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Known By God

I remember when airports began to use the full body screening machines which X-ray your entire body. You walk in, put your feet on the mark, hold your hands up, and wait. I had heard that TSA officers can see you as if naked.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this the first time I went through security and faced these machines. Did I want to have the security guards looking at my entire physical being? Granted, I am a physical specimen and they would probably think I am a body-builder. But I wondered what exactly can they see?

I went into the tube, followed instructions, and was searched. I was instructed to walk out and pick up my stuff. I looked at the security personnel and they seemed able to keep a straight face after viewing me, so I figured I didn’t appear too frightful or strange to them. Physically, I had been searched.

Psalm 139 is a prayer that begins, “You have searched me, O Lord, and you know me.”

The Creator of the universe knows you and sees you as you are, all the time, in every way. And this is a good thing. The spirit of this psalm is not “you can’t hide so shape up or beware of God’s wrath.” Psalm 139 is to be a comfort, not something to frighten us.

Because the Lord knows us all the time in every way, we do not need to hide from him, but can free ourselves from fear to live in his deep acceptance and love.[1]

Psalm 139 can be divided into five parts.

Psalm 139 tells me that I am known (vv.1-6).

It says, “Lord, you know me.” The Hebrew word “know” is also used to speak of the intimacy between a husband and a wife. This is how the Lord knows us. There are no secrets with God.

He knows you and me completely. When we sit, and when we get up. What we are thinking, where we are going, and everything we are doing. The psalmist says even before a word in on his tongue, the Lord knows it completely.

In the incarnation, God became like us in Jesus. He identified with us completely. Human experience is no mystery to him. There were times when Jesus knew the thoughts of the hearts of people around him.[2] He could see right through them.

There is nothing in us or about us that the Lord doesn’t know. David admits that this knowledge is “too wonderful” for him. It is over his head. It blows his mind. He can’t fathom how we are known in this way.

Psalm 139 tells me that I am never alone (vv.7-12)

David asks, “Where can I flee from your presence?”

Everywhere and anywhere we go, God is there. “Presence” is the same word as “face” in Hebrew. God is always looking at us. We can’t escape him.

And this is good news.

David realizes there is just no where he can go that the Lord isn’t there, whether it is in the heavens or in the depths of Sheol. In the light or in the darkness.

Sheol was the place of the dead. Not even death or hell can keep God out. The darkness isn’t even dark to God. God can walk right into the depths of hell and do what he wants.

Because the darkness cannot keep him out, the Lord is with us even in our depression, our grief, and our trouble. He is with us even in the pit of life.

I remember Corrie Ten Boom speaking of her experience in the Nazi concentration camps and saying there is no pit where God’s love is not deeper still. That is the voice of someone who knows.

Even if we could reach the farthest place in the sea, David says, “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” We are never out of God’s grasp. At times it feels like it, but nothing can separate us from his presence. His hand is holding us fast, tight, in a firm grip.

In Jeremiah God asks, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?...Do not I fill heaven and earth?”(Jeremiah 23:24)

The Lord fills this world as the ocean fills a bucket that is submerged a mile deep. The bucket is full of the ocean, but the ocean surrounds the bucket in all directions. This world is submerged in God.[3]

We are to think of God, pray to God and know God as completely present in and with us everywhere and in all things. He can enter our lives by all ways and at all times. We are wholly immersed in Him. He is always present and never absent. If we think he is not around us it is only because our awareness of him is so limited.[4]

Psalm 139 tells me I am significant (vv. 13-18).

The Lord knows us because he made us. And he made us to be significant.

He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully, wonderfully, intricately made to his specifications. He knows all our days. There are no accidents. We are created with purpose, the main purpose being to glorify him with our entire lives.

There may be parts of our background, appearance, or lives that we struggle with. Why am I in this family? Why do I have this limitation? Why couldn’t I have been like this? We accuse God of not making us what we want to be.

There is a story from the Jewish rabbinic tradition about a young Rabbi named Zusya who was discouraged about his failures and weaknesses. He shared it with an older rabbi, who said to him, “When you get to heaven, God is not going to say to you, ‘why weren’t you Moses?’ No, God will say, ‘Why weren’t you Zusya?’ So why don’t you stop trying to be Moses, and start being the Zusya God created you to be?”

We do that, don’t we? We compare ourselves to others. We try to be what we are not. All God wants is for us to be us.

