I don’t follow the NFL, but I do enjoy watching the spectacle of the Superbowl each year. Unfortunately, in my mind, the fun and excitement that comes with the word Superbowl, will always be attached to a much more ominous word: suicide. I can’t remember where I heard it, but at some point in my past I read or saw something that connected the success of winning the Superbowl to depression and suicide.
Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide
One would think that reaching the pinnacle of their sport – or the pinnacle of anything – would have exactly the opposite effect. Watching them on the field after the game, you’d assume that sadness would be the last thing they would be feeling. Well, perhaps for that moment they are elated – but it doesn’t last. In fact, for some, getting to the top is exactly what sets off some of the darkest parts of their life.
I read an article this week called “Why Successful Young Men Commit Suicide” and it had some startling things to say. It started with the story of a successful, 37 year old man, who had reached his goal of becoming a hugely successful salesman, wore the best clothes, drove a Mercedes, collected antiques and art, threw lavish parties in his mansion, and appeared on the cover of some magazines.
One day, on September 15, 2000, he was confronted by his debt when his sister confronted him about his extravagant lifestyle. Then when he got to work he saw a terrible performance review and thought it was about him – but it wasn’t – and he went home thinking he was going to lose his job. He came home to learn that his long-time relationship was in absolute shambles. That night, he drove to a nearby park and committed suicide.
This may surprise you, but the greatest share of people who attempt suicide (in the US) are white males between the ages of 21-39. It is the second leading cause of death after accidental injuries. Most of these guys are fit and healthy, but are racked by dark depression which they mask with extravagant lifestyles, workaholism and substance abuse. The place where this comes out most, unsurprisingly, is Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood.
It’s not much different in Canada. I found a December 2011 article in the BC Medical Journal entitled “The Silent Epidemic of Male Suicide”. Not many people know this, and it doesn’t get much press. One startling statistic I read was that in 2005, 45 Canadian men died of AIDS, while 2857 men died of suicide. But we hear far more about AIDS, don’t we? The suicide rate for men is three times higher than that of women. We’re talking about men who, by worldly standards, are successful men. Most are middle-aged, and they’ve achieved what the world has told them is what life is all about. One article I read called this phenomenon “success-depression”, “success-induced burnout” or “executive suicides.”
The Spiral Of Hopelessness
The most ironic thing about this is that their achievements don’t make them happy. In fact, reaching the top only makes them more insecure, anxious and depressed. It makes them more critical and more afraid. Climbing the ladder often means selling a bit of their soul and leaving peace and quiet behind. The huge amount of commitment it takes to achieve a high level of success often means sacrificing meaningful relationships along the way, which means they often feel very alone.
Throw in the fact that many of them come from abusive and broken homes and you get a recipe for depression. Their worldview has no concept of a loving Creator, divine purpose, forgiveness or grace. It’s dog-eat-dog. And so, though they have achieved their dream, and are living a life that many would envy, they live detached from real life, have no joy in what they have, and lose their drive and direction. A sense of emptiness overwhelms them and paranoia seeps in. Sleepless nights mean taking stimulants in the morning and sleeping pills at night so they can function. Which compounds the depression and increases the anxiety.
Sadly, most of these men don’t have the emotional intelligence to know what’s happening inside of them. They’ve spent too much time building their brand and their lifestyle, and not nearly enough building their character or faith. They put on an amazing show for everyone – looks, money, success, smiles, and an enviable lifestyle – but they are hollow, hollow people, and they don’t even know it. Their hunger grows, even though they have fulfilled their deepest desires. So they buy more, work more, make more, climb higher, try riskier things, and the emptiness remains.
Which makes them angrier and angrier, more frustrated– but don’t know why – and they push away any heathy influence that is trying to tell them to come back. They drown their feelings in distractions like competition, sex, alcohol and drugs, which spirals into addiction, rage, exhaustion and self-pity.
Then something unexpected happens – like a bad job review, a broken relationship, or something even smaller – and it goes off like an atomic bomb in their heart and it breaks them apart. They realize that everything they have poured into the vacuum of their soul has amounted to nothing. All of the promises that the world made to them about how achieving their dreams would make them happy turns out to be a lie, which causes them to despair that there is nothing in this world worth living for except pain. They have more than anyone – and it’s nothing. It doesn’t take much to make the next, logical step to simply end the pain by ending their lives.
