Have you ever been on a walk and found yourself stopping your pace to admire the flowers or trees? (If not, you really should try to “stop and smell the roses” as they say—it’s worth it!). What do all thriving plants have in common? They are all planted firmly in the soil. They have real roots. The Bible takes this common observation and relates it to the idea of blessing.
What does it mean to be “planted” spiritually? And how does this lead to a flourishing life?
Consider the first three verses of Psalm 1:
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1 praises a certain kind of person, calling him or her “blessed.” The word here for blessed comes from the Hebrew ʾašrê, which describes a state of flourishing. The first three verses offer two pieces of wisdom to the reader who wants a flourishing life.
Notice the three keywords in Psalm 1: walk, stand, sit. To “walk in step with the wicked” is to keep pace on the same road headed toward the same destination. Followers of Jesus are keenly aware that our path is the “narrow path” (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). The blessed person knows to “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken captures it well:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
It is as if the walk turns into a posture of standing, and then into one of sitting. In other words, the casual walk with the wicked became the destination of where one ends up planted.
The two divergent paths between the “blessed” and the “wicked” center on where one plants themselves.
Psalm 1:2-3 suggests that the person “whose delight” is in God’s Word is the one who flourishes “like a tree planted by streams of water.” The “law of the Lord” (as the NIV translates Torah) isn’t legal law. It is not that we are to think of God’s law like the IRS Handbook with insurmountable procedures. God’s Torah is more like His wisdom, guidance, and instructions for living, and most of it is narrative. God teaches us about the flourishing life more through story and example, versus strictly using statute and decree.
The act of taking delight in God’s instruction appeals to our affections. It is the difference between seeing food as mere sustenance and seeing food as savory satisfaction! What if being in God’s Word was not so much a duty for us, but a delight? Perhaps that is a key factor in our spiritual health!
The most prominent difference between a tree and chaff is that one has roots and one does not. Roots keep plants grounded when winds come and threaten to blow them away. Also, roots allow plants to gain nutrients from beneath the surface when the outside air is dry. The metaphor helps us see that we all need to be rooted in truth.
Our lives are either likened to a planted tree that flourishes; or unsettled chaff that vanishes; and there is no in-between.
Two more things need to be said about blessedness being likened to fruit trees.
1. There is a recipe that promotes flourishing for fruit trees.
Fruit trees that are nestled into spots where its leaves receive sufficient light and the roots enough water is the formula for flourishing. Being planted near a stream creates a steady flow of water for the roots to gather from, even in times of drought! The Bible uses the metaphor of being well-watered as spiritual flourishing often (see Isaiah 49:10; 58:11; John 7:37-38). Scripture makes the point that being near to God (by His Word, prayer, meditation, etc.) is not meant to be an occasional occurrence, but likened to being planted there. Being planted is what happens when we make a pattern of being near to God. And the result of nearness to God is flourishing.
Have you developed a pattern of staying rooted in God? Or is it a sporadic occurrence in your life?
2. Fruit trees produce more fruit with age, not less.
Likewise, we sometimes (wrongly) assume that the younger Christians will be more on the front lines, changing the culture by serving the world like Jesus. But what if Christians were more like fruit trees? By that I mean, what if our years of growth produced increased results of missional action? Let’s be believers whose fruit increases with age and spiritual maturity. After all, it is biblical to bear fruit and thrive as we age!
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green.
– Psalm 92:12-14
Here is the big idea: Psalm 1 (brilliantly) uses fruit trees to describe the blessed person because fruit trees have an intrinsic relationship between being blessed and being a blessing. The planted, healthy tree expresses its blissful state by producing fruit that becomes a blessing for the ecosystem around it.
So it is that those who flourish spiritually, make the world around them flourish, too.
In conclusion, the person who is blessed inevitably becomes a blessing to others.
7 The person who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence indeed is the Lord, is blessed.
8 He will be like a tree planted by water:
it sends its roots out toward a stream,
it doesn’t fear when heat comes,
and its foliage remains green.
It will not worry in a year of drought
or cease producing fruit.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8 (CSB)