Living on Purpose
Living a Christ-centered life of meaning, value and purpose doesn’t happen by accident. Join us in this series as we learn to live a life of purpose.
If we haven’t met yet, I’m Matt VanCleave, the teaching pastor at Blue Oaks. If you’re new here I would love to meet you in the lobby after the service. Please stop by and introduce yourself.
Alright, we’ll be in Psalm 1 today.
Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm. It’s from what is sometimes called “wisdom literature” and is very instructional.
The writer of Psalm 1 lays out two ways of living.
We can go with the flow; we can let the world squeeze us into its mold; we can live by default.
Or we can live on purpose.
We can be formed by the thoughts of God.
We can meditate on Scripture and take delight in its wisdom.
We can get into community where people keep us accountable, sharpen us, and remind us that God is at work in our lives.
The psalmist lays out two different ways to go.
This idea is very much in line with what Jesus taught in Matthew 7 when he told the story about the wise man who built a house on rock and the foolish man who built a house on sand.
It’s about living on purpose.
Today, we’re going to look at the first couple verses of Psalm 1. Then we’ll look at the rest of chapter one next week.
Psalm 1, starting at verse 1:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
In the very beginning of the very first psalm, the writer starts with a statement about who is blessed. He starts with a beatitude.
If you think about the Beatitudes that Jesus taught in Matthew 5, this is kind of a beatitude.
It begins with a real deep word.
It’s the Hebrew word “asher” and means intensely happy or joyous. You can translate it, “Oh, how very happy is the person…”
And there’s more to it than that. This word comes from a root verb which means “to go forth,” to advance, or even to lead others in the way.
One writer put it like this. He said that the psalmist here is describing one who is pressing on in a life of clearly set goals and purposes — an intentional, determined human being — someone who is living on purpose.
The psalmist is saying that you must decide if you’re going to live your life by default or on purpose — by default or by design.
In verse 1, the psalmist also says that we live in a world where to simply drift and live by default is disaster.
He runs through three different categories of life in what I’m going to call… “drift mode.”
The first one is what he calls, “walking in the counsel of the ungodly.”
What does that mean? What does it mean to walk in the counsel of the ungodly?
Walking in the counsel of the ungodly is much more pervasive and widespread than most people think. Every day we are being bombarded with the counsel of the ungodly.
I would say it’s probably the way most people walk in this world.
I talked to someone recently who was considering leaving his family — leaving his wife and children.
He said he talked to a lot of his friends from work and the gym and he’s getting the same advise from all of them. They’re all saying the same thing.
They’re all telling this guy who has little children — “This decision is not about the children. It’s about your happiness.”
What is that?
It’s walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
I told him in no uncertain terms, “You better think about the children.”
There was a time recently when someone was criticizing me. So I told one of my friends about it.
My friend’s response to me was, “What do you think about that criticism? I think there may be some truth to it.”
I didn’t like my friend’s response. I wanted him to agree with me that this critic was unkind and judgmental. I wanted him to reinforce my resentment.
What did I want?
I wanted the counsel of the ungodly, that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want the truth.
And of course, you can get that in the church as well as outside of it.
In Matthew 16 Jesus told his followers that he must go to Jerusalem… and suffer… and be killed.
And Peter responded, “No, this shall never happen to you.”
It’s the counsel of the ungodly.
Most of the time it’s not completely evil counsel. There may be some truth in it, but it’s just enough off that if you listen to this counsel it will lead you in a direction that will eventually place you far from where God wants you to be.
Just turn on the TV, look through the news, listen to conversations through the day. You’ll hear so many messages that really are the counsel of the ungodly:
Be more successful.
Look younger and sexier.
Get even with those who hurt you.
Get ahead of those who compete with you.
Get something out of people who can be to your advantage.
All day long, we’re being bombarded by the counsel of the ungodly.
And it happens so constantly that we don’t even know it.
It’s affecting the way we think, the way that our minds work and the way we live.
We live with the counsel of the ungodly everyday. It’s filling us up all the time.
Listen for it tomorrow.
Take a day to step back and try to discern when you’re hearing the counsel of the ungodly. You’ll see. The light is practically on all the time. It’s a nonstop flow.
And it’s not just when someone says to you, “Disobey God.”
It’s not blatant stuff. It’s just the way people talk. That’s what the counsel of the ungodly is.
Alright, look at the next step from Psalm one. The psalmist says you find yourself standing in the way that sinners take.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.
The idea here is that it’s not just your thinking that’s being influenced by counsel. When you’re standing in the way of sinners, you find your way of life affected.
