Psalm 139

One of the most profound conversations I ever had with a student occurred in 1997 – in our living room – after youth group one night – her name was Alli and she had been coming to our high school youth group for a number of months.

Alli had come from a home that wasn’t a church going type of home and she was learning so much.  Yet she was very reluctant to place her faith in Jesus.  And so we finally asked her – what is keeping you from placing your faith?

And she responded that she was wrestling with – what turned out to be what we call in theology – the omnipresence of God.  The bible teaches us – as we just read – that God is everywhere all the time.  There is no place we can go to hide from his presence and, she said, “I feel like I am always and continually standing naked before God – there’s no place I can go to hide from him.  And the fact that I can never get away from God – it bothers me.

Maybe you feel the same way?  Did you perhaps feel a little uncomfortable as this Psalm was read today?  Let me ask you this – did you notice that David  – the writer of this psalm – appears to have the same concerns that Alli has?

It’s subtle – but let’s take another look at how this Psalm – this beautiful poem about the omni-presence of God – and here’s where we are heading this morning if you are keeping score at home.

We’re talking about aspects of the ever-present God.

1.  The intimidating reality of the ever-present God.

2.  The comforting implications of an ever-present God.

3.  The overwhelming joy of life with an ever-present God.

First – let’s talk about the intimidating reality of the ever-present God.

First verse of the Psalm states…   Lord, you search me and you know me.  Does this verse comfort you or bother you?  There is a famous verse that says in another portion of the Bible – that man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.  Is that comforting or is that terrifying?

I remember when I first started dating Jody – the longer we dated the more terrifying it was.  You know why?  I knew the longer she hung around me the more likely she’d discover the real me.  I wasn’t sure she would like the real me.  I didn’t want her to discover the real me –  I wanted her to see the managed me.

You know – So much of our lives is spent on image management.  Hand on hip – knee bent – head tilt – Snap!  No!  New one!  Chin up!  We want to try our best to manage the way we appear to others.  (What’s that all about!  You know I’ve never seen a picture of my grandma standing in front of her sod house Like that!  She was miserable and she wanted the world to know it!  Take my picture.  I’m holding a pitchfork!  My house is made of grass and mud.

But now – we don’t want people to see the real me – what if they reject me?

But there is no managing your image with God. He see right through the façade – the charade – and sees right to the depths of our being.  No hiding places from him.  He even knows our thought life.

Whether, as David writes – I sit or rise. I’m going out or laying down.  There he is – he knows the words I am going to utter before one of them leaves my mouth.  There is no managing your image with God – he knows it all.

How does that make you feel?  If it intimidates you, then you aren’t alone.  David – who wrote this psalm – is also feeling intimidated or even overpowered.

This Psalm starts by David expressing that he – like Alli, is uncomfortable with the ever-present God – it’s intimidating.

Let me show you what I mean – Verse 5 – he writes “you hem me in.”  Could that not mean – you box me in?

I read that the word for Hem here in the Hebrew language – now I don’t read Hebrew – so I’m just showing you what I learned when I looked up the word online – the definition is – besiege me.  Confine me – you cramp me.

It’s not nearly as positive a feeling as one might first expect – in fact David is saying – “You’re smothering me Lord.   You’re cramping my style.”  I don’t want him everywhere.  Sometimes I just want some me time – where I get to do what I want – leave me be.

And guys – when David says – such knowledge is too wonderful for me – he’s saying that such knowledge – it’s too much!  It’s overwhelming!

For proof – look at verse 7 when he asks – where can I go to flee from your presence?  Listen – that’s not a positive thing to say to someone you are in love with.  Darling – I just want to flee from your presence?  I don’t want to hear that from my wife.  Do you?  Where can I flee from your presence?   

And then – more couplets from the writer – if I go to the heavens – you’re there.  If I go into the depths of the earth you’re there.  If I rise on wings of the dawn – the east?  You’re there.  The far side of the sea?  Remember the sea was to the west in Israel.  Up down – east west – rising sitting, forward and behind – I cannot escape your presence.

The omnipresence of God – it is an intimidating realty.  Who can blame Alli for expressing her feelings?  But I wish I had been able to turn to Psalm 139 with Alli – because Alli was the first part of Psalm 139 – but it’s not the end of David’s journey.

Check out verse 10 – the mood of the poem changes.  Can you hear it?

if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

What changes in David’s thinking regarding the ever present God in the second portion of this Psalm?

Here’s what.  David begins to think through the implications of serving an ever present God.   And the implications comfort him!

He begins to ask – why?  Why does God want to always be in my presence?  Well, David knows enough about God to realize the purpose of God’s presence.  It’s not to slap us around – God’s hand is there if guide us.  To steady us on the path.

This past October we put a new deck on our house – love it!  We had to get an inspection from the city and the inspector dinged me for not having a hand rail.  So I had to go and order a hand-rail for the steps, and honestly, I wasn’t that happy about it.  It cost a couple of hundred bucks.  How dumb! I thought – Until about a month later I slipped on the wet steps and started down a path I didn’t want to go down – And I instinctively reached out and grabbed that handrail and I didn’t break my tailbone like I deserved.  I should write the city a thank you note.

Why is God’s hand always there with you?  To guide and steady us.

Listen – some of you have an image in your head of God staring at you with arms folded in anger or disappointment or disgust. No!  Listen to the word of God.  He is all present and all good – and his hand is there to guide and to steady.

