A Florida columnist noted that our world is made up of many types of people. For instance, there are: dog people and then there are cat people-- swimming pool people and beach people-- morning people and night people-- truck people and car people-- coffee people and tea people and the list goes on and on.
A kaleidoscope of different interests, values and idiosyncrasies. But there's one thing all of us have in common: the desire for happiness. It's the one interest that unifies the human race. Is there anyone here who would say, "Well, if I had my choice, I would want to live an unhappy life?" Is there even one person here today who wants to be unhappy?
In the seventeenth century the French mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker, Blaise Pascal, put it this way, "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."
That shouldn't come as a shock to any of us because we know that the pursuit of happiness is universal. Of course, happiness means different things to different people, but regardless of how each person defines it-- we all want it. The question is, "How do we attain it?" Is true happiness even possible?
Over the years countless philosophers, sociologists, theologians, and psychologists have pondered this issue: why are some people happy and positive, while other people are unhappy and negative?
About a year ago I saw part of a TV show called "The Mystery of Happiness" with John Stocell. John was interviewing two people. A woman who had in the past year won over a million dollars on a game show and a man who in the past year was in an auto accident that left him a quadriplegic. Contrary to what you might expect, the woman was miserable, she had lost all her friends and wished she had never won the money. The man was involved in a life of service to others and was living a very happy, very fulfilled life.
With all the knowledge and technology, and with living in the most modern, powerful, and prosperous nation on earth...you'd think everyone would be happy. But that's not the case. A recent study done by Psychology Today magazine revealed that only 30% of Americans say that they're happy. Only 3 in 10.
Everybody in the world has the same basic desire: we all want to be happy. There is nothing wrong with this desire. However, most of our problems are caused by pursuing happiness in the wrong way. We make the mistake of thinking that happiness is money, or power, or possessions, or prestige and none of these things bring the lasting contentment that people want. The result is that many people spend their lives climbing the economic ladder, thinking things will make them happy but they never really find true happiness. And no matter what you earn, or what you own, or who you are...if you're unhappy, you're a failure.
Redbook magazine writer, Harold Kushner, echoes sentiments that perhaps many people have, when he asks--"Why is happiness so elusive? Is happiness, like eternal youth, a goal that we're just not meant to reach no matter how hard we try?" Have you ever asked those questions?
Well, today we're going to look at Psalm 1 and talk about how to get what everybody wants. Whether seeking it through money, sports, love, success, music, religion or family-what we're all longing and searching for is to experience true, lasting, inner happiness.
We're going to go to the source of God's wisdom, the Bible, and see what he has to say about how to get what everybody wants.
Every year people like Jean Dixon and other crystal ball gazers make predictions of what will happen in the coming year. And if you're like me, you probably glance at those predictions on the covers of supermarket tabloids--out of curiosity, or maybe for a few laughs. You take them with a grain of salt.
Every once in a while, one of these "future-tellers" lucks out and predicts some extraordinary thing that actually happens--then they write a book trying to get rich. That doesn't happen very often, and we all know that no one can actually predict the future.
However, Psalm 1 raises a few eyebrows because David says that he can peek into your future. With authority, he claims that he can tell you some interesting things about what's going to happen down the road in your life.
David says that he can predict the future "satisfaction and happiness level" in your life. David says he knows. He says he can look ahead and predict with absolute accuracy who will achieve true, lasting, inner happiness...and who won't.
Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV) 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; 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 1 introduces the psalter. It is a didactic wisdom psalm highlighting the theme of the two paths--the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked
Blessed--literally means "Oh, the happiness," an exclamation. "Blessedness," as the Bible defines it, is the heart condition the whole world is looking for. You see, "blessedness," Biblically defined, is that almost indescribable, but very real, "inner sense of well being." It's an inner feeling of security and contentment, and a positive outlook on life. It's to experience an unusual level of joy. "Blessedness" is a calm assurance of self-worth. It's the vitality of spirit that comes when you know deep down that all is well between you and God.
The word "blessed" that David uses in Psalms 1:1, means "to be truly happy." But it's not a happiness based on circumstance. "Blessedness" is a kind of happiness which is neither the result of circumstance, nor subject to significant change on the basis of circumstance. It transcends the highs and lows of life.
What determines whether or not you will experience the true, lasting, inner happiness that everyone seeks? There are two roads you can walk down- one road is marked "walking in God's ways" and the other is marked "walking your own way."Whichever road you choose-- the eventual outcome can be predicted with a great degree of accuracy.
The first characteristic of a happy man is:
1. HE DOES NOT FOLLOW THE CROWD
The words "counsel...path.... seat"--refer to locations of choice, conduct, and community.
You've heard the old saying, "Misery loves company." It's true. It's also true that sin loves company. It is a basic Bible truth that sin leads to misery. And miserable people tend to want everyone else to be miserable, too.
