|Series Theme: Psa 139 Meditations|
Meditation Title: Overview
Meditation Title: Known
Psa 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
Psalm 139 is probably the psalm that speaks most about intimacy with God. When you view some of the other world religions, the history of Israel with God in the Old Testament is truly amazing. In other world religions are men reaching out to an unknown deity, some entity or entities that something in them tells them is there, but they don't know. Mingled with that lack of knowledge, is always fear. ‘Suppose' and ‘perhaps' are words that go with such religions. Suppose there is a ‘Big Being' and suppose He gets angry quickly with human failures? Perhaps I've just offended Him and perhaps things are happening to me as a result? Uncertainty seems to be a primary characteristic of every world religion other than Judaism and Christianity. When you come to these two you find the most staggering of claims, that there is an Almighty God and He has chosen to build a relationship with people. First of all Abram, then Isaac and then, most unlikely of all, Jacob who He renames Israel , and then with the family of Israel that grows into a nation. For those of us who have been around a while, I suspect we have taken for granted how incredible all this is.
And then you come to a psalm like this which seems to make it even more incredible. In the days to come, we'll slowly work our way through the verses that make up this psalm and see just how intimate it all gets. It starts off, this incredible nature of this psalm, right away with the first two words. When, in your Bible, you see God referred to as LORD – with capital letters – that refers us right back to Exodus 3:14,15 where God revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” and you will probably find a note linking to verse 15 saying, “The Hebrew for LORD sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14”. Therefore whenever you come across Him described as LORD – with capital letters – you could translate it as “The I AM” meaning the Ever Eternal One. God is thus distinguished in Scripture as the One who always is, the everlasting One, and in that description He is marked out as utterly different from anything else we know. Everything else in our existence is time limited.
So here we have the Psalmist speaking to the Eternal One, the One who is utterly different to everything else we know! THAT is what is so amazing here, which we so often take for granted, that we can know and speak to this One who is so utterly different from us. And what is more, what he says about Him in this first verse, equally marks Him out as utterly different. We look at people, we listen to them and we read their body language and think we know a lot about them – but what we know is like the tip of an iceberg projecting up above the sea, when the vast bulk of it is out of sight below the waterline. But God looks at us and KNOWS us. He knows EVERYTHING about us. He knows absolutely everything that there is to know about our past, who we are in the present, and what we will be in the future. There is nothing about us that He doesn't know.
Now this is a remarkable revelation that David has, that he shares with us through this psalm. He is aware of this knowledge, that we have just written and you have just read. As we go through this psalm, we'll see just how true it is. But there is something even more amazing; it is the expression of a relationship. Now a relationship is an experience of ongoing interaction between two people whereby through communication and interaction, knowledge and understanding of one another is shared in a good way. We know a lot about the relationship that David had with the Lord from the narratives we find in 1 & 2 Samuel. But in our verse today David indicates that he is aware of something that God has done – ‘ you have searched me' and the word ‘have' indicates something that has happened before he wrote these words, i.e. in the past. He is aware that in this relationship with the Lord, the Lord has done this thing. More than that, because God is who He is, He now knows David, and as we indicated above, when we say that we mean He knows everything there is to know about David.
Now if we have known the Lord for any length of time, it is quite probable that we have come across this psalm before and we now take for granted these things. Thus in these meditations, one of our tasks is to seek to see the truth here in new and fresh light so that we recapture something of the wonder of it. Think about this verse, for example. The Lord knows you and me and knows absolutely everything it is possible to know about us. Now that is scary because we all have things we wouldn't want other people to know about. We don't want others to know about our weaknesses, or the wrong thoughts or feelings we have, or the way we don't cope very well sometimes. But God knows all of these things! That's where it is scary, because the Bible tells us God is a holy God, and a God who gets angry with sin. So if God knows absolutely everything there is to know about us, He surely sees things that might make Him angry. Well they would if it weren't for some of His other characteristics. Listen to this early revelation to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 34:6,7). This is the God who knows everything about us – thank goodness!
Well there are lots more things that we could think about when we consider God knowing us, but there will be plenty of time for that in the days to come. For the moment, rejoice in the wonder of the thought that the Almighty ‘I AM' has reached down to us in such a way that we aren't obliterated, but are instead drawn into a wonderful relationship with Him. Marvel at the thought that He knows absolutely everything there is to know about us – and He still loves us! That is what is so incredible. If that hasn't come alive to you yet, reread this particular meditation and ask Him to help you see it like you've never seen it before, and then watch out for the joy to follow!
