Praying the Psalms with Christ – Psalm 1

November 7, 2007 at 10:43 pm 1 comment

NOTE: This is the first of a series on praying the psalms in Christ.  It is also a class I am giving Wednesday evenings in November and December. 

Psalm 1:1 reads thus, in the New Revised Standard Version:

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.

This is good advice.  We are to assume that we are the intended subject of the psalm.  If we avoid these things, we will be happy.  It seems to be a logical conclusion.

Here is the translation in the King James Version:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Aside from the difficulty with saying “walk-eth, stand-eth, sit-teth,” there seems to be a definite advantage to using “they” rather than “the man” as that which is happy or blessed.  It applies to everyone, whether man or woman.  If we are applying this psalm to everyone as a meditation on the blessed life, it might be helpful to use a plural.

However, what if we asked “who is the blessed man?”  A possible answer might be any of the faithful, or the whole people of God.  But if we would have asked one of the early Christians about the subject of this psalm, they would not have hesitated to say that the blessed man is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the only one who has never walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood with sinners, or sat in scorn upon anyone.  All of us have done these things, but he is innocent of them all, instead:

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.

When we read the Psalm in this manner, it becomes not good advice for us, but a proclamation of Christ’s life and love.  Instead of a general exhortation to good living, it can be prayed as a meditation on God’s goodness in Christ.

We are present also in this psalm.  In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Psalm 1:3 proclaims of Christ:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; whatever he does shall prosper.

In a sense, both ways of praying this psalm – from our perspective, and from Christ’s perspective – are appropriate.  But to put things in a Lutheran key, praying the psalm from our perspective makes this a Psalm of Law.  The Law commands us to be the blessed person, avoiding those things which are bad and delighting in what is good.  It is that blessed person that we find it often so hard to be, and we wonder – no, we confess – that we are that sinner who will not stand in the council of the righteous.  We can only approach this psalm in aspiration, measuring our life by how well or how badly we approach the status of “blessed one.”

But to pray this psalm in adoration of Christ, the Blessed One – ah, that puts things in a whole new light.   It is the light of the Gospel, it is what God has done for us, not what we can do for God.  We are indeed called to the blessed life, but it is not something we do out of our own strength or goodness.  Rather it is a life of imitation: to model our lives after the life of the Blessed One who lived his obedient life to save us.  We are also reminded that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”  God’s vindication of Christ and his holy ones cannot be far away.  We need not fear the snares of the world or those who would harm us.

Psalm 1, New American Standard Version

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Entry filed under: Prayer, Psalms.

Reformation Day – October 31 Praying the Psalms with Christ: Learning to Pray

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