-2. It’s challenging and practical, and I hope will help you next time you have the “I’m worried about the path you’re going down” talk with someone.
“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; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
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.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Happy Father’s Day! This morning I’m going to give you a tool to use as dad’s (and mom’s, and anyone else too, it’s pretty universal), and a challenge for you to look at in your own life. It’s a tool because after I’m done here you should be able to replicate this little drawing I’ll show you on a napkin while having dinner with your kid, or even an employee, or someone you are mentoring. It’s a challenge because I also want you to think about these concepts for yourselves. This morning we are going to talk about Success.
There seems to be an insatiable desire among people to be seen as, and feel, “successful”, no matter what the cost. And I think the reason is because in a lot of people’s minds, “success” equals happiness… or at least it’s supposed to. We sacrifice a lot of things to achieve this thing called “success”. We work hard at school, sacrificing our time, our friends, and sometimes even our health to be top of our class. Then we get into the working world, and we do the same … whatever that looks like in our field of work.
Is that ok? I think that the desire to be successful, and happy, productive and pleased with our work, is a God given desire, and therefore is holy and good. I believe that God made man for happiness – it was His intention to create beings that would be happy, productive and thriving– to have an abundant life. So it’s a good thing. And on the other hand, nobody wants to be unhappy, a failure or miserable. There are some who do things that, in the end, will make them miserable or set themselves up for failure, but no one starts out their life wanting to live that way.
But there’s a problem with our pursuit of happiness and success – or at least the way many people try to achieve it. One famous theologian (Adam Clarke) states the problem this way,
“So perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.”
In other words, we have this burning desire to attain a life of achievement, accomplishment, happiness and contentment, but we are so clouded by sin and selfish ambition that we end up going all sorts of wrong places to find it. And that hurts the individual, and their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with God. So this morning, I want to talk a little bit about what success really looks like, and to show an important step we must take to attain it.
I started out this morning reading Psalm 1 because I believe it gives us a picture of a successful person… what he looks like, and what he doesn’t. Take a look at the beginning of this verse. The first word in the book of Psalms, the song-book of the bible, is the word “Blessed”. It’s the Hebrew word ESCHER and it’s the word for “Happy”. In Latin it’s translated BEATUS which is where we get the word “beatitude”, which is used in the New Testament when Jesus begins longest set of teachings, His Sermon on the Mount, with a list of “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”… or “Happy are peacemakers…” He starts His longest sermon with a picture of what a blessed, happy life looks like.
And that’s what we’re shooting for in life isn’t it? Happiness. It’s what we’re searching for. It’s what we want to provide for ourselves, our children, and those we love. But what does it look like, and where can we get it?
I think it’s highly appropriate to talk about this subject on Father’s Day, because Dad’s (and of course mom’s too!) need to get this right. A lot of dad’s mess this part up, and end up having a lot of regrets in the middle or at the end of their life when they realize that what they had worked so hard to achieve, or spent a lot of time pursuing things that weren’t going to make them truly successful. And I don’t want that for any of you.
So, how does one define success? Is it something that we get to choose ourselves and direct our life towards, or is there a definition that is common to everyone, that is a quintessential measurement of human success?
People define success in many ways. Some measure it in wealth. If you have the most money and stuff, or enough money and stuff to live comfortably, or at least more money and stuff than someone else… then you are doing well – you are a success. Some measure it in health. If you can live the longest, or can run the farthest, lift the most, or hit it harder than anyone else, then you are the best – a success.
Some measure it in popularity. It doesn’t matter how much money you made, or even if you are the best. If you are known by more people, then you are successful. There are people today who are famous for being famous, and that is their end goal. They make nothing important, say nothing important, and contribute very little to society, but they are famous and therefore feel successful. TV shows and magazines follow them around like mosquitoes, and lots of people will do anything to become famous like them – because that’s success.
