honest soul searching

This is a ‘thought for the week’ that I wrote this week for the Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association. I offer it to you for your reflection…

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I have been reflecting on Psalm 139 recently. To save those of you who can’t remember it entirely word-for-word I have copied it below (NIV UK)

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand –
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

It’s an amazing poetic reflection on who we are isn’t it? When I read the psalm I find it helps me to get a healthier perspective on who I am in Christ, and who God is.

We are fully known – even before we speak God knows our thoughts and what we are going to say. We are constantly in his presence, we can never hide from him (even naked in a garden or in the belly of a great fish). He knows the way ahead even if to us it seems bleak or impossible to discern and he will hold our hand and guide us. We are the complex and complicated product of his knitting (and he doesn’t drop stitches). God’s thoughts are way beyond our counting and comprehension and yet he shares some of them with us.

And that’s often where I have wanted to stop. Or if I have to go on I prefer to jump to verse 23. Why did David have to spoil things by pouring out a litany of bile and hatred against the wicked and those he counts as his enemies? That’s not likely to end up in the latest worship song is it? But I wonder whether verses 19-22 are actually the heart of this psalm. I think that they are the reason David wrote the psalm in the first place: he wanted to be entirely honest with God and himself and set it in the context of his awareness of who he was in God.

The first 18 verses are the (wondrous, amazing, inspiring, truth-laden) preamble. If God knew him so intimately; if he was so incredibly made by God; if he could never leave God’s presence; if God knows the way ahead: then it was pointless for David to be trying to pretend to God and himself that he was not incredibly upset by some people. There was no sense in him smiling sweetly and brushing it all under the carpet to keep up appearances. He had to tell God how it really was for him. And he was livid. He couldn’t cope with the wicked, blood-soaked things he saw others doing. He couldn’t cope with how people were misusing God’s name (perhaps invoking him on their side to bolster their cause). He had genuine hatred for the way that people hated God. So he let God have it. In both senses of that phrase.

Maybe there was an element of catharsis here. Maybe it was therapeutic. Maybe it was giving it over to God. It was, above all else, honest. I believe that David also knew that there was a good chance that he had overstepped the mark in his rant… hence verses 23 and 24. He asked that God would reveal to him if there were elements in his attitude that were akin to the things he had just railed against. He didn’t want to be guilty of the things he was accusing others of doing.

If we find ourselves wanting to say, “Amen” to verses 19-22 about other people, we must also pray verses 23 and 24 about ourselves because God knows all about us we should be honest with him and with ourselves. When I read this psalm I am reminded of what Jesus had to say about specks of dust and planks, blind guides and the danger of judging others.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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