All things being equal, experiencing the love, mercy, and grace of God should be the daily experience of the healthy soul. In this, our second article on assurance, I want to delve into the experiential elements of soul health. What is it? Where can it be found? And how it can be cultivated?
The poet John Oxenham once observed:
To every man there opens a way, and ways, and a way.
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And, in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
Borrowing this metaphor for a moment, true assurance won’t be found aimlessly groping around on the low road, and it will never thrive in the misty flats betwixt and between. True assurance is a rare jewel. And while freely available to all God’s children, we will not find it strewn carelessly along the path of least resistance. More precious than all the world, God tends to keep this treasure for those who know its worth.
We must discipline ourselves, therefore, not only to imitate God but also to experience and enjoy Him. Wasn’t this the hope Paul laid out for the hardworking, faithful deacon? “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3:13). This is, you understand, the description not of a super-Christian but simply a healthy one. What each deacon must be, every Christian should be.
Healthy, assured souls share at least three fundamental characteristics: they understand and embrace the gracious nature of the gospel, they give themselves to a life of repentance, and, the subject of this article, they delight in communing with God in Holy Scripture.
No passage in the Bible illustrates this principle better than Psalm 1. Its position at the beginning of the Bible’s songbook has long intrigued me. You might have expected the Psalter to start with a hallelujah chorus such as Psalm 113, or perhaps a resounding call to worship like the Old Hundredth. But it doesn’t. Here’s a song that quite literally extends beyond our lips and our hearts to our lives. It stands like a sentinel at the beginning of the collection, almost as if to say, “Before you sing the songs of faith, you must first live the life of faith. And such a life starts right here with the delightful, disciplined, daily diet of Holy Writ.”
Here is worship 101. Miss this lesson, and you can sing “Lord, Lord” with your lips until the cows come home, but you will never know what it means to live “Lord, Lord” in your life—the only kind of worship destined to last forever. Jesus Himself said as much (Matt. 7:21–23).
This blessed man (Ps. 1:1) lives a life full of verities and certainties. With assured conviction, he knows to whom he should listen (v. 2), and those to whom he must pay no heed (v. 1). As a result, his soul is full of sap and very green (Ps. 92:14), bursting with fruit, and vital in leaf (1:3). Consequently, this man has no doubts when it comes to the future. He has not lived the lifestyle of the wicked, and he will not share their doom (vv. 4–5). The eternal God knows him (v. 6), and I rather suspect this knowledge is no one-way street, don’t you?
The message is clear: if you want to look and feel like this man, you must learn to think and live like him as well.
We must begin, therefore, by avoiding spiritual poison (v. 1). Notice the verbs: walk, stand, sit. They tell the story of a soul progressively bogged down, stuck in sin. We hear the counsel of the wicked everywhere in the world—a place where lust is in control, God is on the edges, and man (pride) holds the center (1 John 2:15–17). Don’t go there. If you listen to the wicked, you will soon find yourself living like them, laughing with them, and sitting (the posture of a teacher) in the seat of a scoffer—a terminal fool, for whom folly sounds wise, and the gospel sounds silly (Prov. 9:7–8). When it comes to heeding the enemies of God, the old adage has never been truer: “Garbage in, garbage out.”