January 3, 1999
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Beginning of Prayer Week
John Piper, Pastor
MEDITATE ON THE WORD OF THE LORD DAY AND NIGHT
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.
If this is Prayer Week, why do we begin with a message on Psalm 1 that doesn't mention prayer, and focus our attention on the Word of God and not prayer? The central point of this psalm is made in verse 2: "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night." The person who delights in God's law so much that he meditates on it day and night is delivered from the ways of the wicked and sinners and scoffers, and is made fruitful and durable and prosperous. That's the point. Delighting in the law of God is the central issue. So why begin Prayer Week with this psalm and this focus on delighting in the law of God?
Well, where is this psalm? It is the beginning of the book of Psalms. And what are the psalms? Many of them are prayers. In fact, the Psalter is the prayer book of the Bible. Millions of Christians go to the Psalms to find words for the cry of their hearts in the worst of times and the best of times. So I begin Prayer Week with Psalm 1 because the Bible begins its prayer book with Psalm 1.
But why does it? And why should we? The reason is that in the Christian life -in the life of God's people - prayer and the Word are connected in such a way that if you disconnect them, both die. Let me sum up the connection between prayer and the Word in three ways. The Word of God inspires prayer, it informs prayer and it incarnates prayer. Just a word of explanation on each of these.
Connection Between the Word and Prayer
The Word of God inspires prayer. This means that the Word commands us to pray, and makes promises to us of what God will do if we pray, and tells us stories of great men and women of prayer. James 5:16-18 does all three. First, "Pray for one another so that you may be healed." There's a command from the Word. Second, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." There is the encouraging promise. Third, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months." There's a story to inspire us. So the Word inspires prayer by telling us to do it (like a doctor telling us what's good for us) and promising us good things if we will do it, and telling us stories to encourage us in our weakness.
Second, the Word of God informs prayer. This means that the Word tells us what to pray and becomes itself the content of our prayer. When you know the mind of God in his Word, you pray the mind of God in your prayers. For example, in Acts 4:24-26, the early church prayed like this: "They lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them [see Exodus 20:11], who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David your servant, said [quoting Psalm 2], 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against his Christ.'" This is the way powerful saints have prayed throughout history. O may the Lord fill our payers with the great purposes and promises of God that we learn from his Word. The Word informs prayer.
Third, the Word incarnates prayer. This means that prayers are often invisible and concealed in the soul and in the closet and in the church. But their effect is to be in the open in the lives of other people and among the nations. How does that happen? God usually advances his purposes in world evangelization and personal transformation and cultural reformation by direct encounters with the truth of his Word. The Word incarnates our prayers. Prayers become effective through the truth getting into people's ears and minds and hearts.
People don't just start believing on Jesus because you pray for them. They need to hear about Jesus. "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). "Pray for us that the Word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Prayer empowers the Word and the Word incarnates prayer. Saints don't just become more holy because someone prays that they will. They need to see the truth: "Sanctify them in the truth. Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17). Cultural slavery to injustice and greed and dishonesty and sexual immorality does not just change because we pray for it. The agent of reformation is the truth: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Prayer must be incarnated in declarations and demonstrations of the truth.
That's probably enough to explain why we begin Prayer Week with a text on the Word of God. The Word inspires, informs and incarnates prayer. They go together, because Word and Spirit go together. Word without Spirit is intellectualism. Spirit without Word is emotionalism at best, and probably syncretism. But the Word and the Spirit are kept together when we depend on the Spirit for help in all our dealing with the Word, and express that dependence in prayer.
The Blessing of Delighting in God's Word
Now let's consider Psalm 1 and focus on delighting in and meditating on the Word of God. First, let's think about the blessing that comes from delighting in and meditating on the Word day and night. The Psalm begins, "How blessed is the man. . ." So you are drawn in right away: do you want blessing in your life? The word means "happy" in the rich, full sense of happiness rooted in moral and mental and physical wellbeing.