Meditation Title: Watched
Psa 139:2a You know when I sit and when I rise;
We started this series yesterday with the simple assertion that God knows absolutely everything there is to know about us – which would be a frightening thing if it weren't for the fact that our God is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6) Of course it's not the ‘knowing' bit that is the thing that scares us, it's the possible response to Him knowing. Consider two friends of yours speaking about you behind your back – you don't know they're saying it – and they make a negative comment about you. THAT doesn't matter to you because you don't know about it, but supposing they were talking about you in the room next door and the door was slightly ajar so that you could just hear what they were saying. Suddenly you KNOW what these two friends think about you and now it matters! That was an unkind comment and it wasn't true! Your defences go up and you want to respond. Yes, once we know about something we so often want to respond and do something. How must it be with the Lord who is all-knowing? Must He want to intervene and do something when He sees us falling short of perfection? Well of course He has acted in sending Jesus and now in sending His Holy Spirit, so yes, He has dealt with the problem by dealing with the guilt side of it and by providing a new power source to deliver us from the failing now. After that He speaks so gently to encourage us along, but He's also patient knowing we are sometimes slow to respond. Peter knew this when he wrote: “ He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance .” (2 Pet 3:9). But let's move on from the simple ‘knowing' to see with the psalmist what He knows.
You know when I sit and when I rise. This implies the Lord watches me and sees my every action. He sees even the simple actions of sitting down and standing up. Sitting down is about coming to rest. Standing up is about moving into action. The Lord watches me and sees that sometimes I need to rest, slow down, become still and relax. He sees me sit down. But then He sees my mind working and sees ideas flowing that require me to get up and go and do something. He sees me stand up. He knows why I do these things; He knows what I'm feeling. He sees me becoming weary and wanting to just sit down.
Are there times when we ought to sit down and rest but don't? Are we sometimes too busy and push ourselves beyond what is sensible and beyond the grace He gives? Do we have a need to constantly drive ourselves on, never ‘sitting down' to rest? The inability to ‘sit down' is a failure in us. Sitting down speaks of resting and recharging our batteries. Sitting down speaks of contemplation and coming to fresh awareness. Sometimes it is only when we are still that we can come to awareness. In Psa 46 the psalmist was exhorted to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (v.10). Perhaps we need to spend time just sitting down and being still and waiting on the Lord.
But everything can have two sides to it. Perhaps we have been ‘sitting down' for too long. Sitting down can also speak of idleness or laziness. Perhaps constantly sitting down can speak of lack of confidence. We don't have the confidence to do what we know we should do. There are a number of ways that sitting down can be wrong. It might have been right when you first ‘sat down' but you've passed the time when you should stay there. It's time to move on; it's time to make changes; it's time to advance a cause; it's time to overcome some giants; it's time to take some land. Lots of pictures all saying the same thing: the time for sitting is limited; we're called to “go and make disciples of all nations,” (Mt 28:19) we're called to change the world! Our ‘doing' may be to go and help someone or encourage someone. There are a million ways we may be called to ‘do' and only we and the Lord know what is the next one for us.
Ah, there's the point: the Lord knows. He knows when we ought to sit down or we ought to rise up. Even saying that, even saying the things above, suggest there are right times for right actions – and the Lord knows what they are. The trouble is that we sometimes don't, or sometimes it takes a while for us to get on and do what we know we ought to do. And all the while the Lord watches and knows.
These days in our country we have many CCTV cameras watching in the high street. They see every movement in that public place. It is suggested that if we move around a town in Britain today we may be picked up at least three hundred times by security cameras. We are being watched. In the sky there are ‘spy satellite' sky cameras that can watch every outdoor movement. In George Orwell's “1984”, Big Brother saw everything, and today we ape that by TV programmes of the same name. Lives under constant scrutiny! Is that a frightening thought? It is when we're guilty. God knows because He sees my every action – but He's caring and compassionate, and has dealt with all my sin through Jesus, and has given me His Spirit to help.
I'm not alone, God is watching over me the whole time. That can be scary if we have a guilty conscience but it can also be reassuring to have Him watching over me – but that thought is for another day. For the moment, bring all your times of ‘sitting down' to the Lord. If you have difficulty in ‘sitting down' share that with Him and ask for help to make the time and have the ability to be able to sit still. Bring all your times of ‘rising up' to Him, all you decisions for action, and ask Him to grant you the wisdom to know what to do and what not to do, so you make the most of the life that is yours. Be blessed in your ‘sitting down' and you ‘rising up' and be blessed that He sees and he watches over you as a loving Heavenly Father who is blessed by you.
Meditation Title: Understood
Psa 139:2b you perceive my thoughts from afar.
We live in a very different world from say thirty years ago. Recently I happened to be driving with the car radio on and heard a short story being read. It appeared from the start to be two sisters who then appeared as twins. As the story unfolded about their lives, little things were thrown in that made you wonder. By the end you came to realise, without it being expressly stated, that this girl suffered from multiple personality disorder. We live very much more aware of what goes on in our minds than we used to. Thoughts are important. Outward actions and words are the outer ‘us' and thoughts are the inner ‘us'. We can do and say one thing but think something completely different. Someone says something unkind and we think, “That's horrible! You pig!” (or something similar!) but on the outward we simply smile and shrug it off. Indeed we might think, “I'm not going to give them the pleasure of seeing that they've hurt me,” and so we look non-phased by their words.
