The Word Of God Transforms UsErwin W. Lutzer | February 1, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
In Psalm 1, there are two distinct paths: one leads to destruction, the other leads to life.
In order to choose the right path, we need discernment that can only come by renewing our minds through the Word of God.
Perhaps you are aware of the fact that Yogi Berra is known oftentimes for having made very witty statements. One of them was this: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The simple fact is that we know that all of life is basically a fork in the road. Every day we are making choices. Some choices are important. Others are of lesser importance, and therefore, they may not have permanent significance. The choice that I’m going to speak about today has eternal importance and significance. It is the choice to choose the right path.
Open your Bibles and turn to Psalm 1. It is a Psalm in which we see a powerful contrast. It has to do with a choice. Psalm 1 speaks about two men, two paths, and two very different destinies. Let’s listen to its words.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Two men, two paths – two very different destinations! There is the path of the righteous. There is the blessed path. There is also the path of the wicked, and it is a path that leads to destruction. We come to a fork in the road and we had better take the right path.
Now what I want to do today is to show you how you and I can be transformed by God’s Word, specifically how we can take the right path, so to speak, and what is involved by that, and therefore, this message could have permanent eternal implications. I mean that sincerely. It can have implications for young people and for older people, as well, as we begin to think about that which is most important.
Let’s begin by talking about the issue of discernment and I’m going to speak about steps. Let’s use that word. Steps on the way to the path of prosperity and blessing! What are the steps? The first is simply this: Have discernment! What the Psalmist speaks about here is being able to say no to wrong ideas to evil, to the wisdom of the world, and having the courage to be able to say that word “no.”
Let’s read the text: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” What he is saying is that you and I are going to be in an environment where we can be enticed and lured in the wrong way. Here are sinners. Here are those who are on the wrong path. And we decide to take a walk with them, and we say to ourselves, “I’ll walk with them for a little ways, and then I will keep on walking and leave them behind.” But we begin the walk, and then the next step is suddenly we stand when they stand, and finally we sit where they sit. And we find ourselves amid scoffers leading us astray.
The Psalmist wants us to understand the progression. There is a progression. First of all, there’s association. You walk with them, and then the next thing is you are standing. Now you are identifying with them. Association, identification, and finally they are saying, “Let’s sit down, and let’s have a beer, and let’s discuss things.” And suddenly you find participation. And what you have is then they begin to introduce you to wrong ideas, and pretty soon you are perhaps into drugs and all kinds of evil things because of the impact of the influence of your friends. And there you are!
Someday I’m going to preach a message about influence like this. But I need to emphasize right here that what I see in the text is the fact that I have known many good kids, raised in fine homes and fine churches, who got into the wrong group. And they were influenced because of the tremendous peer pressure, and they ended up going the wrong way, and we say to ourselves, “How could that happen?” Right here it explains it. They began to walk. They stood, and then they sat in the counsel of the wicked, and in the seat of scoffers. And they became a part of them and imbibed their values.
I’ve long ago said that the reason that college kids lose their faith often in college is not because of the intellectual arguments. It’s because of peer pressure. And blessed is the person who can say no to the counsel of the wicked, and by the way, that counsel comes to us in many ways. It can come to us through television. It can come to us through the books we read, by the things we see, and of course, most importantly, by the friends who we adopt. Say no!
But you say, “I don’t have power to say no. Where would I find the strength?” And that’s what I’m going to speak to you about - about discipline! And this message could really be summarized on the basis of Romans 12:1. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Psalm 1 tells us how that mind can be renewed.
Your mind is very powerful. For example, everybody thinks. You say, “Oh no, no!” I had a roommate one time who didn’t. Well, he maybe didn’t think your thoughts, but he did think. In fact, you know there is some evidence that we think all the time, even when we are sleeping. Sometimes we call them dreams.
