“Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”
Psalm 1:1-3 (NLT)
I love trees. To me, there are few things better than walking in a quiet wood surrounded by these miracles of creation; not only are they beautiful to look at, but their usefulness to the earth in a multitude of ways is beyond my ability to count. So naturally, one of my favorite things about this passage is the fact that those who delight in the Lord are compared to trees! And not just any trees…but trees that are described as healthy and vibrant, that provide fruit for sustaining others.
So what is the key to being a tree?
The anonymous psalm writer gives us the answer. Rather than “following the advice of the wicked” or joining in the activities of those opposed to the things of God, the fruitful believer is delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on His word. We are surrounded by many voices in our culture—some good, and others not so good—especially during these days of increased confusion and crisis. It takes discipline to curate what goes into our mind and heart, and to stay focused by meditating on the Truth.
What do you think of when the word “meditate” comes to mind?
Two of the definitions of the word “meditate” are “to ponder” or “to contemplate.” Joshua 1:8 says, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” It’s clear from this verse that if we want to become people who walk with God, we must become people who meditate on His Word; but what does that look like?
It is not a passive activity, but involves filling our minds with Scripture, repeating it to ourselves and actively listening for Him to speak to us through His Word. Take a short passage of Scripture—perhaps just one verse—and read it several times. Ask God to speak to you through it and then expectantly watch for the words or phrases that He particularly draws to your attention. Pray the Scripture back to God. Imagine yourself in the passage, as part of the story. If we do this, we are more likely to remember what it says and to obey it!
Let’s look at an example of two different kinds of meditation in Scripture. In Psalm 77, the author (Asaph) is obviously having a very rough night. He says,
“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted…I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.” (vv 1-3)
Although he says he “meditated,” the practice doesn’t seem to be helping him here. I believe we need look no further than the following few verses to determine why:
“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: ‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time?” (vv. 5-8)
Just as it is possible to meditate on the Word of God and the attributes of God, it is also possible to meditate on things that are negative. This is a trap that I can often find myself falling into, allowing my mind to rehearse fears and doubts that quickly turn into a spiraling slide. I remember one occasion when I was feeling weighed down with worry over the plight of a friend going through a severe trial. I later wrote in my journal that I felt God clearly speak to my heart: “You are ‘meditating’ on all the problems and the bad things that ‘could’ happen with your friend; you are NOT meditating on My power, and how I can work in this situation!”
Our friend Asaph must have had a similar nudge from the Holy Spirit, because the next time he uses the word “meditate” in Psalm 77, there is a different focus:
“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.” (vv. 11-12)
This is the turning point for the psalmist; once his perspective changes, and he has CHOSEN to fix his mind on the mighty deeds of the Lord, his thoughts and his spirits begin to elevate. The rest of the psalm is a victorious recounting of God’s redemptive power.
Back to the trees by the stream in Psalm 1. When we discipline our minds by opening them to the active, life-giving water of God’s word—and thereby closing them to the stagnant pools of our own imaginings—we begin to experience the freshness and vitality of a fruit-bearing life.
Spending more and more time in His Word will result in experiencing His presence; which then brings an inexpressible delight to what was previously seen only as a necessary discipline. John Newton, the famed former slave trader who wrote “Amazing Grace”, also penned these words:
Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before;
Since we have seen His beauty, are joined to part no more.