Search Me, O God

Sermon by Nate Shurden on Apr 14

Psalm 139

Well, what a delight it is to be with the First Pres family. And in many ways, a feeling like this whole weekend has been something of a family reunion seeing so many faces, familiar faces, from the years that my wife, Christy, and I and our children had the privilege of serving in your midst, or maybe more properly, being served by you in the midst of God's house here at First Pres. It's a delight to be back. Hard to believe it's been nine years ago, 2010, when we shipped off from Jackson, Mississippi and landed in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee. It's been a joy from time to time to look out in the congregation that I get to serve in Franklin, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, and see some of your faces as you have come into the Nashville area and stayed over for the weekend. I want to assure you that we would love to host you at Cornerstone, not all at once - we couldn't fit all of you in all at once! But we would love to see you if ever you're in the middle Tennessee area. But thank you to the session here at First Pres giving me the privilege today to open up God's Word. And David, thanks for your kind words at the beginning. What a friend David has become over these last few years with that dear band of brothers that the Lord has given us to walk together in. It's important to have friends in ministry, and he is one of them; there's no doubt about it.

We have a beautiful passage of Scripture before us as we prepare our hearts to meet with the Lord in communion and in His Word. Before we consider Psalm 139, let’s pray and ask for the Lord’s blessing together.

Father in heaven, we recognize right now that this is a holy moment - a moment where we as Your people gather in Your presence and You have granted to us Your Spirit; that as Your Word is opened, You are pleased to use it for the living sword that it is, to cut into our hearts, both to wound in conviction. And in that one swoop of the sword, to also bring the comforts of promises and assurances of the Gospel. As my dear brother, David, noted a second ago, we recognize even as we approach Your Word this morning, that the Lord Jesus is enough and it’s Him in whom we want to behold with the eye of faith in this hour as we spend it now in Your Word, listening to Your servant, David, and letting him lead us all the way to the greater Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. Father, unless You build the house, we who labor, labor in vain. Come now and build the house with Your Word and send Your Spirit in such power that even on the spot today as we hear Your Word, we might be changed by the beauty of this Word as we worship You in spirit and in truth. Come and meet us now as we give our attention to Your holy Word. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
 

Well if you have your Bibles, turn with me to Psalm 139. Psalm 139. A beautiful psalm of King David, that great warrior poet of the Old Testament, in whom wrote more psalms than any other writer in the Old Testament. We have him penning the hymnbook of God’s people and we’ve come to one of the most well-known of the hymns that he wrote, the psalms that he wrote. And I believe that as we read this text together that your soul will be encouraged as you run across memorable lines that many of you know from this text. This is a glorious Word, so give your attention to it as we look together at Psalm 139:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

 

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

 

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

 

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

 

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

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!”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, infallible, and inerrant Word.

You know when the scholars talk about Psalm 139 they pull out the superlatives. One writer writes, “It is the most glorious of all of the psalms; the most excellent in the whole of the book.” Another one writes, “It is the sublimest of compositions that the world has ever seen.” Our favorite Baptist preacher and commentator, C.H. Spurgeon writes, “The most notable of all of the sacred hymns, Psalm 139. The brightness of this psalm is like a sapphire stone. It’s like Ezekiel’s terrible crystal. It flames out with flashes and it lightens so as to turn night into day.” Oh, what a beautiful turn of phrase to describes those words that we just heard together in the presence of the Lord.

You could look at just simply the articulation in the first twenty-two verses of Psalm 139 and see something of the character of God and be astonished. You can be shot through with devotion by simply reading the prayer at the end of Psalm 139 as David pours out his heart intimately and sincerely with the Lord on the page. You could look at the varieties of the Hebrew behind the words and the intricacies of the meanings that are here and find yourself constantly digging into a well of truth. In the time that we have together today, we want to look primarily at that beautiful prayer that Psalm 139 closes with, verses 23 and 24.

And we want to ask ourselves, “How is it that David is able to pray such a prayer like that with integrity?” “Lord, search me and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” That’s a bold prayer. How is it that David can pray that prayer? And to say, “Lord, I want You to come around and rummage around in this heart and I want You to find what it is that needs to be found there. And if anything causes You grief, if anything is a way of grief that’s within me, I want You to root it out, I want You to turn me around, and I want You to put me in the way that leads to life - the everlasting way.”

Who is This God?

