The significant life

Psalm 1

20 October 2005

Woodley Baptist Church

Thursday Lunchtime service


What do the following have in common? Winston Churchill, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I, John Lennon, Horatio Nelson, and Oliver Cromwell.

The answer is that they were, a little while ago, voted the top ten greatest Britons in that order. Now you might like to argue about some of those entries and where they come in the order, but these are the people deemed by the general public to have lived the most significant lives.

I wonder, if we had God's list of whom he considered to be the ten most significant Britons, how it would differ. I'm sure it would differ, you see, because I'm quite sure that God's view of what a life that fulfils its potential looks like is quite different from our view.

Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter, the book of Psalms, which is nothing if not a book about how our lives relate to God. So in Psalm 1 the writer lays out the characteristics of lives that are significant in God's eyes, and the converse: lives that are sadly wasted.

The question for us is, are you and I leading lives that are significant, or are they ultimately just going to waste?

In Psalm 1 the man who lives a significant life is marked out by four things: what he differs from, what he delights in, what he achieves and what he avoids.

What he differs from

So, first, what he differs from.

So often we're led to believe that we find fulfilment in the things we do. So the advert says "buy this car" , or "go on that holiday" or "drink this drink" or "buy these clothes" and you will be happy. But the Bible frequently puts it the other way round: it's the things that we don't do that can lead us to true happiness.

We see this in verse 1. The word translated blessed here is not the normal Bible word for blessed, but more nearly means happy. The truly happy person doesn't do certain things. He is different from those around him.

So, the happy man does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, he does not stand in the way of sinners, he does not sit in the seat of mockersref. In short, the happy man, the blessed man, does not align himself with worldliness.

We are all worldly by nature—our hearts are inclined naturally to wickedness and sinfulness and especially mockery. By nature we have no interest in the things of God. But when we become a Christian we renounce these things. That's what repentance is. It is a turning away from the wicked, the sinner, the mocker. A determination not to listen to their advice, and not to be like them any more. This is the first step on the path to the significant life: when a man takes care of what he doesn't do. He is determined to differ from the world.

If you are committed to living a significant life in God's eyes then you will surely find that there are times and occasions where you simply don't fit in. You can no longer live what the world considers a normal life.

So, if you want an insight as to whether your life might be significant according to God's economy, then have a look at how it differs from the lives of others. How does your life differ from the lives of those who don't know Jesus? What worldliness do you need to avoid? Is it gossip, or bad language, or bad attitudes like worry or cynicism? Is the way you use your money quite different from the way others use their money? Do you feel that you don't fit in when you are in the company of non-Christians? Good! If, on the other hand, you feel you fit in rather well, then perhaps it is worth meditating on this verse.

Which brings us to verse 2.

What he delights in

By contrast with verse one, verse two is very positive. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.ref The significant person delights in God's word.

In the Psalms the word "law" often stands for the whole of God's instruction to us: his word. It is law because has authority over our lives.

To meditate on God's law day and night doesn't mean that we need to be monks, with our noses in our Bibles 24 hours a day. No, what it means is that a significant life is a life in which every aspect and every activity is brought under the authority of God's word. God's word is not just for Sundays, or Thursday lunchtimes! It is our guide and rule 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no activity that is beyond its scope.

Bringing all of our lives under God's authority won't happen by accident: we need to think it through, hence meditate. For the godly person this won't be some awful chore, but will be a delight, because it means getting closer to our God. The godly person will use Bible reading notes; will enjoy listening to the Bible on tape or CD; will crave a daily meal of Scripture to have food for his meditation.

Perhaps one good way to diagnose where we stand on this is to examine what we tend to think about when our minds are in neutral, when we have a quiet stretch with nothing particular to occupy us. Or what we think about when we lie awake in the middle of the night. Where do our minds go then? Do they tend to turn to the word of God, or do they quickly end up elsewhere?

Again, what is the background noise to our lives? Myself, I have Radio 4 on constantly at home. There's nothing wrong with Radio 4, but perhaps I need to switch it off from time to time to make more space to delight in the things of God.

What he achieves

Next, in verse 3 we see the reality of the significance that God gives to the lives of those whom he has called to differ from the world and whom he has given a delight in his word. 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.ref

This is a lovely and attractive picture for our lives, isn't it? A magnificent, beautiful, leafy, fruitful tree, deeply rooted into God's life-giving and nourishing water. Whatever storms life brings the tree stands firm; the branches may sway and toss backwards and forwards, but nothing can uproot this tree. Whatever dry patches and desert times life brings, nothing can stop this tree from bearing fruit because it feeds on God's life-giving goodness.

A life established like this—delighting in God's word, different from the world—, is a prosperous life; a significant life. This is what the godly man achieves, and which of us wouldn't want a life like that?

What he avoids

The problem that the Psalmist is acutely aware of, here and frequently through the Psalms, is that often it doesn't look like this! The reality is that it often looks like it is the wicked, the worldly who are prospering. So often it seems like they are the ones with the cars, the holidays, the comforts.

To help us to see through this the Psalmist moves on to show us the fundamental insignificance of the life of the wicked person. This is what the godly man avoids.

Verse 4, Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows awayref. What could be more insignificant and impermanent than the chaff? The picture is of a farmer taking his harvest of grain and spreading it on a large sheet. Then it is thrown high into the air so that the wind can catch the light and insubstantial chaff, and blow it away, leaving behind the heavier grain that he wants to keep.

What a contrast with the tree of verse three: solid, rooted, fruitful and permanent, as against the light, insubstantial and discarded chaff! A weighty life contrasted with a weightless life. A life lived with ultimate significance compared to a life of insignificance.

As we look at the world around us we see what we imagine to be prosperous lives. And it is easy to be tempted back to verse one, isn't it? To return to worldliness: to walk with the wicked, to stand with the sinners, to sit with the mockers. But God has shown us what true prosperity is: what constitutes a life that is significant in his eyes. The person significant in God's eyes is marked out by what he differs from, what he delights in, what he achieves and what he avoids.


To finish, verses 5 and 6 of the Psalm warn us that there will be a day when the significance of our lives will be revealed.

Verse 5, Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.ref On the judgement day, the wind will blow and the storm will come. On that day the lives lived weightlessly will be blown away with the chaff. They literally will not be able to stand. But the deep-rooted trees will stand firm. This is the day when God will reveal his list of significant lives, and how different it will be from the world's!

The final verse of the Psalm introduces another picture of the difference between a significant life and and insignificant life. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.ref

The way of the righteous goes somewhere; the way of the wicked is a dead-end. Jesus spoke about this when he described the narrow way and the broad way. And he is clear that there is no third way.

Once again a contrast is drawn: there are lives that go somewhere and lives that don't. There are lives that are rooted and lives that are chaff. There are lives that God watches over, and lives that he is shut out of.

The ultimate question for us is, do you want to be on God's list of those who have lived significant lives? Well, according to verse 6, it all depends on whether God watches over you, or as the King James puts it whether he "knoweth you" or not. If God is with us he will enable us to be different from the world. He will put into our hearts that delight in his word. He will transplant us to the banks of his river of life so that we achieve fruitfulness. He will give our lives weight so that we avoid the judgement.

Does God know your way? Is he watching over you? If you are in the slightest bit unsure about the answer to that question, then come and talk me or Byron, or David Barter or one of the elders at the church. It's never too late to choose to live a significant life.