Here the psalmist uses the word for sinners that refers to people who miss the mark. They shoot at the wrong target. When it comes to life, their aim is off.
You begin to conform to their example.
It seems like the normal way to live.
This is the way the counsel of the ungodly spreads.
How else do you account for a society in which the family altar has become the TV, the place of worship has become the computer screen, the primary wisdom figures have become celebrities who tell us how to live our lives, and the primary response to conflict is lawsuits?
How else do you account for a society in which people work at jobs they don’t like… to make money they don’t need… to buy things they don’t want… to impress people they don’t know?
It’s rampant counsel of the ungodly that causes people to stand in the way of sinners.
James Bryan Smith talks in his book The Good and Beautiful Life about how neurologists have recently scanned the brains of people of faith during times when they were close to God — times of solitude, prayer, worship, bible study and so on.
Then they exposed the same people to religious symbols, like stained glass, the smell of incense, icons and other religious images that connected people to God.
The same area of the brain, called the Caudate Nucleus, was activated in all these people when they felt connected to God.
The Caudate Nucleus is the part of the brain that gets activated when we feel connected to God.
What’s interesting is that these neurologists exposed another group of people to images of products that were tied to cool brands, like ads you would see in a magazine.
The exact same area of the brain got activated!
The neurologists found that people who bought certain items experienced the same sensations as those who had deep religious experiences.
This is the way the counsel of the ungodly affects us. We just conform to the ways of the world. It’s just the normal way to live.
And we end up worshiping more in our purchases than we do in our churches.
This leads to the third category that the psalmist talks about.
He talks about those who sit in the company of mockers. Those who mock or ridicule the very things they ought to be humbly pursuing.
There’s an important caveat here.
Of course, this does not mean I should have no contact with those who are outside the church. It doesn’t mean I should have nothing to do with people who don’t share my beliefs.
Some people respond in extremes which is very dangerous.
At Blue Oaks, I hope all of you know that the whole purpose for this church is to help those whose life is going down the path described in Psalm 1 — from the counsel of the ungodly to standing in the way of sinners to sitting in the seat of the mockers.
As a church, we want to rescue everyone from that path that we can.
And we’re all surrounded by people who are headed in that direction.
And our efforts as a church really rest on you and I sharing our life with people who desperately need wisdom.
If people on the path described in Psalm 1 are going to receive the counsel of God, it’s going to come from you sharing your faith. It’s going to come from me. We’re going to have to speak the counsel of God to people.
And of course as a church, we simply want to partner in this together. So we create this environment on Sunday mornings where those with whom you share your life and faith can come and gain some more understanding of the counsel of God — of who God is, and of what is on his heart and his mind.
The psalmist is not saying we should have no contact with those outside the faith.
He is warning about the dangers of increasing influence in the wrong direction.
You can see the progression here in verse 1.
First, I’m walking in their way. I haven’t identified with them yet or cast my lot with them. I’m being influenced. I’m just walking. I look at them as I walk by.
Second, I find myself standing in their midst. What’s happened? I’ve stopped and am hanging around with them. I’m becoming conformed to their way of life.
What’s the third stage? The third is when finally I say, “I think I’ll sit down. I’m comfortable here. I’m going to stay. I won’t be leaving. I’ve set up my La-Z-Boy here. I’m at home now.”
What I especially want you to notice about this process that the psalmist warns against is that it is the result of drift — the default mode.
No one intends for it to happen.
Jesus tells this similar kind of wisdom story about a wise man who builds his house on a rock and another guy who builds on the sand.
Do you know the adjective Jesus uses to describe the guy who builds his house — his life — on the sand?
Jesus uses the word, “Foolish.”
When kids do something foolish, parents always ask a question. It’s designed to make sense out of the inexplicable. It’s a question that searches for meaning and rationality. It’s a question that consists of one single word and is three letters long. What is it?
After the walls are covered with Magic Markers, the bike is strategically left where the car would crumple over it as it backs out of the garage, the younger and slower child steps in dog poop and decides to wipe it off on her pants and continue to play in the yard… the parents always ask the same question, “Why?”
“Why did you have a contest to see who could stick the longest spaghetti noodle up your brothers nose?”
The same answer always comes back. What does every child say?
They say, “I don’t know.”
It’s the last thing a child learns before birth — “You’ll be asked ‘why’ a lot. Stick to the standard answer — ‘I don’t know.’”
Of course… they don’t know! If they had a reason for doing things, they wouldn’t do them in the first place. They just don’t know.
The psalmist says that now you find yourself sitting in the seat of mockers — those who are devoted to foolishness. They throw their lives away.