One day Jesus had to chide his disciples: “Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him `unclean.” (Mt 15:16-20) The ‘heart' in this context is that inner part of us where feelings and will combine in thoughts. This is the innermost part of us where memories and feelings rise up and contest with will and produce thoughts. Thoughts are the conscious level while the part that stirs the thoughts psychologists refer to as the sub-conscious. But do you see, there are all these internal rumblings before words and deeds come forth. To really know someone we need to know their thoughts, how they are thinking. When we get to know someone really well, we can often say, “I know what you're thinking.”
Jesus, being the all-seeing and knowing Son of God, knew thoughts. When they brought the paralyzed man to Jesus, “some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!" Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” (Mt 9:3,4). Later with the Pharisees we find, “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them…..” (Mt 12:25) This occurred a number of times in the Gospels. Jesus knows the rumblings that go on in our minds. We walk into church on a Sunday morning and there we see someone who has hurt us. Jesus sees what goes on in our minds. The preacher speaks about the past, and Jesus sees what is going on in our minds. The preacher raises a topic we're not keen on, and Jesus sees our thoughts.
Now there are some simple little words in our verse above that are very telling: you perceive my thoughts from afar . The fact is that very often we are so full of our own thoughts that God seems very distant and unfortunately when Satan is on the scene he uses that very thought to make us think that wrong thoughts will be all right. It's not a case of “Did God say…” like he said to Eve (Gen 3:1) but “Will God know?” He plays on the thought that God doesn't seem near…. so He won't know. How silly! Whether He seems near or far off, God sees and knows. God can seem a million miles away – but He still sees and knows! In the Garden of Eden, when God called out, “ Where are you?” (Gen 3:9) it wasn't because He didn't know but he wanted Adam and Eve to own up to the fact that they were hiding from Him.
Older versions of this verse say, rather than you perceive my thoughts, you understand my thoughts. That what ‘perceive' means. God sees into our minds and He understands what is going on there. He has total knowledge of what we are thinking; not only what we are thinking but why we are thinking it. That, actually, is good news. People misunderstand us. They look at our actions and our words and they assume certain things – and they may be quite wrong. They do not know the things we are wrestling with, the fears or doubts or questions we struggle with. God does. God knows and understands and feels for us.
Understanding can bring compassion. The story is told by a man who travelled on the Underground, that one evening, in a fairly empty carriage, he was joined by a man and two young and noisy children. The man seemed to be lost in his thoughts and didn't seem to restrain the children who were noisy and disruptive. The story teller was getting to the point of saying something to the man to chide him for lack of control over his children when the train drew into a station. The man and his children got up for it was clearly their stop. Pausing for a moment, the man seemed to become aware of the other and his frustration and just before he embarked, quietly said to the other, “I'm sorry about the children. We've just left my wife and their mother in hospital. She's about to die from Cancer,” and then he left. Suddenly all the thoughts of anger and frustration of the onlooker were transformed into the anguish of compassion. Suddenly he understood, and understanding transformed his thinking and feelings.
So when you realize that God knows your thoughts, realize that He also knows what you are feeling and why you are feeling and, as your loving heavenly Father, He has compassion. If you have straight forward stubbornness and rebellion that is born out of pure self-centredness, that is another thing but for most of us committed to Jesus it is not like that. It's more a case of struggling with lack of understanding, or with misunderstanding, or with lack of knowing who we are and who He is, which are all part of the same thing. He sees, He knows and He feels for you. He is for you (Rom 8:31 ).
Meditation Title: Discerned
Psa 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Our role when either studying or meditating, is to first of all find out what was in the mind of the writer when they wrote. Unless we get that we will wander off in wrong directions. When it comes to this verse it seems quite obvious at first sight, but when you start thinking about it, it is not so obvious. At first sight it is pure parallelism: “ You know when I sit and when I rise…..You discern my going out and my lying down ”. In other words, the Lord knows all our movements. OK, move one! No, there's a difficult word here which leaves one wondering. ‘Discern?' ‘Discern' seems to say more than merely observing. Discern means to perceive clearly, to distinguish between things, to understand what is happening. It's when you look at other versions you come to realize the difficulty translators have had with this word and this meaning.
The older versions used ‘compasseth' (meaning surrounded) or ‘comprehend' (understand and take in), or ‘scrutinise' (look closely at, examine carefully), and the Amplified version says ‘sift and search out' (implying a deep and careful act). What makes it worse is that some of those older versions don't merely speak about ‘going out'; they speak about my ‘path'. Now put all that together and you begin to catch a sense that God's watching over us is far more than a casual glance. It is in fact a careful taking in of ALL that is happening so that absolutely nothing is being missed and every nuance of the situation is being picked up. Let's try and make up an example.
Here are different levels of reporting from an observer of you in the morning. Level 1: Superficial: “She got up, dressed, had breakfast and went out.” Level 2: Observational: “She got up, looked harassed, seemed distracted as she dressed, grabbed a brief breakfast and dashed out.” Level 3: Deeper mental and emotional: “As she got up, thoughts were dashing around inside her head. The events of the day ahead were likely to be difficult. How was she going to be able to cope with it all? As she slowly dressed her mind went over all she knew of the people she had to confront. This was going to be hard. She hardly thought about breakfast as her mind came to the hard conclusion: ‘It's got to be done! Right! I'll do it. OK, let's not waste any time. Let's go and do it! '” Level 4: Fuller understanding: As above plus – “As the thoughts of the day ahead went through her mind, deep in her subconscious alarms were going off. The long suppressed memories of the pain of the past abuse, sense of failure and guilt, churned deep down like an underground volcano waiting to erupt .”
