Continuing our recent theme of the Book of Psalms, this week I’d like to continue with some of the more positive material. Last week, I talked about the psalms of pure praise, which are some of the easiest to pray because every believer frequently feels a sense of gratitude for all the beauty of the world (or should!). It would be great if we could always feel that sense of how good life is.
There are so many times in our lives when we could perhaps be happier if we made a few adjustments. The authors of the psalms sing a few songs about the good life and how to have it. The instructions for being a faithful follower of God are placed, not accidentally, at the very head of the 150 poems of the Book of Psalms. Psalm 1 begins: “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the company of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this law they meditate day and night.” This is really the place where happiness can begin. The first thing God asks of us is to turn away from any evil influences and reject anything that would deny the importance of following God’s ways. The more time we spend meditating on God’s teachings, the happier we can be, because our minds become focused on all the wisdom and love that God offers us.
Another psalm that speaks directly to the formula for personal happiness is Psalm 34. The singer addresses the people of Israel in a very pointed way. “Who among you desires life, and wants many days to enjoy good? Then keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” That sounds like a pretty simple instruction – there are only a couple of things one has to do. But, oh, how hard those things can be if we are serious about them. Throughout the psalms, there are many places where we hear about the role played in our lives by our words. Most people would admit that it is wrong to lie about anyone or anything, but “keeping our tongue from evil” is a pretty tall order. If we could just keep away from words that are hurtful, critical, negative or boastful, we would be so much happier, and so would everyone else who has to deal with us!
As I was sorting through some old prayer books recently, I came across a little yellowed clipping that someone had put into their book decades ago. The title was “How to Be Miserable” and it used the flip side of the psalm’s wisdom to echo many of the same ideas. Under the title were the following: “Think about yourself! Talk about yourself! Use ‘I’ as much as possible! ... Listen greedily to what people say about you! Expect to be appreciated! ... Do as little as possible for others! Love yourself supremely! ... Live in sin – any kind of habitual sin – and do nothing about it to get rid of that evil habit! This recipe is guaranteed to be infallible one hundred per cent.”
It looks like the secrets to being really happy are not secrets at all and they are still the same as those recommended thousands of years ago. God wants us to be happy and God has inspired countless generations of wise and holy people to tell us how it can happen: Keep your eye on God, pay attention to what you do and who you do it with, and watch what you say.