In Jesus’ story, if you ask the man who built his house on the sand, “Foolish man, why did you build your house on the sand?” What do you think he would say?
“I don’t know. It just happened. I didn’t set out to do it. I didn’t meet with an architect and say, ‘Let’s find some sand somewhere to build a house on.’ It just seemed like a good idea at the time.”
No one sits down and plans to lead a mediocre life.
No couple getting married plans to get a divorce.
No one walks into a bar and plans to become an alcoholic.
No one has kids and plans on being so busy that the kids grow up like strangers.
No one nurses a grudge and plans on becoming a bitter, resentful person.
No one gets religious and plans to become judgmental and self-righteous.
No one plans to go to hell.
It just happens.
Given the inner condition of fallenness, the outer condition of the world, and that we live in a sinful world, the psalmist says that fallenness is such a pervasive way of life that really the only alternative is radical.
Standard operating procedure with a smattering of religious activities laid over is not going to change you.
You will have to live by design… and on purpose.
You will have to deliberately allow God to transform your way of thinking and feeling as you saturate yourself in God’s mind and God’s heart.
You will have to live on purpose.
In verse 2, the psalmist talks about this.
This falls under the same category as what Paul talks about in the Book of Romans when he says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Here he means that it’s not about gathering more information, although that’s part of it.
It’s coming to a whole new way of thinking, feeling, perceiving and understanding that lead to life the way God intended it, to a way of living that honors and pleases God and flows naturally to one who thinks as God thinks.
There’s an aspect of this renewing of your mind that you do on your own that is individual and an aspect of it that we do together in community — a corporate aspect.
In the moments that remain, I want to talk about the individual aspect and the corporate aspect.
I’ll start with the individual aspect and look at what it says about those who are blessed — those who are very, very happy and those who are finding purpose in life.
Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
By the law, the psalmist particularly would have in mind the Ten Commandments and the whole first five books of the Bible — The Pentateuch.
Sometimes we think negatively about the law. The law here is being used in a positive and wonderful way to refer to God’s plans for humankind and God’s intentions for human life.
The psalmist says that those who are blessed delight in it. They are so struck by how wonderfully good God’s thoughts are for human existence that it makes them smile and brings joy to them.
Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Notice this little phrase: “Their delight is in the law of the Lord” — his thoughts — “and who meditate on his law” — his plan for humankind — “day and night.”
What part of your existence is not covered under these two categories — either day or night?
What is his point here?
The counsel of the ungodly is so pervasive that our only hope is to feed our mind something new and something different. It’s to dwell on the law of God — not in a way that’s burdensome, but in a way that gives life.
Seriously, soberly, intentionally and deliberately dwell on it moment by moment by moment by moment by moment. So when I see people, I begin to think what God thinks when he sees them.
I was driving the other day, came to an intersection and was waiting for someone to turn.
It took her a long time to turn, and I got impatient with her. I could see as she went by that it was an elderly woman.
I thought briefly, “If I were an elderly person I would want everyone to cut me some slack… and be understanding as to why I’m driving slower.”
But honestly that’s not how I responded. I responded with impatience and anger.
I looked at her, but I didn’t see what God sees and didn’t feel what God feels. I didn’t respond how God would respond.
The psalmist says that our only hope is to fill our mind with the thoughts of God.
He uses this word “meditate,” which is a very important word in the Bible.
People sometimes are scared of it.
It’s so important that it’s used 58 times in the Old Testament.
Meditate is a word that is sometimes used in Scripture for a young lion growling over his prey. It’s a sound.
Often it’s used for a cow that is chewing its cud. It’s that kind of idea — that which is to be assimilated.
Meditation is not meant to be esoteric, spooky or reserved for guru types.
It simply involves sustained attention and involves this very, very important principle that I want you to take with you. It’s simply this:
What the mind repeats it retains.
What you repeat you remember.
The truth is you and I have meditated a lot in our lives.
You may not have known you were doing it.
I’ll tell you something that you probably haven’t heard in decades, but you’ll probably remember it. It’s something you’ve meditated on. You may have had no idea. I’ll start it. You finish this line for me out loud:
“The best part of waking up… is Folgers in a cup.”
“Rice-a-Roni… the San Francisco treat.”
“I’m stuck on band-aid… cause band-aid’s stuck on me.”
“Like a good neighbor… State Farm is there.”
How did your mind retain that? You repeated it, and some of us exposed ourselves to it over and over and over.
You’ve done this many different times.
Some of you meditate over the sports pages, over stock market figures, or over all kinds of other things.
