Dear radio friends,
We come now to the end of our examination of Psalm 139. Having examined the psalm, we can say what a beautiful psalm it is. In this psalm David exalted Jehovah as the only God, the God who knew and does know all things, the God who is everywhere present, and the God who is all powerful.
It is a beautiful psalm because in it David sets forth reasons why the child of God can be comforted knowing Jehovah. That Jehovah knows us from all eternity is a comfort to us. That Jehovah determined everything that happens in time and in history comforts us. We are also comforted by knowing that Jehovah is near to us in all things.
Now David ends this psalm with a prayer. In ending with a prayer he shows his faith and trust in this God. What is David’s reaction, then, to the fact that Jehovah is the all-knowing, everywhere-present, all-powerful God? Does he try yet to escape the presence of Jehovah? Does he deny this God? Does he hate Him? No, rather, he makes a prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23, 24). The psalm began on the same note: “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.” Now the psalm ends with a prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.”
It is a beautiful prayer. Yet its answer could be very painful to us. What if God did this very thing to you? What if He made known to you the sinfulness of your heart; made known to you the sin that you were harboring in your thoughts? The answer to this prayer could hurt our pride and our ego. But it is an important prayer in order that we may experience the salvation of God.
The prayer consists of a petition for God to search his inward parts. David mentions specifically his heart and his thoughts. In limiting the prayer to a search of the inward parts, David shows that he is conscious that he is living a godly, obedient life outwardly. He does not ask God to search his acts or his words, because David is confident that these are pleasing to God by grace. But David is conscious at the same time that, though his actions and his words are pleasing to God, his heart and his thoughts might not be. David means that they might not be, while David himself is not aware of that. If his thoughts and his heart are not pleasing to God, and if David is not aware of that, he prays here that God bring that to his attention.
David prays regarding his heart and thoughts because he realizes that if in his heart or thoughts there is envy or jealousy or any sinful hatred or any other sin, eventually these will bear fruit in his actions. As is the heart of man, so is his life. If in the heart there is sin, that sin will bear fruit in one’s actions. David, knowing that his actions are pleasing to God, desires to continue to live as though he is pleasing to God. In order that he might do that, he prays: “Search my heart; know my heart; try me and know my thoughts.”
This prayer shows that David is free of hypocrisy. David is different from the wicked. He has made that clear in the previous verses — he hates the enemies of Jehovah. But that does not mean that he thinks he is free from all sin. He knows his sinful nature and prays that God search him out.
There are three verbs which constitute the main petition of the prayer: search, try, and know. We mentioned what that word “search” meant in our first sermon on this psalm. It means “to look, to investigate, thoroughly and intensely.” Then we used the example of the archeologist who, as he sifts through a patch of ground, sees and carefully examines many artifacts. So does God see. The prayer is that God might see our heart — see everything that is in it, not just taking a cursory glance, but by looking carefully and sifting through what He finds in our heart, in our thoughts, in our purposes, and in our goals.
David desires that God, having searched his heart, will try his thoughts — that is, test them, prove them, see if they are worthwhile or not. As the archeologist searches an area of ground, he finds much that is not worthwhile. So he must continually make a judgment — is this worth keeping or not? Or we can use the example of metal. When gold ore or silver ore is mined from the earth, it is put through a test — a test of fire. The metal is tested so that the impurities are removed from it and what remains is pure. That is what David prays for God to do here: Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts — that is, after performing that intense, thorough search, evaluate whether what is in my heart is good or bad.
Then David says, “Know me.” Does this mean that God does not already know David? No. Really, this is David’s way of asking God that God will bring to David’s attention the results of His search in order that David might be aware of how God sees him.
Is this your desire? Would you make this your prayer — to know the secret sins of your heart and that God show how far you fall from perfection?
Having made that main petition, David goes on to pray another petition: “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Really, this is the goal of what he has prayed for when he prayed for searching, trying, and the knowledge of God. He desires as the goal of this search of God that God lead him in the way everlasting. For David is aware of the fact that there are two directions one might go in life, two directions that lead in very opposite ways and end at very opposite destinations. There is, on the one hand, the way of wickedness. It ends in sorrow. Its wages are death. To go down that way is to exist apart from God. There is, on the other hand, the way of everlasting life, the way of fellowship with God, the way that Jesus Christ points us to and makes possible for us to walk in, and actually guides us in, for He is Himself the way, the truth, and the life. David prays, “Lead me in that way.” It is as though David expresses to God that he is aware that he cannot walk in that way of himself, that he does not have the grace and the strength to do it, but that he desires to walk in it. To that end he needs the guidance of Jehovah. This is a prayer for spiritual preservation.
God gave the law, and in giving the law He also gives to His people the knowledge of Jehovah God. In that law we must walk. That knowledge of Jehovah we must hold precious and love. But is it possible for you and for me to continue walking in that law, to continue in our faith? David’s prayer expresses that the answer to this question must be No. At any moment, should God take His grace from us, we could no longer walk in obedience to His law or love Him and believe in Him. We would fall from grace if God did not continue to give grace. So this is a prayer for perseverance and preservation.
Is it your prayer? Is it your desire to be most pleasing to God, to be as pleasing to God as you could possibly be in this life? And is it your prayer to be pleasing to God throughout your life, until you are brought to heaven?
The question, what motivates this prayer of David, is an important question. A prayer might be prayed very beautifully. It might contain petitions that are very meaningful. But if it is not prayed with a proper motivation, knowing God and knowing the need for that which we pray, it is still not a proper and a pleasing prayer.
