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Posts Tagged ‘relationship with God’

Psalm 73 literary structure

Psalm 73 is packed with good teaching, and that on several topics, including the question – “How can God allows the wicked to prosper?”

This psalm is ascribed to Asaph. It’s the first of 11 such psalms in a row by him, that begin the third section of the book of Psalms. Let’s jump right in.

Psalm 73

He begins with a statement of faith about God’s goodness.

1Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

God blesses his people, that is, the faithful ones among them, whom he calls the “pure in heart.” But our writer immediately goes on to recount for us his near loss of faith in God and his temptation to give up on walking in God’s ways.

And that, all because of his envy of the wicked.

2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

This last phrase in v. 3, “the prosperity of the wicked,” is literally the shalom or peace of the wicked, referring to their easy, peaceful lives.

The stumbling block for him, and for many though-out the ages is why God allows this injustice to go on. It should be true that the righteous are blessed and the wicked are judged. But often the exact opposite is the case, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer lack.

And so he was envious of the wicked and their good life. He desired what they have. As we will see, a key point of this psalm is about overcoming wrong desires and finding right desires toward God.

Next he gives a poetic description of the prosperity of the wicked.

4For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 6Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. 7Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. 8They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. 9They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.

Just a note, to be “fat and sleek” speaks to their prosperity in that they are wealthy enough to have food; they don’t go without.

Now, everyone suffers to some degree. But how is that the wicked live such good lives? Those who have cheated, stolen, lied, and oppressed others to get their wealth and power – why do they so often live lives that are easy, comfortable, luxurious and full of peace?And how is it that they can go on and even be arrogant and brag about this?

This then leads to his faith struggle.

10Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.

That is, others among Israel see this and think, “they must not be so bad!”

11And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Maybe God doesn’t know what’s going on down here on earth; or keep track of unrighteousness and injustice.

12Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

They are doing just fine.

Perhaps you’ve seen this reality in business, work, politics,school or life relationships, where those who cheat, lie, steal and put others down not only don’t get caught, they succeed more than you, when you took the hard path of doing what’s right!

Asaph goes on –

13All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

He’s saying, “maybe it doesn’t matter how you live!” Here he has kept himself clean; he has walked in God’s ways, and unlike the wicked, he has been stricken and rebuked; he has suffered hard times. Is it all in vain? This is his struggle.

Notice how v. 13 directly contradicts his statement of faith in v. 1 – “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” His heart is pure, but the wicked seem to get all the good things, while he suffers.

This brings us to his solution.

15If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

If he had accused God of injustice, he would have spoken what was wrong and led others to stumble.

16But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

This is the turning point. Trying to think this through wore him out. But then, while worshiping, he “discerned their end.”

I see in this an example for us. When you have doubt, bring it to God. We all have doubts and questions at times. Don’t let this drive you away from God. Come before God’s presence with it. Seek God for insight and help with your questions of faith. I encourage you to do this.

What is the end of the wicked that Asaph discerned?

18Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! 20Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Their end is “ruin” and “destruction” under God’s judgment. This reckoning may be delayed, but it will come. There is justice with God.

And Asaph also experiences a change in his heart, from wrong desire, envy toward the wicked to right desire toward God.

21When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.

When he envied the wicked and almost said to others that serving God is vain, he was not seeing things correctly. He was ignorant.

23Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It’s not often that life after death in God’s presence is stated so clearly in the Old Testament. But this is just the background here.

The real point is that God is near. “You hold my right hand” speaks to guidance. Like a parent guiding a small child by the hand. “You guide me with your counsel.” In this life God is near and guides him.

And “afterward,” after this life, “you will receive me to glory.” God’s nearness will continue beyond this life after his flesh and heart fail; after the wicked are put to an end; this closeness will continue “forever.”

Now let’s step back and notice the movement in this psalm. It begins with him desiring the prosperity of the wicked. But it ends with him rightly desiring God above all else. He not only realizes that the wicked will be judged and he will continue with God in the future in a blessed state. He realizes that he is blessed now, even without the prosperity he envied. Because he desires something more now – God’s closeness; his relationship with God.

He is saying, “God’s nearness is better than the prosperity of the wicked.” He came to the place where he could say, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (It’s important to note that the solution to his problem was not just an intellectual one – there is an afterlife where justice will be served. It’s a fundamental change of heart and desires within him. He now desires something different, even though his circumstances haven’t changed.)

Asaph ends with a statement of faith on God’s goodness, which summarizes his insight.

27For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

The wicked will be judged. They will be put to an “end.” This is the fate of those who are not pure in heart, who are far from God.

28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

His testimony of faith, having come through a great struggle of doubt, is that God is indeed good to the pure in heart, to those near him. And he will testify of the good works of God for others to hear and know.

Let me end by asking –

What is your desire?

Can you say with Asaph in v. 25 – “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

Can you say that you desire God above all else? That you want to be near God? That you want to know God more? That you want to grow in your relationship with God above all else?

