The Truly Happy Person

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

Psalm 1:6, NIV

As a new believer, Psalm 1 was the first passage of Scripture I memorized; and I have been returning to it ever since. When life gets confusing or overwhelming, returning to this psalm helps renew my perspective. There is only one way that brings peace, hope, and joy, and that way is marked out by Jesus. I need to close my ears to all competing agendas for my life and ask myself, “Where does Jesus want to lead me?”

Allow me to place your hand in Jesus’s, and allow him to walk you across the threshold of Psalm 1 into the Psalter—and, I pray, into a lifetime of walking and praying with Jesus.

Once, while getting to know a new Christian, I asked several questions about his life. For a young man, he had an incredibly diverse life, full of intriguing experiences. When he finished recounting one particularly fascinating story, I said, “You have had a very interesting life.” “Interesting, yes,” he responded, “but fulfilling and happy, no.” He then went on to say that only recently had his life become fulfilling and joyful, because he had received Christ and was finally living the way God had designed.

Is that true of you? Are you trying to face the anxieties of life in God’s way and with his resources, or in your way with limited perspective and inadequate resources?

Psalm 1 contains a promise and a warning. It promises that living according to God’s will, even while encountering all the same trials as unbelievers, is accompanied by profoundly deeper peace, hope, and joy. Conversely, it warns that living any other way results in hopelessness, purposelessness, and ultimate destruction. The psalmist emphasizes this point by describing each way of life and contrasting the two ways.

The Way of Blessing (vv. 1–3)

The psalmist does not leave us guessing about which is the better way. He paints two contrasting portraits vividly displaying the difference between those who try to walk in their own strength and own wisdom through a broken world and those who walk through the same broken world relying on the Lord.

Avoids evil influence (v. 1)

Right from the beginning we are faced with a choice: avoid evil or embrace it. The person who follows God avoids the influence of evil. Notice in verse 1 the gradual slope that involvement in evil can take.

“Walks.” Going toward evil can begin by simply “walking in the counsel of the wicked,” paying heed to their advice. We can easily think like the rest of the world and take our cues for life not from God but from those around us. Perhaps we justify it by saying, “After all, all truth is God’s truth. This sounds like truth to me, so I will follow it this time.”

By the way, the word “wicked” (resha`im) could be literally translated “those who are loose.” In other words, the wicked are loose from God; they get into trouble. Consequently, their advice is loose from God and prescribes trouble for those who follow it.

“Stands.” The next step after following the advice of the wicked is to stand in their way—to linger at their door in such a way that one now becomes a party to their evil. The word translated “sinner” is chatta’im, meaning “missing the mark.” These people plot how they might do that which misses God’s mark of holiness.

“Sits.” If he does not walk away, the final step is to sit down and congregate with “scoffers.” This is the most frightening level, because a scoffer is one who actually mocks holiness and God’s ways. This is the farthest one can get from repentance. The person who began by listening to the advice of wicked people, went on to linger at their door, and then plotted sin with them has now become a full-fledged member of their scoffing company.

Absorbs God’s Word (v. 2)

Notice that this person is not just characterized by what he does not do, but by what he pursues. As we study the Psalms, we will notice that Hebrew poetry is often composed of parallelisms—the same idea is said in two different ways or with two different images. That enriches our understanding. Verse 2 is a good example of parallelism. In the first half of the verse, the psalmist concludes a thought started in verse 1: “Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord” (NIV). The second half of verse 2 tells us specifically how he does so: “he meditates on it day and night” (HCSB). In other words, your delight is not in simply speaking about the Bible, but rather by ruminating over it, reading, and rereading, so that it becomes a part of your life.

You may have noticed that I take “the law of the Lord” to mean the Bible. Is it accurate to say that the psalmist delights in the whole Bible, or just the Ten Commandments? The word torah will come up many times in our study of the Psalms. It will be important each time to determine whether it refers to the whole of the Scriptures or purely to “the law of the Lord.” More often than not, it will refer to the whole Bible. We know this from verses like Joshua 1:7, in which torah refers to “all the law” of Moses’s writings, not just the Ten Commandments; from 2 Kings 17:13, where torah refers to the writings “delivered . . . through . . . the prophets” (NIV); and from John 15:25, where Jesus quotes Psalms 35:19 and 69:4, referring to them as the “Law.” That is also the case in Psalm 1:2. The happy person will be the one who sets aside time to read, reread, and ponder Scripture and its application to her life.

