This is one of my favorite Psalms. But I must admit, it fills me with both fearful awe and with inexpressible gratitude.
This is one of my favorite Psalms. But I must admit, it fills me with both fearful awe and with inexpressible gratitude. It begins: ʺLord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.ʺ (Psalm 139:1-2) The rest of the prayer continues to deepen this awareness that at all times, no matter where I am, he is there to guide me, his eyes are always upon me. He doesn’t just know and watch my physical whereabouts and actions, but he knows even my inmost thoughts. This is an insight well worthy of something like fearful awe.
Whenever I read this psalm it brings a childhood memory back into my mind. When I was about seven years old, my parents took me, my two brothers and my sister on a driving trip up into northern Minnesota. On that trip we went to a town called Bemidji, Minnesota. At the time, Bemidji had a theme park dedicated to the mythical north woods character, Paul Bunyon. As a seven year old boy, I was fascinated by those stories and my imagination was filled with wonder about this Paul Bunyon. As my father paid for he tickets, I wondered into the big open space before a huge stage, upon which sat a two story tall Paul Bunyon, and beside him was an equally impressive, Babe, the Blue Ox. There I stood, gazing up into that bearded face, my own freckled face wide with wonder, my mouth wide open, my hands in my pockets. Then, suddenly, that great head turned, looked downward, right at me. His mouth moved and I heard him say, ʺWell, looky here. There’s little Danny Doyle.ʺ The voice was deep, resonant, and fatherly, but I felt as if the world had dropped suddenly away, and I was standing there alone, in the presence of something, someone, who was beyond everything I knew. Of course, I did not know that my dad had described me and told my name to the person who controlled this great, animated being before me, and in whose presence I suddenly felt so utterly small and insignificant. At the same time, I felt singled-out, and intimately ʺrecognizedʺ for who I was. And it felt good.
I think now that that little experience in my life stuck with me, precisely because it was a preparation for the truth that Psalm 139 would reveal to me in my adult life. God is present to us, at all times and in all places. He does know us better than we know ourselves. We can not hide from him anywhere and there is nothing we can hide from him in our hearts or minds. This is fearful news only for those who are unwilling to see his, constant, attentive love or us. I am comforted by two things: that God loves me so much that he thinks of me at all times, and that he loves me so much that even when I sin and fail, he does not abandon me, he remains with me, always ready to guide me, to forgive me and to continue walking with me. Yes, he knows my sinful failings and he knows the tenor of all of my thoughts, but he knows me even more deeply than that too. He knows that my deepest desire is to be with him, to live eternity in his presence. He knows that I wish, more than anything else, to love him as he loves me.
Therefore, I ask the Lord as the Psalmist does: ʺProbe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path.ʺ (Psalm 139:23-24) Pray this beautiful Psalm often. He has made you worthy of his presence. Learn to love that presence within and without you at all times, in all places.