In those four observations we see the different possibilities of observation. The first one is casual and superficial. It is what we do when we pass someone by with little thought. The second one observes the outward body language and assesses superficially what is believed to be going on inside. The third one reads the mind and sees the conscious thoughts rushing around there, and the conscious act of will that is made. The fourth one sees deep within and sees the motivations and the driving forces that come from the past. In the fourth one there is a deeper understanding of ‘why' which goes beyond the ‘what' of level three.
That is what is being conveyed in our verse today. Verse 2 simply noted that the Lord ‘knows' when we do things. Verse 3 goes back over it but realizes that the Lord knows everything about it, not only the act, but the thoughts behind the act and even the deep motivating forces that we ourselves are often unaware of. Again there are two actions being considered: going out and lying down. There was an element, reversed, in that of the previous verse – sit and rise – come to rest, and get up to take action. Here it is more than ‘rising', it is ‘going out' which is even more purposeful. Going out indicates a leaving of our home and going out to specifically DO something. Now for many of us the ‘going out' is going out to work. Do you have a sense of the Lord going with you to work, or school or college, or wherever it is you will spend the bulk of the day away from home? How do you feel about going out to that place, that job, that day of activities?
The Lord sees you and knows. Do you feel bored, frustrated or fed up? Do you go with a sense of failure – “I'm going to make a mess of this! I don't understand it!” Do you go with a sense of fear or trepidation? Are you uncertain of the outcome of the day, or do you even have a sense that it will turn out badly? The Lord knows all these thoughts. Do you know why you think like that? How about these two verses: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) and “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13). He may know your thoughts, but do you know He knows them? As His child do you know that as your loving Father He longs to hear you sharing with Him those thoughts? Talk to Him.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) No, these are not glib words. They are the truth. The Lord knows all there is to know about you. He is completely familiar with all you do and the way you ‘work', but as your loving Dad in heaven He longs to hear you sharing with Him. You can share what is deep there inside because, after all, He knows about it already, so don't be afraid to share what you really feel. He understands. It's good to talk!
Meditation Title: Foreknown
Psa 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
So far we have been slowly pondering the truth that God sees us and knows us absolutely. Nothing about us is hidden from Him. We have even suggested in passing that God knows our future, but the verse today puts that sharply in focus in a way we might not have considered before. God's knowledge about us includes knowing the next things we will say and presumably the next things we will do. C.S.Lewis pictured history as a line or road on the earth and God, who is outside time, is above and can look down on that line and see all of it at any moment, or just focus on a tiny stretch of it. So He sees everything that is going to happen in the next twenty four hours – that is the logical conclusion of this verse today; it goes that far. Now that in itself raises various questions.
If God can see that later today I am going to say something stupid and hurtful which, on reflection, I am going to regret, why doesn't He stop me? I think the answer to that probably has various facets. On one side is the fact that He has given me free will to choose to say and do what I like. Another side of it is that I believe He probably speaks to us by His Spirit, warning us not to go down a particular path, but we get so caught up in what is happening we just don't hear Him. Perhaps another side of it is that He sometimes just leaves us to blurt out what we will so that we will learn in future not to do it. In other words He allows it as part of our learning process.
But there is another enormous consequence of this verse, and it's to do with prayer. If God knows what we are going to say before we actually say it, then what is the point of saying anything in prayer? I think there are several answers to this as well. The first one is that words are the expression of what we think or feel; they are our commitment to that, so we don't commit ourselves to it unless we have spoken it. Listen to this: "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:9,10). Speaking out is therefore vitally important and in one sense nothing happens until we speak out.
Thus, although God knows what we are going to say, He only knows it because it is what we say. Does that make sense? He wouldn't have anything to know if we didn't actually eventually say the words. The second thing about prayer is that it seems from Scripture that so often God binds Himself so that often He will not act until we pray. Now we don't know this side of heaven why that is. Perhaps somehow our speaking out releases some spiritual power that God is able to use. The truth is that we don't know because He hasn't told us. The third thing is that God has, in His word, encouraged us to pray. Prayer is a unique characteristic of the spiritual life. Sometimes we do it simply because He says do it. Sometimes He says ‘do it' as we read His word and we see about prayer and His Spirit convicts us to pray, and other times it is just like we get a little nudge from the Holy Spirit to pray.
