I am ready for joy. I am hungry for it. After a year of pandemic,…
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 is one of my favorites, and I find myself returning to it often. What I am drawn to most is its placement and imagery. Perhaps you’ve never heard this before, but the Psalms, the ancient prayers and songs of God’s people, are arranged in a particular order. In a sense, they are meant to be read from start to finish. Psalm 1 is, well, first. Along with Psalm 2, it is meant to shape how we read the rest.
Verse three states that God’s people are like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, whose leaves do not wither, and prospers in all things. It is a description of the ideal reader of the Psalms, and really the reader of the whole Bible. This is the kind of life we are promised when we meditate on God’s Word as the psalmist instructs.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that right now. We are in the middle of a physical and spiritual winter unlike I have ever known in my lifetime. As I speak to those with more years and experience, they agree. This is different.
I keep going back to Psalm 1 and asking: what does this say about winter? What is the flourishing life in a really difficult and prolonged season like this? And is there hope? I’m still processing, but I want to share a few thoughts about Psalm 1 in winter.
1. Seasons happen to the tree. The tree does not control the seasons. It weathers them. In our climate, we think of harsh winters. The original reader would have thought of dry summers. Either way, the point is the same: drought, scorching heat, bitter cold, high winds, floodwaters. The tree will experience all of it. Seasons are real, they are God-ordained, and they are completely out of our control. In other words, while this psalm promises a “blessed” life, it does not promise an easy one. It acknowledges that hardships will come, and the good life is not to avoid those things, but to endure them.
2. Sometimes growing feels like…not growing. Psalm 1 says that a good and faithful tree yields its fruit “in season”. I think this means there are times when fruit – external, abundant, successful-looking fruit – may be hard to come by. This winter feels like one of those times for me. As I look at the “metrics” of my life, almost everything feels harder. School? Check. Work? Check. Parenting? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. Putting pants on? Check. I mean, seriously, the fruit is hard to see. But I think that’s the point. The fruit (as I have defined it) comes and goes, but the leaves do not wither, which is a reference to the deepening work the tree goes through even in otherwise “fruitless” seasons. It may not feel like it is growing, or even look like it is growing, but it is. As I reflect on my own life, I sense this “winterizing” work of the Spirit. More simplicity. More quiet. This has led to more painful internal work, work I often avoid through busyness and noise. I sense the Holy Spirit’s pruning in things I continually ask for His help to increase until I receive that help, and then I don’t want it anymore. Things like patience, endurance, and long-suffering. There is growth occurring now, but it really doesn’t feel like growing.
3. Streams of living water. This gives me the most hope this winter. Scholars note that the word “planted” here in Hebrew actually implies “transplanted,” as in, this tree was intentionally moved near a source of water. The water, too, is not just a “stream,” but a cultivating stream, more like a canal. In other words, even though the seasons are difficult, if you look carefully, this tree has someone watching over it, caring for it, providing for it, in mysterious and often overlooked ways. No matter the circumstance or externality, it has access to life-giving water. The branches may appear bare at times, but the roots are deep and lack for nothing. And, of course, we know something even the psalmist didn’t know, at least not fully. We know the Living Water, Jesus Himself, who no doubt had this psalm in mind when He made that startling proclamation to the woman at the well in John 4. Our roots, come hell or high water, always go back to Him.
I still don’t always know what God is up to, especially right now. But I do know where to find the kind of life whose leaves do not wither, whose fruit comes in its due time, and a life that knows joy even in difficulty. I hope that you do, too.