So we begin this excursion into the book of praises. In terms of my own personal spiritual recovery this was the first book that got me back into reading the Bible. I will be going through my original notes from 2015 and building from them as well as providing the historic and cultural framework of the Psalms. Hopefully my personal journey through them will add something helpful in your own connection with scripture.
A quick reminder from the introduction notes. Psalm 1 focuses on how blessed a person is who meditates on the Torah, prayerfully reading it day and night and then obeying it.
Torah means teaching. It is also the name used to categorise the first five books of the Old Testament (also known as the books of Moses).
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 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.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
This wisdom psalm is a helpful introduction to the book of Psalms. It summarises in a few verses the message of the Bible and the fate of man in relation to God. (Jeremiah 17:5-8 gives us a significant parallel). By two cycles of contrast, Psalm 1 separates all people into their respective spiritual categories:
- A picture of the Godly (1:1-3).
- A Picture of the Ungodly (1:4).
- The outcome of the chosen way to live (1:5-6).
The word “blessed” means “inward joy is theirs” (Matthew 5:3-12). An exclamation of strong emotion, it results from deep reflection on a subject. The psalmist paints a picture of the gravitational pull of evil.
From the perspective of the individual, this is a deep-seated joy and contentment in God; from the perspective of the believing community, it refers to redemptive favour (see Deuteronomy 27:11 – 28:6).
So a person is blessed if they do not allow themselves to be influenced or be in the company of people who will inevitably pull them astray. Instead their focus is to meditate on the law of the Lord, to think about and reflect on a life that is worth living. To show self control and be proactive and intentional about living the kind of life that pleases God rather than reactive, acting on impulse as a result of what is going on around them.
It is interesting that Jesus’ sermon on the mount also opens with the word “blessed”
Notice the progression in verse 1. At first, he is walking, then he is standing, then last he is sitting. This demonstrates the progression of influence. First we walk with and all within the time frame of one verse we find ourselves sitting and investing time with those whose agenda is not driven by being with God but rather one of selfish pursuit.
The contrast is asserted that the man who is blessed instead of walking, standing and eventually sitting with the ungodly he invests his heart and time into knowing God, walking with God, standing with God and sitting with God allowing God to be his primary influencer rather than men who will lead him astray.
Because of the mostly arid terrain of Israel, a lush tree served as a fitting symbol of blessing in the Old Testament. The image here is of a “tree” nourished by the constant supply of water from the river. The Hebrew word suggests the attributes of strength, stability, and endurance.
The same qualities are on offer for the man who is rooted in scripture and draw strength from it for their lives (Jeremiah 17:8). Those who are deeply “planted” in God’s Word will be fruitful in life.
We are then given an abrupt contrast in verse 4, “Not so the wicked!”
“Chaff” is a word that describes the leftovers from the harvest which were unsubstantial, without value, and worthy only to be discarded. usually the chaff would either blow away in the wind or be burned.
We know that the chaff grows with the wheat until harvest time. The chaff is destroyed, and the wheat is carried into the barn. The ungodly live around the godly in this world, but at harvest time there is a separation.
To “stand in the judgement” of God is a desired outcome here, a symbol of divine approval. “assembly of the righteous” refers to God’s people, those whose faith is reflected by their delight in God’s Word (1:2), and who live according to it.
In the day of judgement, the wicked will not be left standing with those who love God and strive to obey Him; they will be separated like the chaff.
Charles Spurgeon the influential preacher put it like this…
“The righteous carves his name upon the rock, but the wicked writes his remembrance in the wind. The righteous man ploughs furrows of earth and sows, and has a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped until he enters the enjoyments of eternity. But as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more forever”.
I read this Psalm on August 1st 2015, two days after arriving back in London. I had decided two days earlier that I was going to put everything on the table. Come home and face the consequences of my deceit, theft, affairs, sexual immorality, cruelty and everything that I had hidden from my family and closest friends in recent years.