But now who is this happy person? The one who does not do something and the one who does do something. The happy person does not "walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!" (verse 1). But what does the happy person do? Verse 2: "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night." So, instead of finding his pleasures in the words or the ways or the fellowship of the wicked, the one who is truly happy finds pleasure in meditating on the Word and the ways of God. ("Law," Torah, = instruction: God's Words about God's ways.)
Now the point of the psalm is to say that when you experience the Word of God like that - as so delightful and so satisfying that it captures your mind and heart day and night and weans you away from the counsel and path and seat of the world -when you experience the Word like that, you are blessed. You are happy.
The Person Who Delights in the Word of God
Then, in verse 3, it gives us three illustrations of that happiness. The first one is that the person who delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night will be "like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season." The second one is that the person who delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night will be like a tree whose "leaf does not wither." And the third is that the person who delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night "will prosper in all that he does."
Let's think about each of these for a moment.
If you delight in the Word of God and meditate on it day and night you will yield your fruit in season. You will be a fruitful person. O for more fruitful people! You know them. They are refreshing and nourishing to be around. You go away from them fed. You go away strengthened. You go away with your taste for spiritual things awakened. Their mouth is a fountain of life. Their words are healing and convicting and encouraging and deepening and enlightening. Being around them is like a meal. This is the effect of delighting in the Word of God and meditating on it day and night. You will yield fruit in season.
The second illustration of your blessing if you delight in the Word of God and meditate on it day and night is that your leaf does not wither. The point here is that the hot winds are blowing and the rain is not falling and all the other trees that are not planted by streams are withering and dying, but in spite of all the heat and drought, your leaf remains green, because delighting in the Word of God and meditating on it day and night is like being planted by a stream. The happiness of this person is durable. It is deep. It does not depend on which way the wind is blowing or whether the rain is falling. It gets its life from an absolutely changeless source: God in his Word.
The person who delights in the Word of God and meditates on it day and night speaks like the prophet in Habakkuk 3:17-18: "Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."
(A Thought on Y2K)
This might be a place to say a word about the Y2K scare. Do you want a prophetic word about Y2K? I have two prophetic words about Y2K. First, the greatest need on January 1, 2000, will not be basements stocked with food and water and generators, but hearts stocked with the Word of God. You will be fruitful, you will flourish, you will be life-giving not by seeking the very things the world seeks (Matthew 6:32), but by delighting in the Word of God and meditating on it day and night. What the world will need and does need from the church is the Word of God that fits us to say, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . .. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37).
The other prophetic word about Y2K is this: Nothing is going to happen on January 1, 2000, nothing, that is as bad as what is already happening to persecuted and starving Christians in Sudan. Or to the staggering number of orphans in Malawi and other AIDS-devastated countries of Africa. Or to survivors in Honduras and Nicaragua. Or to lonely, dying old people in dozens of skilled care centers around the Twin Cities who have outlived their families. There is something that smells of hypocrisy in the talk about stockpiling supplies in our homes to "minister" to others in the coming Y2K crisis when there are more places to minister this very day that are worse crises than anything that is going to happen a year from now. Y2K will happen to someone every day in 1999 - many of them within your reach.* Delight yourself in the Word of God, meditate on it day and night, and then take the fruit of your life and go minister to the lost and the hungry and the thirsty that are already so many. Then you won't even notice when Y2K happens.
3. Prospering (Really?)
3. But now that leads to the question raised by the third illustration of blessing and happiness in verse 3. "And in whatever he does, he prospers." Really? What does this mean? Does it mean that, if you delight in the Word of God and meditate enough, your business will make a big profit and your health will always be good and there will be no food shortages or car accidents or violence against your house?
Well, there are some reasons to believe that such a person will have some of those blessings. For example, when you delight in God's Word instead of walking in the counsel of the wicked and standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the seat of scoffers, you will be doing the kinds of things that God approves of, and he is likely to bless what he approves. And when you are delighting in the Word of God, you are trusting it, and we know God works for those who trust him and wait for him (Isaiah 64:4; 2 Chronicles 16:9).
