A Founders Week Reflection on Psalm 1

“It was a cold and blustery January day,” as the story goes, when J.A. Campbell and his students gathered for the first day of class. They sang the hymn Jesus Savior Pilot Me, Psalm 1 was read and a prayer was spoken – the first day of class at Buies Creek Academy had begun.

Psalm 1 is all business. There is no easing into it. It announces, with little room for misunderstanding, two paths for living – those who delight in God’s law or the way of the wicked.

Psalm 1

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

For a man committed to educating the children in this rural area, choosing to read this psalm on the first day of class would not just have been a word to the wise. It was, and is, a word to be wise. “The law of the Lord” can be understood as Torah, but to translate Torah as “law” does not quite capture its full meaning. Torah comes from the verb “to teach,” and in a comprehensive way it is the instruction of all the gifts God offered to Israel in what became the Bible. The one whose delight is in understanding and meditating on God’s instruction for God’s people will find life in the laws, poems, stories, wisdom, covenants and rituals. The one who delights in God’s law will come to know the depth of God’s love and God’s hope for his people. This psalm is more than just a reminder to read scripture, but to devour it, to absorb it, to relish in it and to allow what we learn about God to shape who we are, to form the decisions we make, and to lead us to engage the world around us with purpose.

I like to imagine J.A. Campbell, the Baptist minister that he was, thumbing through his hymnal and his Bible looking for inspiration from God to set just the right tone for the first day of his academy. There is profound meaning to the choice of reading this psalm on that day. Who knows if he thought we would still be here 134 years later wondering what led him to choose this psalm, but regardless, I am glad he chose to sing, to read scripture, and to pray with his students. Each year as we remember the story of our university’s beginning the University Choir sings Jesus Savior Pilot Me, we read Psalm 1 and we pray, but these are not just traditions limited to Founders Week. The practice of singing, reading scripture, and praying for one another are part of the fabric of our university. They are an expression of our Christian mission that give us rhythms and practices to hold on to when life becomes uncertain. In a year when the rhythms and traditions we hold so dear have been interrupted because of COVID, I find the reminder of Psalm 1 and the refrains of Jesus Savior Pilot Me steadying and sure.


To begin Founders Week you are invited to Campus Worship on February 1 at 7:00pm via livestream https://bit.ly/CUworship from Butler Chapel. The worship time will focus on the practice of listening and we will celebrate the traditions of Founders Week.