If your image if God in the heavens is that – when he thinks about you he folds his arm and scowls – then you aren’t understanding the Jesus of the Bible – his arms weren’t crossed in disgust – his arms were spread on a cross – out of love for us.  God is always there with you – good news!

Second implication – David begins to think – if God is always present – then that means he is there in my darkest times too!

Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

the writer of this psalm also wrote psalm 23, you know.  The Lord is my shepherd.  Even when I walk through the darkest valleys – I fear nothing!  Why?  Because thou art with me!

David’s mood changes from being intimidated by the ever present God to being comforted by the fact that God is omni-present.

His hand is always there to guide and steady us – he is there in the dark times too.  And then David – continues to think about the implications of the omni-presence of God and realizes that God was there even when he was being formed in the womb!  And pens some of the most beautiful lines in the bible.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

What does David realize?  If it’s true that God created me – that he formed me in my mothers womb – then I am not an accident.  I am not an accident.

I remember one time over hearing a student talking to another student and they were discussing their travails with their parents – and one girl said to another – at least you were wanted.  My mom had sex with a guy at college and here I am.  No one wanted me.  How would you like to be an accident!

And I just wanted to jump up and say no!  You are no accident.  You were created by God – and He knew that in order to make the you he wanted to make – he needed some DNA from your father.  And he needed some of the DNA of your mother – and he mixed them perfectly – perfectly – to create you!

Because he is an artist and he loves what he created.  Listen – you might feel like somehow physically you don’t measure up – and all I can say is – no!  God made you – he formed you.  He deeply loves you.  There is no such thing as an unwanted child.  God is the one who wanted you and made it happen for his glory and for his own joy.  And you are deeply loved.

You are loved and you have a purpose!  Your days count!  All of your days, by the way.  All of them.

By the way – these verses are cited by the church since it’s formation – throughout history – the church has stood against abortion. And – by the way – the church has stood against euthanasia.  Throughout history, the church has stood by the most vulnerable.  We have stood up for those whose life is most fragile.  The unborn and those who are elderly and whose health is failing, and society wants to find a way to sweep people out of the way.

If you’re not dead, you’re not done.  God has a reason for you to be here.  And each day belongs to the one who writes our story.

The right to decide a life span belongs to the Lord.  It’s his right, and so we here at Journey are proud to stand for life, on both sides of the age spectrum.

God wanted you to be born.  He wanted you to look like this.  He planned you and you mean something to him.  You were created to count!

Here’s how Paul states it in his letter to the Ephesians that he wrote some 1000 years after David wrote this poem, wrote this…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now let’s review David’s journey in Psalm 139.  He is at first intimidated by the knowledge that God is ever-present.  But then – as he begins to work out the implications – he is there for my good – his hand guides and steadies me.  If he is always there then he’s there in my darkest times too!  And if he is ever present then my life takes on new significance.  I was created to do something good and meaningful with my life in this kind of world.

From the intimidating reality of the all-present God.

The comforting implications of an all-present God.

The overwhelming joy of an all-present God.

Now David begins to sound downright emotional!

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Now to be clear – David is talking about God’s thoughts about him.  The NLT puts it, rightly, How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!

Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—

I heard Gary Zessin say this week in our staff prayer time, that he heard that grains of sand in the world are the single most thing on earth.  The most of any one thing – are grains of sand. Ever been to the beach?  Lots of sand – nothing compared to how often God thinks about you!

Immediately we want to recoil, no – not me.  Why would he care about me that much?  Deal with it kid.  You are loved by God. And You can trust him with your life.  He formed you and knows what he is doing.  You can trust him.  He is great and he is good.

He lovs you like crazy – which is why – by the way, God doesn’t answer David’s next part of his poem.

Now – let me talk very briefly about this next section – David seems to take a wild swing.  He gets to expressing jubilant joy about God’s great love and then he says something that many of you ask.  He just says it out loud.  God you are so good!  And if you are so good, then why don’t you kill the wicked people out there!

I hear that a lot from people struggling to believe in the existence of God.  They say – if there’s a God why doesn’t he just send an angel and have the angel wipe out all the wicked people on earth.

And the answer is very straightforward in the bible.  It’s because that kind of angel would NOT pass over your house. The bible is exceedingly clear  – there are none who are righteous.  Not one.

Not one until Jesus was born.  God in the flesh.  God pitched his tent among the likes of us.  He was the only one who lived a truly righteous life.  He was the only one truly sinless.  Behold Jesus, the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter the church that met in Rome,

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God was much more aware of the wickedness in David’s heart than David was.  And so, in his mercy, doesn’t destroy the wicked, as David asks.  Rather he takes the just punishment of wickedness upon himself.  And dies on the cross that we might be able to live life with an ever present God.

Is today the day you make the turn in your heart?  You work through the implications of life with this kind of God and decide to follow Him?

I’ll close with this thought.  Jody did learn the worst about me – and she decided she would love me anyway!  What joy!  To be fully known and fully loved in spite of it.

God knows the worst about you but he loves you anyway – and sees in you the person you will become through the transforming love of an ever-present God.

Close in prayer

  • Some of you think of God as cross armed and irritated – I want you to see the outstretched arms of Jesus on a cross – who willingly went there in order that you might be able to live a significant and loved life.
  • Some of you feel that God short changed you in some way – there’s something about the way God created you that you feel cheated – can you just allow for the moment how deeply loved you are by the creator of the universe –
  • Some of you are stiff arming God because you want to be able to do your own thing – you are running from God – but he awaits you – with open arms.  Maybe today is the day you stop running and trust Jesus with your life.