But there are reasons to believe that God does not always spare his most faithful people. There are many passages of Scripture that tell us "many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Psalm 34:19; cf. Acts 14:22). Psalm 73 expresses the reality that often the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. The answer of that Psalm and this one is: Behold what becomes of them in the end (Psalm 73:17).
Psalm 1 says, "The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish" (verses 4-5). When this Psalm ponders the value of being wicked or of delighting in the Word of God, it measures the value finally by what happens at the judgment. There may be some prosperity in this life for the wicked, but in the end they will be swept away like chaff, but those who have delighted in the Word of God will go on flourishing because God sets his eye and favor on them. He "knows" their way.
So the blessing, the happiness, referred to in verse 1 is a life that is nourishing and fruitful for others, a life that is deeply durable in the face of drought and a life whose "labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58), but succeeds in God's good purposes into eternity. That's the blessing of delighting in the Word of God and meditating on it day and night.
What Is Meditation?
Now what does this meditation involve? The word "meditation" in Hebrew means basically to speak or to mutter. When this is done in the heart it is called musing or meditation. So meditating on the Word of God day and night means to speak to yourself the Word of God day and night and to speak to yourself about it.
Here is where I plead with you to get involved in the Fighter Verse memory program or some other pattern of Bible memorization. Unless you memorize Scripture you will not meditate on it day and night. But O the benefits and delights of knowing communion with God hour by hour in his Word. If you have ever wondered, What is hour-by-hour walking in fellowship with the living God? the answer is: it is his speaking to you by his Word through your memory and meditation and illumination and application and your speaking to him words of thanks and praise and admiration and desire and seeking for help and guidance and understanding. The Word is the basis for your hearing him and for his hearing you. The depth and solidity and certainty of your walk with God and your communion with God will rise and fall with whether God's own written Word is the warp and woof of the fabric of your fellowship.
Let me just give you an example of how this works in my own life. As I was coming to the end of the year and reading the final pages of the Old Testament in the Minor Prophets, I was moved by Micah 7:18. It is the foundation of a favorite hymn of mine, "Who Is a Pardoning God Like Thee?" by Samuel Davies. So I memorized it and carried it around on the front burner of my mind for several days. It says, "Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever because he delights in steadfast love."
One of the insights that I discovered and tasted with tremendous pleasure was that God does choose to be angry, but his anger is limited. Why? Because he "delights in steadfast love." This means that anger is not God's favorite emotion. He "delights" in love. This has huge implications - practical ones -about my life and my own anger and love as I rest in him. And theological ones, as I ponder the levels of willing in God: willing to be angry in his holiness at sin, and yet not delighting to be angry the way he delights to show steadfast love. I was fed by this text for several days before I moved on to another front-burner text.
So I urge you to memorize Scripture, and meditate on it day and night. It will change your life in many good ways.
What if Meditation and Prayer are Drudgery?
Finally, we must ask about this delight. The deepest mark of this happy person in Psalm 1 is that he delights in the Word of God (verse 2). Bible reading and Bible memory and meditation are not a burden to him, but a pleasure. This is what we want. What a sadness when Bible reading is just a drudgery. Something is wrong.
What shall we do? Well, we will say more next week, but let's close considering this. We struggle with Bible reading and memory and meditation because we don't find pleasure in it. We have other things we want to get to more. TV or breakfast or work or newspaper or computer. Our hearts incline to other things and do not incline to the Word. And so it is not a delight.
Did the psalmists ever struggle with this? Yes they did. Take heart. We all do. How shall this be changed? This is Prayer Week, and so the answer we will stress is that it is changed through prayer. This is what I will focus on next week. We must pray for God's enabling to help us delight in his Word. This will be clear from the way the psalmists pray. I hope you will come back and hear the help that the psalmists give us not only to pray without ceasing, but to do it with delight.
Copyright 1999 John Piper
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