The Pursuit of Happiness Runs into Oncoming Traffic
Take time to read Psalm 1:1-6, and then come back and read the following verses again.
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.
– Psalm 1:1-2
The salmon run is the time of year when salmon migrate from the ocean back to their freshwater spawning grounds. To do this they must make their way back upstream. It is a remarkable thing to watch these salmon swimming up a salmon ladder. They strive and strain against a fierce and unending flow of water. It would be much easier for them to swim with the current, but it is imprinted in them to swim the other way.
The Psalms start by describing a new and different kind of person.
A righteous one, a blessed one, and one who sticks out from the crowd.
So much so, that many commentators and scholars suggest that the Psalm can only be talking about Jesus. Even if it is, it is still describing someone that followers of Christ should strive to be like.
How exactly is this man different? He refuses to follow the path of least resistance and give in to the thinking of the day. He pursues a different path, one that will seem foolish to those who are looking in on his life, but one that will ultimately lead to blessing, or happiness or contentment, as the word can equally be translated.
This was always supposed to be the path of the people of God. Not a well-worn highway, but a narrow and difficult track. Jesus spoke of it in his sermon on the mount, where he described a different kind of person, living in a new kind of kingdom.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst not for stuff, but for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. Popular culture isn’t going to sell you any of those values as a key to contentment. The kingdom, it seems, is upside down, or back to front, or for those who are prepared to swim upstream. Citizens of this kingdom were always supposed to have been renegades and rebels, people who won’t buy what society is selling. Why have we become so mainstream?
So here are some questions for us to consider at the beginning of a new year.
Identify the areas in our lives where we have ‘gone with the flow’ and over which we need to repent. Where have we followed a path of least resistance, which has led to massive compromise in order to keep going? Our money? Our intimacy? Our attitudes to other races, or people groups? Our conversations? Our family lives? Our approach to work? What are the areas of our lives where God is asking us to live in radical obedience by actively opposing the messages of our culture, and heading in the opposite direction? Where is it that you need to take ground by swimming against the current? Not just holding out, but moving forward?
I pray that as we repent and ask God to show us these areas, we will have the courage and the conviction to do what it takes to follow him and the ways of this new kind of kingdom.
The pursuit of joy and contentment, it would seem, lies in the journey upstream. Get swimming.
As planters, we can be tempted to ‘go with the flow’ in so many areas
Singing as we plant
As planters, we can be tempted to ‘go with the flow’ in so many areas. It can be in the area of pragmatism, where business principles outweigh or over-ride our theological convictions. Or as we look at our compensation packages, we start to analyse them in the same way as the world, with the same essential discontent or greed.
In the same way we can fail to reflect well on our culture and context and so our sermon applications are lazy and lack impact. We default to standard applications of bible reading, prayer, mission without asking about the ways in which our culture is constantly asking us to conform. We don’t ask ourselves the questions we should, and so we don’t feel for ourselves where the word of God rubs us up the wrong way.
So here are some questions that we can sing as we plant:
- Where is our culture inviting us to walk, stand and sit in ways that are against the gospel?
- How does the gospel delight us in ways that are ultimately more persuasive and life-giving?
- How can our church-plants meditate on this daily, together?
Dear Lord, forgive us for the ways that we have lived to please the world more than we lived to please you. Forgive us for where we have forsaken the call to bravery and bold rebellion. Empower us by your Spirit to live lives that stick out, to live the kind of lives that are blessed by you and seems strange to the world. Thank you for the example your Son set, and the grace that he gives to us.
Forgive us too for lazy application, for myself and for the church. Forgive us for not meditating on the gospel so as to see its glory. Forgive us for not listening well enough to our culture to see where it needs the gospel to shine the brightest.
It is in his name we pray.