So it is important, when we pray, to know, in the first place, to whom we pray. And secondly, it is important to know why we pray to Him.
David prays to God, the all-knowing God. That is the God the psalm set forth — the God of the covenant, the God who loves His people in Jesus Christ. It is Jehovah. To that God David prays. David prays also in the consciousness of his need. He needs this grace of God. And it is this consciousness that motivates the prayer of David. For David desires to live to the glory of God. He desires to do this in gratitude for the salvation God has given.
You and I also, understanding that we are saved from sin in Jesus Christ, ought to desire to live to the glory of God. But in order to glorify God, we must obey His law. And in order that we obey His law, we must keep free from sin.
David desires, furthermore, to enjoy the fellowship of God. To enjoy God’s fellowship and to be conscious that one is pleasing in God’s sight requires us to obey. That is not true because obedience earns our place in the fellowship of God. Jesus Christ alone earned that place in God’s family and in God’s house. But God has no fellowship with sinners. David made that clear in verse 19 of the psalm, “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.” Because God has no fellowship with sinners, that is, with sinners the guilt of whose sin God sees, or with sinners who have not repented of their sin, even the child of God who persists in sin will not experience the fellowship of God.
So David, understanding that, prays: “Lead me in the way everlasting.” And, “see if there be any wicked way in me” — that is, any wicked way, not only which would bring me to hell and destruction if not repented of, but any wicked way which already now in my life would keep me from enjoying the fellowship of Jehovah God.
David understands that there is only one way to enjoy the fellowship of God, and that is to walk the way everlasting. There are many wicked ways, not only one, that lead to hell. But they are different in that one way has this idea of God, and another way promotes that idea of God or that view of the law of God. There are many wicked ways. David’s prayer is that God keep him from each and every one of them (“see if there be any wicked way in me”). But there is one way everlasting. “Lead me in the way everlasting.” That is the way of faith in Christ and godliness — the only way to enjoy the fellowship of God.
This motivated the prayer of David. He wanted that fellowship with God. He knew his need for it.
Further, what motivated this prayer of David is that he knew the power of sin still abiding in him. He avoids two errors in this psalm — on the one hand, the error of thinking that he has attained to perfection, and on the other hand, the error of thinking that, because he is a child of God, sin has no more power in him. He knows that Satan still works in him. He knows that he has a sinful nature and will have that sinful nature till his death. And he desires grace to avoid such sin.
Are you so conscious of your sinfulness, and are you so eager to live in a way that pleases God, that you would do that at the expense of your reputation or your money or your health or your life? David will live that way. So he is motivated to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Will God answer that prayer? There is no question about it. For His child He certainly will. What makes His answer certain is the fact that the God who is addressed is the God of power and of might, the God who sees the inward parts. The psalm has spoken of that. He is the God who is an all-knowing God and, therefore, will hear and answer the prayer of His children wherever they are. He is the God who provided Jesus Christ as the One to take our sins away. Therefore, for the sake of Christ, He will hear and answer the prayer of His people. That God will answer this prayer is certain.
Of what will that answer consist? That answer will consist of giving His child all the more the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts and to enable them to see their sins. To that end God will use His law. It is the law and the Word of God that are the standard for godly living. As we read and examine that law and study the Word of God, we will see more and more that we are sinners. We will see the sins that we have been harboring in us for some time. We will see the lust that has arisen in our own hearts, the jealousy which we do have hidden in our hearts. And, at the same time, we will see all the more that any excuse for these sins is empty. Man does quickly find excuses for his sin. He tries to justify his sin in many ways. Part of the answer of God to this prayer of David is that there is no excuse for sin. Sin is sin and God hates it.
In answer to this prayer, God will cause us, by the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, to love the law of God more and more, hating sin, desiring to flee from sin, to fight sin, and to obey God in every respect. Furthermore, in answer to this prayer, God will work in us, by the Holy Spirit, a greater longing for heaven, where we shall be perfect and where there will be no more need of searching.
How will God answer this prayer? In your experience, and in your consciousness, and in mine, how will God do it? Generally, God will do it by bringing us to the consciousness of our sins and by working faith in us and repentance. That is, as we said already, by the law and the Word of God we will see our sins more and more. God will make us sorry for those sins. But how might God answer this prayer if we persist in praying, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, persist in disobeying His law and continue to justify the sins we are committing in our heart? There are times when God answers this prayer by leading us through very painful trials and afflictions and even by leading us into temptation, by causing us to fall hard into sin, by causing us, in a hard way and by experience, to see that we forgot to watch, forgot to guard against sin. In such ways also God will answer this prayer for the child of God who has not learned to hate his sin.
Why will God answer this prayer? In grace, first of all, because Jesus Christ took our sin away and earned for us the right to heaven. How thankful we can be for the gift of Christ. Therefore, secondly, God will answer this prayer in His love for us in Christ. For God desires fellowship with us. It is that desire of God for fellowship with us that motivated Him to send Christ into our flesh and to the death of the cross, to obtain for us righteousness and eternal life. And it is that desire of God for fellowship with us that is evidenced when the Spirit works in our hearts a longing for fellowship with Him.
Do you desire that grace of God? Do you want to be pleasing to Him? Then make this prayer your prayer: “Jehovah, the all-knowing God, Thou who dost know my heart and my thoughts; reveal to me if I have done anything contrary to Thy law. I desire to obey that law, but I know the power of sin to disobey. If there is such sin in me, root it out, lead me to Christ, and cause me to enjoy the blessedness of salvation now and forever. Amen.”