A Phenomenon and Epidemic
The article says:
“…a growing phenomenon called ‘success depression’ is now fueling the problem. ‘People have this notion that ‘If I only make CEO, if I only become the top talent agent, if I make my first million, that will do it, all my insecurities will go poof…. You hit the pinnacle, then you wake up the next day and you’re still the same insecure [person] you always were.”
And of course, this isn’t just about men – though I did want to shine a special light on them today. Women are under more stress than ever too. Modernity has thrust incredible pressures onto women – perhaps more than any other century. They also have a predilection for climbing the ladder of success, leaving their heart and soul behind them.
I read another article this week on Mental Floss that gave a “Surprisingly Long List of [Famous] People Who’ve Attempted Suicide”. It floored me. Most of us know about Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe, Chris Benoit, Hunter S Thompson , and the like, because they actually died. But Owen Wilson, Halle Berry, Mike Wallace, Elizabeth Taylor, Drew Berrymore, Danny Bonaduce, Sammy Davis Jr, Princess Diana, Walt Disney, Eminem, Ken Griffey Jr, Michael Jackson, Mindy McCready, Ozzy Ozborne, Britney Spears, Mike Tyson, Brian Wilson… all attempted suicide at some point in their career… the list goes on and on.
By Any Other Name…
Why am I telling you all of this? Because there is a terrible, terrible, demonic lie that has seeped into a lot of people’s minds that is at the very root of this problem. It goes by a lot of names. The classic, theological word is idolatry, but we can also call it consumerism, discontent, envy, or jealousy. Which is all tied to pride (what we think we deserve).
It has plagued mankind since the very beginning of time. Adam and Eve were standing in the perfect environment – and there was only one rule: Don’t eat the fruit. It was God’s line. He said, “Here is every good thing. This one thing is the only bad thing. Don’t do it or you’ll die.”
And the scriptures say in Genesis 3:4-7,
“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened…”
The serpent says, “God’s holding out on you. You deserve more. Take it. There is pleasure beyond God’s promises. Take your life into your own hands. Get out from under God. Do things your way. Take it.” And they do. And their eyes are opened. And God’s promise comes true. Now they know good and evil. Before they only knew good. Now they know evil. And Satan laughs as death and suffering come into the world.
I just read the story of Abram and Lot in Genesis 13. They come to a place where their families and flocks are too big and they need to split up. Abram says, “You pick the countryside you want and I’ll take the other.” Lot looks around and sees some amazingly fertile ground in the Jordan Valley and goes straight toward it – right next to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He wanted the better land, and didn’t care that to get it would mean surrounding placing himself next to two of the most wicked cities to ever exist.
Abraham gets tired of waiting for God’s timing to give him the child of promise – and makes a baby with his wife’s servant – setting off years and years of trial and turmoil between their families.
Jacob steals Esau’s birthright because Esau couldn’t care less about it. He trades God’s promise for a bowl of soup.
Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery because they are jealous that he is the favoured son. He gets something they don’t, and they are jealous, so they get rid of him.
And that’s just the book of Genesis! Person after person, generation after generation, who refuses to be content with what God has given them, goes outside of His will, takes something for themselves that they think they deserve, and brings suffering and pain upon themselves and many, many others.
Jesus Disappoints Us
Fast forward to the New Testament and it’s not any better. The people following Jesus, including all of the disciples, were, without a doubt, just as prone to this. They had the exact same problem as the people who we’ve been talking about, and the same problem that man y of us have. Jesus disappoints them.
They look at Jesus, and their mindset was: What can I get from this guy? What can I get out of Him? He keeps telling them that He’s going to Jerusalem to suffer many things. That doesn’t compute with them because their picture of God, their picture of the Messiah, their worldview understanding of how everything is supposed to work, was completely different than Jesus’. Jesus was supposed to come in, overthrow the Roman government, elevate the Jewish Nation, and make all of His closest followers into positions of power and influence – and probably rich too.
They hated the Pharisees because they already had what they wanted: political power. They hated the Romans because they had what they wanted: wealth and military power. Jesus is our conduit to get all these things that we want: therefore we’re going to follow Him. They never, never grasp that Jesus isn’t going to give them that.
Right after Jesus has told them, once again, says that He will take up his cross, suffer many things and be delivered into the hands of men, the disciples start arguing about who is going to get the best seat when Jesus takes the throne. (Luke 9)
Judas is perhaps the best example. He thinks, “I’ll follow Jesus as long as He gets me what I want.” Judas was in His absolute glory when Jesus rode into town on a donkey on Palm Sunday, proclaiming Himself to the entire city of Jerusalem as the Messiah and rightful heir to the throne of David. He was ready to take His place alongside him.
