Blessed are all they that fear the Lord
and walk in his ways.
For thou shalt eat the labours of thine hands:
O well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.
Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine
upon the walls of thine house.
Thy children like the olive-branches
round about thy table.
Lo, thus shall the man be blessed
that feareth the Lord.
The Lord from out of Sion shall so bless thee
that thou shalt see Jerusalem in prosperity all thy life long.
Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children
and peace upon Israel.
This psalm is all about blessedness. Eating the fruit of your work. Enjoying your spouse and children. Long life. Prosperity. Peace.
For those of you who, like me, have long lived in right skepticism of health-and-wealth doctrines of prosperity, psalms like this probably make you squirm. I’ve been squirming all week: how am I supposed to write about this psalm? When lots of God-fearing people have hard lives that don’t include good work, a good marriage, good kids, good health, good money, and good vibes, what am I supposed to say?
This psalm makes me incredibly uncomfortable. At first blush, it feels, dare I say it?, like a lie. Or a false promise. Which amounts to the same thing.
So I’ve been wrestling with it all week.
But the more I read it and prayed through it, the more I realized that all the saints and sages of all the ages have said this. They say, again and again, that people who fear the Lord and walk in His ways are, actually, happy. They are blessed. They enjoy God’s good gifts, in whatever form those take in their particular lives. They know joy and peace.
But I will confess: this has not been my experience (joy and peace are things I am just beginning to be acquainted with). And because it has not been my experience (and also because language of blessedness is so easily abused), I have turned a skeptical, even cynical, eye upon the words of this psalm and of the saints and sages.
A few months ago at my co-op, we were singing “Trust and Obey” during the Bible class. All the way through the song, I was squinty-eyed with skepticism—all those promises about grief and loss being blessed, and that chorus about being happy in Jesus! And I thought, oh please. There’s no way John Sammis actually experienced all this happy-happy-joy-joy from trusting in Jesus.
Those ugly words in my head slapped me across the face. I felt my cheeks burn. And I realized how many times I had dismissed the words of the sages and saints—and the psalms—and Jesus himself—simply because I hadn’t experienced what they were talking about.
That morning I stood in wide-eyed wonder and for the first time asked myself, why should my solitary experience trump the wisdom and consensus of the ages? Why should I privilege my experience above theirs? What if the problem lies not with the psalmist or the sages but with me? What if they’re right, and I haven’t experienced that blessedness because I don’t actually trust in and obey Jesus?
So when I came to this psalm of blessing and my first instinct was to dismiss it as so much pie-in-the-sky optimism, I stopped myself.
“Blessed are all they that fear the Lord and walk in his ways.”
That sounds an awful lot like trust and obey. So instead of dismissing it, I asked instead what God might say to me in this Easter season of blessedness through this psalm of blessedness.
And I honestly didn’t know, until this happened:
Last night, just as we were sitting down to eat dinner, my daughter knocked over her water glass. We’re talking 20 ounces of water flooding across the table, cascading onto a chair, and pooling on the floor. Those of you who’ve been reading here for any length of time know that I do not have good track record when it comes to spilled water. Or messes of any kind, really. But last night, I didn’t raise my voice, lash out, or chastise my daughter for her carelessness. I just calmly helped her clean up the water.
It wasn’t till I was mopping the water off the chair and the floor that I realized what I was doing: I was cleaning up a mess at the next-to-most-absolute worst time of day, that witching hour right before dinner when everyone is hungry and grumpy and strung-out and spun-up, and I was doing it calmly. I knelt there on the floor with a rag in my hands, wiping up the water, and it dawned on me how much I have grown, how much God has transformed me. And I marveled.
I know it sounds small to you. It is small. But it was also huge.
It wasn’t just that I didn’t flip my lid or blow a gasket. It was that it didn’t occur to me to flip my lid or blow a gasket. That’s what made it so huge: there has been a fundamental shift in my way of being in the world, a shift from knee-jerk (and vocal!) anger to…what? I don’t even know what to call this. Calm? Collectedness? Peace?
It wasn’t just last night, either. I’ve slowly become aware that I’m not nearly as uptight and angry as I used to be. I can take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (usually in the shape of four healthy, energetic children) and roll with them. Most of the time, anyway.
Now, I didn’t just wake up one morning and suddenly discover that I was a relaxed and happy human being. I’ve been working for a decade at least on curbing my tongue, shutting my mouth, and not letting my hot temper get the best of me. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes it’s felt like a street fight: old me vs. new me, sin-and-death me vs. alive-in-Christ me.
But then I have moments like last night where I suddenly realize: I’m winning! I’m walking in God’s ways! I’m doing it! This is not a prideful realization (which is remarkable in and of itself); it’s a humbled sort of awe. Who is this person inhabiting my body? Where did she come from? And can she please stay?
And it dawned on me that maybe that’s what this psalm is talking about: all these concrete examples of blessedness are showing the fundamental shift from a life apart from God to a life walking in God’s ways. (Shutting one’s mouth, biting one’s tongue, telling the truth when you’d rather fudge it, telling the harpies to take a hike, celebrating a friend’s success when you’d rather mourn your own failure, you know, stuff like that.)
“O well is thee, and happy shalt thou be.”
And I am! When I see the Christ-life growing in me, it is well with my soul, and I am happy. Not in the shallow way we so often use that word, but in that soul-deep, well-being kind of way. God is at work in my life, helping me walk in His ways, and I see the fruit of His divine grace working along the lines of my action, and I am in awe that He takes my little loaves and fishes, my paltry efforts, and multiplies them to the point that I sometimes don’t recognize myself!
Friends, this is the blessed life. All those other things—the good work and the good marriage and the kids and the wealth—are great, and I do mean they’re great—they are gifts to be enjoyed—but I’m beginning to see that the real blessing is in verse 1: “Blessed are all they that fear the Lord and walk in his ways.” Trust and obedience yield the best blessing of all: the blessing of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.