“The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing those things, these persons love the Lord’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night! They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and those leaves don’t fade. Whatever they do succeeds.”
Psalm 1:1-3 (Common English Bible)
Many, many people are frustrated in their prayer lives. Told over and over again that whatever they need, whatever they want, simply bring those requests to God in prayer, and God will not disappoint. Anticipate miracles, we are told by the faithful. All things are possible if only we believe. We pray. And there is silence. Prayer is attempted again, with greater mental effort to “believe more” or “have more faith” as though either was possible with greater effort. The silence remains. We are told to blame ourselves. Discouragement settles into our souls, and we drop out on faith—or at the minimum, on the exercise of prayer. Prayer has failed us; we know that somehow we are not getting through to God, so we give up. Worse, without a positive experience of prayer, the energy for a life of faith runs down.
Lowell Russell Ditzen suggests that the problem may, in fact, be with us. Ditzen writes, “We become what we think! Our spiritual health is the result of our spiritual diet.”[i] Naturally, that begs the question, “What are we feeding on?” Psalm 1 advances this notion with three quick declarations: “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.” This spiritual guidance is immediately followed by two imperatives, the happy person loves the Lord’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night. Apparently, our spiritual diet – our day-to-day behavior and thoughts – becomes the filter through which we see the world. How is the resolution by which we view the world? Have we drawn near to God or moved far away?
Ellen F. Davis moves this thought forward, “The psalm makes only one point, and makes it really clear: you’re not going to get anywhere in the life of prayer unless you’re reading scripture, God’s Torah, all the time.”[ii] A genuine, vital, and effective experience of prayer emerges out of the midst of reading the Bible regularly – even daily – and focusing our thoughts on the question, “What does God require of me?” As we become better readers of the Bible, our prayers are deepened and transformed. We remove ourselves from the company of those who ignore God’s purposes and, thus, disrupt God’s order for the world. Steeped in scripture and disciplined in prayer, we are able to see what God is doing in the ordinary moments of life.
Life consists of choices – we choose either a constant attentiveness to God’s instruction or a self-centered life that largely ignores God until we believe God might be useful to us. One is a high-resolution faith, the consciousness of God here and now, and the other is a low-resolution faith that sees little beyond the self. Strength rises up in the person who both learns of God and approaches prayer as fellowship with God. Courage is rekindled, insight is broadened, and the power to endure and move forward is heightened. Such prayer pries the “me” out of our consciousness and provokes us to see life all around us in fresh new ways. Such a high-resolution faith leads to a lifestyle that experiences great power in prayer. A people who mastered prayer wrote the Psalms, and it is well that they instruct us.
.[i] Lowell Russell Ditzen, Secrets of Self-Mastery: An Inspirational Guide to The Mastery of Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1958) 22.
[ii] Ellen F. Davis, Wondrous Depth: Preaching The Old Testament (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) 147.