Some friends were watching a football match on TV at home, and suddenly the wife said, “I think we should pray about…” and named a member of their family. The husband, sensitive and loving as he is, responded well and they prayed for that member. Shortly afterwards a crisis broke out in respect of that family member – but they had prepared the way for the Lord to move graciously and gloriously in that crisis. Prayer is probably the most mysterious aspect of the Christian life, the way more than any other that we express faith. Yes, the Lord may know before hand what you are going to say, but that doesn't affect the importance or significance of prayer. Perhaps we might say that prayer is more for our benefit than the Lord's in that, as we pray, we are changed and as we pray we get revelation, but the bigger truth is that, for whatever reason, the Lord uses prayer to open the way to bring change. It is not our prayers as such, but they open the path ahead in some mysterious way beyond our understanding for the Lord to move and do things on earth.
Again, as we have noted before, if the Lord knows, why do we try and hide things from Him. When we pray, why do we sometimes pretend that everything is all right, when inside we are feeling churned up and anxious, and even complaining about the Lord? David expressed something of this in a moment of acute revelation: “ you desire truth in the inner parts .” (Psa 51:6). The Lord knows our thoughts and sometimes as He sees the words that are about to come, He must think, “Oh what a shame. They're going to use their words as a cover up. If only they would speak the things they are thinking.” If we actually spoke out to the Lord what we were feeling inside, it might come as quite a revelation to us, and it would certainly strengthen our relationship with the Lord. He is not put off by honesty. Read the psalms and see the heart cries and complaints of David, the man described as a man after God's own heart. If you are anguishing inside, let your words match the feelings. The Lord knows that you are feeling and is disappointed when we fail to express the truth in the words that come. Let's not make God disappointed. Let's bless Him with the honesty that little children have.
Meditation Title: Guided
Psa 139:5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
I don't know if you've ever watched any of the Indiana Jones films where the adventuring hero, looking for lost treasure, finds himself in some confined situation with his back to the wall and the wall before him moving towards him (or things like that). He was hemmed in. It's a life threatening situation and one where there seems no way out – but of course there always is. Do you remember the account of Israel being pursed out of Egypt by Pharaoh and his army? Israel found themselves with their backs to the Red Sea and hemmed in by the desert and Pharaoh's advancing forces (Ex 14:3). When we are hemmed in there is no where to go, no where to escape. When our children were small we used to keep rabbits and every now and then they needed taking to the vet for a check up. Out in their run or in their hutch we would hem them in, in a corner to pick them up. Often they would prefer not to be picked up, but it was for their good that we had to hem them in, pick them up and take them to the vet. So how does this apply to the Psalmist?
David has just been writing about how the Lord knew him, how He knew absolutely everything there was to know about him. He started out those first verses with “ You have searched me.” There is a sense whereby we stand totally naked before the Lord for He sees everything that we are. Because our old sinful nature sometimes tries to rise up, we hedge and duck and dive and try and evade His piercing vision. Adam and Eve hid from Him (Gen 3:8) as if that would do any good. Jonah tried running away from Him (Jon 1:3) as if that would do any good. In various ways we pretend we can escape from the Lord, pretend we can evade His piercing eyes. We run away into a dark corner where we think we will not be seen. He pursues us there. We run out into the world, thinking we might get lost in the crowd. Circumstances come that make us run until we find ourselves in a corner from which there is no escape, and we find it was Him who had sent them, Him who had hemmed us in. There is going to come a time of confrontation when He looks at us and we know we are being looked at.
When anyone else looks at us we can deny their stare. We can look bold and brash and totally confident and so challenge their thinking, but when God looks at us we know He sees right through us and we become as little children before the all-knowing parent. The experience of being hemmed in by God is, unfortunately, a very common one in human experience because we are so often like silly sheep trying to run away from the shepherd. If you watch a shepherd with his dog and the flock, we say he ‘rounds the flock up'. How does he do that? He sends the dog this way and then that. First one side driving them one way, then on the other to move them forwards until, bit by bit, they are hemmed in and the only place to go is through the gate of the sheepfold. He has brought them to the place of security – that's what he was aiming to do all the time, but the silly sheep couldn't see that.
When we have that sense of being known, there is no room for pretence. We can be utterly real with Him and with ourselves. When there is that complete sense of security we no longer fear facing ourselves. I can face me and see me as He sees me – completely and without any negative response. There is just hope. He's here for me! It's at those times that we realise and sense His hand upon us. David knew it and we can know it. First it's a hand of protection. The shepherd guards the sheep. Second, it's a hand of blessing. He gently places His hand upon us and blesses us, decrees good for us. And it is well. And then His hand gently turns us and redirects us and now we willing and are turned. His direction, we now know, is the best direction. The way He wants us to go is the right and best way. We've sensed His eyes see right through us. We've sensed His heart of care and compassion reach out for us and we feel loved and secure. We sense His hand gently redirecting us, and we know it is good. How wonderful!
Meditation Title: Amazed
Psa 139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain .
There are times when we plough through life making waves, achieving things and we feel like we are lords of the universe. We do something well and we thinks we are so good. At school we revise for an exam and get really high marks and think we know so much. It's an illusion. We move up the school and the work gets harder, the knowledge gets more extensive and understanding is demanded in far greater ways. We think we have arrived. And then perhaps we went to college or university and we began to realise there was a lot of knowledge out there and we wondered if we would ever be able to take it all in. We came away with an educational qualification and went into work and realised that suddenly this was real and we needed knowledge that would fit what we were doing and another whole world opened up in front of us. Then we met an ‘expert', a ‘specialist' someone who had been in a particular niche of our work for many years and as they talked we realised we hardly knew anything. In fact the more we learnt the more we realised how much we didn't know. We realised that we could only ever know a drop in the ocean of knowledge – but that drop could help us live out in the twenty first century.
