There's a well known book written by J. I. Packer entitled "Knowing God." In this book the writer chronicles his own lifetime journey in knowing more deeply and intimately the God that he worshipped so formally on Sunday mornings. He is not the first person to undertake such a task. People in every age are hungry to know the being behind creation, the Spirit that speaks to us through the mouth of the prophets and shows His mighty hand on Resurrection Sunday. Nowhere is this yearning more evident than in the poignant 139th Psalm of David.
1O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
3You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
5You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
- Psalm 139:1-6
How wonderful it must be to know God as this man knew God. What a blessing to have the Lord fill so much of your life, and have such an intimate knowledge of His ways. This man saw God's presence in his own actions, his everyday movements as well as his thoughts. The presence of God in his life at every turn at once amazes and surprises, delights and even overwhelms him with its completeness.
7Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
9If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
10Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,"
12Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
- Psalm 139:7-12
When I first became a Christian I nearly went crazy. I had always lived my life in my own way, according to my own terms, my beat. I had what is referred to as a "flexible" conscience.
- Things were wrong if I got caught.
- Actions were bad if I couldn't shake the "guilty" feeling that came with them after a week or so.
In one way or another I broke every commandment and at times either laughed at God or cursed Him or ignored Him if that was more convenient. Of course this behavior led me deeper and deeper into sinfulness.. further into a darkness that surpassed even what I thought were my own limits. And then one day something momentous happened.
Call it inspiration or insight or, as my son Paul likes to say, "A moment of clarity," ..broke through. I still remember that moment as if it were yesterday even though it happened over thirty years ago. I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom. It was a windy rainy summer day and all of a sudden everything I had been thinking about on that day vanished and one shining thought pierced my heart. I realized that Jesus was God!
It was like plugging in a lamp and turning it on - Jesus was God! This Jesus I had learned about in catechism class as a boy in Catholic school. This Jesus I sang songs about at Christmas time. This Jesus whose name I used in jokes and curses alike.This Jesus was God!
Not like God. Not a godly person. Not a teacher about God. Not a representative or godlike icon. He was God Himself!
This flash of realization was followed by 2 years of searching, religious trial and error, and travel across Canada and parts of the U.S.A. This might seem like a no-brainer to you, but eventually I began to read the Bible in my search for truth and understanding. You see, in Catholic Quebec in the 50's you were taught that you couldn't understand religious things and to try and do so would lead to insanity, and if you read the Bible that would guarantee your confusion.
Even though the Bible teaches the opposite "...from an early age..." II Timothy 3:15.
My study of the Bible led me to obey the gospel and on a cold, dark November night in 1977, I was baptized into Christ and began my first few steps as a new Christian - this is when my troubles really began. You see, up until then I was used to leading my own life in the way I chose, open when I wanted it that way and closed off and private when it suited me. All of the sudden, however, it wasn't my life anymore - it was God's life and He was everywhere!
I couldn't hide my evil deeds; I couldn't cover my bad words. Even what was in my heart was open to His scrutiny … and this lack of privacy nearly drove me crazy. I wanted some space, I wanted to be left alone, I wanted to be somewhere where God wasn't but He wouldn't let me. I have to say that I believe that this is how He broke my sinful spirit. This is how John's words in I John 3:9 came to be true in my life.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
- I John 3:9
Because of his ever presence in my life, because I just couldn't get away from Him - I couldn't sin anymore. Not that I didn't sin, but I couldn't sin with pleasure, with freedom, with calculation. Sin became the aberration; repentance a way of life; His continual presence the goal. Because He was there, His light filled every corner of my dark world and I couldn't hide anymore. And so, to save my sanity and my life, I allowed Him in willingly.
I accepted the reality of God's presence and holiness into my dark and dreary life - and do you know what happened? I started to like it! I began to love His presence, need His presence, be unhappy when the power of His presence was less than at other times.
