Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
The Hubble Telescope is an extraordinary invention. With it, we can see from unimaginable distances some of the farthest reaches of the universe; and simultaneously we can look back in time to see stars and galaxies as they were thousands and even millions of years ago. Perhaps the Hubble serves as a useful analogy for God’s ability to see from far away what is going on in our lives, and to look back through our personal history even to our formation in the womb.
But, unlike the Hubble, which passively gathers information from a long time ago and from galaxies far away, Psalm 139 reminds us that God knows each of us personally. Extraordinarily, God sees, not from a vast distance, but up close and in person. While the psalmist acknowledges that God can know our “thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:2), this psalm also underscores that wherever we find ourselves “you (God) are there” (Psalm 139:8). No matter how far afield our life and work seem to take us, including to places where God seems to be absent, we read that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:10). And, even if “the light become night” (Psalm 139:11) around us, we need not fear, for God is present and “the darkness will not be dark to you” (Psalm 139:12).
Despite those assurances, it is easy for us to become practicing “deists” in our modern workplaces. A deist is someone who believes in a deity but for whom that deity is distant and disinterested in the world in which we live and work. Psalm 139 provides us a healthy antidote to any deist misconception of the God revealed in Scripture. But why might Christians develop such a misconception of God? In my experience, there are at least two reasons.
First, much of modern work life effectively excludes God from consideration. We live in a secular world that practices the absence of God. As I have reflected on before, the structure of modern office work environments focuses on human agency and accountability. At best, any divine presence, much less any divine agency, is relegated to the margins of our work, and then usually only for decorative effect.
Second, as Scripture itself tells us, God’s presence and work is usually hidden from view. It takes considerable intentionality to discern God’s work in the context of our everyday life and work. Nowhere is that truer than in exercising secular leadership. That’s why Psalm 139 is such a helpful reminder for us to be attentive to God in the world around us. In the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God; / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” (Aurora Leigh)
So, how do we counter our deist misconceptions and “take off our shoes”? First, we can let Psalm 139 regularly remind us of God’s active and personal engagement with us and our work, wherever and whenever we find ourselves. This psalm is a good prompt for us to pay attention to God in our daily work when we might be tempted to do otherwise. Second, as today’s text encourages us, we can personally respond to God’s work in our work by inviting God’s Spirit to “search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” The Spirit of God’s formational work in our lives is intended to root out “any offensive way in me” and to “lead me in the way everlasting.” In both the dark and light places of our lives, God’s Spirit can form and transform us into the kind of leaders God intends. That is good news indeed.
Something to Think About:
Do you find it difficult to see God present in your daily work?
In what ways have you seen God at work?
In what areas do you have trouble seeing God present and active?
Something to Do:
Each day this coming week, pray today’s text. Keep track of any insights you have during the day which relate to how God is at work in you and in your work.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful that you send your Spirit to form and transform our lives and our work. We pray that, by your Spirit, you would search our hearts and test and know our minds. See if there is any offensive way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting.
We ask in your name, Amen.