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Happiness is something we long for. But how can we achieve it? It’s elusive: one moment we can be feeling happy, but the next we’re not. Like moonlight it has slipped through our fingers.
In fact ‘happiness’ can’t be a goal in the strict sense of the word. For a goal is something that is within our power to achieve. Happiness isn’t like that. There are too many variables outside our control.
We can think that being successful, having a good family and friends, material assets and comfort, will make us happy. But it doesn’t. There will always be others more successful. And behind the best of families there is often unresolved pain or hurt; those with wealth often find they’re not satisfied – they want more, or they worry about the security of all they have. Despite experiencing much that is good in life we don’t always feel that overwhelming sense of real happiness and joy.
Psalm 1 helps us. Blessed is the one who… we read. Blessed means ‘happy’. The idea is echoed twenty-six times in the Psalms. It is also the word Jesus used in what are known as the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12).
In Psalm 1 verses 1 through 3 we read: Happy is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
We all have a real thirst, a longing for something that will satisfy us deeply. The thirst is not wrong. It is part of our complex make-up that makes us human. Our problem is that we look in the wrong places to satisfy it. The prophet Jeremiah records God’s words: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,…” (Jeremiah 2:13).
Verse 1 of the Psalm challenges us to consider our world-view. Our natural inclination is to adopt a world-view that appeals to our sense of self-sufficiency. We like the music emanating from the temples of materialism or humanism that puts us in control of our lives and our destiny.
As we continue down this path, we indulge in behaviour that appeals to our feelings, even though it means flouting God’s directions and good purposes. And so we find ourselves marching in step with the crowds who live as though there is no God and no objective moral order. In turn we join the cynics who mock Christianity. We become part of a silent majority, failing to speak up for what we believe because we’re afraid. We sit in the seat of scoffers.
What then is the path to real happiness? Verse 2 tells us: their delight is in the law of the Lord; and on his law they meditate day and night.
The negatives of verse 1 are now contrasted in verse 2. As others have observed, they show us we have a choice. Like Adam and Eve in the original garden, God respects the gift of choice he has given us. It’s one of the features that makes us human. We are not puppets on a string in a mechanistic universe. We can choose.
Verse 2 provides the key that unlocks our true humanity: Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.We need something to transform us from deep within. The law of the Lord which stands against the counsel of the wicked is a reference to God’s instruction.
Interestingly the word meditate here is the same word plot Psalm 2:1. What goes on within our hearts and minds becomes evident in our words and actions. In Psalm 2:1 the plotting is the intention of darkness that leads to evil. In Psalm 1 meditating on God’s Word, his self-disclosure, leads to Godly growth and behaviour.
People who are blessed meditate on God’s Word – God’s special self-disclosure. Here is the key to real and lasting happiness. It foreshadows Jesus’ reference to living waters that he promised to the woman at the well in Samaria. These ‘waters’ are bound up in knowing him.
Sometimes we think that mediation is something carried out by the super-spiritual – people who are etched into stained-glass windows, people who have their heads in heaven but who are no earthly use. This is not so. The words here echo God’s command to Joshua – God’s man of action who needed just as much as anyone else to think hard about the will of God if he wanted to achieve anything worthwhile.
Real happiness is found in our determination to be instructed and counselled by God himself. This isn’t easy. It will mean being prepared to look inside ourselves and consider why we say the things we sometimes do, why we think and behave the way we do, and then be willing to change. This can be tough. It means being honest with ourselves before God. It can take time.
For to meditate on God’s teaching involves letting the weight of God’s Word press upon our hearts and minds, and our life-style.
Where then do we find true happiness? Not swimming in the shallows of faith, but plunging into the mind of God found in the living waters of his Word.
A prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service so that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
© John G. Mason