When you fall in love, you meditate over your loved one. You’ve done this.
The question is not if you’re going to meditate. The question is what you’re going to meditate over.
What are you going to repeat and repeat and repeat so that it begins to shape your mind and you begin to respond out of it?
Are you going drift and let the world set the agenda? It will, and you’ll know the words to lots and lots and lots of other little jingles.
If you drift on, what you fill your mind with, the psalmist says is disaster.
Don’t do it.
Choose to meditate and to find your delight on the thoughts of God.
Most likely, you’re not going to drift into that.
You really must put a stake in the ground and say, “Life is too short. My mind and my heart are too precious to God to throw them away, getting all churned up over junk.”
When it’s possible to live another way, you’ve got to make that choice — and you can.
The Psalmist says, “How happy is the one who says, ‘I’m going to go down a different road and fill my mind up with some different things… with the thoughts of God.’”
You’ve got to start doing it.
Sometimes you’ll forget. That’s okay. Another moment will come along, and it’s another chance to do it again.
I’ll give you a real simple way to do this.
Each day, take one thought of God.
It may be Scripture that you’ve read that day. If you use the bible app it may be the verse of the day. You can take that verse and meditate on it.
It may be Scripture that you already know.
If you’re a morning person, simply choose this when you wake up early in the morning. If you’re a night person, choose it at night before you go to bed.
If you forget, then do it as soon as you think of it during the day.
It’s one thought of God expressed in Scripture that you’re going to live with throughout the day. Over and over and over and over again, as an experiment, bring your mind back to it.
For instance, you might take that wonderful phrase from Psalm 46 where God says,
Be still and know that I am God.
For a day, you decide, “All day today, I am going to live with these words. Today as best I can, I am going to be still. I’m not going to chatter thoughtlessly. I’m going to remember that I don’t have to defend myself.”
When someone attacks you, allow the Spirit to bring that thought to your mind before you respond at all. “Be still and know that I am God.” Today, I don’t have to get my way all the time.
When there is a moment when you know you could get your way if you pushed hard enough, pause for a moment before you push and delight in the thought, “Be still and know that I am God.”
You say, “I am not going to be tossed around by anxiety all day.”
Every time anxiety wells up within you, you take it as a cue or prompting of the Spirit. Before you get all churned up, you simply let the thought seep all the way from your mind into your heart. “Be still and know that I am God.”
In each situation as that thought comes to you, then you can ask, “God, how do you want me to respond?” For a day, you live in stillness.
Do you know what it’s like to be still for a day? Do you know how other people in your life would love it if you were still for a day? I don’t mean silent. I mean the stillness that comes from God.
Do you have any idea what kind of a life-giving person you would be if you were still for a day and knew that God was God, so you didn’t have to be?
Every day, take one thought of God. Live with it, meditate on it and turn it over and over and over again until you see the beauty in it and delight in it.
Take thoughts that are pretty clear.
If there’s a place in Scripture that’s very obscure, confusing or hard to understand, then it’s a very good thing to study that, to ask questions about it and to read about it. But that’s not something you want to use for this meditation exercise.
Each day, take one thought of God. Live with it. Meditate on it.
If you don’t, the default mode is that you’ll meditate on the counsel of the ungodly.
Decide right now that you’re not going to let your mind drift all the time.
Alright, that’s all on the individual side of verse 2:
Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Then there is a corporate side.
The psalmist says that the default mode in this world is to sit in the midst of people who live in the counsel of the ungodly, to sit with those who mock and to sit with people whose lives just turn away in foolishness.
The opposite of that is the practice of the church for over 2,000 years now.
It’s to do what you and I have done today.
It’s to come together and to sit in the midst of other people who together delight in the presence of God and learn from the Word of God.
Jesus says, “Whenever two or three have gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.”
This is what I would call “the discipline of assembling.” God says, “I want you to make that practice and discipline a can’t-miss deal.”
The writer of the Book of Hebrews puts it like this. To ordinary men and women like you and me, he says:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.
The writer recognizes that the default mode of the human condition is going to be that other things will crowd out our meeting together. He says, “Don’t neglect it.”
He says that you must make the discipline of assembling a can’t-miss deal.
Why? Why is it so important? Why would it be so important that we would talk around here about arranging your life around the gathering together of people?
It’s not because God is taking attendance, and this is some way of showing him how committed you are. It’s because you and I need it if we’re going to live our lives on purpose.
For one thing, we need it to keep warm hearts from getting cold. There’s something that happens when people come together to worship and to learn.