But then, Jesus gets into town, drives everyone out of the temple, causes a huge scene, makes everyone mad, and then takes off to where no one can find Him. He doesn’t maximize His exposure, He doesn’t bask in the adulation. No, Jesus is weeping and angry. (Matthew 21)
ThenJesis spends the next few days giving the most difficult, offensive, hard-to-understand teachings of His entire ministry. He takes on the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and every other power group in the city – and offends them all. He tells parables that say that the promise of Abraham will pass away from the Jews and be given to the Gentiles. He implies that there is no one, not one person, not even his closest followers, that understand why he’s there and that even though He is the “cornerstone”, that everyone will eventually reject Him. (Luke 20)
And, of course, he’s right. The crowd that worshipped Him on Sunday, turns on Him and crucifies Him on Friday. He’s not giving them what they want. He’s not saying what they want. He’s not doing what they want. The crowds turn on Him. Judas is incensed by what he sees as betrayal, and sells Jesus out for money. At least he’ll get some coin after all this wasted time. Early Friday morning the crowds are chanting: “Crucify Him!”
The disciples flee, Peter denies Him, and his followers experience a depression like they’d never experienced before. Why? Because Jesus was not the conduit to worldly blessing that they thought He was. He didn’t elevate them to the status they expected.
What did Judas do? He killed himself. He throws the money He traded for Jesus back into the temple – not even his ill-gotten gain brings him any comfort. He goes to the priests and confesses to them, but they don’t care. They’re happy. Jesus didn’t give him what he wanted. A lifetime of theft didn’t. The 30 pieces of silver – equated to half-a-year’s wages for a single night’s work – they didn’t give him what he wanted. The priests didn’t give him what he wanted. So his only solution was either to change what he wanted and turn to God, or kill himself. He chose to hang himself. (Matthew 27)
“I Was Envious”
With all this in mind, let’s look at Psalm 73:
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Vs 1-3)
This psalm expresses the exact same theme, which is one that we are all guilty of in some measure. It’s the root of the problem for the ones who get depressed after the Superbowl, the wealthy, young men who achieve success only to find it hollow, the superstars and celebrities who look to all the world as the picture of happiness, only to be hiding a deep and secret pain. Desire out of control. Consumerism. Idolatry. Envy.
The psalmist starts with a direct statement that God is good: He knows that in his head. He’s studied it all his life. Asaph, the author, was an important temple musician during King David’s reign. He wrote worship songs. He knew God is good and told people all the time.
“But”, he says, he “almost stumbled”. He hit a time of depression and frustration with God. His head was saying one thing, but his heart was saying another. He was conflicted. He was frustrated with God. Even though he was a great worship leader, and had the ear of King David – a superstar and celebrity in his own right – he hit a dark time.
From where did that dark time come from? He says, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Envy at other’s prosperity. A desire to have something God hasn’t given him. Let’s keep reading.
The “Good” Life
“For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (Vs 4-12)
Of what is he envious of? Everything! They are healthier, better looking, getting away with everything, full of every pleasure they could want, surrounded by entertainment. They have wealth, power, influence – everyone turns to them for advice. They think they’re smarter than God! They don’t have to lift a finger and they get richer! They’re living the good life! Everything they want they get.
The Prosperity Gospel
Implied here is that the Psalmist isn’t getting those things.
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” (vs 13)
Something bad happened to him. God wasn’t keeping up His end of the deal. He tries so hard to do right – and he’s being stricken. He’s totally innocent – and he’s rebuked. Every day brings a new problem, another fight, another issue to deal with – and he doesn’t deserve it! He’s a good guy!
What this is called, at it’s core, is the “Prosperity Gospel” which essentially says that God exists to give us what we want. God wants us to be happy, and happiness is found on earth. Therefore, any bad things that happen to you are a result of your lack of faith. It is woefully unbiblical and anti-gospel, but it is taking root in many churches around the world. Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and many other big names promote this.
This is where we get the “word of power” and “name it and claim it” prayer nonsense. The idea being that since God wants us to be happy He gives us His divine power to speak things into existence. He spoke the world into existence, therefore I can speak a new car into existence.
