Scripture often commands us to guard our thought lives:
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8, italics added)
The discipline of guarding one’s thought life is central to Psalm 1. This first psalm goes further, however, by offering both the means and the motivation for this discipline.
Psalm 1 is characteristic of the wisdom literature of the Bible in its contrast between two ways: the way of the wicked, which leads to death, and the way of the righteous, which leads to life.
The psalm first describes the character traits of the “blessed man” (i.e., the truly happy and satisfied person) with three negatives and two positives. The blessed person, Psalm 1:1 says, “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” Note the progression from walking to standing to sitting, indicating that a person can gradually become more and more settled in the way of sinning. On the contrary, the blessed person’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (1:2).
In these two verses, the negative and positive descriptions all start with the mind. Blessed people allow godly counsel—the “law of the Lord”—rather than the “counsel of the wicked” to form their thought life. This, in turn, leads to the yielding of fruit (1:3) rather than “standing in the path of sinners” (1:2).
Blessed people do not merely avoid doing certain things; they replace negative practices with positive ones.
In addition, blessed people do not merely avoid doing or thinking certain things; they replace negative practices (as seen in Psalm 1:1) with positive ones—most foundationally, by delighting in and meditating on God’s word. Devoting oneself to the reading of, reflecting on, and responding to God’s revealed truth in Scripture is the primary means God has given for this “renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
One way we can apply the principles of Psalm 1:1–2 is to allow God to have the first and last word of our day, by reading or quoting a passage of Scripture first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Prosperity as God Defines It
Having described the path of obedience in verses 1–2, Psalm 1 continues by illustrating the consequence of that obedience in verse 3. When we meditate on and delight in God’s word, we “will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever [we] do [we will] prosper” (1:3).
This is no health-and-wealth gospel that we’re being promised. It is prosperity as God defines it, which means “yielding fruit,” including, no doubt, the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22–23. Living in a way that produces spiritual fruit is what it means to prosper in God’s eyes. In contrast, the wicked “are like chaff which the winds drive away” (1:4). Any apparent prosperity for the wicked will be blown away easily and quickly. There’s a saying that you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. Worldly wealth and prosperity cannot be taken into the next life. It takes an eternal perspective to recognize the futility of a life spent in devotion to the pursuit of earthly gains.
Living in a way that produces spiritual fruit is what it means to prosper in God’s eyes.
An Eternal Perspective
Finally, in light of the first five verses, Psalm 1:6 gives the definitive reason why a person should desire the way of the righteous rather than the way of the wicked:
The Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:6)
This is the eternal perspective that should compel us to prefer the “congregation of the righteous” to the “way of sinners.” Such a perspective and consequent daily choosing of God’s way over the world’s way begins with our thought lives.
I encourage you to use this psalm, especially the promises in verse 3, to remind yourself regularly of this eternal perspective.
Verse for Meditation
[The blessed person] will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.