“Teach us to pray.” I
think this is an extraordinary statement.
The disciples, who had been with Jesus, had seen him interact with the
Father, wanted to know what that was like.
They asked Jesus to “teach (them) to pray…” What was it like for Jesus to be that
connected with the Father? What was it
like for him to experience the relationship he had? Today as we look at what intimacy is I think
this is an appropriate request to ask of Jesus.
“Teach us to pray.”
This is a psalm about the intimate nature of the
Father. This psalm overwhelmingly speaks
of the knowledge that the Father has of us, his omniscient and omnipresent
natures. I think that perhaps many of us
are afraid of God not because he is all-powerful as much as we are afraid of
his all-surpassing knowledge. God knows
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!” The psalmist starts with these words. “You have searched me and known me.” When I stop and think about it, it makes
sense. All of us have been let down by
people before. We’ve been let down by
those closest to us. Because of this, we
tend to guard ourselves from allowing people to get close to us. We protect ourselves by putting up barriers
that keep the deepest parts of ourselves hidden from everyone else.
For those of us like this, verse 1 of psalm 139 is
terrifying. God knows us. He knows everything about us. The psalmist goes on: “You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar. You
search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.” We can’t make a move without God’s knowledge.
For a people who work so hard at hiding ourselves, this is
rather disconcerting. We can’t hide
ourselves from God. He knows everything
there is to know about us. I want to say
this, though. Notice the punctuation at
the end of the first verse. In the ESV,
there is an exclamation point. The
psalmist seems excited that God knows everything there is to know about him. God is trustworthy. It is good that God knows us.
This section of the psalm speaks of the omnipresence of
God. There is nowhere we can go to
escape the presence of God. While this
may concern some of us, it is actually a very good thing. There is no place that exists outside of the
authority of God. If we are his
children, if we belong to him, there is nowhere we can go that he can’t also
get to. Think about it this way: when you find yourself in a situation where
you have gone further than you intended and can’t find a way out, God is
already there. Verse 12 says “even the
darkness is not dark to you…”
God is omnipresent.
He is always around. What
terrifies the sinner is a comfort to the disciple because God is never out of
reach. “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” There is no place that God is not already
at. High or low, far or near, God is
always around. Verse 10 reminds us that
even in the far reaches of the sea “even there your hand shall lead me, and
your right hand shall hold me.”
Verse 14 was one of the first verses I remember
memorizing. “I praise you, for I am
fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” You have been wonderfully made. You were made the way you were, with the
parents you have, by a perfect God with a perfect plan. It is very easy for us to blame God for our
weaknesses. After all, he made us this
way. We were made the way we were in
order to fulfill the purposes God has for us.
That is an encouraging thought.
God is trustworthy.
He is reliable. The God who made
us perfectly in his image is not an arbitrary God. He is not feckless or fickle. In verse 16 the psalmist declares that even
before any of our days happened, God knew what was going to happen. Our days were set before us even before we
were born. We were knitted together to
form the beautiful, complete persons that we are, created for a purpose,
created for the days given to us.
“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
Here the psalmist seems to be crying out “O that I may know
you well enough to know your thoughts!
The very number of them is overwhelming, but to know your thoughts is to
know you!” The psalmist wants to know
God as much as God knows him. How
incredible it is to know and be known!
When I think about the people that I know best and who know me best,
there is a sweet union between us. As
frightening as it is to become known, being known is sweet. Having people know me is a relief, honestly.
At first glance this section of the psalm seems not to
belong. It seems like the psalmist
chases a tangent for a moment to gripe about the people who don’t like him, but
I think there is much more to it than that.
If we read verse 20 the psalmist says “they speak against you with
malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!”
I think about the groups of people in the New Testament and
it seems that there are 3. There are
Jesus’ disciples and followers, the Pharisees and other religious leaders, and
everyone else. The disciples are those
who have bought into what Jesus is teaching and follow his leadership. The masses are the people that Jesus shares
meals with, who climb trees to see him, and wash his feet with expensive
perfume. To this group of people Jesus
always showed compassion and dealt with them in a very loving, gentle way.