I heard a little girl on the radio last week when they were doing a radiothon for CHEO. This little girl, who had gone through so much in her life, surrounded by amazing doctors, nurses, specialists… The host asked what she wanted to be when she grew up? Her answer, “I want to be famous.” That is a very telling statement about what we are teaching our youth about how to define success in their life.
Some define success by their peer group. Wealth and fame doesn’t matter, as long as they are acknowledged to be part of a certain group. They work their whole live to get that title. CEO, Elite Status Member, VIP, MVP, Gold Medal Holder, World Record Holder. There are people who have actually died trying just to get into the Guinness book of World Records. One woman died trying to break the world’s Free Diving record… she went 561 feet under water and didn’t come back alive. Many have died trying to set speed records on land, sea and in the air. I read that a man from London essentially killed himself because he wanted to set the world record for spinning in circles. He fell down, cracked his head, and died. He wanted to be identified with that group called “World record holders” so bad, it cost him his life.
So, how do you define success? When you look at what you are putting your effort, energy, time, money, strength, attention, life and heart into… what are you trying to achieve? Happiness, right? Why do it if it won’t make you happy? Well, my hope today, dads, moms, and everyone else here too, is that what you are pouring your life into is actually something worth achieving, and will really bring you true, lasting happiness. And hopefully this is something you can share with others, and can be doing in a way that worships God. It’s based on Psalm 1:1-2.
Let’s read verse 1 again, and today I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s really close to the NIV. “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…”. “Blessed is the man…” “Happy is the man…” “Successful is the man…”. He’s showing us a picture here and uses a pretty neat poetic structure to do it. So here’s your picture.
Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”
In other words, the people you are in relationship with, and who influence your life the most, will inevitably dictate its direction. That’s what it says here too. When you think of a person, or when people think of you, who do they associate you with? When people think of you, and summarize who you are at the core… they think… what?
Let me show you the poetic structure and how the psalmist paints the picture of this man’s life. There’s a pretty neat set of three progressions here. The first is: Walking, then Standing, then Sitting. And this is all about commitment to certain relationships. It’s a picture of how this guy got to be who he is today.
Picture yourself at a party, and it’s easier to understand this. First you come into the party and you’re walking around. You’ve still got your jacket on, you’re schmoozing and getting drinks and going to the snack table… you’re not committed to staying, but you’re there. At least when you’re walking you have some kind of momentum and could turn around and walk out the door, change who you’re talking to, and do something different.
But at some point you stop… now you’re standing. You’ve found a group to chat with that seems to have something in common, or is someone you want to get to know. Now you’re not moving and have decided to stick around. Conversations are had, jokes told, stories shared, advice given… but you’re still standing. It’s awkward to hold your snack plate, you can’t really have freedom to gesture or you’ll spill something. You are more committed to this relationship than when you were walking, but you’re not fully comfortable, and could still excuse yourself.
But then comes sitting. Now you’re not just attending the party, you plan on sticking around for a while. You’ve gotten to know some people, moved to the couch, taken off your shoes and your jacket, you’re comfortable there, and you are beginning an intimate conversation with someone and it will take a good effort to get up, gather your things and go somewhere else. This is you at their kitchen table, or in the living room on their couch—this is friendship.
This is the progression of how we build relationships. Walking, Standing, Sitting. The Psalmist here is saying, “Be careful who you associate with. Where you walk, who you stand with, and who you get comfortable around. Your happiness and success will be built on your associations with the people you end up sitting with at this party called ‘life’.”
Now look at the next progression – Counsel-Way-Seat. First is “counsel”. When someone is counselling you, they are talking to you. This is a picture of who influences this man. This is the building of influence. First, it’s talk. It’s advice. Take it or leave it, but the voices are there. This is the lowest level of influence… the voices around us. Those who we hear as we walk around this life. Some are louder, but we are not committed to listening to them.
Next comes “the way”. This is a beautiful word, DEREK, that means journey, path, or direction. In other words, you’ve now moved from this person or group’s voice being just advice that is floating around your ears, and have appropriated their words as ones which guide your way of life… you are now on the same path as them, going the same direction. Your journey and destination is the same as theirs. You go their way. You’ve moved from them being an outside group, to them being people who actually have enough influence to sway the direction of your life. These are your friends and partners.
