When I was a boy, my family used to camp several times a year. There were five of us then: Dad, Mom, Doug, Bob, and Jim (Steve was born when the three of us older brothers were young men – or nearly so). And we loved those family adventures. Hiking, fishing, campfires, s’mores, sleeping in the tent… What amazing memories.
One memory that I recall from each of our trips was the routine we went through upon arriving at our campsite. Dad would pace off the area where we would set up the tent, and then he would instruct the three of us boys to clear that area of every stick, rock, bottle cap, or pinecone we could find. Nothing that could either tear the bottom of the tent or discomfit a sleeping family member would escape his notice. So before we could catch frogs, play catch, go fishing – or do anything fun at all, that tent site would be cleared. Thoroughly.
It is remarkable how often memories of campsite-clearing come to mind when I reflect on the nature of the Christian’s spiritual life. And the first verse of the first Psalm is one of many scriptures that summon up images of young Bjerkaas boys crawling around collecting sharp, hard, and otherwise undesirable objects from the ground. Psalm 1, with its contrast between the man who is blessed and the man who is wicked, begins with a statement of negation – a summary of “things removed.”
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”
The book of Psalms has been described by many as the song book of God’s people. It contains what John Calvin called “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” They Psalms address the entire scope of human emotions and present all of God’s attributes. And it is not without reason that the very first thing this book of inspired songs tells us concerns things that must be removed from our lives: wicked advice, sinful behavior, and mockery. These things are detrimental to enjoying the blessed life that God offers his people.
In Ephesians 4:22 Christians are told to, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” We are to “put off falsehood… stop stealing…let no unwholesome talk come from us…” Similarly, in Titus 2:11 we are told that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions…” The Christian life, it seems, requires as a first order of business the removal of certain “old” ways of existence. We must be in the business of stone and bottle cap removal in pursuing our Christian life. Too often we want to experience God’s blessing by simply adding something new, exciting, or good to our lives as we currently find them. It is as if we want to improve the campsite of our lives by adding a propane stove or stringing up a hammock. Instead we should make it a regular practice to say ‘No’ to certain things – like mockery, stealing, implementing wicked advice…
Are there areas in your life or tendencies in your heart that need some attention? Is your spiritual peace hindered by some bit of spiritual debris that you have not quite removed yet? Is your growth in grace at a standstill? What is God calling you to say “No” to; to put off and cast away? Dear Christian, the first song of God’s people calls you to walk away, stand apart, and sit far from all that does not reflect the character of the God who has shown you grace. Where will you sit? With whom will you stand? Whose counsel will you follow?
NB The image above is cropped from a pastel painting by Andrew Gunderson, noted for his wonderful use of the color blue.