Of all the things to put on your New Year’s resolution list, for the Christian, spending more time in the Bible is typically near the top. The hustle of Christmas ends. We are tired. We are depleted. But with the dawn of a new year, we are hopeful. The new year brings a fresh start.
The Bible knows our need for fresh starts. We are a forgetful people, after all.
There are many plans out there to get you in the Word of God this January. There are articles encouraging you to make it a priority. There are sermons urging you to make this year your year of faithfulness to the Word. We even have apps that track your Bible reading progress and allow you to have accountability with friends.
These are all helpful in answering how to incorporate the Bible into daily life. But I want to show you why you should start your year off with the Bible. It comes from an unlikely place.
Psalm 1 opens the book of Psalms with:
How happy is the one who does not
walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners
or sit in the company of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night. (Ps. 1:1-2, CSB)
There is a happiness to have, the psalmist says, and it comes from avoiding one word and meditating on another.
Advice is all around us. We are bombarded with words at every turn. Social media is a gathering place of countless ideas either promising a good life, or telling us how to live, or pointing us to the supposedly right path. But here in Psalm 1, the psalmist says that the way to live a happy life is to “delight in the Lord’s instruction” and “[meditate] on it day and night.”
So what leads to the happy life? Time in God’s Word. And not just a few minutes here and there, but a life consumed by the Word of God. You delight in it. You think about it. You ponder it in the morning and in the evening, and every moment in between. The psalmist knows that without this conscious decision, something else will fill your mind and time. This is why he sets up the contrast. Instead of putting on the words of the wicked, put on the words of God. Instead of dwelling with those who hate God, put yourself in the presence of the Lord. The key to a happy life comes from avoiding one set of instructions and pondering another.
The unavoidable fruit of the happy life
There is fruit that comes from meditating on the Word day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams
that bears its fruit in its season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. (v. 3)
By staying connected to a continuous, life-giving stream, you bear fruit. This is a flowing stream, and as the water flows to the roots of the tree, the tree grows, bears fruit, and prospers. You will not stay the same if you spend time in the Word.
Have you ever felt stuck in your faith — or just in life? You wake up aimless. You go to work and find little joy and purpose. You know you need to go to church or be involved in a Bible study, but you can’t find the motivation. And you are sad.
The primary means God has given us for growing in our faith — for getting unstuck — is His Word. Sometimes all you need is to take the first step. Like the psalmist, remind yourself that there is a life to be had if you simply walk in the words of God rather than the world. You will grow. Like a tree, it might be slow. But it will be unavoidable.
But what is happiness, really?
The fruit that comes from this tree does lead to happiness — even fulfillment. There is a pleasantness to following God’s ways. The psalmist says elsewhere, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Ps. 16:6). God’s ways and His paths are always for our good. Just ask any person who has spent his or her years on the wide path of destruction (Matt. 7:13), and that person will tell you of the sadness waiting at the other side. God’s design and His decrees exist for a reason. He is a good God who really does want good things for us.
But maybe you have lived all this out — you love the Bible, you make time for it, you aren’t choosing the advice of the wicked — but your life feels anything but happy. Psalm 1 feels like a bait and switch to you, designed to get you to do something without delivering on its promises. What happens when the happiness doesn’t come? What happens when the blessed life doesn’t come?
There is a reason Psalm 1 is the psalm that sets up the book of Psalms. Just flip over a few pages in your Bible (after Psalm 1) and you will find a lot of other people who obeyed Psalm 1 and found themselves in the pit. There are people in despair, people who are weeping, people who feel forgotten by God, and people who are physically suffering. The Psalms are filled with almost half as many sad ones as happy ones. Did Psalm 1 get it wrong?
The Bible has a different understanding of happiness than us. The fruit that comes from loving God’s Word is that you are sturdy and strong like a tree, and that all your ways are known and sustained by God (verse 6). The wicked perish. They get a few short years on earth, but they will not last.
The happy life is the life that is like a strong tree, so when the storms of life come (like they do in the rest of the Psalms) you will not be blown away. The one who chooses to meditate on the advice of the wicked is the one who has no root when storms come. He blows away with a small wind. But the one who chooses God’s Word cannot be shaken. This is true happiness — a resiliency that cannot be taken from you.
Have you ever met a Christian who had a peace and trust that was unexplainable in circumstances? Cancer comes to her family, but she does not turn away from the Lord. Instead she runs to Him with all of her fear and questions. What is the outcome for that person? She is still standing when the storm passes. She possesses a joy and peace that can only be explained by the work of Another.
Your friend loses his job shortly after he buys his first house, but he somehow doesn’t despair. He is like a tree, nourished by streams that are deep in the ground. He may look bare and stripped down by his circumstances, but something underneath it all is sustaining him. It’s God’s Word. He is living the happy life with a joy that cannot be taken from him.
The world promises a temporary happiness. It’s easy to come by, but it’s fleeting. Like a piece of candy, it provides a rush of sweetness followed by a hard crash of emptiness. It will never truly satisfy. There are many things that will be vying for your time and attention this year, but none is more important than this — God’s Word will make you happy this year. It will give you a “peace that passes understanding” (Phil. 4:7). It will lead to your flourishing. It will give you life.
If I asked a handful of people on the street if they want to be happy this year, I imagine all would say “yes” without hesitation. No one wants to be unhappy. The pursuit of happiness is built into our bones. But the road to happiness is littered with many false promises. There is only one path that leads to true happiness, no matter what comes your way. If you want to be happy this year, start with the Bible.
Copyright 2020 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.