Is that burning in your heart? Is that your motivation in life? It’s not hard to tell what’s in your heart. Just look at how you spend your time. Do you pursue deepening your relationship with God in prayer, reading scripture, listening to and worshiping God?

May God work a work in each of out hearts, so that we desire him above all else.

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Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We are finishing up our series – “How can I know I’m saved?” – talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We have already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance: the assurance of God’s word, and the assurance of the Spirit. Today we look at the final source of our assurance – the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first,

The assurance of a transformed life

The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this, and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail, you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths: 1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

Here’s the second truth: 2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. (Now, you can fake it for a time. But eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out.) As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of the fruit of the Spirit. Before the Spirit comes into us and transforms us, we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. If the Spirit is working within us, we will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.” Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us.

So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me; that the Spirit has done the work of salvation in my heart.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God. He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God.

He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus on the specific commandment that we should love one another. He says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.” – 1 John 3:14 (1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9.

So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart. It shows that God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

– the assurance of God’s word, the assurance of the Spirit, and the assurance of a transformed life. Let me make a few points about the relationships between these.

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. First and foremost our assurance must be based on the Word, what God says to us in Scripture. So for instance, you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from you sins (the Word) it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word.

And again, you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance (the Word) it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit – that is, salvation. Without this nothing else matters.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed they need to.

  • The assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge – to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings, a vain imagination, or a delusion. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences and feelings.
  • The assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We can be hypocrites putting on a show; we might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, while others are looking.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together, to supplement each other – the inner and the outer. And when you have both of them, this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches, a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. When you have the word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance – there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.

And what a blessing this is. I hope that each of you know this blessing.

William Higgins

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Series: How can I know I’m saved?

As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?”

Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt

This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic – the assurance of our salvation, or ‘How can I know I’m saved.’

Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God. As we saw last week, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis of the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of the Spirit.

The Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,

The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance

The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply, when we see the Spirit in our lives we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.

The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved. As John says in 1 John 4:13, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God, because of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:13 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).

Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out, even if we wanted to. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity – that it hasn’t been tampered with.)

But this is wrong understanding of the imagery. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity. The background has to do with sealing documents. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal.

So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)

The seal in this case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing. And so in this way the presence of the Spirit gives us assurance. For if the Spirit is in our lives we know that we are for real; that we are truly saved.

A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14)

The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.”

The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation, that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So again, the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.

Well, this raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this. For instance we see the Spirit’s work in that we are born anew and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (this is for next week). But the focus today is on the relational part of the God’s Spirit within us. The inner working of the Spirit as he dwells within us.

These are some ways that the Spirit is active within us:

  • The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14. Paul speaks of being led by the Spirit.
  • The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18.
  • The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26.
  • The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. When we make wrong choices this upsets the Spirit within us. And this is something that we can be aware of.

So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction that go on just as in any relationship. And through these interactions, we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.

But even more specifically, not just the presence of the Spirit –

The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance

Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-16 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

Let’s break this down. 1. We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”

2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. As John Wesley put it, this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”

And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing thing. The Spirit will from time to time affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.

And then there is our assurance that comes from the Spirit’s witness. We evidence this when 3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness “with” our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved.

We hear what the Spirit tells us , and then we concur, “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.

So we not only have the assurance of the Spirit in general, we have assurance because the Spirit specifically tells us that we are a child of God – which is an amazing source of confidence in our relationship with God.

If you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.

Examine your heart

Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you? And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?

Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from you sins – so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it is like to have God’s Spirit live within you.

And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Then get rid of any sin in our life so that you can have a relationship with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to be filled with the Spirit; we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.

William Higgins

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We are back in Psalm 139 today. I want us to cover the last two verses, vs. 23-24. We looked at the prayer request in v. 19 last week and drew some conclusions about it. Well, here we have a very different kind of prayer request – one that, I think, requires courage to pray.

But before we get to this, I want to think more generally for a moment on David’s relationship with God. The depth of his relationship with God is evident in this Psalm. He certainly was a person after God’s own heart, as Scripture says (2 Samuel 13:14).

The Psalm itself is one long prayer; one long and detailed conversation with God. You can see how he is aware that God is an intimate part of every aspect of his life, and he invites this.

This depth of relationship with God comes out in many of the Psalms. Here are some examples of this in prayers to God:

  • “Be not far from me (God), for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” – Psalm 22:11.
  • “(God) You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 (NLT).
  • “(God) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing . . . and clothed me with gladness” – Psalm 30:11
  • “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for (God) you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
  • “When the cares of my heart are many, (God) your consolations cheer my soul.” – Psalm 94:19

You can see in these, and so many more, that when there is a problem the psalmist asks for help, seeks closeness and finds strength in God. And when there is joy, the psalmist shares it with God through praise. This is really a picture of God as companion, or God as best friend. There is a relationship of intimacy and caring between God and the writers of the Psalms.

This, then, leads me to ask, ‘What about us?’ Or more specifically, ‘How good is your relationship with God?’ Are you aware of God being involved in every part of your life? Do you have a sense of closeness with God? Is God a close companion?