I’m sure I told you about the pastor who dreamed he was preaching, and then he woke up and found out he was. (laughter) So that’s a different experience. The simple fact is (This is interesting.) your mind is not matter. If it were simply calcium and phosphate, we’d have no human responsibility. To put it clearly, your mind isn’t just brain. In fact, let me shock you and say you don’t need a brain to think. Tell that to your teacher tomorrow morning. Someday you are going to die and your brain will disintegrate and turn back to earth and to dust, and you’ll be more alive and you’ll be thinking more clearly somewhere than you’ve ever thought before because your mind – your soul is powerful.
As a man thinks in his heart, so he is. You are not what you think you are, but what you think, you are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could become spiritual by osmosis? Go to bed at night whenever we wanted to, and during the time when we are sleeping God is working in our hearts and developing our spirituality. And then, you know, we wake up in the morning and suddenly we have a heart hot for God. And we’re on this path of sanctification. That is a dream. That’s not the way it happens.
Discipline! You must be committed to giving God and the Word, as we shall see in a moment, time and energy and focus. That is absolutely essential. Sorry! It can’t happen any other way. The meat and the milk of the Word must enter your soul. And Jesus made it very clear that if our minds are empty, if they are allowed to be empty, then what happens after that is all kinds of ideas and demons come in, and we ask ourselves the question, how can our soul be strengthened? How can our mind be renewed?
Now, there was a man by the name of George Mueller. George Mueller had orphanages in England and he decided that he would run them without ever asking for money. That’s the way in which God led him. He had hundreds, and actually thousands of answers to prayer. I mean the kids were hungry. There was no food. People stopped by whom he didn’t ask to stop by. If you’ve never read a biography of George Mueller you really ought to.
Now God led him that way. It’s not wrong to ask for money. The Apostle Paul asked for money. When it comes to the ministries of Moody Church and children’s ministries, I often ask for money. I like to ask for money that I, of course, have nothing to do with in the sense that I am committed to helping ministries and helping those who are sharing the Gospel. But that’s the way George Mueller was.
But every morning (and I have to summarize here for lack of time) he would get up early. And by the way, discipline involves getting up a little earlier than you do now. You have to prove the power of mind over mattress. You just need to do that. And he would get up early and he would pray. For ten years he did that. But after he prayed his thoughts were still anxious. He was thinking about all kinds of things, and his heart was not at peace. But you know he had to go to work, just like you and I have to. And then he learned something. He says, “Before, my practice for at least ten years was to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning.” But now there was a transformation of his thinking. He saw that the most important thing for him was to read God’s Word, to meditate on it, “that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed, and while meditating on the Word of God, my heart would be brought into experimental communion with God.”
And then he goes on to say of this transformation that invariably within a few moments his soul was led to confession, thanksgiving and intercession. And by the way, the next message in this series is going to be on how to use the Word of God when you are praying. And he said, “I discovered that as I turned these verses over in my mind that there was food for my soul. The result,” he says, “is there was always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication and intercession that grew out of it, but my soul was satisfied.”
“Now what is food for the inner man?” he asks. “Not prayer, but the Word of God. And here again, not simply the reading of the Word of God, so that it passes through our minds as water passes through a pipe, but considering it, pondering it, meditating on it.”
Let me ask you something. What is your first responsibility before God? Oh your first responsibility, you say, is to pray. It’s to do this or it’s to do that. The first responsibility you and I have is to be satisfied with God. When you are satisfied with God, saying no to temptation is pretty easy. When you are satisfied with God, all the circumstances that swirl around you don’t matter because at the end of the day your soul is satisfied with the Almighty.
It’s something like John Piper, who is kind of famous for having said: “God is most glorified in us when we are satisfied in Him.” I think I quoted that correctly. How do we get there? We get there through meditation.
By the way, you know there are people who read the Word of God, and we’ve all done this, and then we close the Bible and we have no idea what we’ve read. You know, somebody has said, “My mind is like a sieve.” Well, okay, I would say this. Even a sieve gets some cleansing when water flows through it.
This is the only place I’ll ever have the opportunity to tell you this true story. I was on tour when I was a young professor in Canada, and this guy and I were in this home of a widow. And she asked whether we wanted tea. And we said yes. And this dear lady was so nervous she was shaking. Why I don’t know, but what she did was she took the tealeaves and she put them into the cup. And then she took the hot water and poured it through the strainer into the cup. Are you all following this? Of course on top of the cup you have swirling around all of these tealeaves. And we began to laugh because we had had a long day. And have you ever been in a giddy mood when just anything makes you laugh? And we had to cover for ourselves. We didn’t want to embarrass her. And then, you know, we strained the tea through our teeth (laughter) – well yeah – to get the tea leaves out. And we enjoyed it.
But you know, even that strainer with clear hot water flowing through it was a lot cleaner after she used it that way than before I am sure. So even if nothing sticks, it still is of benefit. But that’s not God’s will. The text says that we should meditate in the law of God day and night.
D. L. Moody said that whenever he hoed potatoes he had to put a stake in the ground as to where he had hoed because he did such a poor job he couldn’t tell the difference. I can identify with D. L. on that point. I never was a great one for hoeing gardens. And the problem is that that’s the way we read God’s Word.
So the next step is meditation. “In His law he meditates day and night.” You cannot meditate unless after you have read God’s Word there is something within your mind that satisfies your soul, and will occupy your thoughts all day. Of course, we can’t be thinking about God’s Word all day. We’ve got jobs to do. We’ve got business that needs to be attended to. But it is amazing how often our minds will go to God’s Word throughout a whole day when we begin the day with God, and we have spent five, ten, fifteen minutes meditating on the Scriptures, which is our first responsibility, that our souls might be happy in God.
You say, “Well, how do you meditate?” All that you need to do is to simply ask the text some questions. You know, dare I speak about analyzing? You analyze. You say, “What does this text tell me about God?”
Let’s look at Psalm 1. What does this text tell us about God? Well it certainly tells us that God is faithful to His people. He blesses those whose hearts are perfect toward Him, who meditate in the law of God, that the way of the transgressor is a way of deception because God knows their ways, and they are like chaff that the wind blows away. It teaches us about God. Is there a promise to be believed? Absolutely! If you meditate day and night you will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. It’s all there in the text.
Is there some encouragement to you? Is there some way in which God has spoken to you? Is there in the text something for which to praise God? Almost always there is, and next week when I preach the next message, I’m going to give you some further examples of how to meditate. You analyze. You personalize.
Let me tell you this: Don’t ever close the Bible, having read it, unless there is some food for your soul. Jesus said, “Men shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” And you and I have anxious thoughts. We have busy thoughts. We have sensual thoughts. And as a result of that we aren’t concentrating on the Word, and while it may do us some good, it does very little good until we close the Word and say, “I have something that will feed me for the day.”
Now you know that many of us (and some of you might not know this) here at the church are having a challenge that was given out, and hundreds of people are listening to the entire New Testament or reading it in 40 days. How do we integrate this? I mean I realize that we are already spending maybe 25 minutes a day listening to the Word. And some of us, by the way, are caught up. I just wanted to throw that in there. And there are some who are not caught up, but keep doing it.
The fact is, before I begin to listen, I say, “Lord, open up my heart that I might behold wondrous things out of Thy law. Give me something.” And of course it’s something like trying to take a drink out of a fire hydrant. I realize that, because the Word just goes floating past you when you listen to it. It’s the first time I’ve ever listened to the Scriptures in such a concerted way, but everyday I’m struck with something. And it lodges in my mind and I think of it during the day. Just the impact of God’s Word! There are phrases. There are verses. In some way I am transformed.
Now what you do is you analyze. You personalize. You say, “What do I have today from Your Word, oh Lord?” And then it’s very critical that you memorize. Many of us don’t memorize Scripture in the way in which we used to. But verses of Scripture will stick in your mind. The very best way to meditate in the law of God day and night is to memorize. It’ll be in the back of your mind. And by the way, before you go to bed at night don’t be watching the news because what will happen is your anxious thoughts will come to the surface and so forth. What you ought to do is to reiterate God’s Word in your heart before you go to bed, and then when you wake up in the morning. Day and night!
You say, “Well, how can it help me during the night? How can it help me during the day when I am busy with other things?” Well, do you remember that story about the couple that was visiting in France and they bought a vase? Actually I think it was a jewelry box. And they were told by the clerk in France that it would glow all night. They put it in their bedroom, and it didn’t glow all night. So finally they found someone who could read the instructions, and read French. And what the person read was this. It said, “Put me in the sunlight during the day, and I will glow all night.” So they did that and yeah, it glowed all night.
The Word of God has such transforming power that when you and I are exposed to it in a meaningful way, it will guide us and direct us even during the darkest hours of our experience. The power of God’s Word!
We’ve spoken briefly about discernment, discipline and meditation and now I want to speak about the next step in the process. I want to say something about growth. Look at the promise that is here. “And he is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither, and in all that he does he prospers.” What beautiful imagery!
In 1968 I studied in Israel. And we went to the Sinai Peninsula, and actually spent the night at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, which is at the base of Mount Sinai. But it was a four-day trip – two days there, one night there, and then back, as I remember. But you go through this hot desert. I mean it was over a hundred degrees, and there is absolutely no evidence of life anywhere. And then in the distance you see trees. What does that tell you? It tells you there’s an oasis there. And that’s the way we are to be in this world. “Like a tree planted by the streams of water!”
I don’t need to tell you, do I, that when you look at the world, all of the wells are dry? We are in an arid area. You see these poor folks on television trying to somehow gain importance by some way, by their appearance, by this, by that. Everybody is clamoring for significance and trying to find it. And it’s all dry and it’s all empty.
God says, “You are different. You are planted before the rivers of water. You are planted there beside the stream. And in the midst of a world that has very little hope, in the midst of an arid land, you are the tree.” And people say, “You know, that person has something that I don’t have.”
The first image is that of a tree. The second is that of the streams of water. And what are the streams of water? Well obviously they are the Word of God, but also the people of God. As we gather together with the people of God, and as we begin the process of meditation, we are serious about pursuing God. You know, one of the Psalms that I ought to preach on in this series (I don’t think I have it scheduled to do that.) is Psalm 119, where the Bible is mentioned in virtually all of the verses I think except three. And it has something like 160 some verses if I remember correctly. But it talks about the fact that blessed are those who seek God and seek His Word with a whole heart. That’s the transformation that takes place. And he will bear fruit. That’s what it says. Apples, oranges, peaches, pears, bananas – His fruit in His season! Of course, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness! All of that is born. Why? It’s because once the inner life has been addressed
(fruit can’t be manufactured), from the inside it begins to flow out. And what is it that brings about that transformation but God’s Holy Word?
Many years ago I talked to a friend. He actually is in heaven now, but he lost his first wife to cancer. And I said to him, “Bob, you don’t seem to have any bitterness toward God over this terrible trial.” I said, “How did you and your wife cope?” And those were in the days, by the way, before CDs and all of the things that we have today. He said that he bought the New Testament on records. Now you can tell that that was a long time ago. But he said, “We played the New Testament. We listened to it.” He said, “When I became anxious or angry I began to read God’s Word,” and then these are critical words that he said. He said, “The Word of God in our hearts squeezed all of the fear and the negativity out.”
Jesus would agree with that, considering the illustration He gave about the demon that left the man. The man was empty and other demons came in. The vacuum of your mind will be filled somehow. May it be filled with God’s Holy Word!
How do we nail this down for ourselves? Let’s just look at the text again, shall we? First of all, notice that the path of the wicked leads to ruin. Verse 4: “The wicked are not so. They are like the chaff that the wind drives away.” That doesn’t mean that they are annihilated by any means. What it means is that they don’t leave anything behind of eternal value. They may leave money. They may leave their fame. They may leave certain admiration of men. They may leave all that behind, but there’s nothing permanent that is a spiritual legacy.