Somewhere along the line we became a Christian, or at the very least a seeker, and we started learning spiritual things, we started learning what the Bible taught. We learnt that God is omniscient, He is everywhere. We tried to wrap our mind around that. We heard people speaking about how big the universe is and then that it is just one universe among billions, and our mind tried to grasp something of what that meant, and we gave up as we realised that finite minds can't grasp infinite space. The thought of God being EVERYWHERE at the same time, left us totally bewildered. Then we learnt that God knows everything. Perhaps we tried to envisage a massive computer with all the knowledge of the world in it. But then it would have to be updating every nanosecond to record everything that was happening every second everywhere, and we realised the futility of being able to cope with that thought.
As our minds have been slowly picking up pace on this subject of God knowing absolutely everything there is to know about us, perhaps we've been slow to grasp the enormity of that. We took in that He sees me at this second. He sees my physical frame. The fact that He can see every atom, molecule and whatever even smaller particles that go to make me, is pretty mind blowing, but He can even see every thought that runs through my mind, He can see every memory cell, He can see thing that will trigger off my reactions, present and past. But not only can He see every one of these things we've just listed, at this second, He can see now at this moment everything thing that was in the previous second and the second before that and every second of my existence before that. He has seen and known the entire development of me up until this second – which has changed from when I first started reading this page.
But He not only sees the ‘me' that is, He sees and knows every single thing that I interact with. Suddenly as we think about it, His knowledge blasts outward like a nuclear explosion from ‘me' to encompass all the physical things I encounter or just see in any moment or any day, and all the people I encounter at any moment – and He knows everything there is to know about them too! Yes, His knowledge about them is as great as His knowledge about me, and suddenly His knowledge (in my understanding) encompasses every living person and every living creature here and on whatever inhabited planets there may be in a billion universes. My mind almost gave up with the thought of His knowledge about me expanding outwards, but when I truly try to grasp Him knowing every single person just like that, I'm totally lost. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain !
It is at this point that I start to realize, in the most tiny way, that any ideas I had about God are really inadequate. A little while back in another context, I found myself coming to the realization that my knowledge of God was rather like one snowflake in the midst of a snowstorm covering the whole of the Arctic, and maybe that is an exaggeration! How does this leave you feeling? Don't let it be an academic thing, a thing that just floats round in the mind; it can do that when you are just reading something. Pause up and perhaps go back over this page again and let the truths here really permeate your understanding.
I suspect that such knowledge should have two effects upon us. First it should humble is, bring us down in perspective, to realize we are not the lords of the universe we sometimes think, and second, it should create a sense of worship in us, this thought that this incredible God whose characteristics defy our imagination even, is able to communicate with us, come down to our level and make us feel that we are important. Isn't that amazing? Let's get perspective, let's see ourselves as we are, let's see a little of Him as He reveals Himself to our limited minds, and let's wonder and worship.
Meditation Title: Ever There
Psa 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
Christians are notorious for using cliché language without really thinking what it means. The most common one of these, I believe, is the call, “Let's draw near to God.” Now I know there is the verse that says, “ Draw near to God and He will draw near to you ” (Jas 4:8 – AV : NIV – “Come near to God”) but our verse today implies that He is always with us. Indeed Jesus said, “ Never will I leave, never will I forsake you ” (Heb 13:5, Deut 31:6) and Paul said, “ Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you ?” (1 Cor 3:16) which again implies that God can't get any closer to you. Of course the answer to this paradox is that God does dwell within us, but that He also makes His presence known to our senses outside of us, so when we talk about ‘drawing near to God' we really mean, quietening or tuning our spirit to become aware of the presence of God which IS there. It's a case of awareness.
Now we say this because one of the most common feelings that Christians have is that God is not around, He's not in my sphere of activity. For most of us, we are not continually aware of His presence, we are not aware in any tangible way that He is here. Now we shouldn't feel bad about this because this was a common experience of the psalmists. In fact many of the psalms were written because the psalmist felt in need but didn't sense God's presence with him. For a lot more in this vein go to the “Why?” meditations on this site.
It therefore comes as a bit of a surprise, to find David now coming out with this amazing revelation. So far he has been pondering on the truth that God knows absolutely everything there is to know about him. Now, and in the following five verses, he ponders on the fact that wherever he is, God is there with him. Now the even more strange thing is that this verse doesn't have the feel about it of David seeking the Lord, but of his escaping from the Lord. He doesn't say, “Where can I go to find your Spirit,” and he doesn't say, “Where can I run to, to find your Presence.” No, it is almost as if he is chiding himself to keep himself on the straight and narrow by saying, “David, for goodness sake! Whatever you do, God will see. Wherever you try to go to hide from Him, He will be there, so don't even think about getting yourself into a bad situation where you fear your relationship with the Lord!”