We want to look at that prayer that David prays, and then we want to consider - “Who is this God who David prays to?” Because maybe that’s a clue as to why it is that he can pray that prayer with such integrity. And then we want to see the real answer to the prayer that David prays in those final petitions and see that the pages of Scripture show us an even greater servant of the Lord than the poet David - the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Well, let's look at this prayer beginning in verse 23, "Search me and know me." David is saying, "Here's what I'm asking, Lord - search me and know me. I want You to get into my heart." And when David prays that prayer, he says, "I have a sneaky suspicion that I know what the answer to that prayer is going to be in terms of how You're going to answer it, what You're going to bring into my life. The ‘what' - ‘Search me, O Lord, and know my heart' - but the ‘how' - ‘How is He going to do that?'" Well, it's how the Lord does it in each one of our hearts. He's going to test us. "Try me and know my thoughts." "Lord, the way that You're going to search me, the way that You're going to know my heart, I know that the ‘how' of that petition is ‘try me and to know my thoughts'" - but why would he pray that? Well, because he wants the grievous ways, whatever they are in him - the ways of death, the ways of sin, the ways of brokenness - those ways rooted out so that - why? He would be led on that everlasting way. The "what" - "Search me and know my heart." The "how" - "Try me and test my thoughts." The "why" - "That the grievous ways might be rooted out of me and that I might be put on the way of life, the way of everlasting."

David is implying in that little couplet in verse 23, “Search me and know me and try me and know my thoughts,” he’s implying that the real us is found when we’re under trial. Who we really are when we are in the crucible of life, whatever it is that bubbles up to the surface in the moment of our tests and trials is the real us. The things that are in our hearts begin through trials to be squeezed. And in those squeezed moments, what bubbles out is what he refers to as anxieties. You might see this in the gloss there in verse 23 with the word, “thoughts” - “Try me and know my thoughts.” If you’ve got a decent translation, hopefully even looking at your pew Bible this morning, you’ll notice that there’s a little asterisk or a little numerical number by that word, “thoughts.” And if you trace it down on the page, you’ll see that the Bible is telling you it’s not merely intellectual thinking or analytical thinking. It’s actually the word “cares” or the word “anxieties.” He’s saying, “I want You to search me and know me and I want You to try me and know my cares. I want You to know my anxieties.”

Worries

Because when we’re tested and tried, what actually begins to bubble to the surface are worries. That’s what begins to come up. When we lose our job and we get squeezed and we look at our bank account and those numbers are shrinking, the anxieties go up and the worries begin to occupy our mind and the mind begins to flit to and fro. It begins to run. We talk about anxiety as a mind racing - moving from one thing to the next, not a mind that’s calm and stayed and at peace upon the Lord and the promises of the Lord. No, it’s a mind that runs. It’s a mind that’s full of fear. Worrying about what the outcomes are going to be. Looking to the future. Considering the way things are in the present and beginning to believe it’s not going to get any better and we might end up in a place of devastation.

You see, as anxieties begin to pop up in the moments of trials what begins to actually happen is that fast, fearful thinking is leading us to be exposed that there is a faithless kind of thinking inside of us. The promises of God are distant to us. When the pressures of the world are more real to us than His promises. The presence of those anxieties are overwhelming and flooding to our system while the presence of God and His comfort seem distant and removed. The peace of God that would bring comfort and stayed and calmness to our souls seems impossible to come by as those anxieties rise within us. David is saying, “I want You to know me in that moment. I want You to search me and try me in such a way that as that bubbles to the top, that is what You begin to expose within me.”

Now, why would David want that? That sounds terrible! I mean if we're just being honest with one another, we're among friends this morning, that sounds terrible! "Know me, Lord, in my lowest moment" is essentially what David is saying. Isn't it interesting that he doesn't just say, "Come and see me and search my heart when I'm sitting in the pews at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning and I'm looking my best and I'm feeling good." No, he says, "Find me in the moment where I want to crawl underneath my bed at home because the world around me is falling apart. See what bubbles to the top then, what anxieties occupy my mind when I can't see the promises of God and I'm not trusting in You."

Why does he want that to be known? Because what is anxiety? Anxiety is an indicator of the things that we care about most. That’s what it is. The things that you care about most are the things that you worry about, the things that you stress about. He says, “Lord, as You begin to come and bring tests and trials into my life, I want those anxieties to be known because those anxieties are a clue.” You know what they’re a clue of? They’re a clue of the things that we really care about. We might say they’re a clue to the idolatries that are in our hearts - the things that we’re really serving, the aims and the goals of what we’re really after in life. The fact that the stress of our comforts in life and our American dreams to come to fruition or our financial aspirations or our material comforts occupy much more of our minds than eternal matters. He says, “I want that to be exposed to me because what’s going to come out is the fact that I’m serving so many other things than You at a motivational center of my life and I know that what’s going to pop up are grievous ways.”

