We are back in Psalm 139 today. I want us to cover the last two verses, vs. 23-24. We looked at the prayer request in v. 19 last week and drew some conclusions about it. Well, here we have a very different kind of prayer request – one that, I think, requires courage to pray.
But before we get to this, I want to think more generally for a moment on David’s relationship with God. The depth of his relationship with God is evident in this Psalm. He certainly was a person after God’s own heart, as Scripture says (2 Samuel 13:14).
The Psalm itself is one long prayer; one long and detailed conversation with God. You can see how he is aware that God is an intimate part of every aspect of his life, and he invites this.
This depth of relationship with God comes out in many of the Psalms. Here are some examples of this in prayers to God:
- “Be not far from me (God), for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” – Psalm 22:11.
- “(God) You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 (NLT).
- “(God) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing . . . and clothed me with gladness” – Psalm 30:11
- “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for (God) you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
- “When the cares of my heart are many, (God) your consolations cheer my soul.” – Psalm 94:19
You can see in these, and so many more, that when there’s a problem the psalmist asks for help, complains while trying to understand what’s going on, seeks closeness and finds strength in God. And when there is joy, the psalmist shares it with God through praise. This is really a picture of God as companion, or God as best friend. There is a relationship of intimacy and caring between God and the writers of the Psalms.
This, then, leads me to ask, ‘What about us?’ Or more specifically, ‘How good is your relationship with God?’ Are you aware of God being involved in every part of your life? Do you have a sense of closeness with God? Is God an intimate companion?
Certainly the prayer we are looking at today is a part of this, so let’s move on to –
The prayer of Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Remember with me, the flow of the Psalm as a whole. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. This is the background. And so he responds.
- In vs. 1-18 he appeals to God, ‘God, you know everything about me; you know my commitment to you.’
- Then in vs. 19-22 he makes his loyalty to God clear. ‘God, I hate evildoers.’ He shows himself to be on God’s side.
- And this lead us to our verses where he gives an open-ended invitation, ‘God, continue to search and know me’ – just in case there is anything to the accusation.
Now, let’s break the prayer down, so we can understand it. First of all, it continues the theme of the Psalm as a whole of God searching and knowing David. In v. 1 David notes that God has searched and known him, but here he invites God to continue to search and know him. And the focus is squarely on what’s within him.
The two phrases, “search me . . . and know my heart” and “try me and know my thoughts” are slightly different ways of saying the same thing. They are parallel to each other. He wants God to look inside of him, his inner person, so that God knows what is in his heart.
I do have a question about this prayer. If we pray this prayer are we praying, lead us into testing/temptation?? (David does pray for this elsewhere – e.g. Psalm 26:2). The word in v. 23, “try,” can mean examine, prove, tempt, or test. The word usually does mean testing in the sense of trials and temptations (again, Psalm 26:2).
If it does mean this, then we would have to modify this prayer to bring it in line with what Jesus has taught us about prayer. He taught us that we are to pray that God not lead us into testing, since we might fail and dishonor God’s name. It comes from a sense of humility and an awareness of our weakness.
I take the word “try” here as a further expansion of the word “search” in the first line (basically parallels). So I don’t think it’s asking God to test us, or to allow Satan to test us. Maybe the translation “examine me and know my thoughts” would be good. The idea, again, is that God is looking into the depths of his soul to see what is in him.
The word in v. 23, “thoughts,” can be translated as “disquieting thoughts” or “anxious thoughts” and perhaps these phrases are in your Bible translations. (This is a different word for thought than the word used in v. 2 and v. 17). But it is probably best to see it in parallel with the word “heart” as I said before, and simply translate it, as it is here – “thoughts.” David seems to be saying in different ways, know my ‘inner person.’ He doesn’t seem to be focusing on a particular category of thoughts, but on all that is in his heart and thoughts.
The problem that David is concerned with; what he wants God to look for is “any grievous way.” The phrase means literally a “way of pain in me.” It can be translated as a hurtful, vexing, or sorrowful way.
David is praying, “God look for anything in me that causes pain.”
- Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that cause you pain God?
- Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that will cause me to hurt others?
Now there is good reason to pray this. Jeremiah 17:9-10, a passage that shares the same theme and some of the same vocabulary (search, test) as Psalm 139, says, among other things, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” There is much for God to find and know in each one of us. There are many grievous ways that need to be rooted out.
“Lead me.” David wants God to know him and then to show him any grievous way, so that it can be dealt with. This is how God leads him. The phrase, “in the way everlasting” can also be translated, “the ancient way.” In either case, I believe the meaning is the same. We are talking here about ‘the way of God,’ or ‘the way of righteousness.’ So the request is that God help him not to walk in a grievous way, but in the way of God.
Summary: This prayer is asking for three things:
1. “God, look in my inner person”
2. “Find anything that would cause you or others pain” and show me these things.
3. “Lead me in your path of righteousness.”
The title today is –
I dare you to pray this
I say this, because if you understand this prayer, it takes courage to pray it. It takes courage because you are inviting God to show you your sins, your weaknesses, your defects. And that’s not an easy thing to have to see.
Usually, we want to hide all this stuff. We don’t like to have to see our sins and weaknesses, think about them or dwell on them. We don’t want God to see them (although he does). And we certainly don’t want others to see them.
Often we respond by living in denial, to keep us from having to look at these things. And then, if God or someone brings something up we get defensive. You know how it works, ‘Well, I’m better than so and so,’ or ‘It’s not that bad,’ or ‘It’s justified.’ We minimize.
But not only this, it takes courage to pray this prayer because you are inviting God to correct your issues, so that you can walk in his paths. And it can be hard work to have to do this.
I’m sharing this with you because, as hard as this might be, this is the way to grow in your Christian life. It’s only when we fully open ourselves up to God that he can show us our problems, things we are often blind to. And it’s only when we become aware of these things that we can begin to receive help to overcome them.
And remember, God already knows all your “grievous ways,” and probably a lot of other people do as well; more than you think. So instead of living in denial and being defensive, ask God for help. Don’t run away from God with your struggles, run to God.
I encourage you to pray this, and to continue to pray this, and to listen to what God has to say, and to have the faith to allow God to lead you in the way everlasting.
Let’s take a moment in quiet right now. If you are willing, pray this prayer. I believe that God will speak to you even now.