The first chapter in many books is titled “Introduction” because the author wants to tell the reader what the rest of the book is all about. Textbooks sometimes contain multiple chapters discussing various aspects of a single subject. The first chapter in such a series usually presents an overview of the subsequent chapters.
Psalm 1 is the first in a long series of Psalms. It is an introduction that frames the content and the message of every other Psalm. Psalm 1 is the most important of all the Psalms for this reason. Despite its prominence and the important place that it holds amongst 150 Psalms, it presents a surprisingly simple thesis: there are only two kinds of people in the world and you must choose which kind you want to be. Psalm 1 posits that there are righteous people and there are wicked people. The problem for some readers is that these words, righteous and wicked, are religious terms that carry a lot of baggage. Some of us have heard these words so often that they have lost their meaning. Others believe that since they are saved, they are righteous, not wicked and, thus, the choice presented by Psalm 1 has already been made. A quick reality check confirms what we all know by way of experience to be the truth: every one of us is some weird combination of righteousness and wickedness. So, what is the choice presented in Psalm 1 really all about?
Maybe this will help. There are two kinds of people in the world: trees and chaff. Those are not my words. They are the words used in Psalm 1 as alternatives to righteous and wicked.
You can be a tree or you can be chaff. The choice is yours.
You can be a tree. Not a bush. Not grass. A tree. If you don’t want to do what it takes to be a tree, you cannot settle for being a bush. You get to be…
…chaff. That is the useless stuff that blows away in the wind when you throw threshed grain up in the air. If you do not want to be a tree, you have no option but to be chaff. You cannot be lead pellets that will not blow away in the wind when you throw them up into the air. You are chaff.
A tree or chaff. No in-between. No middle ground. No exceptions.
If you are not a tree, then you are chaff. You’re not a bush. You’re not grass. You are chaff. In this world, chaff is the default. Being a tree means making a specific choice. A whole life time of choices, really. One good choice after the other.
Being a tree is pretty simple. Trees are people whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on [God’s] law they meditate day and night.” They pay no attention to the chaff. None.
Being a tree is simple, but really, really hard. That is why most people are chaff. That includes me. Are you chaff, too?
I want to be a tree. Desperately wanting to be a tree will not make me a tree. Becoming a tree will not happen by reading books about other trees, as useful as reading such books might be. I certainly will not become a tree by emulating chaff. As long as I delight in the things in which chaff delights, being a tree is not even an option.
Jesus was a tree.
He said, “Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is now open to all.” (Matt 4:17, paraphrase by D. Willard). This imperative was not a suggestion. He was not giving his best advice, as if someone could take it or leave it. He was telling anyone who listens that, if you want to be a tree, you are going to have to rethink your whole life.
All of it. Everything.
Because there are no bushes. No wannabe trees. You are either a tree or chaff.