Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 (English Standard Version)
I have mastered the art of unintentional thinking. I am to blame but I am not without co-conspirators. I quite naturally think of the the things that come most easily into my consciousness and since my natural predisposition is to avoid pain and to seek pleasure I gravitate towards the pleasurable input that is most readily available. On my own I have plenty of thoughts that satisfy the need for pleasure but I am also aided by the world of mass media that floods my senses with things to desire in a nearly constant stream of visual imagery. These images so shape my thoughts and often at an unconscious level. I naturally want things that I see especially when they seem to provide pleasure.
In my natural state the gates of my mind are wide open. I suppose this could be a definition of the “open mind” which has so captured the imagination of our post-modern culture. The values and attitudes of popular culture stream unabated through the gates and join my own thoughts to create a swirling whirlwind of undisciplined, pleasure seeking thought. I think this is my rendition of the first few verses of Psalm 1. Walking in the way of the counsel of the wicked begins when the ideas and images of the wicked enter the mind. The mind takes these thoughts under advisement and determines their value. The undisciplined mind lacks a framework for evaluating all of these images. Consequently, the mind follows the natural path and images turn into ideas and ideas into action.
The ironic thing is that all of these images turned ideas turned action never fully satisfy the way that you imagine they will. In some ways the natural desire to seek pleasure over pain is right headed but simply does not go far enough. The pleasure offered by my own ideas and by those piped in from the amalgamation of the ideas of other undisciplined thinkers (we call this the mass media) never follow through on their promises.
There is a greater pleasure.
The source of this pleasure logically comes from the one who created me and who created pleasure in the first place.
I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he says that the man who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on it day and night, experiences blessing, which simply translated means happiness.
Why is this?
Because the one thing that brings long lasting, deeply satisfying pleasure is to think about the things that bring the most life. According to the Psalmist this is the “law of the Lord”.
What is the “law” and why does it bring pleasure?
In the ancient Hebrew texts, the law is the instructions that the God of Issac, Abraham and Jacob gave to his people after he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses receives this law from God and then delivers it to the people saying over and over again, “be careful to obey the law” so that “you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”
God provides a way for me to experience life.
But this way requires some discipline on my part too. Real pleasure comes from intentional thinking about life giving ideas. Life giving ideas don’t come from my own mind and they don’t come from the minds of other people. Real life giving ideas come from the one who created life and invites me into a deep relationship with himself.
This kind of intentional thinking requires that I know the right things to think about. These things are written in the ancient scriptures where the Creator God reveals life giving information about himself and about the world he made. Knowing this information is not enough. To experience the deep pleasure and happiness that God has for me I have to intentionally think and reflect on what God says about himself, the world and me. I have to do this when I feel like it and when I do not. This is what the Psalmist means by “meditate day and night”. Meditating is intentionally turning my thoughts away from the things that are easier to think about and willfully focusing on the images and ideas described in the Scriptures.
I find that my first opportunity to choose fleeting pleasure over lasting pleasure comes first thing in the morning. I use my iPhone for an alarm clock and my natural first thought is to check my email. Why? I think it’s because I’m hoping for some kind of news on email that will provide a “temporary fix”. The exhilaration of a problem that only I can fix or some piece of news that will bring joy or excitement draws me in.
Then a few weeks ago I had a kind of awakening. I realized that I could choose something else in that first decision of the day. I decided to start my day thinking about Jesus and visualizing some of the stories talked about in the Scriptures. I decided to start the day praying and thanking God for another day of breath, asking for God’s help in the things that I have to face in the day.
In this little experiment I discovered that I feel calmer, more likely to be kind to my wife and patient with my daughter. When I began my day on the internet the pleasure lasted for minutes and then was usually followed by hours of anxiety. When I begin my day thinking about Jesus and talking to him I find that the pleasure, the peace, the sense of smallness and joy lasts throughout the day.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a kind of pleasure that I have to fight for everyday. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose but I’m fighting for the kind of life that Jesus died for me to have. May you also reject the easy thoughts and embrace the way of Jesus today.
Thanks, Gabe. Good words. Will try.