God's Recipe For Happiness

Bible Book: Psalms  1 : 1-2
Subject: Happiness; Purpose; Life, Meaning in

My sweet wife is an excellent cook. When I brag on something she has prepared, she thanks me, and often says, “I had a good recipe.” But I tell her that a recipe has to be followed if the food is going to turn out right.

I’ve sometimes heard people say, “This dish didn’t turn out very well, because I didn’t have the right recipe”--or “some ingredient was inadvertently left out by the person who gave me the recipe, and therefore my effort was a failure.”

Well, it may not be a “big deal” for a dish not to turn out well because of a faulty recipe. But that leads me to speak of something that IS a “big deal”--and that is that a lot of folks are following faulty recipes in the pursuit of happiness, and they’re winding up miserable instead of happy. Indeed, many people are living what the philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, called “lives of quiet desperation.” They try one thing after another, but happiness continues to elude them.

But I’m thankful that people don’t have to continue down those blind alleys, following man-made formulas for happiness that don’t work. I’m thankful that the Bible contains God’s recipe for happiness. It can be found throughout the Scriptures, but one clear, concise presentation of it is in Psalm 1. That Psalm begins with the words, “Blessed--or, Happy, it could be translated--is the man that....,” and then God’s recipe for happiness is set forth. Let’s look at the four ingredients in God’s recipe for happiness.

I. First, there is the ADVICE ingredient.

Verse 1 says, “Blessed [or, Happy] is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly....” The Good News version renders that verse, “Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people....”

The Psalmist is cautioning us to be careful where we turn for advice--that is, for counsel. People sometimes get in a lot of trouble because they go to the wrong sources for advice.

One of the saddest events in the whole Bible took place because of some wrong advice. It is recorded in 1 Kings 12. Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king of Israel. Solomon had begun his reign over Israel admirably, but in his latter days he had become a cruel tyrant, imposing heavy, unreasonable burdens upon the citizenry. No sooner had Rehoboam assumed the throne than a delegation led by Jeroboam came to see him. They wanted to know whether he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps, or instead show compassion and consideration. Rehoboam told them to come back in three days and he would give his answer. He then consulted with a group of older men, who advised him to lighten up and deal kindly with the people. They said, “If you’ll take that approach they’ll be loyal, and you’ll have a successful reign as king.”

However, he also consulted with a group of young upstarts, who advised him quite differently. They said, “Be tough. Tell them you’re going to be rougher on them than your father ever was. Let them know who’s boss. That’ll keep them in line.” Well, Rohoboam took the young men’s advice, and it was the biggest mistake of his life. When the delegation returned and he gave them that answer, they responded in anger. The ten northern tribes, led by Jeroboam, rebelled and formed a separate kingdom, thus forever changing the history of the Israelites--and all of that happened because Rehoboam “walked in the counsel of the ungodly”--he took some sorry advice.

All of us need counsel during the course of our lives. No one can be an expert in every area, so we frequently must turn to others for advice on various subjects--health matters, legal issues, and the list goes on. And sometimes we need advice regarding matters that are deeply personal and have far-reaching, even eternal, consequences. But be careful about where you get that advice.

A farmer had a sick mule, and remembered that his neighbor down the road a couple of miles also had mules, so he described his mule’s symptoms to that neighbor and asked if he had ever had a mule with that same sickness. The neighbor said that, sure enough, he had had a mule with exactly those same symptoms. The farmer asked, “What did you do to treat the illness?” The neighbor told of several ingredients that he had mixed together and given to the mule.” The farmer did the same thing, gave the solution to his mule--and, lo and behold, his mule died. Later he saw his neighbor and said, “I gave my mule the same solution you gave yours and my mule died.” The neighbor said, “So did mine.”

Sometimes people whose lives are all messed up turn for advice to folks who are equally fouled up--and the result is that they just get deeper into the hole. Their troubles are compounded by “walking in the counsel of the ungodly.”

Be sure that when you seek advice you turn to someone who is knowledgeable about the area under consideration--and be sure, especially when it comes to matters of a personal, moral nature, that you turn to someone with clean hands and a pure heart, someone who knows the Lord and walks with him daily.

And most important of all, be sure that you know Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Make him your primary advice-giver. Seek his counsel on a daily basis.

