The Happy Life

Two weeks ago, we resumed our Summer Psalms series that has us going through this hymn book of the Bible, psalm-by-psalm. Each summer we pick up where we left off the year before, and at the pace we’re going, we’ll finish somewhere around 2033(!), Lord-willing.

I love the psalms because they give us a personal guide to walk with us through all the emotions of life, and this personal guide is none other than the Word of God. These divinely inspired words show us how to respond to tragedy and to triumph, to victory and to defeat, to seasons of closely walking with God and to seasons when God seems strangely absent. In all of these situations, and more, the Psalms give us words that we can take on our lips to offer before the Lord or to give as counsel to others or to simply speak to ourselves in our moments of need.

I love the Psalms for those reasons, and I love the first psalm, in particular, because it opens this largest book of the Bible by showing us that even in the midst of all of that, even in all of the hardships and tragedies of life, God wants us to find true happiness. Not only that; not only does God really want us to be happy, but also Psalm 1 shows us that he’s made known to us the way to that happiness.

God wants you to be happy, not with an earthly, secular, cheap happiness devoid of godliness, that is, a happiness that is fake and will only be fleeting because it’s not built on anything solid; God wants you to be truly happy, happy in a God-honoring way, happy as God intended it.

God really does want you to be happy, and Psalm 1 tells us how:

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.

Randy Alcorn, in his aptly titled book, Happiness, shows convincingly that the Hebrew word translated in Psalm 1 and throughout the Old Testament as blessed is most naturally defined as “happy.” (And that’s not just in the Old Testament; the fact is, the same is true with the word blessed in the New Testament as well!) The Old Testament word translated as blessed is the Hebrew word asher, which, Alcorn notes, “describes the happiness that comes from God and is experienced by God’s people who put the Lord first, align themselves with his ways, and experience his goodness.” Much of the reason it is commonly translated as blessed today is because that’s what the translators of the King James Version wrote at a time when their audience understood the word “blessed” to be equated with “happiness.” The same is not true today, so I do think it’s important for us to make this connection: “blessed” = “happy.”

In light of that reality, Psalm 1 could rightly be written (as the CSB translates it): “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked . . . “

Psalm 1 is teaching us that the truly happy person is not someone who walks in the counsel of the wicked. In the wisdom literature of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs), the “wicked” are those who are ungodly. They’re unrighteous. They’re the guilty. They’re those who are openly embracing a life of rebellion against God. They’re not repentant. Psalm 10:4 says that “In the pride of his face, the wicked does not seek (God); all his thoughts are ‘There is no God.’”

The happy man doesn’t live by the advice of the wicked, going by whatever those who are opposed to God say is best. “The counsels of the wicked are deceitful,” Proverbs 12:5 warns us. So the truly happy person is decisively not walking in the ways of those who are not following God. Her life will look different from the world around her. He’s not living by the same standards are others around him. The truly happy person is not living by the “wisdom” of those who are not following God, and because of that, he doesn’t “stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” Note the progression as we go in Psalm 1:1, from walking, to standing, to sitting. The happy man doesn’t walk the way with those who oppose God; he doesn’t stop in the place where sinners may pass by because he knows that Provers 13:21 says “disaster pursues sinners;” he doesn’t sit with or dwell with scoffers because he doesn’t want to take up residence with those who talk arrogantly against God (see Proverbs 21:24).

What does he do instead?

Instead of walking and standing and sitting with those opposed to God, the truly happy person listens to God’s Word. “His delight is in the law of the LORD,” Psalm 1:2 says. Psalm 119:24 likewise gives this example of the “blessed” or “happy” person: “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” The truly happy person gets her counsel from God’s Word, and therefore she walks in God’s ways.

Around the first of January every year, you start hearing a similar refrain around my house: “I’m ready for the beach!” Once we get into winter, I’m ready for summer, and I’m ready to go sit by the ocean! You know why I think about that so far in advance? Because I delight in it! The truth is, you think about what you love. So the one who delights in the law of the LORD meditates on it day and night.

He’s talking about the Word of God. Pastor Ray Ortlund wrote a beautiful blog post several years back describing a gift – a Bible – given to him on his birthday by his father. He said “It was my senior year in high school. The first week of two-a-day football practices, and I crawled home that day, bone tired. Mom mad a special dinner for me, since it was my birthday, and Dad gave me a Bible with the following inscription: “Bud, nothing could be greater than to have a son who loves the Lord and walks with Him. Your mother and I have found this Book our dearest treasure. We give it to you and doing so can give you nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible and your life will be full of blessing. We love you. Dad.”

His dad was right. Psalm 1:1–2 makes that clear. It calls us to meditate on the word of God, day and night, and there to find a life full of blessing. Read carefully these words by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and later martyr during the Nazi rule of that nation:

“Because I am a Christian, therefore, every day in which I do not penetrate more deeply into the knowledge of God’s Word in Holy Scripture is a lost day for me. I can only move forward with certainty upon the firm ground of the Word of God. And, as a Christian, I learn to know the Holy Scriptures in no other way than by hearing the Word preached and by prayerful meditation.” (Emphasis added.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditating on the Word

That’s the way to a happy life. Hear the Word, meditate on the Word, live by the Word, delight in the Word.

And why is that? Because the Word of God is the Word the makes known to us Jesus Christ. He is the One who lived this for us perfectly, died for our forgiveness where we fall short, rose to give us the promise of victory, ascended to heaven to reign over all, and sent His Spirit to empower us to follow Him on this way of life. You can live this life, but only through a living faith in Jesus. That’s where the Happy Life is found.

Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash