Experiencing happiness—producing fruitfulness:

A pastor’s reflection on Psalm 1

Kenroy R. Campbell, MA in biblical studies, is a PhD candidate at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.

Fulfilling pastoral goals can sometimes lead us to pursue happiness within such accomplishments. Unfortunately, “research on daily happiness has revealed an interesting paradox: pursuing daily happiness is one of the surest ways to impede or diminish our capacity to experience it.”1

I can remember being in pastoral meetings and feeling happy for having been able to report a number of baptisms from my pastoral district, yet at the same time, I observed some of my colleagues were unhappy because they had a low figure or none at all to report. We cannot forget the reason we are called: “ ‘go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them’ ” (Matt. 28:19, NKJV). But what if our pastoral goals are not met? Should that affect our happiness? Should our happiness not be based on Someone far more personal and transcendent? Bloom, Bales, and Colbert noted that in their research with pastors, “It is possible to thrive in one’s work, but experience very little happiness.”2 Nevertheless, a deeper reading of Psalm 1 may unearth something that may help free us from our pursuit of happiness so that we can experience true happiness.

Happiness is not in conduct

Psalm 1 begins with the word ashrei, often translated as “blessed,” which is also one of the Hebrew words for “happiness.”3 It is an idea especially pronounced in the book of Proverbs: happiness is for those who hide themselves in God (Prov. 16:20), for those who care for the oppressed (Prov. 14:21), and for those who obey the law (Prov. 29:18).

Psalm 1's nominal clause “happy [is] the man” indicates that the psalmist is speaking about someone defined by certain qualities. He illustrates this using three negatives in synonymous parallelism (three cola): walk not in the counsel of the wicked, stand not in the way of sinners, and sit not in the seat of the scornful.

The verb “walk” (halakh) in the context of Psalm 1 seems to suggest the idea of service in contrast to the counsel or advice of the ungodly. We observe the idea of service with the use of halakh in Genesis 5:22, 24, and Genesis 6:9, which say that Enoch and Noah “walked” with God. The texts indicate they were walking in service to Yahweh. As such, the happy person does not serve according to the advice or counsel of the ungodly. His direction comes from the mouth of Yahweh (Ps. 119:105).

The psalmist notes that the happy person does not amad (stand) in the “way of sinners.” The word amad can mean to approach someone or “to go and stand” (Num. 16:18; 22:24, 26; Exod. 9:10). The verb also depicts a judicial meaning. For example, Ezekiel 44:24 calls upon the priests to stand and judge, which carries the meaning “to act as judges” (see also Is. 3:13). Reading amad with this judicial connotation is faithful to the context in the sense that we find a contrast between the righteous (Ps. 1:1–3, 6) and the sinner (vv. 5, 6).

The happy person also does not stand in the way (derekh) of sinners. The noun derekh has to do with one’s “way of life” (Prov. 4:19; 5:8; Pss. 1; 25; 37). Derekh is “an idiom . . . that refers to the course of life, how one lives.”4 Therefore, the happy person does not serve according to the lifestyle of sinners.

The third line in the parallelism intensifies the attitude of the happy person: he “does not sit in the seat of the scornful.” “ ‘Sitting’ . . . has legal overtones when the text involves furnishing hospitality (Gen. 19:1; cf. also 18:1) or a formal judicial assembly (as in the case of Jeremiah: obviously a ‘regular court session’).”5 The idea of “seat” here in Psalm 1 denotes a place where judicial proceedings take place. With this judicial overtone, the psalmist seems to be saying that the happy person does not serve in the meeting place of scoffers.

Therefore, the person who is happy does not serve according to the advice of the ungodly, the lifestyle of sinners, or in the meeting place of scoffers. The implicit call to reject such a lifestyle is especially applicable to pastors. Paul exhorts Timothy to be an example to the believers in conduct, faith, speech, purity, and love. Though he does not indicate that it will bring happiness, Paul nevertheless mentions that doing these things, along with teaching the Word, will save Timothy and his hearers (1 Tim. 4:6–16).

The foundation of happiness

The foundation of happiness is not the result of staying away from the lifestyle of the ungodly (even though pastors should do that) but rather of delighting in the law of Yahweh. Therefore, a life lived not according to the lifestyle of the ungodly becomes the identity marker of the happy person, not its basis. We see this idea introduced in Psalm 1:2 with the double conjunction, ki im (but if), which stands as an adversative that denotes the opposite of the negations in the previous clauses (not walk, not stand, not sit) and also connects with verse 1a by the use of the restrictive relative pronoun6 asher (who) in 1b (“who walks not in the counsel”). Consequently, we may render verse 2 as “providing that his delight is in the teachings of Yahweh and he continues to meditate day and night.”

Therefore, a person is happy when he or she delights in the instructions of God and meditates on them every day.

Pastors’ happiness is, therefore, not in the number of hours spent in devotions (as important as they are) or years of service in the church, but rather in their delight (“pleasure”) and meditation on God’s Word and instructions. Psalm 119:97 states, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long” (NIV). Pastors’ devotion to God’s words and instructions should be a lifestyle, not just individual acts.

Happiness produces fruitfulness

Psalm 1:3 compares the happy person with a tree that is planted. The passive in the context of Psalm 1 suggests that God does the planting, and the participle indicates that the planting is ongoing in a stative position. Therefore, before fruits can result in their season, the tree (happy person) must first be in a state of being planted.

This tree is planted beside a flowing stream, thus depicting God as transplanting the happy person to a nourishing and flourishing place. The leaf of the tree does not wither, indicating continuous fruitfulness. This reflects Joshua 1:8: “ ‘Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful’ ” (NIV).

The coordinating conjunction (waw-hayah) in verse 3 (“and he is like a tree planted”) introduces the idea that devotion to the Torah brings fruitfulness. This idea is evident elsewhere in the Bible. It is the disciples’ connection with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost that resulted in about 3,000 individuals being added to the body of Christ (Acts 2). And it was after Paul and Silas prayed and praised God that a prison guard and his whole family were baptized (Acts 16:25–33). As pastors, our success in ministry is largely based on our devotion to God and His Word. Just as Yahweh is the One who plants the tree (v. 3a) and yields the fruits (v. 3b), God is the One who brings success in our ministry—it is not because of our efforts.

The happy vs. the unhappy

Psalm 1:4–6 identifies the happy person as the righteous who stands opposite the wicked (the unhappy). The psalmist compares the wicked to chaff that winds blow away. Harvesters would toss the grain in the air, and the wind would carry off the husks and the chaff, leaving the heavier grain to fall back to the ground. The chaff had no value to the farmers.7 Not meditating on the Torah is the basis of the uselessness of the wicked. “Those who have rooted themselves in evil and have drawn their nourishment and delight from their association with the wicked will dry up and blow away.”8 Therefore, unhappy pastors are a danger both to themselves and to the entire ministry.

As a result of the uselessness of the wicked, they will not be allowed to serve (“stand”) in judicial situations that pursue justice.9 The wicked cannot take part in the justice of others because they live only for themselves.10

To “stand” (qum) means to receive the opportunity and platform to speak concerning the issue at hand in a court scene (Deut. 19:15; Ps. 27:12).11 Psalm 1:5b reads, “Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous” (NIV). This claim rests on the fact that the wicked do not follow the instructions of Yahweh and, thus, have no legal right to participate in the court where the Torah is essential in deciding cases.

Therefore, for God to be able to use pastors, they must be feasting on the words of God. Paul emphasizes in Galatians 1 that the gospel he preaches is not from man but from God. We are not qualified to determine justice for others if we are not living in accordance with God’s Word.

Choose your path

In Psalm 1, it is evident that pastors are exceedingly happy not simply by abstaining from the ways of sinners but, rather, by delighting in God’s instructions and concentrating on them daily. Piety to God’s instructions stands as the basis for the pastor to be transplanted like a tree to a place where he or she will flourish and prosper in ministry.

Claiming Jesus as Friend and Savior is very much the same as demonstrating it through our lives and service because our happiness and, ultimately, our destinies are determined by the paths that we choose to take (Rev. 14:12; 22:12). “The whole heart must be yielded to God, or the change can never be wrought in us.”12 “ ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him’ ” (1 Kings 18:21, NIV). “ ‘If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’ ” (Josh. 24:15, NIV). Happiness is essential—experience it!

  1. Matt Bloom, Mary Bales, and Amy Colbert, Flourishing in Ministry, The Flourishing in Ministry Project (University of Notre Dame, 2013), 11.
  2. Bloom, Bales, and Colbert, 15.
  3. Jonathan Sacks, “Happiness: A Jewish Perspective,” Journal of Law and Religion 29, no. 1 (February 2014): 30–47.
  4. Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011), 187.
  5. M. Gorg, “בשַׁיָ‭,‬” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 6, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 425.
  6. A restrictive relative clause not only identifies the head noun but defines it, while a nonrestrictive relative clause gives additional information about its head noun but does not affect the intended meaning. Robert Dean Holmstedt, “The Relative Clause in Biblical Hebrew: A Linguistic Analysis” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 2002), 119–125.
  7. Peter Craigie, Psalms 1–50, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 61.
  8. Gerald Wilson, Psalms Volume 1, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 98.
  9. Craigie, Psalms 1–50, 61.
  10. Craigie, 61.
  11. John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 518.
  12. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), 43.

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Kenroy R. Campbell, MA in biblical studies, is a PhD candidate at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.

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