We have looked at what it means to be blessed, and how much better that is than being happy. We want to connect with blessing. We want to connect with God.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1).
Psalm 1 shows us that if we are to connect with God, we must first disconnect from everything that is going away from God. The first reason is opposing directions cannot lead to the same place. Choose one way or the other, but pursuing both directions is impossible. The second reason is that only one direction leads to God and eternal life. The other direction leads to self-deception, unworthiness and death.
1. Stop going in the way of the ungodly.
What is so bad about ungodliness?
Consider first that the ungodly have left God. They are wicked because they are not going in God’s way, with Him.
“For cross to the coastlands of Kittim and see, and send to Kedar and observe closely and see if there has been such a thing as this! ‘Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory, for that which does not profit. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,” declares the Lord. ‘For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water'” (Jeremiah 2:10-13).
The wicked have left God, the fountain of living waters, where life itself comes from. Water is a metaphor for life, but notice that that life is found in the context of relationship with the living water. When people forsake their relationship with the Lord, they are forsaking life.
The second evil is to think that, without the Lord, they are okay, self-reliant and nothing bad will happen. They have left the fountain, the only source of life. “That’s no problem,” say the wicked, “We have made for ourselves buckets!”
Everything apart from the infinite, eternal God is temporary and finite.
Buckets aren’t sufficient. And worse, these buckets leak. They are man-made, and thus, defective. Whatever life there is in the bucket leaks out. Then the buckets are dry. Where do we go to find life?
The ungodly have counsel, tips and life hacks to help you find life. They bring forth a huge variety of solutions. They encourage and exhort the world to pursue almost anything to find life. There are intellectual and fleshly pursuits, indulgent and ascetic pursuits, religious and secular pursuits, big goals, small goals. They contradict and complement one another.
In the end, every pursuit of life suffers from a mortal flaw. They don’t work. We have to keep on existing without satisfaction of our needs.
When I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, my friend pointed out the roadside vendors, standing next to what seemed to be a pathetic, odd assortment of little things to sell. My friend explained that these people only ate when they sold something. They might go two or three days without a sale. But they were forced to keep on existing while hungry. Misery. Think of being thirsty, with no way to satisfy that thirst. Misery. To be forced to exist without the satisfaction of our need is the very definition of misery.
We are more than merely physical beings with physical needs. We have mental and spiritual needs that cannot be satisfied with physical things. It’s possible to satisfy and glut every physical need, far beyond satisfaction, and yet still be starving and miserable because these physical needs don’t touch our minds and our hearts. We have mental and spiritual needs that must be satisfied in order for us to function properly.
Our needs cannot be satisfied with just any old input.
Wouldn’t it be great if our cars could run on sugar water? It would surely be cheap, but there’s a reason we can’t do this. You and I know that if you put a different fuel in your car than the one it was designed for, it won’t work. Have you ever put petrol in your diesel car? There is no substitute for the fuel your car was designed for.
We were designed too, with operating specifications that we can’t ignore without wrecking ourselves. Our physical bodies are designed to operate on glucose as our fuel, but man does not live by bread alone. Our minds are designed to operate on 100% truth. If we try to fill our minds with something that isn’t true, our minds can’t operate properly. We will act on something that is not true, and we will certainly be disappointed that it doesn’t work out according to our expectations.
Our hearts are designed to operate on 100% pure, divine love. If we substitute anything else for love, our hearts will not operate properly. Those substitutes for love will only disappoint, deceive and betray us. How many of us have to keep existing as we starve for truth and love?
Are you miserable? Do you need life?
There is no other source of life than God. Only He is 100% true; only He has 100% love. If we try to substitute anything else in our minds and hearts, we deceive ourselves, and we live in misery. We keep existing without our definite inner needs being met. We are like those roadside vendors in Congo, only we are worse off. They might make a sale. With us, there is no sale to expect. We are away from God. We only have buckets with holes in them. There is no other source for life when we have no relationship with God.
Therefore, we cannot accept the counsel of people who have left God. Whatever solutions people may offer to the need for life, if they do not involve Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, who died for our sins and rose again from the dead, they are offering death. We reject that way.
2. We notice that man away from God is away from God’s authority, and he sets himself up as the only authority.
This is an obvious corollary to the first point. If we reject and discard God, there is no higher being than man. So man becomes the final authority. People say what is right and what is wrong.
Now we have a problem with authority. Who is right and who is wrong? What is the right way to live? Why should I believe you and obey you? Why don’t you obey me? Who is the standard? Who is the measuring rod? Who is to say that I’m wrong? It opens the door to absolute chaos. Chaos can only be resisted by imposing order by force. Chairman Mao famously said that authority is found at the end of a rifle barrel.
Not only that but without authority, there is no mercy or forgiveness or peace. We can absolve one another of wrongdoing. A priest can hear confession and say a person is forgiven. A psychologist can help a person make better choices and think in a more integrated way. But where is their authority to give peace?