Grievous ways are the ways of death. We grieve when someone dies. But we grieve when we're on a way of death. Is there anything more heartbreaking than seeing a parent grieve over a child who has lost their way or been trapped in addiction, has abandoned their love for Christ, jettisoned the church? The greatest griefs are often not just the moments of the loss of someone that we love, but it's the waywardness of the people that we love where we're grief-stricken. The parallelism in the passage is grievous ways as opposed to everlasting ways. These are the ways that lead to death. "There is a way that seems right to a man and in the end, its way is the way of death," the writer of Proverbs says. In the midst of this incredible prayer, David is saying, "Lord, I want You to reveal all of that, root it out of me, and then set me upon the way that is going to be full of life - the everlasting way."

The Reservoir of Prayer

Where does this prayer come from? What reservoir is David pulling on or drawing on? What capital is this prayer ushering forth from? And what we find is that in verses 1 to 22 in the passage we see the reservoir. To pray a bold prayer like this, you’re going to have to know the great God that’s behind the prayer. David doesn’t just pray this prayer; he prays it to a God he knows and loves that’s revealed Himself. I want you to see that the opening six verses of Psalm 139 he begins one of the most beautiful unfoldings of what the scholars like to call studies of the attributes of God. In the first six verses, he teaches us about the omniscience of God. Listen to these verses, beginning in verse 1. “You have searched me and known me” - the all-knowingness of God. “You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern, You know my thoughts from afar. You search out my paths and my lying down. You are acquainted with all my ways. Even before I speak a word, You know it; it’s already on my tongue. You hem me in from behind and before. The knowledge of You is so great I cannot even attain to it.” It’s all about God’s knowledge; His all-knowingness, His omniscience. David has been reflecting upon the character of God and he’s been laying foundations theologically in order to pray a prayer of doxology, of worship to the living God. He has been reflecting upon the all-knowingness of God.

The Omnipresence of God

But it’s not just that. He reflects in verses 7 to 12 on the omnipresence of God - that God is everywhere. He says, “Where can I go from Your presence?” verse 7. “You’re in heaven,” verse 8, “You’re in Sheol,” the place of the dead, verse 8. “You’re in the far reaches of the sea. I can’t swim to the bottom of the sea and be out of Your presence. You’re there. I can’t fly to the heights. Even if I could hide in the darkness,” in verses 11 and 12, “You’d find me there because the dark is as light to You.” It’s an amazing reflection upon the omnipresence of God. You’re all-knowing, You know everything about me. You know all there is to know. All knowledge is found in You. You are omniscient. But there’s no corner of this world, there’s no place that one could go where You wouldn’t be present. You’re everywhere!

The Omnipotence of God

And then in verses 13 to 16 he unfolds yet another attribute of God, the attribute known as omnipotence, or all powerful. He says, “God, it was You who formed me and who knitted me,” verse 13, “in my mother’s womb. How wonderful are Your works,” verse 14. “Even when You saw me hidden in the depths of the earth, You were making and fashioning me,” verse 15. “Even before I had any days, You knew every one of them,” verse 16. He knows his God. He’s reflected on his God. He is steeped - we might say he is marinated in the very attributes of who God is and it has bubbled up in him a prayer, a desperate desire to be searched by God.

Now if you can think of it, David has just given us some of the most remarkable attributes of God and it would lead us to a conclusion that God is the best person to search him. If God is all knowing, who's the best person to really know us? God. But now, if God is going to search us, I shake in my boots a little bit because I'm a little afraid of what He's going to find. But here's the reality - if I try and run from Him, there's nowhere I can go. Because if I try to run from Him, He's going to find me there. "And so Lord, I just want to recognize that You're all-knowing and you're omnipresent. I think you're going to find all kind of grievous ways in me, but I take great comfort in knowing this - You're the only one who can actually do something about it. You're omnipotent. You can change me. In all of the fruitless ways I've tried to change myself and fallen flat on my face, never growing to the degree that I can ever grow as You have called me to be because I need Your grace and I need Your work. I want You to know me as I really need to be known. And when I try to run from You, I want You to come and get me because I know You're everywhere. And then when I despair that anything can happen, I want to rest in Your power that You can actually change me."