Do you see, that has a very real motivating force behind it? Have you ever noticed how you drive a car (should you be a driver)? Most of the time with a carefree attitude, and then suddenly you see a yellow box on a stand on the side of the road and you realise there is a speed camera about to check your speed. Suddenly you become very law abiding. The Law is there to restrain our lawless tendencies. It is only the thought of being caught that stops us, sometimes, doing something we should not. I have often pondered the truth that I could never murder someone, because I know I would have to live with the Lord and I would have to confess. I hope that doesn't sound silly, but that is really one of the prime motivating forces to stop us sinning – that God will see, God will know, and we will be answerable to Him. More than that, as we commented the other day, trying to run away like Jonah, does not help. David understood that. In fact, Jonah would have saved himself a lot of bother if only he had had David with him saying, “Jonah, give up now, you can't win this one. It doesn't matter where you go, the Lord will be there and He will be watching and listening and gently asking, ‘What are you doing?', so don't even bother to get on that ship!” But Jonah still had this silly idea that he could run away from God's presence.
We all do something like this at some time. It's the way Satan seduces us with a lie. If we are behind closed doors where no one can see, we think it will be all right – or at least, that's what he tells us. But it doesn't matter how thick the walls or how big the doors, the Lord is there. He sees and He knows.
Every now and then Hollywood makes a film about a hero who is on the run or pursuing some course of action which gets very complicated, and it's only at the end that he finds he's been living out someone else's plan. All the while he thought he was alone, planning his own moves. It's only at the end that he realises that he was being watched all the time and someone else was pressing the buttons that made him jump this way or that. It's a little bit like that with the Lord. We sometimes think we're all alone and we're the sole arbiters of what is happening, but the truth is that the Lord is there, and He sees everything and, even more, He is prompting things to happen, or quietly working in the background to take and use and transform the silly things we and others do.
Oh yes, the truth is that we are never alone. He is always there and He is always moving and doing things to fulfil His purposes. That's why elsewhere David sees the Lord saying to His Son, “ you will rule in the midst of your enemies ” (Psa 110:2). Jesus is here, by his Spirit, working and moving in the affairs of this world, to fulfil His Father's purposes – and He's here with you and me, never leaving us or forsaking us, because as God's children we are intimate parts of His plan. Amazing!
Meditation Title: Extremities of Existence
Psa 139:8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
Perhaps it was more an illustration of childish thinking than anything else when the first Russian cosmonaut in space, schooled in atheism, declared, “God is not here. I do not see God.” His Bible knowledge was clearly deficient otherwise he would have known that “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24) and you can't ‘see' spirit, but the fact that you cannot see Him doesn't mean He's not there. If an atheist says, “I don't see any signs of God,” that is just an indication of their blindness, not anything about the truth of God's existence.
The psalmist, we noted yesterday, has moved into thinking about just where God is. Having started by thinking about God who knows absolutely everything there is to know about us, he expands that thought to consider that God knows us wherever we may be. Yesterday we thought about the fact that there is no hiding from God, no escaping from His eyes and His presence. Having asked the general question about where he can go to get away from God, David now moves on to consider different places or locations of existence where God will be. He starts with extremities of location existence.
Let's take these as general descriptions first of all – as high as you can get and as low as you can get. In David's day neither of these was possible, and so such descriptions actually say, if I was transported to the utter extremities of existence, if I was allowed to go there, there I would find God still is. In other words, it doesn't matter how extreme the location God will be there. It doesn't matter how improbable the location, God will be there. You cannot dream up any location where God is not.
Let's interpret the verse in physical terms next. When people talk about the heavens, they tend to mean the skies, but where does ‘sky' finish. Because of space travel over the past half century, we now have a larger picture of space. Because of the sorts of telescopes we have today, space is very much bigger than might have been conceived three thousand year ago. However far you go, God will be there. Whatever planet or star or black hole you find, God will be there. Whatever galaxy or constellation you find, God will be there. As David noted earlier, such knowledge is really beyond our comprehension. But then there are the depths which could mean depths of the earth (ever seen the film Journey to the Centre of the Earth?) or the depths of the sea. The latter is easier to imagine because the former has only been science fiction so far, but we do have vessels that can descend miles into the oceans. There are said to be at least six ocean trenches that are at least six miles deep. Imagine driving six miles in a straight line, then turning that road vertically and that is the depth of water of those trenches. That is a lot of water above you pressing down. If you could get there, God will be there.
Is this a purely theoretical, academic question? Is there any value in thinking such thoughts? Yes, because of what we know of God. Here in my office I can talk to God and He hears me. He also speaks to me and I sometimes hear Him. More than that He does things that bring change to me – He heals me, He brings me wisdom and guidance. That is what He does here in my office. What this verse tells us is that wherever I go, He will be there, and because He is still God and I am still me, that communication, that contact and interaction, is still possible wherever I am. There is nowhere beyond His activity, or His presence. In other words, we can be reassured, that wherever we go in our physical experience, God will be with us.
