Keys to Finding Happiness (Ps 1)

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READINGS

Psa 1:1-6  Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of scorners.  (2)  But his delight is only in the Law of Jehovah, and he meditates in His Law day and night.  (3)  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivulets of waters, which will give its fruit in its seasons, and its leaf will not wither, and all which he does will prosper.  (4)  Not so are the wicked, but they are only as chaff which the wind drives about.  (5)  On account of this the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  (6)  For Jehovah is knowing the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked shall perish.

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) 3017.
‘Being blessed’, when it has reference to [a person], means being enriched with spiritual and celestial good and [they are] so enriched when the things residing with [them] are re-arranged by the Lord into a spiritual and celestial order, and so into the image and likeness of Divine order. The regeneration of [a person] is nothing else.

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley) 687.
it is said, to walk, to stand, and to sit, because these follow one another, for to walk pertains to the life of thought from intention, to stand pertains to the life of intention from the will, and to sit to the life of the will, thus to the esse of the life. Counsel also, of which to walk is said, regards the thought; way, in which one is said to stand, regards intention, while to sit in a seat refers to the will, which is the esse of a man’s life.

SERMON

Everyone wants to be happy.  What is not so clear is what happiness is or how a true state of happiness can be found.  The first thing to realise is that as far as holding a spiritual perspective of life is concerned happiness is not found in factors outside of ourselves.  People, material things, favourable circumstances, money, power and authority, may all induce feelings of delight and pleasure but delight and pleasure in and of them selves are not necessarily indicative of an underlying state of spiritual happiness.  They are simply delights and pleasures, and these can as easily flow from what of the hells as they can from what is of the heavens; the question is, are we able to tell the difference?  The other side of this is that sadness, unhappiness and other forms of negative emotions are not caused by things or people of circumstances outside of us either.

This is something difficult to grasp because we are so conditioned to attribute causal power to things in the outside world through believing what our senses tell us.  Our spiritual teachings show clearly that the external world is a world of effects and that it is the spiritual world or the inner mental world where causes are to be found.  If we would but take hold of this single truth our world would change radically.  We would see that all the effort we put into changing our external conditions in the hope of finding happiness is futile and that the only path to true states of happiness rests in having our beliefs and desires transformed.  We would see that the most important focus in life are the things that belong to the inner world of our minds – that it is us that has to change and that the spiritual work of taking hold of truths and examining our lives in their with a view to removing false ideas and trivial self orientated desires has lasting value and the power to affect every area of our lives for the better.

The opening verse of this Psalm clearly lays out for us how we can have built within us states of true happiness.  To be happy or blessed is a by product of living life with integrity.  It requires that we live responsibly and with an inner accountability to what we know to be true and good; in other words we must be in an effort to live our lives with a clear conscience.  Now the Psalm points out in its literal reading that this has to do with the company we keep.  So we read that a man who doesn’t walk in the council of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers, is someone who is happy.  So we see that the company we keep has a bearing on our state of life.

You perhaps will have noticed that this Psalm conveys its teaching using a 3 fold structure and in verse 1 offers 3 dimensions that need to be fulfilled if a person is to experience spiritual happiness.  So let’s look at this in a little more detail…

Firstly we have 3 bodily activities described; walking, standing and sitting.  These three bodily activities are coupled with 3 conditions that need to be met; we are not to walk in the council of the wicked or ungodly, we are not to stand in the way of sinners, nor are we to sit in the seat of the scornful or scoffers.  Each forms a triplet of related terms;

1.  walk – counsel – ungodly

2.  stand – way – sinners

3.  sit – seat – scornful

You should now all be familiar with the law of three in the Word and its meaning.  It means what is full or complete.  So while we can look at what is taught here in terms of the external company we keep and apply the teaching to that level of life it also has a deeper meaning.  Each activity of the body mentioned here, walking, standing, and sitting has a correspondence to spiritual states of the mind.  When viewed in this way the company we keep is understood to be related to the states of our thoughts and affections.  We move from people out there to the thoughts and affections we choose to dwell in or keep company with within.

Spiritually when we speak of our walk we are talking about how our desires and intentions get expressed as our life.  This is either natural or spiritual. We often speak of being on a journey through life which refers to our orientation which is governed by our basic philosophy of life.  If this is grounded in external life the life of our thinking will be goverend the wisdom of this world which is opposed to genuine spiritual wisdom.  The world would have us focus on what is outside ourselves as the source or cause of our interior states of life.  The focus will be on things, people and circumstances.  It tells us that we can be empowered through acquiring things and offers us a life that in which we are encouraged to look to our own prudence and take pride in our own intelligence and ability to govern and control outcomes.  It is an attitude built on running with what feels good rather than what the Word teaches is good.  To walk in the counsel of the ungodly is to walk according to that inner voice that flows from out of our proprium or ego that looks solely to the interests of the natural man.

As a matter of life and true happiness the Psalm teaches us that we are not to walk where our natural inclinations and desires would lead us.  We need to be awake to ourselves so that we can examine what it is that is actually leading us to the actions we take and we can only do that if we are prepared to give up our sense of pride in our own ability to manage our lives and walk in humility by looking to the Word as our guide.