And finally comes “the seat”. This word MOWSHAB means dwellings, or house, or land or a place to sit. In other words, now you’re living with these folks. You sit and eat at their table and they are like family. They have the highest level of influence in your life.
God’s word here in Psalm 1 seems to be saying that everybody will go through this process. This is non-optional in life. We are going to be walking, standing and sitting with someone, or many someones. And we are going to be influenced by these people, and we will give some of them greater influence over us than others. The caution, and the secret to success and happiness shown here, is being careful when choosing who these people are, and knowing where and what they are leading us towards.
So who are these people? This is the third progression – building associations. This is a picture of who this person IS NOT associating with. Blessed is the person who IS NOT associating with these people. The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers.
“The wicked” is a term used for unrighteous people. Now scripture says that we are all sinners, we are all unrighteous, and need God’s grace to be saved. But this word is not talking about our general condition of being sinners, it is speaking of people who are committed stirring up trouble. The word picture is of a person who is like the water of a troubled and turbulent sea, constantly churning up dirt and muck from the bottom, never stopping to let anyone see clearly. They stir themselves up, and they stir up others, and cloud people with sinful chatter.
These are people who are good talkers, and love to counsel people. They are great whisperers, and backstabbers, and trouble makers. They might not be folks who necessarily commit crimes that people see… and are usually so smooth that people can’t really pin down what they’ve done wrong… but they are the ones who use their words to tear people down, set people up for failure, and lead others astray. We all know these kinds of folks, “the wicked”, and have been hurt by them, right?
Next in the progression comes “sinners”. Now again, we are all sinners, and if we were to try to avoid ever being around sinners, we’d not only be lonely, but we couldn’t even be around ourselves. But this word is an emphatic one. These people are right out in the open with their sin, even bold and daring about the bad things they are doing. They don’t even really try to hide it. They post pictures on Facebook and videos on Youtube of them doing these sinful things! They brag about it! The “wicked” are a bunch of talkers… these people called “sinners” are doers. These are the folks who will even announce their sin before they do it. “We’re going out to get drunk, start a fight, and probably end up in jail, so get out of my way.” Or “I’ve figured out a whole bunch of loopholes in my taxes so I can get a bunch of money that I don’t really deserve… and I’ll show you how!” or “I think pornography and fornication is good, I want to do it, and I think you should join me.” “I want you to come over to my house and let’s gossip and slander the people we know.”
These people are ok with their sin, and boldly proclaim it. But then comes the next part of the progression where one moves from listening to bad things, to doing bad things, to actually working against God and those who follow Him. This is the third group – “the scoffers”. Proverbs 21:24 defines what the word “scoffer” means: ““Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” This is the person who actually derides, mocks, and openly ridicules God and what God wants. The “wicked” talk about sinful things… the “sinners” do sinful things… “scoffers” do both of those, and go further to even despise and make fun of the most sacred precepts of religion, piety and morals. They even invent ways to ridicule God and His people. They put themselves purposely above God, saying He doesn’t exist, that He is foolish, and what He says doesn’t matter… but what they say does matter.
You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.
This is the third place of the progression. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But it’s true when you think about it. You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do. You begin by talking about sin… gossiping, backbiting, verbally abusing, sexual talk, joking about cheating, wishing out loud you had someone else’s stuff, even discussing the what-ifs of certain sinful behaviours… and that eventually leads to the action of sinning. And just like when you stand in a place with a foul smell long enough that you get used to it, you will get used to that kind of thinking and behaviour, and begin to see things from the perspective of those people. It becomes normal. Slander, cheating, fighting, swearing, cutting corners, taking things that don’t belong to you, stretching and breaking the laws… that becomes normal. “That’s just the business world!” we say. “That’s how it is at work!” “That’s what has to be done if you’re going to survive in this world!” “Everybody does it!” “All your friends are doing it.” “It’s a natural part of life.” “It’s biological.” “It’s normal.”