I was mindful of Jacob the deceiver wrestling with an angel all night and asserting that he would not let him go unless he would be blessed. By daybreak he walked with a limp because of an injury to his hip due to the wrestling, he bore the scars of the fight but he was sufficiently changed. His name was changed to Israel which means “He wrestles with God”. I had been heading for the abyss of destruction in life and left a trail of carnage behind me. This was the turning point.
To be honest I was licking my wounds a bit and self pity still dominated but God allowed me to get to a desperate enough place to at least bring it all into the open. So two days into at least attempting to be in my right mind here’s a snippet of what I wrote having read that Psalm.
“As I read it (Psalm 1), I did not really connect with the Psalm. There was almost an “I know this already” about me. It felt like religious words. It did not really touch my heart. I look at my summary above and there is something that stirs inside me. It’s not a big stirring but maybe just a connection with the reality of what I have done. In many ways it seems surreal. I don’t feel the connection because I was not privy to the effect of my actions on others in the moment. I was too self consumed. My oldest daughters text from when I absconded to Germany gave me a glimpse. I contrast that with what she wrote in my father’s day card or my birthday card and its hard to believe it is the same person. I am tearful. In some ways it is not the same person. I have done something that has caused something to die inside of her. That saddens me.
In a more poignant way my wife asked me in an email if I had taken her Oyster card when in the house. I really hadn’t and she was wrestling with the fact that she would even question me. She wrote these words in a following email:
“This has been a really hard day because of what that thought triggered for me. Of course I am glad you did not take it but it is really beside the point. The fact is there was a time when I trusted you 150% and now that is replaced with mistrust and it is really devastating. This is going to happen often now. I could not tell you, and maybe I won’t always tell you. But this is so hard because my nature is to trust and you took advantage of that. I have been very strong, I know that. But today I am weak. Today I hurt and cannot stop crying.”
I wrote an apology. I genuinely was not hurt because she accused me. I was deeply saddened for breaking something in her that is a great quality. I cried about it a lot yesterday. “Love always trusts” has died in my wife because of me. She was always the most trusting person I knew, some might say that she was naive but she always took me at my word. Something I never deserved.
I had a good phone call with a friend. I talked through my day which I think I wasted I stayed pretty much the whole day in Tesco car park. It was a bit soul destroying, going through papers, resting, reading and trying to keep my phone charged from the car battery. My friend said that from my email it was good that I am beginning to be honest but a lot of self pity came through. I agreed and I really want to fight the self pity and find a way forward. I am not sure how exactly.
I went on a prayer walk along the Roding River which was a favourite prayer walk for myself and my wife when we were first married. For the first few minutes I could barely get words out. I cried mostly. I found enough in me to have a meaningful conversation about wanting to find my way and to walk with God.
I slept well last night though my back hurts from sleeping at a strange angle. I don’t mind sleeping in the car. The hardest thing is not being able to organise my space, my clothes, my documents .. I really miss being organised. Sleeping in Tesco’s car park is a bit scary, there are drinkers and drug users about. I have had to park discretely near the skips. At least I have access to a toilet as the store is open 24 hours.”
My journey into this darkness began with walking with the wicked, then standing with them finally sitting (and sleeping with them). Two years on from my meltdown I see it with such clarity. I thought I knew it before. I know my problem with lust and I know that some of the other issues that are bound up in my ego are ever present and I am always one decision away from walking with the wicked. I can only ever make a decision for today but two years of daily decisions of walking with God have kept me in a good place.
More reflections from my journal that day…
Having worked in the addiction recovery field for almost 3 years during my meltdown I wondered if indeed I had some kind of addiction. Now I believe that we are all addicted to something or even multiple things. It’s just a way of explaining how we plug what is essentially a spiritual void with something that is of this world. Of course it doesn’t meet that need. It doesn’t quench that thirst or satisfy. It promises to deliver something that it cannot possibly deliver.
