Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms. It is an intense, personal conversation with God rooted in a truly humble expression of the psalmist’s awareness of the omnipresence of God and of God’s love. It is a powerful, prayerful recognition of our smallness and our utter dependence on God.
The psalm begins with a statement of awe: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” Can his closeness to us be more clearly expressed? This is a stunning fact to contemplate and to meditate upon. God penetrates the deepest confines of our innermost hidden selves. He knows our every move, even knows our words before they reach our tongues. There is nothing we can hide from him, nor anyplace we can go to hide from him. David says of the Lord, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (verse 5). It is clear in the tone of this beautiful prayer that this realization of God’s eternal presence to us is not something to be feared. Rather, for those who believe in his love and mercy, this awareness is very comforting.
The Irish St. Patrick had this awareness and echoes David’s psalm expressing the same ideas about Christ in his famous prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate: “Christ within me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” Both David’s prayer and Patrick’s are filled with awed and inspired exaltation at the thought that the God of the universe would be so intimately engaged, so personally involved with each and every single human being. But so he is. God is personally present to us in every moment, in every place.
This is a profoundly stunning idea. David says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (verse 7). The answer is, nowhere. Why do we fear this knowledge? Because we are sinners. Our guilt makes us want to hide, from others, and even more so from God. But why would we want to flee from God when we know that his nature is love and mercy? Knowing and believing in God’s perfect goodness, why do we not run toward him for his mercy, his protection, and his support in our times of greatest need? He is, after all, the one who “knit us together in our mother’s womb” (verse 13). Is this not a wondrous thought? Not one moment of our interior or exterior lives has gone by him unnoticed. And though we are sinners, he remains present to us, loving us, ever ready to forgive us, to strengthen us, to lift us up. This psalm is a profound love song. It expresses God’s love for us and our love for him with a tender and passionate intimacy. The words of this psalm express a humble acceptance of God’s intentional and loving presence. To pray these words is to open our hearts to invite that penetrating and surrounding love of God into our very lives. With this love we will never be lost!
Yes, Lord, search us and know us. Help us to recognize you intimate love for us in all things and at all times. Give us the grace of humility to turn to you in all our needs. Give us the courage to invite you into our hearts and into our daily lives, so that you may “lead us in the way everlasting” (verse 24). We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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