II. Next, there is the ACTIVITY ingredient.

Verse 1 continues, “...nor standeth in the way of sinners....” All of us are sinners, of course, but this is clearly a reference to those who are under the dominion of sin--and that would include both unsaved people, and Christians who are woefully backslidden.

We are not to “stand in the way” of such persons--or, as the HCSB translates it, “take the path of sinners.” That doesn‘t mean that we aren’t to associate with lost people and backslidden Christians. If that were the case, how would we ever win them over? God expects us to have compassion on those who are lost or alienated, and to reach out to them. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth....“

In ancient Israel salt was used to preserve food--and to accomplish that, the salt had to permeate the food. In like manner, Christians are to be God’s preservative agents in this morally and spiritually deteriorating society, and to accomplish that purpose we certainly must interact with those we desire to reach. We must love them, associate with them, and spend time with them.

But, all of that notwithstanding, let’s look now at the rest of Matthew 5:13: Jesus went on to say, “but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” Sometimes, in ancient Israel, impurities would somehow get mixed in with the salt, thus contaminating it and making it useless as a preservative. It was then thrown out.

In like manner, if a believer allows himself to take on the impure lifestyle of those he is hoping to reach, he is defeating his own purpose--and more importantly, he is dishonoring Christ, and is no longer effective. He doesn‘t lose his salvation, but he loses his usefulness and he is cast aside in the sense that God puts him on a shelf. To put it differently: God doesn’t take such a person off the team, but he removes him from the playing field.

To avoid such a turn of events, believers are warned not to “stand in the way of sinners.” Love the lost and unchurched, be involved in their lives and spend time with them--but don’t cross over the line. Realize that there are some activities in which a Christian has no business participating, and some places that a Christian has no business going. That’s what the Psalmist meant when he said, “Don’t stand in the way of sinners.” Use sound judgment. Don’t cross over the line. Some places and some activities have the effect of wearing down your resistance, so that in spite of noble intentions you wind up biting the dust in moral and spiritual defeat.

There is an ancient legend about the apostle John rebuking Satan because Satan had wrecked the life of a very promising young person. In response to the apostle John’s rebuke, Satan arrogantly replied: “Your good youth was on my ground, and I took him!”

Don’t make the mistake of being in the wrong places or being involved in the wrong activities. Don’t stand in the way of sinners.

III. Third, there is the ATTITUDE ingredient.

Verse 1 continues: “...nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”

What does it mean to “sit in the seat of the scornful?” It means to be hypercritical, to be overly negative, to always be looking for the cracks and crevices, to always be looking on the dark aspect. So, in other words, the inspired penman is saying to us, “Blessed is the person who looks on the bright side.”

One of life’s saddest spectacles is that of the person who has given in to negativism. He thinks that every person in public life is a crook, that every business man is out to beat him, that every young person is a delinquent, and that every man has his price.

The reason God exhorts us not to sit “in the seat of the scornful” is that he knows all of us face the temptation to be negative. Not everyone gives in to the same degree, thank the Lord, but nobody is exempt from the temptation. Thus, we have to make a conscious decision to be positive, whatever life brings our way.

I like the story of the old boy who joined the paratroopers. He had made numerous practice jumps from a high platform, with safety cables, etc., but now he was about to take his first real, live jump from a plane flying at several thousand feet. His sergeant said, “Now when you jump, count to ten and then pull the ripcord. In the remote, unlikely event that your chute should not open, that’s no problem, because you’re also wearing an emergency chute--so just pull that ripcord, the chute will open, and then there will be a truck waiting below to take you back to camp. He jumped, counted to ten, pulled the ripcord, and nothing happened. Then he pulled the emergency ripcord, and nothing happened. As he hurtled downward, he said to himself, “I’ll bet that truck won’t be there, either!”

It’s great to have a positive attitude. Abraham Lincoln said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Nobody can be positive without consciously working at it or without regularly calling on the Lord for help.

So, determine by God’s help to be positive. Of course, the Bible doesn’t advocate a naive, pollyanna kind of optimism. The Bible is not suggesting that you and I stick our heads in the sand like ostriches and pretend that life’s injustices and inequities don’t exist. By all means, we are to be honest--but the point is, at the same time we are to remind ourselves that there is at the helm of this universe a God who is loving and all-powerful--a God who has said to all who trust him as Lord and Savior, “My grace is sufficient for thee”--a God who has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”--a God who can deliver us--a God who can heal broken hearts--a God for whom nothing is impossible.