What is my addiction? I don’t really know what it is or if it really is an addiction but I do know it has the effects and impact of an addiction. Maybe it’s an addiction to attention but I am not so sure. I know the bottom line of it is that I am resisting knowing and accepting the real me because I feel inadequate, not good enough, not normal. I barely even see it but I know it’s there.
I can think of it most easily in terms of how things were in the relationships I had. I know there were many more that I wrote to in whatsapp and Facebook and gave some hope, created something.
I know I was powerless, perhaps I still am powerless. I know that my life became unmanageable. Everything seemed contained when I was living the double life but towards the end I had a compulsion to act at every opportunity and a mental obsession that took all of my head space. I noticed in the last few weeks that I was less focused at work and at home to the point I was not really achieving anything in a day. My responsibilities at home would go unmet and I was there but absent. This had been noticed by the whole family.
I know that to continue this way is not the answer. I know that the problem is bigger and stronger than me and that I can only do this with God.
I know that I would not drink poison even if I don’t know much about the chemistry and the biological impact of drinking poison. If I saw something labelled poison I would not drink it because most likely I would die.
This life I have been living had poison labelled all over it. It’s what the Bible calls sin. It’s the lawlessness of man when he chooses to trust his own instincts over what God his designer says is good for him. It is a mistrust of God, a decision that says I don’t trust that you will meet my needs God, I don’t trust that you have my best interests at heart. It’s a decision that says “I always have my best interests at heart” so I will trust me.
I am powerless to indulge in this kind of life successfully without it having a negative impact. Okay I could do it for a while and the negative things were subtle but now ….
The Spiritual impact is carnage. My connection with God, my connection with my family and my connection with my community is destroyed.
Was this obsession making me more of the person I want to be or less the person I want to be? I try to take an inventory.
I know the right answer to this. The honest answer is that I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want a double life, I do know that I want to be honest, I do know that I want to live without the need for attention or affirmation. I think I want to walk with God but on the other hand I don’t want to be religious. I think I can only do this with God.
The social impact of this is devastating. It has changed my relationships. I am isolated, alone …it has destroyed my wife’s capacity to trust. My children don’t speak with me. My dad is very cold towards me, I am sure that there are many people who are angry with me.
I lost my job as a result of stealing money to support this lifestyle. The idea that I committed a crime was unimaginable a few years ago.
I might feel physically okay at the moment but I am sure that staying like this for a while will have a negative effect. I don’t get to shower as often as I would like, I don’t eat regularly and when I do its not the healthy balanced way I have been eating the last few years. I don’t get to work out.
Financially I have caused a whirlwind of destruction both personally and for the family. The possibility of losing the house is not out of the question. The financial impact on the family is catastrophic. I am perhaps £70,000 in debt including the money that I stole.
The emotional destruction is intense. I can’t begin to scratch the surface with that. I get glimpses when my wife or someone else expresses something to me.
Hiding things became my habit. I hid everything. Our financial situation, my online life, the post, how I was really feeling, my entire world became secret.
I think the honest answer is that this obsession is not drawing me closer to the real me but neither was the religious framework with which I was living.
I know I need to discover internal motivation and not be affected so much by external things.
Reading those words now make me think about the fact that even the religious system can be the addiction that some people have. It’s a challenging dilemma. On the one hand we don’t want to walk with the wicked because we know where that leads and on the other hand we can create a man made system for doing good which leads us down another dark alley. We are broken, we are flawed and we are a mess.
God on the other hand promises us something that is unattainable by human effort. It is what we are seeking and hoping for. It is found at source in him. It is not found in other people at all. I am not denying the power, the importance and the necessity of community…how on earth are we going to love one another if we are not living close enough to others to intentionally practice that command? How are we going to forgive one another as God commands if we are not living within close enough proximity that we will offend each other?
The answer as far as I can make out is not bound up in religious systems or culture or organisational endeavours of the church but rather rooted in walking with, standing with and sitting with God and then the possibilities of how this works in community can be explored.