March 25

by Pastor Jim

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139 — especially in those gray moments when I start feeling the pressure of a deadline or perhaps one of those undefined but weighty anxieties that can crop up in the middle of the night.  This Psalm reminds me of what I already know from experience but too often forget in the moment: my life is securely in God’s hands, and those are good hands to be in.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
     You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
     And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

God knows me even better than I know myself.  Let me make that more personal: God’s knowledge of you far exceeds even your own self-knowledge.  He is completely aware of those anxieties that dog you, whether under the noonday sun or in the middle of the night.  And so often for me — when the challenging task is finally accomplished, when the worrisome possibility never came about, when the sermon finally fell into place — I hear echoes of Jesus’ words to Peter, as he pulled him out of the water into which he was sinking after stepping out of the boat: “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Why indeed?

Even before there is a word on my tongue,
     Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
     And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
     It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it?  God’s knowledge of me, of you, of our thoughts and intentions and activities, is perfect.  For good or for ill, he knows it all.  Some of it perhaps we wish he didn’t — but he does.  And yet he cares for us and provides for us and protects us in spite of it all.  In fact, it was because of it all that he took on our frail human flesh and headed for the cross.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
     Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
     If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
     If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
     And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

Jonah tried all that.  God had said, “Go East, young man!” and Jonah immediately headed west across the Mediterranean hoping to get to Tarshish — probably somewhere in Spain. Are there times you seek to flee from God — or at least to duck out, hoping to get him off your case?  I think of that marvelous poem, “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson which begins

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter

But God pursued; oh, how he pursued … like a hound.  Thompson describes how he tried to flee …

…From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
      But with unhurrying chase,   
      And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
      They beat—and a Voice beat
      More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

And you can click here to find how it all ends.

But perhaps for you the issue is no longer fleeing but feeling a darkness closing in, engulfing, overwhelming.  Too steady a diet of today’s headlines and news broadcasts can increase our heart rates and make us feel like one trapped between floors in an elevator in which the ceiling light is beginning to flicker.  That sense of life closing in was also known to the Psalmist

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
     And the light around me will be night,” …

until he recalled — and reminds us —

Even the darkness is not dark to You,
     And the night is as bright as the day.
     Darkness and light are alike to You.

After all, God created both.

And so it is that Psalm 139, my favorite psalm, again and again has to remind you and me that we are, as a friend has put it, “in the Grip.”  Once again, my friend, know that your life is securely in God’s hands, and those are good hands to be in.

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