Passage: Psalm 139
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB)
“Nosce Te Ipsum” – Know Thyself!
The famous quote has been attributed originally to the philosopher Socrates; however it has been widely used by famous philosophers and common gents alike, in an effort to describe the climax of man’s quest in life: if you know yourself, you shall know your ways; you shall conquer your fears and overcome any challenges. Ultimately, if you know yourself, you shall not fail. The Suda, a 10th century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge quotes: “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are, and that “know thyself” is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.”1
In plain English, don’t worry about anyone else’s feeling, much less to what God has to say, just concentrate in learning who you really are, the influence of your past in your present, the way you normally operate. That shall shape your behavior, the way you relate to others and ultimately, your future!
We should give the philosopher due merit for attaining, in part, the essence of an important aspect of life. Indeed we are to know ourselves and learn from our past mistakes. We should know what ticks us off, what makes us joyful. We should know what we believe and act on it, thus making our walk match our talk. The problem of isolating this concept as the epiphany of self-knowledge is two-fold: one – it is a pretty self-centered universe, one that concentrates all efforts into knowing and analyzing one’s own motives, disregarding God and the people that are part of our lives. But the second problem is even deeper and it is revealed at the end of Psalm 139:
Can we really know ourselves?
According to King David, whom the Bible says “was a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), we cannot. So much is true that on Psalm 139, after describing in one of the most amazing passages of the Old Testament, the vastness of God’s omniscience, he pleads with his Creator: “Search me, O God, and know my heart”. In other words, “examine me, oh Lord, and see if I don’t know my feelings as they really are”.
The truth of the matter is that we have the habit of lessening the guilt of our sins. We all do. We are not good judges of our own character. We often excuse ourselves those duties and commandments that are not totally agreeable with our life style. In result, the measurement we have of ourselves and view of our character is often not true. We don’t judge ourselves as others see us or as God sees us. Thus, there may be within our hearts and increasing in power, some habit, some feeling or thought, that, if not subdued, may become master over our lives. Moreover, there could be a strong craving within us that, if not stopped, will overcome us and ultimately destroy us. Most of the lustful sins that lead to destruction of individuals, families and even ministries, start with a small, simple thought or habit that is not stopped before it becomes unmanageable: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” James 1:15 (NASB). Like a snow ball, what starts with a tiny flake that falls from an unsuspected tree, these sins become bigger and bigger, and ultimately destroy everything in their path
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9)
I started praying David’s prayer in Psalms 139:23-24 on a frequent basis about three years ago, when I caught myself in mid-sentence as I was talking to someone about a hurtful situation. I realized, as I was describing something that had happened years before, that I still held anger in my heart against the person who hurt me. The realization of that startled me! I really and honestly thought that I had dealt with the hurt, forgiven the person and moved on. The Holy Spirit showed me right then that I was wrong. I had “moved on” as far as my outward appearance was when I was around that person, but in my heart, I held a grudge. And the grudge was holding me captive. I then understood David’s prayer. This prayer is an honest assertion of how easily our hearts can fool us back into the life that Christ delivered us from. Thus, “Search me, oh God and know my heart…” has become a frequent prayer for me.
Be Prepared for the Answer
The truths in Psalm 139 are a good test of our spiritual condition. How do we feel regarding the fact that God knows our every thought, that he is “intimately acquainted with all our ways” (vs 3-4). Are we prepared to hear the truth of our heart’s condition? Because if I can plainly describe what comes next, mainly if you have never prayed this prayer before, here it is: NOT FUN. Many times God will reveal to you habits and thoughts that have become what I like to call “pet sins”. These are the wonderfully sweet little habits and or thoughts, which seem so harmless and are so ingrained in our thought-pattern and daily behaviors, that we never give them a second-thought. He will reveal those deep hurts that go all the way back to our childhood and that were never truly dealt with. He will reveal the times that we gossip, so “innocently”, when in all truth we’re slandering our neighbor. He will make us aware of the programs we need not watch on TV, of the websites we need not ever visit. He will clearly reveal those things that are a small snow flake off the tree, but that can ultimately become the giant snow ball that destroys our lives.
“And see if there be any hurtful way in me” (v24 -a)
This prayer recognizes that man’s ways are in him before he is in them! Sin starts way before it materializes into action, and therefore this most insightful and courageous prayer asks of God, who reads our innermost thoughts and desires, to reveal the things that can ultimately harm us right where they start – in our hearts (emotions). David here recognizes that there are hurtful ways all around him: behind him (past sins), beside him (in the lives of others), before him (seeking to attract him). But as long as they were not “in” him, they would not harm him. Likewise with us, we live in a fallen world. But so long as we don’t allow the world’s ways to be in us, we can live in the world and make a difference in it. Whenever we blend with the world, we lose our chance to make an impact for Christ. A ship is in the water and there it shall sail all the way to its destiny. But if the water is in the ship, it will surely sink.
The Ultimate Objective of this Prayer
“And lead me in the everlasting way.” (V. 24-b)
There is a way that is “more excellent”. Although to many people it sounds like a way of restrictive living, where the Don’ts exceed the Do’s and where all joy and laughter have been taken away, that is absolutely not true. God’s ways are pure, excellent and bring peace and contentment that are found nowhere else. The everlasting way is the only place where the children of God find themselves truly joyful; because it is there that they are under their Master’s loving care and guidance. It is a place where we look at Christ’s face and find His mercy and love, acceptance and grace; but it is also where Christ’s light so shines around us that it reshapes us to become more and more like Him.
The Everlasting Way is indeed a perfect description for the way marked by God’s presence. All other ways take you on a journey that may even last a long time, but they are invariably cut short in the end. All joy, goodness and strength can be found nowhere else. And because none of us “naturally and willfully” walk in this way, we must ask and trust God to lead us there. And lead us He will, if we only have the courage to ask Him.
Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. In Jesus’ Awesome and Powerful Name, Amen!
1 ‘Know the value of Thyself’ rightly, in “Know Thyself.” Suda On Line. Tr. Catherine Roth. 13 Aug 2002. 15 Feb 2011