Things can change in an instant. The first thing I remember thinking as I went down on my motorcycle this spring was “I hope I haven’t wrecked my bike.” Shortly thereafter as I thought I should get up off the ground to check it out I thought “I hope I haven’t wrecked me!” Both the bike and rider were fine, but it was a good reminder about how quickly things can change for us. With all the change around us, and in us the question of character becomes very important. Are we going to be planted and rooted people that will handle the changing seasons and the storms of life, or are we going to be like dust, so easily driven off by the slightest breeze?
Psalm 1 asks us to choose between being the rooted tree and the blown dust. We can either be
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
(Psalms 1:3 NRSV)
Or we can be
like chaff that the wind drives away
(Psalms 1:4 NRSV)
Now we can note the differences given within this image. First, the tree is solid, rooted to the spot, whereas the chaff, the dust from threshing, is blown away. Are you a rooted person, or are you someone easily thrown off by circumstances, opinions, and new ideas? Second, the tree becomes a blessing to others who can shelter under its branches and enjoy its fruit while the chaff, well the image used is of the custom of throwing grain in the air in hopes that the chaff will be taken away by the wind. Are you someone who others consider a blessing in their lives, or do people wish you would just go away? Third, though the translations normally don’t show it, the word here for stream is actually a word referring to a dug canal. This is important as streams can be weather dependant and therefore not always dependable. The image here is of a canal dug for irrigation, so no matter the weather, someone wants this tree to live. As for the chaff, it is already dead. Do you have the sense that Someone has intervened and stands ready to intervene to give you life?
In the Psalm the image gives way to some straight talk about other differences in these two paths:
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish
(Psalms 1:5-6 NRSV)
The wicked, represented by the chaff, will not stand when the weight and consequence of sin falls upon their shoulders. The Psalmist may be thinking of the trails and tribulations of this life here rather than the final judgement. The inference is that those represented by the tree will be able to stand. Also, the wicked, in not being able to stand with the righteous will miss out in the blessing they provide to each other. Finally in verse 6 we learn that the Lord “knows” the righteous, that is, not just that He knows about them, but knows them personally, having a relationship with them, eager to care for them. As for the wicked, not so much.
So how do we get there? How do we become like planted trees rather than like the blown dust? Being Irish I’d like to end by taking you to the beginning:
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night
(Psalms 1:1-2 NRSV)
We take our cue from God and not from the godless. We make His instruction central in our lives. What shall we think of ourselves? Take your instruction from the Lord. How shall we act? Take your instruction from the Lord. What shall be my thoughts on sexuality? Take your instruction from the Lord. What shall be my thoughts on drinking and drugs? Take your instruction from the Lord. What shall be my belief regarding death and the afterlife? Take your instruction from the Lord. We could go on and on. And people do go on and on through life without reflecting on their belief and ethics and so they end up reflecting the instruction of our culture or their peer group. They follow the advice of a friend who knows precious little, they take take the path of peers who are themselves, on a very poor road, they sit with those who have chosen a very poor seat. A happy state belongs to those who follow the leading of their Creator. His instruction is not just “good to know,” it is a delight. It is better than chocolate. And it leads the one paying attention to being like a solid tree rather than like dead dust. With all the changes and storms of life, I choose the tree. Which do you choose?