Too often we define significance by what others say significance is which is usually fame, wealth, appearance or prestige. Maybe I am not created to be famous, wealthy, or prestigious. Who has God made me to be?

A woman in her elderly years who does some volunteer work and cares for her failing husband may not look significant to many according to the world’s standards. But that woman is probably doing exactly what God has created her to be and do.

We will never know the name of the boy who gave up his lunch that Jesus used to feed the multitudes, but he was significant.

Does God want us to be the best looking, the strongest, the most educated, the richest, or most prestigious? I don’t know. I do know he wants us to be like Christ. He is shaping us into people of grace. He has us as we are and where we are for his purposes.

Psalm 139 tells me that I can be angry (vv. 19-22).

Did you hear those words about God slaying the wicked and the hate David feels for those who are bloodthirsty and do such horrible things? We see a lot of this type of thing in the psalms: anger against enemies, and even the raw emotion of hatred.

On the one hand we should hate what God hates. It isn’t wrong to feel anger when what God has created for good is ruined by evil. But we must be careful of becoming the thing we hate, and letting the anger consume us and distort who God has created us to be.

This is a warning to all God’s people in these days when people’s tempers and beliefs are running hot and high.

So, Psalm 139 tells me, and this is the final thing, that I am limited (vv. 23-24).

I don’t know it all. I don’t see it all. And while there is a lot in this world and other people that set me off, I need to take stock of my own life.

David prays for God to search and know his heart. That is the way the psalm started, ‘O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”, and that is where the psalm ends.

He asks the Lord to test him and know his anxious thoughts, and if there is any offensive or hurtful way in him, to lead him in a different way. He doesn’t trust himself, but entrusts himself to God, and wants God to show him his blind spots.

The human heart is deep. It so easily holds grudges, resentments, and rationalizes our failures. We don’t even know all that is inside us, and we can’t always figure out our motivations. But God can and does.

Might we be better off if instead of spending so much time justifying ourselves, we learned humility, and asked for God to show us where we might be wrong?

And so David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” These words can be a regular and personal prayer for self-examination. When we pray this, we open ourselves to the Lord for him to come and search our hearts to the depth.

When we do this, we are asking God to see what is truly in us. We do it for our good, for our healing, for our happiness. We don’t search our hearts alone, but we ask God to search our hearts with us. If we do it alone it becomes too easy to justify ourselves. I can easily fool myself. God will show us what we need to see when we need to see it.[5]

We can’t hide from God and he doesn’t want us to waste our energy hiding from him. He can see and he knows anyway. And he loves us, and cares for us, and desires us even through all the garbage and mess he can find in us. Isn’t that why we hide from other people? I don’t want you to know who I am because you might not like me.

Hebrews 4:13, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

The Lord searches us and knows us. He knows our doubts, our anger, our strengths, our weaknesses, our lusts, our hurts, our griefs, our desires, our beauty, our giftings. He knows where we really are with him.

And that’s the most important thing: knowing where we are with him. That is what Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are about.

And Paul writes in Romans that if we have faith in the Lord, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Peace with God doesn’t fear judgment, condemnation, or abandonment. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners” – with all our mistakes, mess, and mayhem – “Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The Father knew our dilemma and sent his Son to save us from that dilemma.

We have the gift of having confidence that the God who knows us, is the God who loves us, who is with us, and who is for us.

The Psalms are the songs of our hearts. They sing our trust and doubt, our conviction and hope, our frustration and hurt, our pain and comfort. I have preached through a few of them in hopes that you will read them, and that they will be your regular songs and companions, helping you bring your life to the God who knows you and has wonderfully created you for himself.

Prayer: Lord God, we give thanks that you got a hold of David and moved him, by your Spirit, to write the Psalms. And for every other hand and person who have given us this rich, hymnbook, we thank you.

As the Psalms call us to do, we praise you: in life and in death, in good and in the hard, in times of light and times of darkness. For you are God. And we bless your name.

And we pray this for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knew, sang, and prayed the psalms. Amen.

[1] Some years ago I heard Rev. Darrell Johnson preached on this Psalm. I unashamedly adopt his outline because it is so good and clear. [2] i.e. Luke 16:15; John 1:47-48 [3] A.W. Tozer, Attributes of God, p. 119 [4] Evelyn Underhill, Ways of the Spirit, p.114 [5] Richard Foster, Prayer, p.29

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