The successful person has learned to reject the crowd, because he realizes that the crowd is often wrong. When it comes to matters of right and wrong, the majority doesn't always rule. If you want to truly be happy in life, you will have to decide that, when necessary, you must stand your ground and let the crowd pass you by. Verse 1 of this Psalm describes the happy man's attitude toward following the crowd.
a. He doesn't listen to what the crowd says.
(v. 1) Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly... We could put it this way, "Happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked."
When Walt Disney came up with a brainstorm, he would pitch the idea to 10 different people. If they were all against it, he would immediately go to work on the project. While building his company, Walt Disney had learned that the conventional wisdom of the crowd wasn't always right.
What does the crowd say to us? If you're unhappy in your marriage, they say, "Get a divorce." If you have an unwanted pregnancy, they say, "Get an abortion." If you're facing temptation, they say, "Do what you want; just don't get caught." Overall, the crowd's advice is, "You can attain happiness apart from God and obedience to His law." If you want to be happy, you cannot listen to that crowd. Also, notice...
b. He doesn't do what the crowd does.
(v. 1) Nor stands in the path of sinners...
Most of us, when given the choice, will take the path of least resistance. Our tendency is, by nature, to take the easy way. The person, however, who truly wants to be happy is the one who takes the right path, not the easy path.
Are self-sacrifice and happiness mutually exclusive? It's not a trick question. How would you answer it? Why do people compete in sports? It makes them happy. But in order to be good at sports and thus be happy, you have to sacrifice. We should be more than willing to self-sacrifice when we know it will make us happy.
c. He doesn't go where the crowd goes.
(v. 1) Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
You will be effected by those you hang around with. Paul put it this way to the Corinthians, "Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits."
Colorado Senator Milliken was speaking at a televised Congressional hearing on taxes of nightclubs. One of the clubs mentioned was the "21 Club"'. Milliken kept getting the name wrong; he would call it the "22 Club", and then later the "23 Club". Afterwards, one of his aides said to him, "Senator, there you were on national TV and you couldn't get straight the name of the "21 Club". Why, we've been there many times together!" "I know," the senator said, "But in politics you can't afford to be too knowledgeable of things like that!"
This senator was trying to give the impression that he doesn't follow the crowd. If you follow the crowd, you will not find true happiness.
Secondly, please notice...
2. HIS DELIGHT IS IN GOD
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
This is the key-- he delights in God's word because it reveals God to him. He learns about his God from the pages of Scripture. Thus, he loves to spend time in God's Word.
Meditating means spending time reading and thinking about what you have read. It means asking yourself how you should change so you're living as God wants. Knowing and meditating on God's Word are the first steps toward applying it to your everyday life. If you want to follow God more closely, which will bring happiness, you must know what he says.
Paul told Timothy to reflect on his words (2 Tim. 2:7), and God would give him insight. God speaks through the Bible, his Word, but we need to be open and receptive to him. As you read the Bible, ask God to show you his timeless truths and the application to your life. Then, consider what you have read by thinking it through and meditating on it. God will give you understanding. Do you know that we are commanded in the Bible to delight in God?
Psalms 37:4 (NKJV) Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Would you be happy if you had the desires of your heart? It starts by delighting in God, which we can only do as we come to know Him through His word. Our problem is we try to find our delight in everything but God.
Winston Churchill said, "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." In that sense, we should all be fanatics: absolutely committed to learning, and knowing, and applying the principles of scripture to our lives.
Meditating on God's law allowing it to dominate our thoughts, gives us a delight in God. Emerson said that a man becomes what he thinks about all day long. This is why Paul said...
Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV) Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
The truly happy person doesn't follow the crowd, delights in God, and...
3. HE HAS CIRCUMSTANCE-RESISTANT FAITH
Psalm 1:3 "He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper."
Now, that may not sound all that impressive, but to his people who lived in the parched desert climate of the middle-east it conveyed the idea of an oasis. An oasis where trees were lush and green because there was always an unlimited supply of fresh water for their roots.
Whatever else you may attain, it will eventually get old. And you'll find yourself saying, "Now what? What's next?"David cut to the heart of the matter when he pointed out what people really want, this thing called blessedness, only comes about when a person is regularly walking in harmony with God.
Also David says that a blessed person is like a leaf that doesn't wither. Blessed people have a God given inner resilience that enables them to keep rebounding from setbacks. They don't wither under heavy loads of responsibility. They don't wither in the face of ominous storms that blow into their lives. They have a divine source of courage and strength that empowers them to get up and keep going.
Blessedness comes from the confidence that God is in control of all circumstances. He causes everything that happens in your life to work together for your ultimate good. It's knowing that your life and your eternal soul are in God's hands, and that he's carefully watching over and caring for you.
If your delight is in God, and your happiness comes from your relationship with Him, how could circumstances ever effect it? Now, if your happiness comes from circumstances, you're in trouble because they change.
I'll say it again-- the whole world is yearning for this thing called blessedness. Oh, they wouldn't call it that, but isn't that really what we all want? To find and experience a deep and lasting state of happiness?
