John writes about the importance of turning to the bible for counsel
Where do you get advice? Who do you listen to? Where do you receive your counsel? Because it’s not as if there’s none to be had! Everybody has an idea about the best way to live. Everybody has an opinion on how you should run your life, your family, your finances, and your future. TV programmes parade agony aunts, selling all kinds of pet-philosophies on successful relationships. Richard and Judy are always waiting to give you cheerful advice.
Every time you go to the hairdressers, magazines are ready to tell you where to satisfy your needs. Self-help shelves in local bookshops are teeming with books on The Road to Success’ and ‘The Way of Happiness.’ There are spiritual gurus to guide your every move. We may prefer to think we are “our own person” and we make up our own minds. But our attitudes and actions are constantly shaped by other people. We’re just not able to go through life unaffected by the “counsel” of friends. We’re really not deaf to the opinions of colleagues. It’s a myth that we always resist the values of the media.
It is such myths that the First Psalm explodes. The Psalmist declares the truth that either our attitudes and actions are moulded by God, or they are shaped by the ungodly. Regardless of how offensive this idea may be to our culture, it is “either/or” rather than “both/and.”
In the Bible there are two perceptions of reality: the supernatural and the natural. There are two conflicting kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. There are two entry points: the wide gate leading to destruction and the narrow gate leading to life. And there are two sources of “counsel.” One sort leads to happiness: “blessed is the man…” The other sort, by implication, to unhappiness. There is no neutral ground.
All the good from the saviour of the world is communicated through this book
Why is this? “Because one of the great truths about being human,” says theologian Tom Wright, is that “you become like what you worship.” What we fill our heads with fills our heads! Listening to “the counsel of the wicked” (walking) leads to identifying with sinners (standing), which results in becoming settled, (or seated) in their company. If something goes wrong at work, and your boss is on the rampage to find the person who’s responsible for the mistake, to heed the counsel of the ungodly would probably be to lie your way out of the situation. Or to shift responsibility for it. When we compromise to the standards of our peers we stand in the way of sinners. And the danger is that it becomes common practice, we become comfortable with it.
The Bible – “the law of the Lord” – is the most remarkable book in the world. Charles Dickens called it “the best book that ever was for it teaches you the best lessons by which any human being can possibly be guided.” Abraham Lincoln said, “All the good from the saviour of the world is communicated through this book”. As Kings and Queens are crowned in Westminster Abbey they are presented with a copy of the Bible as “the most precious thing” this world affords. The Bible has many writers from poets to farmers, kings to tax-men, prime ministers to fishermen. It contains different types of literature: history and law, poetry and prose and personal letters. But it is all, from Genesis to Revelation, about Jesus. As the spokes of a wheel lead to the hub so the scriptures lead to Jesus. Luther wrote, “As you go to a cradle to see a baby, so you go to the Bible to see Jesus.” That is why our “delight is in the law of the Lord.” Or to put it another way:
The New is in the Old concealed The Old is by the New revealed The New is in the Old contained The Old is by the New explained
If the “law of the Lord” is God’s gift to us, the most precious thing this world affords, then it is to be delighted in. Bible-study doesn’t have to be some super-spiritual activity. We don’t have to think of it as an unfortunate necessity, a real drag. Instead, being able to read God’s law can be a joy. It’s a relief to fill our minds with some good stuff. It’s His kindness that provides a way out of the chaos of our culture, a means of checking our priorities, a time to re-fix our eyes on Jesus and His agenda for our lives. Dr Don Williams says in his commentary on the Psalms, “The fact is, the right attitude, delight, will lead to right action, meditation. If we delight in a person, we want to be with him or her. If we delight in a song, we want to sing it. If we delight in God’s law, we will want to meditate upon it.”
Significantly, though, ‘to meditate’ does not involve signing up with the local Yoga group. In the New Age Movement, Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world, to lose one’s own personality and merge with the Cosmic Mind. But meditation in the bible couldn’t be more different. It doesn’t aim to empty the mind but to fill it; “I think of You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:6).
It doesn’t try to escape from the world, but to help us to engage in it. The bible doesn’t take us away from the issues, crises, opportunities and relationships in our lives. On the contrary, it gives us the good counsel to deal with them. Meditation enables us to face the music and dance. And what are the results? There is something about the first Psalm that is delightfully simple as well as profound. David used a tree as a picture of the person who delighted in, meditated upon and went on to live by the Bible. A tree that was FIRM, “planted by streams of water”, its root system widespread and stable, and its water supply constant. The Holy Spirit is often described as streams of living water. The word and the Spirit sustain one another and hold us firm. So that when storms come the tree is not uprooted. The tree of Psalm 1 is FRESH, “its leaf does not wither.” Constant access to the Bible keeps us fresh spiritually and saves us from becoming wilted. Charles Spurgeon enjoyed saying that “All God’s trees are evergreens.” And this tree is also FRUITFUL; “it yields its fruit in its season.”
An old soldier once said “when I was converted someone put a Bible into my hand and said: “Read this. Obey it. And leave the consequences to God.”