As my husband and I were reading through the Psalms, we encountered a Psalm that we had read many times and came to with much familiarity. Psalm 139 is one of “those” Psalms that we hear quoted often. Most people who have been believers for any length of time have heard or memorized those verses. You might have seen verse 14 written on a baby shower card or sung a worship song reflecting on verses 23 and 24. So, as we started reading this Psalm, I admit that I wasn’t as engaged as I was for others. Don’t we often approach Scripture this way? Well, the Lord had a lesson for me.
In every counseling situation, there are immense trials that other people bring to the table. We, as counselors, are in the midst of heavy trials as we try to reach the hearts of others. Psalm 139 helps us to see that we need a bigger view of God so that we can think and act rightly in the difficult trials we face.
So, as we look to this Psalm let’s see how the nearness of God helps us to cry out for justice and in turn, forces us to examine our own hearts to seek for change in thoughts, attitude, and actions.
The Immanence of God
Psalm 139 uses several pictures of how God draws near and reminds us of His sovereignty and constant presence.
In verses 1-6 we see God’s omniscience. Wherever we are He is aware. He knows our thoughts. He searches out our paths. He guides our every step. Even before we speak He already knows what we will say. The Psalmist ends this section with an acknowledgement that he cannot even understand how all this can be. As we speak with our counselees about their heavy life trials, this truth can be convicting, but reassuring to their faith. Though we often sin in our responses to life, God’s grace is seen clearly as He pours out forgiveness when we confess what’s in our hearts and minds.
Verses 7-12 reveal His omnipresence. This is a pure picture of beauty! We cannot flee from His presence. We can feel as if we are in the depths of despair and darkness, but He is there! We can be surrounded on all sides by waters and not only is He there—His right hand will lead and guide us. Darkness is dark. Yet, the Psalmist reminds us that God doesn’t even see the darkness. His light is so penetrating that it dispels all of it.
Then in verses 13-16, David, the Psalmist, reminds us that God is Creator. Not just creator of the heavens and earth, but intricately involved in the details of our beginnings, as well as every event that unfolds in our lives, both good and bad. This can be a comforting passage, but for those who we minister to who have been sinned against, abused, neglected or involved in trials of any sort, this is a difficult concept to swallow. It means, in spite of all the trials, God was sovereign in their lives, and nothing happens apart from God’s eternal decrees. The nearness of God is a comfort, but we have to land in our acceptance of His “wonderful ways” even if they may not appear to be wonderful. And this is where trust emerges.
“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.”
David takes us back to a place of surrender and acknowledgement of who God is. He is:
the creator and sustainer of the earth
the revealer of man’s heart
the perfect one who knows all things
the keeper of our souls
The Cry for Justice
After this beautiful refrain, we are slammed in our faces with 4 verses that seem to belong somewhere else. As I contemplated how often I had read this Psalm in my life, I was awestruck at how I never even recognized or seemed to know these existed in this well-known poem.
All of a sudden, David, the Psalmist spews out demands for justice. He speaks with harsh tones and, dare I say, even hatred.
“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God…. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
He wants justice for himself and is asking for God to act! This is one of the most intimate sections of this Psalm. David is revealing his thoughts that he acknowledged God already knew. But he honestly spoke them to God. He didn’t just let them ruminate in his mind. This brings great comfort to those of us that read this beloved passage and need to intertwine our thoughts of who God is and what He has allowed in our lives. After David spoke these words to His loving Lord, he did not just leave it there.
A Heart of Humility
David knew, as we do, that our hearts can go astray so quickly. We can be overcome by emotions that rob us of the truth we know. We can go from high highs to low lows in a matter of minutes. So, he leads us to the important task of examining our hearts and motives. In effect, he says, “God, I know you created me and sustain me. I acknowledge you know all things. You are always with me. You have ordained my days from birth to death. BUT GOD, look at this injustice. Look at how I have been treated. I want you to do something. I want you to act. BUT GOD, I know my own heart can be callous at times and go my own way. So, help me to accept the glorious truth of your abiding presence even in times of pain. And keep me searching my own heart to truly know where I am sinning in the process. I can be so blinded to my own sin. Keep me on your path of righteousness.”
And this is the heart of humility, where our Lord wants us all to sojourn and camp out. Bring your honest thoughts and cries to God, and then, let the truth of who He is shape the way you think and affect the way you feel. So, let us encourage those we counsel to walk through each of these legs of the journey, seeking to bring our Good Shepherd glory. And we can do this through praise (vs. 1-18), lament (vs. 19-22), and confession (vs. 23-24).
In our praise, we see His beauty; in our lament, we see His strength, and in our confession, we see His mercy. As the puritan Richard Sibbes famously wrote, “We have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” May the God who is all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful sustain and sanctify every believer until the glory of Christ becomes sweeter than the absence of affliction on this side of heaven.