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On a particularly memorable lunch break many years ago while I was a young teacher, I found myself sitting in my car at a nearby park. I felt driven to get out of my school building to seek a time of prayer; I was feeling deeply despondent and down. And to be honest, I was also feeling rather unspiritual and guilty for my lack of time with God. Where was my fervency? Where was my direction?
As I sat in that car, I looked up from my meager attempts at prayer and beheld two very different-looking trees. One was blooming and beautiful, full of life. The other had no blossoms at all; its spindly limbs stuck out and it looked like death to me. I was immediately struck with a question that I believe was impressed upon my by the Spirit of God: which tree do you want to be? The presence of God filled my car and I began to pray in the Spirit with much more fervency. Which tree did I want to be, indeed.
A Vibrant Tree
I have never forgotten that day nor the look of those two trees. My mind immediately went to Psalm 1 where verse 3 talks about a vibrant tree that is planted by the rivers of water; it brings forth fruit in its season and it does not wither. It seemed very apparent that God was letting me know that memorable day that it was my decision about which tree I was to be. And, OH, how I wanted to be the thriving, blossom-bearing tree. However, my desire alone was simply not enough. There were some things that I needed to do to become the vigorous and lively tree that my heart yearned to become.
Let’s take a look at the first part of Psalm 1:
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”
5 Characteristics of the Fruitful
1. They do not follow the advice of the wicked.
Why are we continually tempted to follow the ways of the world and our culture? It is a daily battle, and it is raging. Nearly everything we see or hear these days is filled to the brim – whether overtly or subtly – with “worldly wisdom.” There is no shortage on all social media channels of influencers telling us how we should feel, how we should think, and what we should do about it. If we are not vigilant, it is easy to be sucked in without even realizing it. We jump on bandwagons without even fully comprehending what they stand for or mean. We have to be more concerned with what the Bible says than what the culture says. The culture is screaming, but the Bible won’t speak unless you read it! (For more on defending our faith, see this post.)
Furthermore, I’ll just say that if you’re doing your best to follow Jesus and to lead the life of a disciple, then you should not be seeking advice or counsel from any source that contradicts the Word of God. I know that’s bold statement, but I do believe it. “The wicked” in the scripture are those who have no care for God’s ways or they actively disobey them. Whether friend, family member, or neighbor, if they are not obeying the Lord, then you have no business seeking advice from them if you truly want to be a disciple of Jesus.
2. They do not stand around with sinners.
There’s no denying the practical reality that we become like those we spend the most time with. To me, “standing around with sinners” seems like the undecided one who is giving ear to those who actively disobey the voice of the Lord. Perhaps he, himself, has not engaged in sin, but he is open to it and checking it out. As they say, “curiosity killed the cat!”
That’s why the fruitful and godly pointedly do not give their ears (or their minds, or their children’s ears…) to those with no care for the things of God. I don’t believe it’s some sort of misguided elitism; no, we know that Jesus supped with sinners on occasion. Standing around with sinners says, “I’m willing to listen to what you have to say.” We must be so careful! Especially on social media. What seems so harmless is not always so. I’ve seen numerous unbiblical and anti-God opinions shared on Facebook with the sweetest, most innocent words. We must be wise with who or what we “stand around” with. These are the ones who have entrance into our lives.
3. They do not join in with mockers.
Here’s a big one. Mocking and sarcasm seem to be common and perfectly acceptable modes of communication these days. Again, I note that the word “join” is used here; to me, it is speaking of acceptance and alliance with those who knowingly do wrong. Careful! We must be so careful!
Mockery is an interesting thing. On the surface, perhaps it seems like merely humor at someone else’s expense. While that is not praiseworthy, it also does not seem “too” bad. However, peering more deeply into the concept would present more sinister motivations for many. It is deeply disrespectful and undermining. Don’t we experience this as Christians today? Everywhere we turn, our faith and our discipleship are being mocked. In essence, we are being deeply disrespected and our beliefs undermined when mockers of our age characterize us as misguided simpletons.
Knowing, as we do, how that feels and how destructive it is, we must be vigilant in keeping our own behavior separate from those who seek to devalue and undermine others. It’s so easy to get caught up in it and not realize its demoralizing effect.
4. They delight in the law of the Lord.
For many years, and still at times today – if I’m honest, my bible-reading seemed a drudgery or a chore. But my, what a difference, when I go to the Word expecting to receive something. I am not usually disappointed!
I love the word “delight” used here. It’s a pleasure, a joy: quite the opposite of drudgery or duty. And I don’t think that the bible is only talking about delighting in the quiet times of bible study; I think it is much more expansive than that. The godly and fruitful one delights in the ways of God that are presented in the bible. Yes, they enjoy reading it. But, perhaps even more so, they love living it! It is a delight. How much easier to do things when we truly enjoy them!
5. They meditate on it day and night.
Yes, they are loving it and living it, thinking about it, breathing it in and reflecting on it. They are meditating on God’s ways and His goodness. This is a joyful person, indeed! How frequently do I realize that my thoughts are sapping my energy, my purpose, and my joy?? If I can turn those thoughts to meditation on the ways that my God cares for me and loves me through His word, peace and joy swiftly return.
It isn’t some sort of obligatory practice; the fruitful disciple meditates because it is in her heart. It is a joy to reflect on those things upon which her life is founded. Further, how much easier to refrain from evil ways! When my heart and thoughts are on the instructions of my heavenly Father, it’s easier for me to perceive when sin lies close at hand. It is truly a win-win to meditate on the law of God!
The Results of a Godly Life
So, back to the trees. Here’s the analogy found in verse 3:
“They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”
First, I see that these godly one are like trees planted along the riverbank. They are near their water supply, glory! They are nourished and consistently kept by practicing the ways of God. They are full – even in drought. Secondly, they bear fruit each season. As the seasons change, the fruitful follower of God adapts and finds ways to be productive in each different station of life. They are flourishing, the very picture of health. Thirdly, their leaves never wither. They are vibrant pictures of what following Jesus should look like. Lastly, they prosper in all they do. What a promise! If we commit our ways to God and actively shun the ways of the world, we will prosper, spiritually.
I want to circle back and note that the Word says that they are like trees, “planted.” I don’t want to miss it. Those leading godly and productive lives have put down roots in the ways of God. They’ve made some declarations and severed some connections; they’ve chosen Jesus above all others. While so many today find commitments hard to make and keep, the truly faithful have made their commitment to be planted and fruitful in God’s kingdom.
I hope you’re encouraged to be planted by God today. The rest of Psalm 1 warns us what happens to the wicked who chose rather the things of this world. It is not a pleasant future. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; we will certainly fail. But the important thing is to make the decision and the commitment to Him; no turning back. From that point forward, we can all grow to be fruitful saints of God, planted and prospering.