To stand in the way of sinners refers to the life of our intentions or motives.  The term to stand refers to what we stand for.  The principles on which we stand and will not be moved.  Where walking refers to the activity of our mental life, standing has to do with the state of our motivations or intentions.  We are not to stand in the way or path of sinners.  Again as far as the spiritual life is concerned this refers to our inner states in response to what life confronts us with.  The proprium or life of our ego would have us stand in the path of sinners which is a state of continually justifying ourselves through rationalisations that dismiss any prompts from within to take responsibility for and so attend to our selfish attitudes and behaviours.  Sinners don’t see their sin or where they miss the mark as far as loving the Lord and the neighbour go.  And when they are confronted with their selfishness they are quick to find excuses so as to avoid having to undergo the painful process involved in self examination.  This condition is in us all because in essence it describes our proprium’s response to spiritual teachings when they point things out to us those things within us that need attending to.

So as a matter of life and being in the path that leads to true happiness this teaches us that we are not to make a stand for what we know is contrary to what the Word teaches.  We are not to stand intentionally in states of rationalising or justifying selfish attitudes or behaviours towards others that place ourselves above others or for that matter the Word of the Lord.

The next area dealt with is that of sitting in the seat of the scornful.  Of the bodily positions mentioned sitting is the most settled or stable.  It reflects what is at the core of the other two bodily attitudes.  Where walking has to do with the activity of our life, and standing has to do with the intentional life of the mind, sitting in the Word corresponds to the will for this is where the very life of a person is settled.  Here we need to realise that the natural will we are born into is not a true will.  It’s a false will that draws it life from every whim, desire or lust that captivates it attention by offering some substitute form of externally based pleasure or joy that keeps a person from making a commitment to real spiritual efforts.  The proprium or ego constantly offers us this substitute will with its natural affections, false joys, selfish pleasures, and convinces us this is what is real, that we are these things.  When we by into such things we sell ourselves short of the real will that the Lord offers us in our response to truths.  When we choose to run with lower things at the expense of the higher we are held captive and risk settling into the seat of the scornful.

These three states describe the three dimensions we need to give attention to in cultivating a spiritual life and practice through which true states of happiness can be found.  We are instructed that we are not to walk, stand or sit in those things that are opposed to the spiritual life of charity or love.  The true happiness the Lord offers is available to us if we are prepared to attend to these dimensions of our inner life.  We begin with attending to what is obvious, areas of disorder we see in our external life or walk.  As we attend to the external aspects of life we will find we can then begin to attend to those habits of thought that tend to justify these selfish or unloving behaviours.  These thoughts reveal the intentions that sit behind the activitiy of our minds.  This is how things progress in the spiritual life.  Until we make an effort to change the disordered aspects that exist in our external life we remain unaware of the underlying intentions behind the thoughts and beliefs we use to justify and keep negatively charged attitudes alive in us.  But once we look to change our habitual negative patterns of being we are brought face to face with the thoughts, beliefs, and intentions that keep them in place.  This opens up the opportunity to deal with the intellectual pride that these behaviours stand on.  As we work to have our false beliefs and thought structures cast out so we create opportunities for what is good and true from the Word to be implanted in their stead.  We will also find a deepening perception develops as we become all the more sensitive to the power that evil selfish desires have had over us.

Verse 2 teaches us where our true source of strength is to be found to do this spiritual work of not walking, standing or sitting in what is destructive of all that is truly loving and good.  True happiness for human beings is only possible when all that is within our minds is aligned and ordered to reflect the Lord own image and likeness.  We are born with everything in disarray as far as our affectional and intellectual faculties are concerned.  Spiritual teachings are designed to reform the structures of our beliefs so that we can be given new desires and values.  When we enter adult life and first come into contact with spiritual truths the loves in the natural level of life that we have been living from are evil.  The realisation of this fact comes as a shock but we need to see that by evil is meant whatever separates us from the Divine.  We may react to this thought saying that the term evil is too strong.  But we need only ask ourselves how we would rate our love for the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines, do we make efforts to study and live from them.  The Word and the Doctrines is the Lord. For those of the New Church this is where He is to be found.  Everything that keeps us from these as the source of our life is evil.  If we want to cultivate a love for these and have our minds implanted with spiritual and celestial things then we have to be prepared to live from them. For it is only in living from them that we cease to walk in the council of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of the scornful.

Verse 2 says of that person who is prepared to work with the Lord to have their life transformed by the Word that their…

Psa 1:2  delight is only in the Law of the Lord, and he meditates in His Law day and night.

The phrase “day and night” refers to every state of life.  So those who love the Lord love his Word or law, and this love is seen in that regardless of what state of life they are in (day or night) they are conscious of the need to look to spiritual teachings as their guide and not to their own self derived intelligence.

If we would do this then our lives will come under higher laws, we will be brought into alignment with laws of love and wisdom and will be transformed to the very core of our being.  Those who obey the Word as a matter of life will be regenerated by it which is what is meant by verse 3

Psa 1:3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivulets of waters, which will give its fruit in its seasons, and its leaf will not wither, and all which he does will prosper.

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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