"And whatever he does shall prosper." Success by God's standards is not success by the world's standards. When Scripture says, "all they do shall prosper," it does not mean immunity from failure or difficulties. Nor is it a guarantee of health, wealth, and popularity. What the Bible means by prosperity is this: when we apply God's wisdom, the fruit (results or by-products) we bear will be good and receive God's approval. Just as a tree soaks up water and bears luscious fruit, we also are to soak up God's Word, producing actions and attitudes that honor God. To achieve anything worthwhile, we must have God's Word in our heart.
The Bible doesn't promise a soft and easy life. It promises that there will be times when we must face the wind and rain, there will be days of drought when we must endure the scorching heat; there will be long, lonely winters that are cold and bitter. It is a fact of life that we will go through trials and tribulations, and must endure seasons of pain as well as seasons of comfort. The happy person is the one who can weather any storm that life brings.
In the early 70's, the firemen of Fairfax County, Virginia received new helmets. They were really sharp: colorful, high impact plastic, size-adjustable, and scuff resistant. There was only one problem with the helmets. When they were near heat, they melted. The problem with some believer's faith is that it cannot resist the extremes of temperature that day-to-day life puts us through.
Prosperous people delight in God. They know the difference between right and wrong and they are committed to doing what is right. There are those who realize short-term economic benefit through deception and dishonesty, but only those who are committed to living according to the principles of God's law can expect to enjoy true and lasting happiness and prosperity.
A cigar smoker bought several hundred expensive cigars and then had them insured against fire. After he'd smoked them all, he filed a claim, pointing out that the cigars had been, in fact, destroyed by fire. The insurance company refused to pay, and the man sued. A judge ruled that because the insurance company had agreed to insure the cigars against fire, it was legally responsible. The company had no choice but to pay the claim. Then, when the man accepted the money, the company had him arrested for arson.
You cannot defy God's law and be truly successful. In fact, the true definition for success is Knowing God's Will and Doing It. When God spoke to Joshua after the death of Moses, the Lord said,
Joshua 1:8 (NKJV) "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
There are some Christians who believe that if you have faith, you won't have any serious problems. That's not what the Bible teaches. The Bible doesn't teach that faith prevents bad circumstances; it teaches that faith protects you during bad circumstances.
There is passage a in the book of Jeremiah that is similar to the first Psalm. Listen to these words written about the one whose trust is in the Lord:
Jeremiah 17:8 (NKJV) For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
Put your faith in God. He will help you endure any storm or any drought that life brings your way. However, our fortune-telling writer of Psalm 1 also mentions another group of people, their future is grim. While one group can anticipate blessedness, the other group faces barrenness. A very bleak future. A future filled with a gnawing absence of any sense of peace with God, and a reoccurring sense of uncertainty as to what the game of life is really all about.
Maybe it's just me, but I seem to be running into more and more people like that-people who are achieving a certain level of material success yet still feel as if something is missing. They may not be sure what the missing ingredient is, they just know there is more to life than what they are experiencing.
Psalms 1:4-6 (NKJV) The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Psalm 1 offers a perspective on happiness different than we may be used to. Happiness comes from an abiding relationship with God. You cannot be happy if you follow the crowd, you cannot be happy without desiring God, and you cannot be happy without circumstance-resistant faith.
In his attempt to describe this empty place some people will one day find themselves, David says that they'll be like chaff blowing in the wind. Chaff is the outer shell of grain, once it's separated from the grain, it's worthless and just thrown out to be blown away by the wind.
It's like the song by the group, Kansas. "Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind."
There's a desert in your soul. All your efforts produce only temporary happiness. Deep down inside there's a barren place, where God wants to be the object of your heart's desire.
What David is driving at in Psalm 1 is each of us is going to wind up experiencing great feelings of blessedness or deep feelings of barrenness. It's going to be one or the other. If you look ahead five years from now, David says, with a great deal of confidence, that it will be one way or the other.
Whether you're in high school or college, married or single, a new Christian or a Veteran Christian-don't be fooled by exaggerated promises of television and magazine advertisements. Don't fall prey to the lie that living the way you want to live, apart from any real involvement of God in your life, is the road to happiness.
Some of us here will ignore all the warning signs and go ahead and walk down the path of self-interest. We'll wind up, as many of us know from experience, living empty lives, devoid of any true inner peace. To walk in God's ways, we need to remember it is a daily choice.
It comes to this: the happy person delights in God, not the world. He doesn't follow the crowd, he doesn't give up easily, and his faith is rock-solid. By God's grace, may we all enjoy this kind of happiness and success.
Blaise Pascal said, "Happiness is neither within us only, or without us; it is the union of ourselves with God."Psalms 16:11 (NKJV) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
When David said to the Lord: "In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore," he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe. God created us, and He created us to live in fellowship with Him. Only as we do that will we know true happiness. True happiness comes to those who find their delight in God.