But it goes further. When sin becomes normal, it also becomes our god. We take the True God out of our life and replace him with something else – a god that tells us what we want, and lets us do whatever we want. And as that becomes normal, it’s easier to mock God, His priorities, and His people. Purity is seen as prudishness. Pursuing a holy life is considered to be like living in a prison, restricted in movement, and unpleasant to consider. Worshipping and reading God’s word is considered a waste of time, or even wrong.
Have you ever heard this:
“Churches are just breeding grounds for hypocrites and fakers. If God really loved this world it wouldn’t look like it does… He must be a horrible God. Christians have a blind faith is anti-intellectual and is only for stupid people who get fooled into it. We’ve all moved so far past that old way of thinking. We are in a new age, a new time, and they are still stuck in the Dark Ages. All they want to do is control people, condemn people and take their money. Christianity is for the weak and the dim-witted.”
Easy to see, isn’t it? We’ve all heard it. And this picture in Psalm 1:1 is the progression of how we get there. Some of us came from there and have lived it, others of us still visit there from time to time… and still others are there right now. You may hear this kind of thing regularly, and that’s why you hesitate to tell people you are Christian, or that you go to church.
This is the picture I want you to see and that I want you to be able to draw for your friends, your mentoree’s, and your kids when you have that talk about “the path I see you going down right now”. You know that talk… when you see someone listening to dangerous voices, doing wrong things, and heading towards some serious problems in their life. This is what you can draw for them.
You can say, “Listen! Success isn’t defined by what you have, what you do, who you know, or who knows you… it’s defined by who you are. Who you are when no one’s around except you and God. Who you are in your thought life, your will, your priorities and your desires. Your character. Your integrity.” That’s success!
Verse 2 shows us who this man does associate with, and who he really is. He IS NOT with the wicked, the sinful or scoffers, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Some of us hear that and tense up. Oh great… meditating day and night… reading the bible all day and living on some mountaintop somewhere, eating stewed potatoes and contemplating the complexities of the Book of Job all day long. That’s not what this means.
In easier to understand language it says — a happy and successful person delights (or enjoys and finds benefit in) what God says in the Bible, and throughout his day, from morning to evening, He makes God’s voice the greatest influence in His life. When he’s at work, at the gym, out hunting, doing his taxes, playing with his kids, changing the oil in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, talking to a neighbour or dealing with a problem, He’s allowing God to have the first say in how he reacts and what he does. Jesus gets first dibs. He listens to Jesus’ counsel, walks in Jesus’ way, and sits at Jesus’ table.
That’s what a successful life looks like. When those who are closest to you and know you best (spouse, children, friends) respect you, know you love God, delight in His word, that you love them with all your heart, forgive them of their wrongs, help them to become better people – because that’s what Jesus does for you — then you are a success.
So, to close, I ask you this question: When people think of you, who would they say your number one relationship is with, who your greatest influence is, and who you associate with? Ask your spouse, your friend, or even your kids, to do some association with you.
Do you ever play word association games? I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head.
I say “BLACK”, you say…
I say “CAR”, you say…
I say “FOREST”, you say…
I say “REMOTE” you say…
Now… I say [Your Name], you say…
What is your association? Do this with a friend. Say your name… “When you hear my name, what is the first word that springs to mind?”
When your kids hear “I’m home”! “Dad’s home!”, or “Mom’s Home!” or “Grandpa’s Here!” do they associate that with the thought “Yay! I have to get to the door and get a hug!” Or is it “I have to hide until I find out what mood they’re in before I go anywhere.” What about your wife (or your husband, ladies). What word do they pick? “Angry”, “Grumpy”, “Caring”, “Generous”, “Cheap”, “Funny”, “Serious”, “Confusing”, “Unavailable”, “Dark”, “Dirty”, “Hard-Worker”, “Godly”.
Is that word a characteristic of the people from verse 1, or the man in verse 2?