The imagery, of course, is of wheat being thrashed, and the wheat falls down and the chaff is blown away. That’s the end of it! There’s no eternal contribution to their children, to their family, to their church or their lives. It’s just simply gone, and they will not stand in the judgment. That means that when they are judged, they are in trouble. They will not be able to stand against the judgment because, you see, they have not come under the protection of God’s salvation, and therefore the Bible says that they will not stand in the judgment. In the end, no matter how famous they may be, the fact is that they lived lives without permanent significance. Now that’s the path of the wicked.
What about the path of the just? The Bible says that the Lord knows the way of the righteous. Well, doesn’t He know the way of the wicked? Of course! Whenever you come across the word know in the Bible like that, it means God has regard for. You know, “The Lord knew the nation Israel.” Well, of course, in terms of intellectual knowledge – omniscience – He knows all things. But notice that the Lord knows the way of the righteous. He has regard for it.
And I missed the phrase (not deliberately – I just didn’t comment on it), “And whatever he does prospers.” Why? It’s because it’s the blessed life. It’s not the life of lies that leads to ruin. It is the blessed life. He’s like a tree planted, and whatever he does prospers. Why? It’s because he has God’s blessing. Is there anything more wonderful in the entire world than us being able to say we’ve been blessed by God? I mean, what an unbelievable honor God gives us. And it’s there through the meditation of the Word. It’s not going to happen just by listening to sermons. It’s not going to happen even singing wonderful songs. It will only happen when you meditate in the law of God day and night. That’s the transformation. That overcomes oftentimes addictions and the anxieties and the fears. And somebody who does that can take false accusations. They can take injustice and it doesn’t destroy them because their core is anchored in God’s Word.
There’s perhaps a final lesson, and that is this: If you want to enjoy the path of the righteous, how do you do that? This is what Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many.” Those are the folks, you see, whose advice we should avoid. We should not walk with them, stand with them, and sit with them because they are scoffers, and many a child has been destroyed, and an adult, because of bad friends. So don’t enter that way. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” Isn’t that amazing? Are you among the few?
Now when you come to Christ, the way in which you and I get on that narrow path is first of all, we are confronted with Him. You don’t get on the good path, the path of the righteous, apart from Jesus Christ. It’s the only way, and if you’re listening today and you’ve never entered into a personal relationship with Him, you can receive Him as your Savior because of your need and your sin that you can’t save yourself from. Self-salvation does not work. We need to be saved by someone qualified to save us, and that is Jesus.
You know, this past week Rebecca and I flew to Dallas because her sister-in-law died after 20 years of a lot of suffering. There’s nothing like attending a funeral to make you realize what reality is really all about. Well, the answer is simply this. Here’s a case in which a woman lived for God, and even though she died young, her three children and grandchildren will rise up and call her blessed. Why? It’s because Mom believed in God, and she chose that righteous path through Jesus.
By the way, when you look at Psalm 1, what you discover is what you find all the way through the Bible. You have the path of the wicked and you have the path of the righteous. And I always want to say, “Where’s the middle path? Where are the people who are too good to be lost forever, but they’re not quite good enough yet for heaven, so they’re not on the righteous path, but nor should they be classified with the wicked either because they are good people?” The answer is there are only two paths. Jesus said there’s the broad way and the narrow way.
And being at that funeral, knowing that she had been on the narrow way, I couldn’t help but think of the verse of Scripture that comes from Proverbs 4, that the path of the just is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter to the fullness of day. That’s the path of the righteous. And that’s the path that I hope you are on. That’s the path that Jesus died to bring us on, and once we are on that path, we are committed now to meditate on the law of God day and night. And that is the path of blessing. Begin today to meditate on God’s Word and you will grow and you will be transformed.
Father, we pray Your blessing upon us today. Help us to know that You call us to love You, to serve You. And even as we have communion today, and as the leadership council comes to lead us, we thank You today that because of Your Word, we have been transformed. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.