Now we need to go beyond the physical because you may note, if you look in your Bible, that there is a note next to ‘ depths' which says, “Heb: Sheol .” Sheol was the place of the dead, indeed it was used to describe the place after death where the presence of God was absent, i.e. hell. Thus David is saying, I may go after death to either heaven or hell, but in both places I would find you. The distinction of hell, therefore, is that rather than saying it is the place where the presence of God is absent, a more accurate description is that it is the place where the beneficial presence of God is absent. Heaven is the place of dwelling with God where all the benefits of the good presence of God are fully available for us. Hell appears to be the existence where all the presence of God's wonderful love and goodness cannot seem to reach us, a place of self-choosing for those who go there, because they reject God and heaven this side of death.
So, says David, whether I found myself in the light of heaven or the darkness of hell, I will know your presence. Of course the latter was now purely hypothetical because by his declaration of commitment to God he would never appear in hell. So what is he saying? Whatever the extremity of spiritual experience, God will be there. This is more pertinent for us this side of death when it comes to darkness. Whatever dark night of the soul I experience here on earth, God will be there. I may not sense Him, but He will be there. As the apostle Paul was to write many centuries later, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38,39). Hallelujah!
Meditation Title: Guidance – wherever!
Psa 139:9,10 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Many years ago I was in Hong Kong on a ministry trip and my wife was still back in England . This was before the days of easy e-mail access, and once I awoke in the middle of the night (never a good time to think things!) and looked down and thought, “There are thousands of miles of rock between me and her at this moment” and felt utterly isolated from my wife by that distance and the size of the earth. I couldn't have been much further away from her at that point. I was certainly on the far side of the sea . When I have travelled to the States in more recent years we have always had easy e-mail access and that completely destroys the sense of distance. You forget ten hours flying time when you can send messages backwards and forwards in seconds. It feels like you are just next door. For travellers, centuries ago, the sense of distance may have been incredible, taking months to sail to the corners of the globe. Today, to get home is usually at the most a day's flying time. In those days you had to reconcile yourself to months of tedious and unsafe sailing. Distance was very much more a real thing.
Yesterday we saw how David used the extremities of up and down to ponder on the wonder of God's presence always being with him. Now he uses horizontal distance to do the same. The sense he conveys almost seems to be that of a bird. The Living Bible puts it, “If I ride the morning wings to the farthest oceans…” When he says If I rise on the wings of the dawn it is as if he is saying, if I rise with the morning sun and then traverse the earth for as long as there is daylight….. That can be a long way. If you go West with the day, it stretches away in front of you. Going to the West Coast of the USA , where they are eight hours behind UK time, the day seems to stretch and stretch and by the time you arrive at your destination and get to bed, 24 hours have passed since you last slept. It's a long way to pursue the day. Rather than a bird flying today, we might envisage American space shuttle crew circling the earth in minutes rather than hours. As they go, the horizon keeps moving away and it's a strange combination of size and smallness.
Yesterday's ‘heavens' and ‘under the earth' seemed in one sense a little hypothetical which is why we summarised it as “wherever we go”. Coming down to earth, so to speak, makes it that much more real for us. Just recently I sat in a group of six people and we found ourselves contemplating the various places we had each travelled. South America was the only continent we had not travelled. Each person had travelled to at least six other countries, some a lot more. We know about travelling, we know what it feels like to be on a different continent, in a different country, in a different culture. It's especially the feeling of culture difference, I think, that makes the experience seem so different. It's there that we have to be reminded, God is still here!
In today's verse David speaks of the benefit of knowing the Lord's presence. There are two issues. The first is that of guidance: “ even there your hand will guide me ”. Wherever we are we still need the Lord's guidance. Guidance is perhaps one of the biggest issues in the life of a Christian, knowing how to live, what to do, where to go, and when to go. These are the issues of guidance and, if we are to get the best out of life and achieve the most from it, we really do need the Lord's hand of guidance to be on us. In Psalm 25 David wrote: “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (v.4,5). See the language – show me, teach me, guide me, teach me. These two verses could alone provide the basis for a great meditation. Think on them.
But there is another issue, that of security: your right hand will hold me fast. Your right hand in Scripture is the hand of authority. So David is saying, as you reign sovereignly you will hold me secure. Life in a foreign land can seem very unsure sometimes, but David says, it's all right, we don't have to worry, because we are secure in God. He is there and He's there for us, not only guiding us, but also protecting us. It doesn't matter where you go in the world He will be there, and He will keep you safe. That is the assurance that the child of God has. Yes, we can stray wilfully out of His protective care, but as long as we walk with Him, aware of His leading and guiding, we can be secure in His loving presence. Now that is a statement of faith!
So there you are, on holiday in some far off exotic place. Is God back home? No, He is there with you. The climate or the culture may create ‘another world' feeling, but there is no world or no place where the Lord is not! What does this say? It says that the blessings of God are there for us wherever we go, but so do the responsibilities to live a holy life that are upon the children of God. Going to another land does not mean the rules change. Be blessed there but be responsible there, for the Lord is there.