“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
Psalm 139 is a prayer of David in which he exalts the great majesty of God. God is all knowing and everywhere present. He is the absolutely sovereign Creator of all. He is perfectly just and righteous. To such a God and to no other, David submitted himself and was devoted entirely. That submission and devotion is set forth no more concisely and powerfully than in the request that he made of this God to search him in verses 23-24.
The request of the psalmist to be searched by God is a dangerous request. How so? Considering this from a broader point of view, let us understand that the kind of search spoken of here is a thorough search. It is like the search of a person looking for something valuable that has been lost. It is like that of the lady in the parable of the lost coin. Just imagine her search! She takes her broom and carefully sweeps the floor. She is on all fours on the floor itself: feeling, touching, looking at everything. She will not rest with her search efforts until she finds her lost coin.
And besides being a thorough search, let us also understand that the nature of this search is a spiritual search, so that what this thorough and deep search uncovers is going to be very revealing! It uncovers and unveils the deepest thoughts and concerns from deep within our hearts! “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” says the psalmist.
What is the heart? The heart is the very core of our spiritual being. It is the inmost part of our being, its sanctuary. From a spiritual point of view, the heart is the command and control center of all our thinking, feeling, willing, and doing. For, as we are told in Proverbs 4:23, out of the heart arises “the issues of life”! All our priorities of life, all our concerns, all our purposes, all our thoughts that we express with our mouths as well as those we do not, all our hidden thoughts and ambitions! In his request to God, the psalmist was asking God to know all the thoughts of his heart!
That makes this request of the psalmist dangerous, and specifically, for two reasons.
First of all, it is dangerous because we believers know and confess that the thoughts of our hearts are not always good and pleasing to God, do we not?
All who are without true, saving faith in Jesus Christ are never good and pleasing to God. Even the “best” works performed by man apart from true faith in Jesus Christ fail to please Him (cf. Heb. 11:6)! In some instances, the external deed performed may truly look like a good work to us, but not to God, who does not merely look at things outwardly and superficially. For He looks at our hearts and judges perfectly! But in many instances, the external deed performed by all who are apart from Christ is clearly evil, clearly transgressing the commandments of God: lying, cheating, stealing, refusing to honor and worship God, persecuting all who truly love God and desire to please Him in all their ways. This is why the godly psalmist says what he does in verses 19-22 of this psalm. And this is why it would be absolutely foolish and dangerous for anyone who does not have Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to ask to be searched by God!
But even for the psalmist, and for all of us who share in the same faith as he, this is a dangerous request! For we have but a small beginning of the new life of obedience in Christ. We still have the old nature of sin in us. So, are we sure we truly want to repent of our sins when they are brought to our attention? Great sins and weaknesses, but also ones we consider to be “smaller” sins, less serious “faults”? Even hidden faults, those that we might not yet be fully conscious of? When God finds them and brings them to our attention, what will we do? Will we attempt to explain them away or will we humbly confess and confront them? Will we say that others also sin in that way so it is not important that we confess our sin? Or will we be ready to confess our sins, take personal responsibility for them, ask God for forgiveness of them, and turn from them? Are we prepared to do these things? It is dangerous to ask God to search us when we are not ready to flee from our sins.
In the second place, this is a dangerous request when we consider carefully who it is we are asking to do this: God! God Himself! His search will be perfectly deep and thorough! For He is no powerless idol fashioned by the imaginations of men, but the one true God who is great and majestic! Great and majestic in these four specific ways set forth in Psalm 139.
First, He is omniscient! He knows all and everything about the world, including us. The psalmist was deeply conscious of this truth as he applied it to himself in verses 2-4 of this psalm; are we? Second, He is omnipresent! He is present everywhere so that there is no place anywhere in which we can run away from His presence. The psalmist knew and confessed this in verses 7-10; do we? Third, this God is the absolutely sovereign Creator of all, a truth that the psalmist valued dearly and applied in intimate detail to himself in verse 14; do we also do the same? Fourth and finally, He is perfectly holy and just, for He abhors and punishes sin and all wicked thinkers and doers, something that David confessed in verses 19-20. Do we also know and confess this? Do you want this great and majestic God, the God who is all knowing and everywhere present, the absolutely sovereign Creator who is perfectly holy to search you?
The psalmist fervently desired it. That fervency is indicated by a sense of urgency. “Search me, O God,” he said. “O” is an exclamation, making the statement emphatic and communicating a sense of urgency. Still more, the psalmist’s fervent desire is seen by the number of times he repeatedly makes his request to God, though with different words: “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts…” (v. 23). Then, note the pointed purpose of the psalmist for this stated in verse 24: “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The theological explanation for the psalmist’s fervent desire and purpose is God’s work of sanctification in him. God was consecrating the psalmist to Himself. The request of the psalmist could be put this way: “God, search me so that I may be separated more and more from sin and devoted more and more to Thee in all my thoughts and ways! Do so because I seek to please Thee with the fullness of my heart, soul, mind, and strength! Hold nothing back, dear God, for I am consumed by a reverence, passion, and zeal for Thee!” This was the psalmist’s fervent desire!
Is it also ours? Do we desire to have the fullness of our thoughts and ways subjected to the all-penetrating searchlight of our God? A searchlight that penetrates into the deepest, darkest crevices of our heart? Will we have God’s searchlight shine upon the music we give our ears to listen to; the objects, words and pictures we give our eyes to be fixed upon; the activities we give ourselves to do; the places we allow our feet to go; the persons with whom we are friends; and the words that flow out of our mouths when we have been hurt or annoyed? What is our attitude toward our family, our church, and all whom God places in authority over us in every sphere of life? Do you want God to show you any way that is wicked in you so that you may repent of it? The psalmist fervently desired this!
This is only possible by the grace and Holy Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. This alone explains why the psalmist could desire fervently that sinful ways be hated by him and more and more put away from him, and to be drawn closer to God in the way of God’s deep search of his heart! Dear reader, is that not your fervent desire too? Let it be so!
A blessed result awaits all who make this request sincerely of God. The blessed result is that we will be led away from the wicked way and all its painful misery and sorrowful end; and instead that we will be led unto the way everlasting. This is the ancient way, even the old paths that Jeremiah called God’s people to walk in (cf. Jer. 6:16). It is the way that comes from God from eternity past and leads to Him unto eternity future. It is the way that passes through the cross of His Son of love. It is the way of whole-hearted, loving obedience and submission to God flowing out of a heart that is thankful for that salvation and cross.
In his own language and way, the psalmist was applying Jeremiah’s call to himself, asking for those straight and narrow paths, to seek them and walk in them, and to be kept far and clear from the broad and popular path of destruction! All who earnestly ask for and fervently desire to be in the way everlasting will, by the grace of God, be brought out of and turn from the path of sin and destruction, and will turn unto the way everlasting! All who do so will find true joy along their pilgrimage, and will finally arrive safely to be with God in heaven!
That stands to reason. For the God to whom the psalmist makes this request is the great and majestic God! He is all powerful! He is absolutely sovereign! His great love for all His children in the Son of His love will never fail! He who spared not His own Son for our sake will not deny us what is truly good for us. Standing on the ground and foundation of the God to whom he made his request, the psalmist experienced the blessedness of being, staying, and abiding in the way everlasting. Standing on that very same ground and foundation, the psalmist’s experience will also be ours!