If you have a fireplace, you know this is the way it works with logs on a fire. If they’re isolated and scattered, the fire goes out.
Something happens to all those little logs when they’re together that doesn’t happen when they’re alone. It’s the way God made logs to burn in a fire.
Now… I’m very serious about this. That is the way God made the human heart. It just is.
Ignore it or defy it at your own peril. The human heart is that way. Your heart is that way.
Neglect the practice of assembling for worship and for learning, and the fire starts to fade.
Gather together and something happens.
And of course, that something is Jesus who says:
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
If you’ve come here regularly, you know this.
We share moments as we worship, as we sing… and sometimes when there is silence.
Sometimes when hearts are moved so deeply, there are tears that flow in this room.
Sometimes when sin is dealt with in such straightforward ways, people say, “I can’t leave here until I’m right with God… and I’m right with other people.”
You ought to decide right now… if you want a warm heart then you can’t neglect the assembling of yourselves together. You’ve got to decide, “Am I going to drift, or am I going to live on purpose?”
One more deal about why this practice of assembling is so critical.
Turn over to Psalm 73 to see this. It’s a wonderful, wonderful Psalm.
When we come together, gather and practice the discipline of assembling, something happens to our perspective.
If you neglect this practice, it won’t happen. Your perspective will not get reset along God’s ways. You’ll drift.
Look at Psalm 73:
Surely God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.
And then there is drift that happens. Look at the next two verses. The psalmist talks about drift in his heart. He’s slipping into default mode.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
Then he goes on to describe the bitterness that was consuming his heart as he looked at the unfairness of this world and how those who ought to have obvious blessings often suffer. Those who it seems ought to suffer seem to flourish. It’s destroying his heart.
He’s thinking how wonderful it would be if pain could be inflicted on them. He’s starting to walk down that path — the counsel of the ungodly.
Look at verse 15:
If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.
He sees how close he was to disaster. He was on the brink.
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
It was when he practiced the discipline of gathering. He came to the place of worship. All of a sudden, everything got clear. The smoke went away. He got perspective. He saw that God is still just.
He goes on in the psalm to write wonderfully about how his soul was embittered. He says in verse 22:
I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
Now he’s seeing things clearly.
Of course, it was always true that the wicked are on a path to destruction. There was something about the act of going to the place of worship and the discipline of assembling that at once reconnected the psalmist with ultimate truth.
He could live again. He didn’t get swept up in the counsel of the ungodly which could have had the power to choke his heart.
Friends, the same thing will happen to you. It could be jealousy. If it’s not jealousy, it could be one of a hundred other things that can ensnare you so quickly.
What if the psalmist had not gone to the sanctuary, the place of worship? You see that through this whole 73rd Psalm, and it is like he says, “What if I hadn’t done that? What if I had followed this road all the way to the end?”
I’ve had that experience.
There have been days that I’ve come here and worshipped, had God speak to me and gone out of this room saying, “What if I had missed this? What would have happened? What kind of damage would I have done to someone that I love? If I hadn’t been here, what would I have left undone?”
The default mode — the drift mode — is going to be letting the value of the discipline of assembling slide.
If you want to keep a warm heart, value the discipline of assembling and live with the kind of perspective that is going to free you from bitterness and a hundred other things that will choke your heart.
The default mode is to let the value of this discipline slide. It’s not because you want to. It just happens. You get tired or over-committed.
Here’s the deal. At the beginning of this year — this is like stake-in-the-ground time — I’m asking every one of us in the place, with no apologies, to commit ourselves.
I’m asking you to commit yourself to the practice of the discipline of assembly.
Don’t let it drift. Don’t neglect it.
It’s not because God is taking attendance… but because you get inundated every day of your life with the counsel of the ungodly.
Your mind and your soul need to be in the presence of others who are worshiping and listening to God. They just do.
It’s not easy. I know it’s not.
I know there are stories of heroic efforts of people who practice the discipline of assembly.
If you make this commitment, I know the evil one will hit you with a hundred obstacles — work, family, football, other commitments, school, schedules… and the ultimate barrier of kids soccer.
If everyone at Blue Oaks said, “I’m going to make it a priority to be here where God is obviously present and moving,” then imagine for a moment what it is going to be like when the day comes that you look around this room and every seat is filled.
It’s a room that is full of us who arrange our lives around gathering together and who wait and hunger to see what God is going to do this week.
You can’t choose for everyone, but you can choose for you. It’s time to put a stake in the ground.
The psalmist says that you can live by default or you can live by design. You can choose wisdom or foolishness, life or death.
Oh, how very happy is the one who chooses life.
Let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church