I was walking in Iao Valley rain forest the other day in Maui and I passed this huge tree with big thick roots. It was thriving near a beautiful stream and it reminded me of Psalm 1. So I started meditating on the passage. Here is the passage and my reflections.
Psalm 1:1–6 (TNIV):
Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night. They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
I have walked with God for a considerable length of time now – over 30 years I have been truly devoted to following God and his ways. I testify that there is a pay off to following God’s way. It isn’t always an easy path. It isn’t always a straight path. It isn’t always the most logical path to take either. But it is always the best path. I believe this more now in my life than ever before.
Following God pays off. It isn’t always a short term payoff. There is definitely an eternal benefit. But there is usually a long term gain to going God’s way wholeheartedly that is reaped in this lifetime, not just in heaven. Life works better in the long run if you go God’s way. This is part of the prosperity the Psalmist speaks of. It isn’t necessarily economic prosperity. Often it is “just” peace, joy and love – but it is hard to put a price on a contented heart full of God’s peaceful presence and goodness. Consistently doing the right thing, making the right choices, over the course of your lifetime will pay off in many ways.
You feel good when you do good. This has two benefits to it. First, you have a clear conscious and you aren’t worried about being caught or found out. You aren’t worried about life catching up to you. I had a friend who was involved in using and selling drugs. He was a good guy in so many ways, but his illegal activities made him a bit paranoid. He was constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid of getting caught or found out. Second, it just makes you feel good to do good; you feel better when you serve someone. Selfishness robs you of joy; sacrifice makes you feel good and brings out the best in you and others. I have discovered the only time I have been truly miserable in my marriage is when I have made it too much about me. The more selfish I am, the more miserable I am. There is inherent good in goodness.
Marriage isn’t always easy; Jen and I struggled at times, especially in the beginning. We fell out of love; we fell into conflict; we struggled but we stuck to it. We constantly reminded ourselves that “divorce isn’t an option” because it was God’s way to stay married. Sometimes you don’t get that option because someone else opts out of the marriage against your wishes, but we were both committed to go God’s way. We did the hard work, the soul work. We talked, we forgave, we repented and we changed. We became healthier humans and we grew up together. Now we are living in the pay off – we are having our best years, our best times, our closest relationship because we went God’s way.
I had many great years as a pastor – fun, fulfilling and fruitful years. And then there were some hard years. In the worst of times, I wanted to quit many days because the pain felt intolerable, but I persevered because I knew that was God’s way, God’s call, God’s path for my life. And I grew; I changed; I matured; I went deeper than I ever could have gone in times of ease and comfort. There are things I discovered in the darkness that I could never have discovered in the light. I wouldn’t have naturally chosen God’s way, but I couldn’t have become who I am if I didn’t go God’s way. There has been a huge payoff. I am now in my most fruitful, most fun, most fulfilling, most prosperous season of ministry ever. I couldn’t have gotten here without being there in God’s ways. Here is the pay off; there was the price.
The Psalmist tells us to delight ourselves in the law of Lord and to meditate on it day and night. We delight in God’s way because He is wise and knows stuff we don’t know and He is worth it. He is worthy of sacrificing for, suffering for, struggling for. He is the God of the cross; He is the tender hearted Father of kindness; He is the merciful Counselor who is ever present with us. He wants our best and we can trust Him so we delight in his ways even if and when we don’t understand them. We take joy and delight in the following because of Who we follow not because of where we tread on the way. We meditate on his law – we chew on it, ponder it, consider it. Literally, the word meditate means to moan over it. Have you ever tasted something that was so good you just let out a low moan over it – hmmmmmm. We taste God’s ways and we know they are right and good and prosperous, so we delightfully moan over them. The way of the Lord is right, and good and prosperous. God’s way pays off in the end.
When you are taking God’s way sometimes you are surprised because it is harder than you thought. It isn’t a straight way. It isn’t an easy way. It isn’t a comfortable way. It is a long, hard, winding, uphill way. It feels confusing, mystifying, and wearying. But one day, if you persist in the way of God, you crest the hill, you turn the corner, and you discover the pay off. You discover that persisting in the long, hard way has allowed you to grow deep roots; the deep roots were essential to withstand the high winds of the storms of life and the parched arid spaces of the dry seasons of life. The deep roots were crucial to draw all of the necessary nutrients of life from the soil of God’s goodness. The deep roots were vital for your long term prosperity. But the deep roots couldn’t have been formed without following God’s way, without the struggle, without the perseverance. And the tree without deep roots doesn’t thrive, doesn’t survive. The tree can’t get deep roots without God’s way.
Wisdom is not in the knowing, it is in the doing. We do not become wise because we know God’s way; we only become wise when we do God’s way. And in the persistent doing of God’s way, one day we discover we have deep roots and we have prospered in ways we could have only dreamed about. This massive tree with deep roots has prospered many years by this stream, but it started as a sapling that had to endure through all sorts of weather. Such is God’s way – those who walk in it are wise.