You see how the theology led to the prayer and laid the foundations for the prayer? But maybe you puzzled even as I did over one section in the prayer. I mean this psalm says some of the hardest words with regards to holiness and judgment. Maybe it struck you as a little odd. "Oh, that's beautiful - omniscience and omnipresence and omnipotence. And now he believes that he can trust in the Lord to come in and do a great work within him." Well buttressed between those verses, 1 through 18, and the prayer of 23 and 24 is this section where, if you're just reading along and you're not really thinking much about the psalm and you're just sort of skipping across the top it might actually be quite disturbing to you, these words, beginning in verse 19 - "Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies." If we were just reading along we'd think, "David's having a bad day at this moment. He was doing so well. He was doing so well through this psalm. He seemed upbeat. He was talking about the attributes of God. He was earnest about his prayers and it's sort of like he lost his cool in verse 19 through 21." That's not what happened.

The Holiness of God

As he began to reflect upon the attributes of God, undoubtedly he began to think about both the holiness of God and the justice of God and the recognition of the looming judgment of God and he began to think questions that we have often thought when we see evil and wickedness take place in the world. “Lord, You know it all. You know what’s happening. You’re everywhere so there’s no way they wouldn’t escape from You. You’re omnipotent. You’re all powerful so You can right every wrong. Why don’t You take care of the enemies? Slay the wicked! Destroy Your enemies and mine!” You see the call? It’s arising out of a reflection that, “Lord, I know You’re holy and I know You’re just and I know You know all this. And You can actually do something to right the wrong and You’re not doing anything! Get it done!” You feel that longing in the heart of David as he lifts up his voice here.

And then there’s the shift. Suddenly, from looking out at all the big bad enemies out there who need to be laid low by the holiness of God in His justice and judgment and power, and in verse 23 this contrition, and humility takes over. “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” How many times have you gotten so mad at someone, an enemy, and you have felt so just in your anger. It may have been a genuine wrong, as I believe in this passage, David is actually reflecting on the holiness and the goodness and the vengeance of God that we must rest in and recognize - that He is in the rightful position to judge evil. That is a good, right thing that’s consistent with the holiness and the character of God. This is not a spirit of revenge. But how many times in our, righteous as it were, anger towards evil in the world have we, by God’s grace, begun to realize, “Wait, there’s sin in me. There’s sin in me. And if I’m calling for the downfall of the enemies of God, why do I think my end would be different from theirs, should God be so pleased to bring judgment?”

“O search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts.” This pleading of David is that the Lord would do a remarkable, saving and sanctifying work in his own heart. And the Lord answers that prayer. Now it’s a prayer that David would have known and answered in the covenant promises of God going back to Abraham and forward - promises that God Himself will take the judgment of His people on Himself. The wrath that is rightly to be poured out on every sinner - “For the wages of sin is death.” The grievous way leads in that direction. He knew that was the case. It had been promised, it had been displayed dramatically through the covenant promises of the Old Testament, but it had not yet received its fulfillment, but it would, in the Lord Jesus Christ. Years from this point it would be the Lord Jesus who would really be searched out. Wouldn’t it? Born in His perfections, living a perfect and sinless life on the behalf of His people, He would be searched out, He would be tested, He would be tried. He would be pressed from every angle - up, down and sideways. And when He was tried, do you know what was found? No grievous ways. No sinful ways were found in Him. He is the only one among us that can be tested and tried and searched out by God and not found wanting. Which is why He is for us the everlasting way.

As we gather in this space together today, we know there is no way of our own existence or being that could make us acceptable in the presence of the Lord, but we have one who is the advocate for us before the Father who, right now the Scripture tells us, stands to make intercession for you and me. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. But if you’re in Him, nothing can keep you from the Father. The fullness of His salvation is yours in Christ Jesus. “You keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.” As we come to the Lord’s Supper today and we recognize that all throughout this week there were a series of anxieties that popped up, worries and concerns and idolatries that were there, God wants you to acknowledge those before His eyes today, to turn from those wicked ways through the power and the grace of the Gospel, and to behold the beauty of the everlasting way of Jesus who today will cast His arms open wide and say, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and that anxious mind, I will give you rest.” Let’s pray to that end right now.

Father in heaven, come now. Meet us. Meet us in the beauty of these truths. Nurture and strengthen us that this would be more necessary, we would recognize more necessary than the toast we ate for breakfast this morning is the words that we have been savoring in Your Word from Psalm 139. And we come now, Lord, from Word written to Word seen in the Lord’s Supper, but the same Christ in whom we trust. Inscribe these truths now on our hearts as we fellowship with You at the Table. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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