When I was a Boy Scout, I had to pass certain outdoor cooking requirements to earn advancement. I had to cook a potato by putting it into the coals of a fire. My potato came out a little hard because I hadn’t cooked it long enough. My scoutmaster didn’t accept it. I had an older friend, higher ranked than me, who later sympathized with me for failing the requirement and having to do it over again.
He suddenly said, “Oh heck, that’s good enough!” And he signed off my requirement card. I thought that was pretty cool and went off to complete other requirements. When it was time to be reviewed for promotion in rank, my scoutmaster said, “How did that cooking requirement get signed off? I didn’t sign you off!” I explained that my friend signed it off. My scoutmaster was unimpressed with this end-run around his authority. He informed me, to my acute embarrassment, that my friend did not have authority to sign me off. My now-vanished peace and relief were not founded on authority, just on the advice of a well-meaning but unauthorized pretender. My friend’s mercy wasn’t mercy because it wasn’t his place to hand out mercy. The only one qualified to be merciful was not inclined to let me slide through. He insisted that I fulfill the requirements.
“But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked'” (Isaiah 57:20-21).
Why is there no peace for the wicked?
Because only God has authority to forgive sins. If people refuse to deal with God, they may not have forgiveness or peace. Those sins are retained regardless of anything a person believes, whether atheism, humanism or philosophy. Just because a philosopher says, “I think this is the right way to live,” means nothing. Where is the authority? He is just another human being. Only God has the authority to forgive sins through Jesus and make peace.
With lack of authority comes lack of power. We can make 10,000 good suggestions that we ought to carry out, but there is no power to do so. We ought to be better educated, have better health, have better government. We should be better people, but it is not possible because, with lack of authority, there is lack of power.
This means that the wicked, the ones away from God, are stuck on a wrong path. As it says here in Psalm 1:1, “standing in the path of sinners.” There is a double problem here. One is that the path goes away from God. The second is that the wicked are firmly fixed in that path.
Any path away from God is wrong. It can be in any direction, even diametrically opposing directions. Both are wrong because anywhere away from the center of a circle is still away.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Being firmly fixed on this path away from God is its most fearful aspect. A person convinced that they are right is hard to change. Sin is hardening and deceptive.
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).
In the Proverbs, a fool is not one who is intellectually deficient, but one who is morally deficient. One can be intelligent and still be a fool. There is something worse than being a fool, and that is to be wise in one’s own eyes. That person is proud.
With pride comes ignorance.
A proud person has a higher opinion of himself than is warranted. Because he thinks he is better than he is, he won’t learn anything. If I think I’m wise, I have arrived. I’m not going to listen to anyone else. What have they to teach me? I have it all. Have you ever met anyone like that? Have you been that person? If you learned anything at all of any worth, it probably was the hard way. Instead of learning directly the right way, you went ahead and did something you regretted. You learned, but you became a little more humble in the process.
If you don’t learn from anything you go through, you’re going to ruin your life. Wisdom really is with the humble. But a proud person is headed straight for destruction. Pride goes before a fall.
Psalm 1 says a wicked person sits in the seat of the scornful. He looks down on others. He criticizes. He has a low opinion of nearly everything. He thinks he knows what he is doing, but he will find that the things he has trusted in will fail him. Arrogance and ignorance lead to disillusionment and cynicism.
To sum up, the wicked, those going away from God, are arrogant and ignorant. The two go hand in hand. Anyone who thinks they know how to live better than the Author of life is arrogant and ignorant. Anyone who sets themselves up as an authority in the place of God is arrogant and ignorant. Anyone who is wise in their own eyes and rejects God is arrogant and ignorant.
The blessing of God begins with humbling oneself, repenting of that fatal attitude: I know what I’m doing.
Remember the centurion who was crucifying Jesus? What do you think he would have said if you had asked him, “Sir, do you really know what you are doing?” I bet he would have said, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m nailing a condemned scum to a piece of wood! Are you trying to tell me I don’t know my job?! Get out of here!”
In the midst of excruciating pain, Jesus showed His humility by drawing utterly painful breaths to say over and over, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing!” He was being humble, not thinking of Himself, but others.
“When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39).
The centurion changed his mind about what he had done and who he had nailed to a piece of wood. He became afraid. He became humble. If you asked him, he would have replied, “I didn’t know what I was doing!” That’s a change of mind that we also need. We need to go from, “I know what I’m doing,” to “I didn’t know what I was doing!” That is repentance.
In order to be blessed, we must reject what ungodly people say brings life.
We must turn back to God in our heart, mind and life, and go His way. It means becoming humble under God’s mighty hand. A humble person is teachable. A humble person goes God’s way. A humble person lives not for his own glory, but for the glory of God. A humble person receives grace from God. These ways are greater and better than seeking our own ways and our own glory.
If you turn away from what comes from men, what is arrogant and ignorant, and leads to death, what do you turn to?
You turn to that which has authority, that which humbles, and that which gives eternal life. You saturate your life with the word of God. That’s the subject of my next blog.