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! Psalm 139.23-24.
Another very short reading this morning, but one that is full of riches. First, the word “search” which is chaqar in Hebrew. It is used both here and in the opening verse of this psalm and it is a word that is to do with digging deep — going down below the surface of the earth in the hope of finding water or minerals. That is something that God has done in the past with regard to David — “O LORD, you have searched me …” (Psalm 139.1) — but he now urges him to keep on doing it. He wants God to dig deep into him, to get below the surface of his life, not in search of water or gemstones but just to see what is there, hidden away inside. For David knows how easy it is to be good and holy and pleasing on the surface — as do I — but he wants God to see what lies beneath?
It is a scary prayer. I know I cannot stop God searching me if he wants to. I know he can see all there is to see in my heart if he chooses to look. But most of the time I would rather he didn’t look that closely. Dare I do what David did and actually urge God to start turning over the stones and go poking around in the secret places of my heart? “Know my heart,” he says. And “try me.” The word is bachan and is to do with testing metals. Are they what they seem? Is David what he seems? Am I what I seem? “Put me in the crucible,” says David, “and see just what I’m made of.” Again, what a frightening prayer to pray. What if I prove to be nothing but dross?
But that is exactly what David wants to find out … now … while he can do something about it. What’s the point of waiting until I meet God face to face to find out the truth about myself? Let me know it now. “Know my thoughts.” The word sar’aph is a rare one (the only other place it is found is in Psalm 94.19 where it is translated “cares”). It speaks of the stuff that occupies my mind and my imagination and my memory. It is the stuff I savour and hold dear and that drives my will. Do I really want to share with God those thoughts that I would be horrified for even the person next to me in the supermarket to be able to hear?
David does, because he is frightened that there might be idols in his life that he hasn’t recognised as such. That is the meaning behind, “see if there be any grievous way in me.” The Hebrew is literally “see if idol way in me” so David’s prayer is that God would search him and see if there was anything in him that was idolatrous. What was he worshipping deep down? God and God alone? There had been a time or there would come a time, for example, when Bathsheba would be in the place where God belonged (2 Samuel 11).
And what is David’s goal in inviting and seeking after the total transparency with God he pleads for in this psalm? That he might be led in “the way everlasting.” It is surely what Jesus would one day describe as the road that leads to life. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7.14). David knows full well that the road is indeed narrow. He knows that only God can lead him in it — that he cannot even find it himself, let alone walk it unaided. He somehow already knows what Jesus will one day make plain — that God himself is the way everlasting (“I am the way and the truth and the life” — John 14.6) and that to walk in the way is therefore to live in the closest, most intimate, “no secrets”, relationship possible with God. And that is what David was going for. Please God, give me the courage to go for a relationship of such transparency and honesty with you too.