The middle group of people, however, was the Jewish
religious leaders. To this group Jesus
rarely if ever had anything nice to say.
When I read these verses in the psalm a little more closely, I find
myself thinking of the Pharisees, those leaders who should have recognized the
Messiah for who he was, but instead profaned his name and had him
crucified. (Incidentally, this is the
group of people who, in the end, will stand before Jesus and hear the dreaded
words: “Depart from me, I never knew
This is the prayer I want us to consider this morning. As we’re thinking about intimacy, as we’ve
just officially launched the fall semester of our small groups, this is what I
want us to pray together. “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.”
Intimacy. I want to
know and be known. I believe this psalm
can shed light on a difficult process.
The last two verses invite God to know us better. This is impossible! God already knows us! But what the psalmist asks for is very
provocative. “…see if there be any
grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The psalmist is begging to be tested. Why?
He wants to know how he can live his life better. What is it that God needs to shed light on in
your life? What grievous things exist in
Intimacy is difficult. It is hard to let people in. We generally do it gradually. In fact, if you were to walk up to a random
person on the street and begin telling them all about you, including your
failures and frustrations, you probably wouldn’t have any friends. We let people in slowly. It’s not unlike dating. You spend the first few weeks/months simply
getting to know the other person, trying to decide whether you like them or
not. Slowly you let them see more and
more of you. Eventually, as a married
couple over time, you develop a level of intimacy where you trust the other
person not to hurt you with the knowledge they have.
I want this psalm to be the cry of our hearts.
I want to close with one more passage of scripture that,
when you think about it, is one of the most amazing passages in the entire
“…also for those who will believe in me through their word,
that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they
also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
What an incredible prayer!
If you capture what Jesus was saying in the beginning of verse 20, you
see that he is praying not for his disciples, but for us! He was praying for you and for me. He was praying for all believers
everywhere. What was he praying? He was praying for unity. He was praying that the church would be
united in an effort to spread the gospel, “so that the world may believe that
you have sent me.” That the world may
believe… This is the goal. Jesus prayed for our unity so that the world
may be saved.
In a world that is as narcissistic as we are, isn’t it nice
to find people who genuinely care about others?
Don’t you want to know them? If
the antidote for society is greater connectedness, can we afford not to be? Jesus prayed that we would be unified. He prayed for you and for me to be connected,
that there would be a level of intimacy between us, that we would share our
lives with each other.
Why all the emphasis on Psalm 139, then? I wanted to show the surpassing knowledge and
goodness of the Father. The relationship
we have with the Father is the model for how our lives should be with
others. Jesus prayed that we would be
one even as he and the Father were one.
The unity that we should experience as followers of Jesus should be like
the unity shared between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. When I think about the relationship of the
Trinity, I feel overwhelmed. If that’s
the model of intimacy we’re to follow, we have a long way to go.
Which brings us back to the original scripture we read. “Teach us to pray.” Teach us to be connected to the Father,
because that’s how we’ll understand better how we are to relate to each other. I pray that we will open our hearts first to
the Father, then to each other. I pray
that you would allow yourself to be vulnerable with others. I pray that you would connect with a small
group and get to know them. Jesus prayed
for our unity. What can you do to help
bring that about? What can you do to
help others experience community?
Intimacy. I want to
know you. I want you to know me. That takes time. It takes vulnerability and trust. Will you let others in? Will you let them get to know you? Life was meant to be shared. The funny thing is, the more life you give away,
the more life you find that you have. Be
life-giving. Let others get to know you.
I want to read back through Psalm 139 as we close. Let this psalm be your prayer. Take each of these verses and meditate on
them for a moment or two. Let God see
you and tell you where you need to change.
Let the Holy Spirit show you yourself.
I pray that you might see yourself as God sees you.