Like the writer of the psalm that we're reading, I no longer wanted to be anywhere where He wasn't welcome. I no longer wanted to be alone or private, but rather sought Him out for an even closer relationship! Of course He always knew me - even before that rainy day on the floor in my bedroom. I knew that He waited all of those years for me.
13For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
- Psalm 139:13-16
I don't believe God just chooses you. I believe that the Bible teaches that God chose Christ and sent Him to us to reveal Himself, and you either choose Christ or reject Him. This is why Peter, after preaching the gospel to the crowd in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday continues to appeal to them. Luke writes:
And with may other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying "Be saved from this perverse generation!" So then, those who had received his word were baptized and these were added that day about 3,000 souls.
- Acts 2:40-41
Peter revealed who Jesus was, the Christ and he exhorted them to choose to believe. Some, about 3,000 did and were baptized, but many thousands of others who were there also chose not to believe. So , I repeat, God didn't choose me over someone else - but He knew me.
He knew in advance (because He knows all things) that when the time came to choose - I would choose Christ. I am so glad that He gives men the revelation of Christ and the power to choose. You know why? Because choosing Christ, choosing to believe, is the only thing that actually belongs to me. It's the only thing I own and control and therefore the only thing I can actually give to God.
He knew what I would choose on that day, He didn't force me.. but He knew. He anticipated it, the angels (who, by the way didn't know) held their breath wondering what I'd do.. But He knew, and when the heavens rejoiced at my decision, He received joyfully the only gift I would ever give to Him in all of eternity -- my choice of Christ. How wonderful is this knowledge, this truth, this thing that happened between God and me.
17How precious also are Your thoughts to me,
O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
- Psalm 139:17-18
I fall asleep at night thinking joyfully of the consequences of that choice and the awesome power that enabled it .. knowing that with that choice I went from night to day.
19O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
20For they speak against You wickedly,
And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22I hate them with the utmost hatred;
They have become my enemies.
- Psalm 139:19-22
What does on strive for when sin and this world no longer interest you? You strive for holiness.What excites a person when one becomes, as Paul says in Colossians 3:5 ".. dead to immorality"? You become zealous for God. This is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6:24 when He says you cannot serve two masters.
If you're excited, zealous, grasping, for the place you have in this world; for the rewards, pleasures, recognition that this world gives then you can't be zealous for God. You can't do it because this world is in opposition to the next.
You can believe that there is a God, even practice your religion - but zeal for God, this is out of reach for you. We've only got one life and we either devote it on the altar of this world or pour it out before God - one or the other. Listen to what Jesus says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.
- John 12: 24-25
Many think Jesus is talking about death at the end of our lives (heart-attack, old age etc.), but this is not the case. Jesus is talking about death to this world before we die in this world so we can have life after this world. David says it well when he declares that the enemies of God are his enemies, that he hates what God hates, he fights against those who fight against God. Oh to have this kind of zeal for the Lord today!
- He was not compliant or an apologist for those who openly opposed God.
- He denounced sinners; he opposed their influence.
How much more effective we would be as Christians if we openly opposed evil; spoke out against God haters and those who ridicule Christ by denouncing them and pronouncing judgement on them. Not self-righteously or spitefully but with righteous indignation born out of a pure zeal for God seen as a fiery power that tears down every godless idea and every blasphemer from their proud and arrogant stand. If "zeal for God" would be our mission statement and corporate Logo - there'd be no mistaking who we are and what we stand for as individual Christians as well as a church.
23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
24And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
- Psalm 139:23-24
Whose heart is God searching this morning? And how will you respond?
It's your choice - to answer in some way or another. You make the choice.
- To believe in Jesus and obey Him in repentance and baptism.
- To begin pouring out your life in zeal for God leaving behind complacency and worldliness.
You choose this, you refuse this, you have the ability and freedom to give it or hold it back. Choose wisely.
- At what time in your life did you feel God was closest to you?