If you are battling anxiety, depression, or despair right now, you may be frustrated with these explanations. “Why do I need to know about parallelism or the torah? I’m drowning in my fears!” But it turns out that God knows how to speak to an anxious soul. When we are anxious it’s hard to concentrate. It’s hard to hear and remember God’s words to us, so God helps us by using parallelisms to repeat things. He has lots of different ways to say: “I am here. I am with you. I am not going to leave you. I am by your side.” God repeats himself not merely for poetic flourish, but because he knows how to attend to worried souls who have trouble hearing comforting truth above the cacophony of their fears.

Even when God calls you to do something (law) it is because he loves you and wants life to go well with you. Most importantly, he gave his only Son to die for your sins, so you can always be assured that he will forgive you and help you turn to him and his way. A Reformer used to say, “There is no law-music in heaven.”1 Well, neither is there law-music in Scripture. It is all grace. It is all gospel. In your most despairing moments, you can turn to Scripture and hear a gracious God speaking to you. The psalms are especially rich with comfort from your heavenly Father, who knows how to reassure a soul deafened by fear.

Achieves their purpose in life (v. 3)

Notice how the life of one who avoids evil and absorbs God’s Word is characterized: “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” (v. 3, NIV). The long-term effect will be a life that achieves its purpose. Isn’t that what we all want? Here is the promise to you: when you are well nourished by God’s Word (“streams of water”), God produces through you good works (“fruit”) that are appropriate to your stage in life (“in season”), relevant, needed by the world you live in at the time (“leaf does not wither”), and eternally prosperous.

This has meaningful implications, especially for our work. Perhaps you are disillusioned with your current work situation because it is not something you enjoy. Or maybe it is something you enjoy but you do not feel you are getting the opportunity to do really important and exciting work. Perhaps your work involves caring for your children each day, and the daily routine feels monotonous at times. The promise of this psalm is that those who root themselves in God will produce “fruit in season.” We need only be concerned with pursuing God’s will; the fruit we produce in each season of life will be exactly the fruit he has planned for us.

The Way of Irrelevance (vv. 4–5)

The way of blessing is starkly contrasted by the way of irrelevance in verses 4–5. What is true of those who follow any other way besides walking by faith? The image is horrifying because it is the way of irrelevance.


The first way the psalmist describes the wicked is as “chaff” (v. 4). In the psalmist’s day, farmers would take the grain they had harvested to an elevated threshing floor. There they would dump everything: straw, stubble, chaff, grain. They would then throw everything in the air with their hands or pitchfork. The grain, being heavier, would fall back to the threshing floor, but the chaff, light and worthless, would be carried away by the wind.

Here the psalmist says that the lives of the wicked will blow away. They will not accomplish anything of eternal significance. Their most important accomplishments will still be time bound and subject to decay.


The picture continues to get worse. The psalmist says not only that their lives will amount to nothing of true significance, but that they “will not stand in the judgment” (v. 5). Though they may stand with great pomp in the way of sinners, they will not survive God’s judgment, which will destroy their works and forever consume them (Mark 9:43, 48).

This passage reminds us of a parable Jesus told in Matthew 13:24–30. The farmer, representing Christ, sowed good seeds (Christians) in his field (the world). But an enemy (the devil) sowed weeds (his followers) in with the good seed. But the wise farmer was not too disturbed. He would let them grow up together until the time of the harvest. When the wheat formed heads, it would be obvious which was wheat and which was weed. The servants would pull up the weeds first, gather them in a pile, and burn them. Then they could clearly see to harvest the grain.

The true children of God will be revealed by good works that are performed out of a heart made new by Jesus Christ. The weeds will be revealed by works that are done outside of a relationship to Christ. The root of those weeds is a heart that is going its own way, not God’s way. This person is self-centered and cannot love God and others. The result is a life that, in the end, is blown away.

Jesus Christ leads us through these psalms to understand more of him; to lead us on the right way. He is the truly blessed man who perfectly avoided evil for our sake, who perfectly appropriated the Word of God for our sake, and who died on the tree to produce fruit in us and make us people who stand on the day of judgment because Jesus did it all and paid it all. Because he made peace with God through the cross, he is our peace. Because he secured the hope of the glory of God, he is our hope. And because he went to the cross in joy, he is our joy. The truly peaceful, hopeful, and joyful person is the one who follows Jesus who is the Way.

  1. W. K. Tweedie, ed., Select Biographies (Nabu Press, 2010), 2.259.

Excerpted from Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms © 2022 by George Robertson. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

Soul Anatomy Frontcover


Soul Anatomy by George Robertson is a biblical guide for working through emotional turmoil in a gospel-centered way. It shows how the Psalms serve as a God-authored script by which to express every category of the human experience.

About the author

George Robertson

George Robertson, PhD, is the senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN, and a council member for The Gospel Coalition. He previously served as a lecturer and adjunct professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the author of Soul Anatomy: Finding Peace, Hope, and Joy in the Psalms. He is married to Jackie and they have four children.

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