Everyone who cares about natural resources — air, soil, water, forests, fish stock, and the like — concern themselves with sustainability. In logging, you can’t log faster than the forests regrow, even if that we plant most of the new trees ourselves. In fishing, you can’t fish more than the fish can spawn, even if that means we create spawning plants. And so on. So where I live, heavily dependent on timber and wild salmon, each summer, armies of hale young men and women clamber up the steep sides of mountains, freshly logged, plugging tree seedlings in earth they just spiked to make a socket. They get paid per seedling, so the game is to plant whole forests in a day, and the next day do it again. Along many rivers are fish plants where fry our hatched, grown to a few inches, and released into the waters to replenish the fish stock that trawlers and seiners have pulled out to put fresh meat counters and, canned, on grocery shelves.
They’re sustaining what we have so that, the theory goes, there will be something left — a net equivalent— for the next generation, and the one after that. And there’s more. In those two examples, forestry and fishing, and many others I could use, the lack of sustainability doesn’t just mean we’ll have less timber and salmon for the next generation. Because deforestation causes collateral damage — soil erosion, the flourishing of non-indigenous plants, the loss of habitat for wild life, the alteration of weather patterns, and, more — its destructive effects are cumulative. Likewise for depleted salmon stocks — its affects, at minimum, the welfare of other creatures —oscars, bears, eagles —who depend on salmon for food.
A lot depends on sustainability.
I began to ask myself, What is my plan for sustainability in my spiritual life? If some seasons deplete me — if they clear-cut the hillside, empty the ocean — what can I do to begin regrowth?
A PSALM 1 LIFE
My own sustainability is grounded in a Psalm 1 life:
Blessed are those
who do not walk with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but who delights in the law of the Lord
and meditate on His law day and night.
They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither —
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke calls this the gateway of the Psalms. It is not merely the first psalm but the entire Psalter’s plinth and portal, its bedrock and keyhole: it anticipates and summarizes the other 149 psalms. Psalm 1 works as an interpretive grid for everything that follows. If the Psalms, in sun and substance, train us how to serve and love a Holy God (just as Proverbs, in sum and substance, trains us how to serve and love fallen people), Psalm 1 provides basic orientation. If the Psalms, in sum and substance, teach us how to pray, to shape our grief and rage and joy and loneliness, and everything else besides, into Holy communion, then Psalm 1 lays the foundation. Miss this, you’ll get it elsewhere, only it will take longer. Grasp this, you’ll have a field guide for identifying what the rest of the Psalms show in vivid detail.
Psalm 1 is about choosing where to take root. That’s a choice no actual tree gets: in the wild, wherever a tree takes root is decided by a series of serendipitous events — the way the wind is blowing the day the tree casts that seed, the distance the bird flies who eats it, the quality of the soil its stool fell upon. And under cultivation, wherever a tree is rooted is decided by the gardener.
But we’re not trees. We’re simply like trees. So we have the privilege and the responsibility to choose where we set our roots. The epigraph of this book is a stanza of a poem,”The Sun,” by David Whyte:
. . . I look out
growing so wild
and faithfully beneath
why we are the one
part of creation
to refuse our flowering
“The one terrible part of creation privileged to refuse our flowering.” That line haunts me.
Our “privileged refusal” stems from a basic choice about where we set our roots. Psalm 1 presents two contrasting choices: draw our nourishment from “the wicked” — the world — or draw it from the “law” — the Word. Of course, there are many gradations between these stark choices. (Psalm 1 tacitly acknowledges this, with its imagery of walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the way of sinners, sitting in the seat of mockers; the arc of motion here is from curiosity to interaction to conversion. It’s from eavesdropping on the wicked talk to absorption in it.)
Psalm 1 asks of us (or commends us to us) both a choice and a refusal. It pronounces blessing on both — blessing, first, on the refusal, on those who reject the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of mockers. These things — this counsel, this way, this seat — produce not fruit but chaff. They create not flourishing but withering. It’s a life that attracts at first — the tents of the wicked, Psalm 84 calls it; the wide gate and the broad road, as Jesus portrays it — but ultimately, tragically, misleads — a highway to hell, as AC/DC aptly named it. The glamor of this life is all on its surface, the film of gas on a mud puddle that, viewed from a certain angle, looks pretty.
Blessed are those who see that and refuse it.
And blessed are those who choose what, on the surface, looks bland, routine, boring: being rooted. In contrast to the frenetic activity of those who heed the wicked — a blur of motion, they are — those who heed the Word are immovable. The frenetic activity of the wicked increasingly parches them, whereas the stillness of the blessed continuously nourishes them. The blessings are not going anywhere, which in this case is a good thing. The apostle Paul warns that if we do not grow in Christ, bearing fruit, we will be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14). We’ll be like tumbleweed, fallen leaves, chaff: something rootless. But we’re meant to be trees, deeply rooted. Trees may be buffered by the winds, and bend beneath them, but if the roots are strong and deep, they stay where they are. Immovable.
The key, though, is not simply to be rooted but to set our roots near water. In a later chapter, I’ll talk more about that water, the Word of God. But for now I want to pluck out two words from Psalm 1, one that denotes altitude, the other action.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
I am not a perfect human being. Although Scripture tell those that follow Jesus Christ to be perfect —
““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
(Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)
That’s a lot to live up to. We all struggle with sin, except Jesus Christ — the only exception in the past, present, and future of the history of human beings. Yet, as one moves along the Christian path where you grow from a spiritual baby to a mature adult, the more evident it becomes to you on how undeserving you are to receive God’s grace.
Which is it then, since there was only One person who didn’t sin? Even the Apostle Peter sinned when he was spotted with Jesus at His deathly trial but denying it thrice, and Jesus predicted it. This section of verses (Matthew 5:43-48) haunted me until I gained clarification by the Holy Spirit living in me.
According to Luke, Jesus is on the cross (just picture an innocent Holy Man going through the punishment you so earnestly deserve) along with two other criminals. But one of the criminals has a change of heart —
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 5:43-48 ESV)
In addition, this has always bothered me too since the one of the two criminals did not say the traditional“first prayer of salvation, yet according to the Lord he will be with Jesus Christ in paradise — which you think of what they were going through at the moment any hint of relief would be considered “paradise”. However, he is in heaven without asking God for forgiveness of his sins since Jesus knew his heart. And, thus, his soul was transformed from death to life, instantly. Yet, what about those who are still suffering for the name of Jesus?
The answer comes from Jesus and Peter:
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.””
(Luke 9:23-27 ESV)
And, the Apostle Peter:
“For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
(1 Peter 2:20-21)
For a vast majority of True Life Christians, we don’t get that conversion so close to physical death. Instead, we have a Holy Example in Christ to gladly suffer for the name of Jesus. Consider the passage in Romans 8:26-30 which says —
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
(Romans 8:26-30 ESV)
That is the Holy Spirit working in the soul of every believer using this passage to communicate with Jesus, and then Jesus in response to partitioning by the Holy Spirit intercedes for every one of us believers to God the Father. Yes, indeed, it is sometimes tough to be a Christian sticking up for the name that is superior to any other name (Jesus Christ). For Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:14-16 —
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
(John 17:14-17 ESV)
For those who take heed won’t be like the chaff who is blown about everywhere, but a tree who is deeply rooted with an abundant supply of Living Water so that way you can survive these storms of the physical life.
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~