Psalm 1 – The virtue of going nowhere
Permanence is undervalued in our culture. Move with the times, change with the seasons, go with the flow are the themes of this age. Upload, update and upgrade! I used to read Psalm 1 through this lens and I saw a progressive slowing down in the verbs of verse 1: walking in wicked counsel gives way to standing in sinful ways and finally sitting and scoffing. This activist is gradually grinding to a halt where he should have been pressing ever onwards to new and better things. What made me reassess this interpretation is what comes after the ‘but’ in verse 2. The blessed man – the role model for the reader – is not more active than the trio of verse 1, but less so! He meditates day and night on God’s law, which certainly doesn’t conjure up images of movement and busyness. Of course it is possible to meditate on the move, but the image of the tree in verse 3 adds to the sense that this person isn’t going anywhere very quickly. Trees don’t move (unless you’re reading Tolkien!) Or do they? Actually they do ‘move’ in the sense that advance through growing deeper into the ground, higher into the air and, ever-so-slowly, outwards into adjacent space. What they don’t change is their location. Throughout their long life they remain rooted in the place where they have their beginning. My rethink of verse 1 appears to be confirmed in verse 4 the wicked are said to be like the most moveable of things – the dusty chaff that is shaken off the grain at harvest time. They are blown around by every wind, constantly fickle of opinion and destined to come to nothing.
I don’t want to push this image of non-movement too far. Plenty of Bible passages describe the life of faith in terms of movement – walking in righteous paths or running with endurance. We are called to make progress, to take ground and to be active in doing good in the world. Yet here in Psalm 1 the call is not to movement, but to rootedness, which resonates with another set of Bible passages that tell us to stand firm and not to be easily moved. How do we reconcile the two? Most obviously, I suppose, the ‘standing firm’ passages tend to relate to what we believe and where we have placed our trust. Here in Psalm 1 – it is in the Law of God that the righteous man is to trust and the great need is to meditate upon it. We need to be very firmly rooted in the truth of Scripture. It teaches, rebukes, corrects and disciplines us for the path of righteousness. It sets the direction and values for our service. It earths us in the great story of salvation that runs from Genesis to Revelation, the true story of our world in which we find our true identity as sinners and saints. It is through meditating on the Word that we learn to recognise the lies of the world. As we are gripped more and more by the truth of the gospel – the reality that what happened on a barren hill top and in a garden graveyard some 2000 years ago really was the turning point that turned history towards a very good conclusion for those who trust in Jesus as Messiah and Lord – we grow in confidence and resolve not to go with the flow of opinion, not to shift from where we put down our roots, not to be easily moved. This is not the kind of arrogance that refuses to question or to learn, but the humble trust in God’s Word that acknowledges that He alone can keep us secure through the coming judgement and include us among the congregation of the righteous.
We need to be active in service of God – to this we were called. We should adapt to the times in methods we use to connect the gospel with people who have never hear or haven’t yet understood. As we do so, though, we must value the virtue of going nowhere, of remaining firm in our conviction, of taking a stand on God’s Word. In our age conviction is cast as a crime against others who don’t share our views, but the life rooted in God’s Word stands secure and blossoms with fruitfulness. So, take time today and make it your habit to meditate day and night on God’s word. Go nowhere so wherever you go you have something worth sharing. Stand firm so whatever you do is faithful and worthwhile. Stay put so that as you go you can share the fruit of God’s Word in your life for the blessing and salvation of others.