Be positive in your attitude toward other people. It is so easy to be negative toward other folks--but be positive. Give the other individual the benefit of the doubt. For instance, that person that you felt was unfriendly or aloof might have been preoccupied with some terrific struggle going on within his life. There might have been some overwhelming burden on his heart under which he was staggering and reeling.

Be positive toward that person who is alienated from the Lord. Look at him in terms of his potential. It is said that one day the great sculptor, Michelangelo, was looking intently at a big shapeless mass of marble. A passerby said, “Michelangelo, what are you looking at?”--and with a far-away look in his eyes, Michelangelo said, “There is an angel in that block, and I’m going to liberate him!” You and I need to see people in terms of what they can be if liberated by the power of God.

Then, of great importance, be positive toward yourself. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that you “let yourself off the hook” or that you not deal honestly with your sins that need to be confessed and forsaken. No, what I’m saying is this: Realize that not only does God love other people, he also loves you. You are a person of worth. You have great value in the sight of God. As that renowned black singer once said, “God didn’t make no junk!” You are so precious to God that he sent his Son to die for your sins, and he has a wonderful plan for your life.

So, look up! Don’t get down on the world, don’t get down on other people, and don’t get down on yourself. Purpose in your heart that, with the Lord’s help, you will refuse to sit in the seat of the scornful.

IV. There is also the ATTENTION ingredient.

Verse 2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” The “law of the Lord” is a reference to the Word of God. The Bible is the written Word, and Jesus is the living Word. So, the Psalmist is saying, “Blessed is that person who keeps his attention focused on God and his Word.

I was blessed with a wonderful father. He was a man’s man, in the best sense of that term. I loved and admired him greatly, and I honor his memory. Dad was a great kidder, and he and I used to give each other a hard time, all in good fun. There was at least one thing I could do better than my dad, and I always enjoyed ribbing him about it--and that was laying off straight rows.

In my younger days Dad and I rented land and raised a cotton crop each year. My job was driving the tractor, although Dad also liked to give it a try now and then. We generally prepared our land by breaking it up, disking it, and then harrowing it. Then, I would lay off the rows for planting, or sometimes lay off the rows as we planted.

Dad never got the hang of laying off rows. He tried hard, I’ll give him that. Every time he started out he determined to make straight furrows this time, but no sooner would he get started than he would hit a big clod or a dip in the field, and invariably he would jerk the steering wheel and look behind him to see what he had hit. Then, by the time he looked in front of him again, he would have a big crooked place in the row, and he would frantically try to straighten out, only to make matters worse--and it continued that way all across the field, so that when he got to the other side his row was shaped about like a dog’s hind leg.

An old-timer taught me, early on, the secret of plowing straight rows. You sight over the exhaust pipe, or over the radiator cap, and fix your eyes on some object on the other side of the field--such as a bush, or a post. No matter how many rough places you hit, or how much the tractor jerks from side to side, you just keep looking ahead, keeping your attention on that object you’ve chosen as your guide--and by the time you get to the other side of the field, you’ll have a row that is as straight as an arrow.

In Luke 9:62 Jesus said, “...no man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”--or, as the Williams version of the New Testament puts it, “is fitted for service in the kingdom of God.”

So--one of the principal ingredients in God’s recipe for happiness is the attention ingredient. “...his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Keep your attention focused on the Word of God and on the God of the Word, whose ultimate revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ. Be sure you’ve repented of your sins and, in faith, invited Jesus into your heart to be your personal Lord and Savior. Then, each day reassert and reaffirm your allegiance to him--and as you grow in grace, you’ll increasingly experience that blessedness, that happiness, that God intends for you.

There it is, then--God’s recipe for happiness: The ADVICE ingredient: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly....” The ACTIVITY ingredient: “...nor standeth in the way of sinners....” The ATTITUDE ingredient: “...nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful....” And the ATTENTION ingredient: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”

Toss aside those faulty recipes that claim to produce happiness. Get rid of them. Commit yourself to Christ, and follow God’s recipe for happiness. It’s a recipe that won’t disappoint you.