The lighter version of this which people are calling “Prosperity Gospel Lite” which essentially says, if you work hard, do good, live a moral life, then God will make sure things will work out for you – happiness, wealth, and all the rest. In other words, you are your own saviour, happiness on earth is the norm for believers, and God blesses your efforts to save yourself. That’s the opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (vs 15)
He almost went and preached the Prosperity Gospel to people… almost… but he caught himself. He essentially says, “If I would have used my influence to go to a group of people, who are hurting as much as me, and used my influence to tell them that God wants us to be happy so we should go make our own happiness — or God wants us to be happy, so we should go take it from the wealthy — or God wants us to be happy, and there is no purpose to suffering — or God is unfair, God’s not pulling His weight, God is disappointing us, let’s go get a different God — then I would have betrayed everyone.”
We live in a world full of people who are spreading that message. Betrayers of the Gospel and of Jesus. And they are destroying an entire generation because they have no concept of the true Gospel, the suffering Jesus, the disciplines of the faith, the fear of God, or the idea that God sometimes chooses to put His people through suffering so they can become more like Jesus and move closer to Him.
The End Matters
But He didn’t tell people that. Look what he does instead:
“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task…” (vs 16)
He tried to figure this out, as we all have, and he came to the same conclusion: He can’t. He didn’t understand how God distributes wealth and influence, or why some people suffer while others don’t, why this world seems unjust.
“…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” (vs 17)
He figured out that eternity matters. Being with God matters. It’s not just what we can pile up that makes a life, but what happens after this life. He realized that there is a judgement at the end of time, and that’s going to be the day that it all makes sense and works out. He went and stood in the sanctuary of God – he went to church – and he worshipped and prayed, and God gave him a very special thought: It’s not about right now… it’s about eternity.
Waking From a Dream
“Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (vs 18-20)
No one is on flatland. We are all on a slope that leads to eternity. Things are heading towards an end. We will all die and face God, and we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ and need to make account for our actions. We will be asked what we put our faith in, where our foundation is. Anyone who has not put their faith in God, who does not have a reconciled relationship to Him through the work of Jesus Christ, will be swept away by the terrors of hell.
This world, and all the things that we hold so dear, will be like a dream. Have you ever woken up after an intense dream? You were chasing something, or someone was chasing you. You needed to find something and it was incredibly important. While you were in that dream it was absolutely real, completely absorbing, the focus of everything you had.
And then you woke up and you can hardly remember what you were doing. You think: “Wow. That was weird. Why am I sweating? Why am I so worked up? Whew!” Then you go shower and completely forget about it.
That’s what it’s going to be like when we die. All the worldly things that we are so terribly concerned about now, that we are jealous of, that we fight for, and trade our health and relationships for — will all pass away like a dream. And when we wake up – really wake up – we will wonder why we spent so long chasing those things when they turned out to be nothing but phantoms and dreams.
“When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (vs 21-22)
As he stands in the sanctuary, having his God-given epiphany, he realizes something. The drives that he had – all the whole list of things he was so envious of – were primal drives. He wasn’t acting like a human being, created in God’s image for greater things, but like an animal, a beast. He is ashamed of himself. He was his own tormentor because it was his own flesh that he was fighting against.
He wanted a full tummy, physical pleasure, a comfortable place to sleep, to be the big-dog, and to howl as he pleased. He realized all at once that those things are base, animal, small in comparison to standing in the sanctuary of God, being in His presence, knowing His love, and acting upon the impulses of His divine will.
[I wish I could say more about this, but we’re running out of time. But meditate on how many good, spiritual, gifts we are willing to give up (love, peace, kindness, family, friends, worship, service, discipline, character, joy) in the pursuit of animalistic desires like food, sex, and comfort. I don’t want to live like an animal.]
God is My Portion
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Vs 23-28)
May this be the case for you and for me. Let’s pray and live to this end. That we have our mind cast heavenward and desire the presence of God more than anything. That we are guided by God’s word and not our animal instincts. That the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. That though our heart fails us and we hit depression and fear… that though our flesh fails us and we succumb to sickness and age… that our strength would not be in ourselves, but in God.
Let us remember that the closer we are to God, the closer we are to life. Real life. Let’s keep spreading the message of the true Gospel to those who have bought into the lie of the Prosperity Gospel, and shine our light into the dark places. And let us have the discernment to know that even though some people’s lives seem very wonderful, and we envy their wealth and status, that it is far better to be with God than to be anywhere else without Him.
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?