Certainly the prayer we are looking at today is a part of this, so let’s move on to –

The meaning of Psalm 139:23-24

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Remember with me, the flow of the Psalm as a whole. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. This is the background. And so he responds.

  • In vs. 1-18 he appeals to God, ‘God, you know everything about me; you know my commitment to you.’
  • Then in vs. 19-22 he makes his loyalty to God clear. ‘God, I hate evildoers.’ He shows himself to be on God’s side.
  • And this lead us to our verses where he gives an open-ended invitation, ‘God, continue to search and know me’ – just in case there is anything to the accusation.

Now, let’s break the prayer down, so we can understand it. First of all, it continues the theme of the Psalm as a whole of God searching and knowing David. In v. 1 David notes that God has searched and known him, but here he invites God to continue to search and know him. And the focus here is squarely on what is within him.

The two phrases, “search me . . . and know my heart” and “try me and know my thoughts” are slightly different ways of saying the same thing. They are parallel to each other.

He wants God to look inside of him, his inner person, so that God knows what is in his heart.

I do have a question about this prayer. If we pray this prayer are we praying, lead us into testing?? (David does pray for this elsewhere – e.g. Psalm 26:2). The word in v. 23, “try,” can mean examine, prove, tempt, or test. The word usually does mean testing in the sense of trials and temptations (again, Psalm 26:2).

If it does mean this, then we would have to modify this prayer to bring it in line with what Jesus has taught us about prayer. He taught us that we are to pray for God not to lead us into testing, since we might fail and dishonor God’s name. It comes from a sense of humility and an awareness of our weakness.

I take the word “try” here as a further expansion of the word “search” in the first line (basically parallels). So I don’t think it is asking God to test us, or to allow Satan to test us. (But if it does mean this, then we would need to modify it as suggested here.)

Maybe the translation “examine me and know my thoughts” would be good. The idea, again, is that God is looking into the depths of his soul to see what is in him.

The word in v. 23, “thoughts,” can be translated as “disquieting thoughts” or “anxious thoughts” and perhaps these phrases are in your Bible translations. (This is a different word for thought than the word used in v. 2 and v. 17)

But it is probably best to see it in parallel with the word “heart” as I said before, and simply translate it, as it is here – “thoughts.” David seems to be saying in different ways, know my ‘inner person.’ He doesn’t seem to be focusing on a particular category of thoughts, but on all that is in his heart and thoughts.

The problem that David is concerned with; what he wants God to look for is “any grievous way.” The phrase means literally a “way of pain in me.” It can be translated as a hurtful, vexing, or sorrowful way.

David is praying, “God look for anything in me that causes pain.”

  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that cause you pain God?
  • Are there sinful thoughts, intentions, brokenness or failings that will cause me to hurt others?

Now there is good reason to pray this. Jeremiah 17:9-10, a passage that shares the same theme and some of the same vocabulary (search, test) as Psalm 139, says, among other things, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” There is much for God to find and know in each one of us.

“Lead me.” David wants God to know and then to show him any grievous way, so that it can be dealt with. This is how God leads him.

The phrase, “in the way everlasting” can also be translated, “the ancient way.” In either case, I believe the meaning is the same. We are talking here about ‘the way of God,’ or ‘the way of righteousness.’

So the request is that God help him not to walk in a grievous way, but in the way of God.

Summary: This prayer is asking for three things:

1. “God, look in my inner person”

2. “Find anything that would cause you or others pain” and show me these things.

3. “Lead me in your path of righteousness.”

The title today is –

I dare you to pray this

I say this, because if you understand this prayer, it takes courage to pray it. It takes courage because you are inviting God to show you your sins, your weaknesses, your defects. And that is not an easy thing to have to see.

Usually, we want to hide all this stuff. We don’t like to have to see our sins and weaknesses, think about them or dwell on them. We don’t want God to see them (although he does). And we certainly don’t want others to see them.

Often we respond by living in denial, to keep us from having to look at these things. And then, if God or someone brings something up – we get defensive. You know how it works, ‘Well, I’m better than so and so,’ or ‘It’s not that bad,’ or ‘It’s justified.’

But not only this, it takes courage to pray this prayer because you are inviting God to correct your issues, so that you can walk in his paths. And it can be hard work to have to do this.

I’m sharing this with you because, as hard as this might be, this is the way to grow in your Christian life. It is only when we fully open ourselves up to God that he can show us our problems, things we are often blind to. And it is only when we become aware of these things that we can begin to receive help to overcome them.

And remember, God already knows all your “grievous ways,” and probably a lot of other people do as well. So instead of living in denial and being defensive, ask God for help. Don’t run away from God with your struggles, run to God.

I encourage you to pray this, and to continue to pray this, and to listen to what God has to say, and to have the faith to allow God to lead you in the way everlasting.

Let’s take a moment in quiet right now. If you are willing, pray this prayer. I believe that God will speak to you even now.

William Higgins

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