Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: and see i) there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23, 24
Search me, O God!
What a paradoxical petition. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to ask God to do something that will bring us to grief.
Yet this is exactly what we do when we sincerely pray with the Psalmist, “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.”
The prospect is frightening.
Ask God to examine us? Our inclination is the very opposite: hide from God! We even try to hide from our fellow man. We don’t like the thought of going to a psychiatrist and having to lay bare before the analytical mind of man our secret thoughts. Many a time we revolt against the penetrating questions doctors like to ask. To us it appears as an unnecessary waste of time to answer so many trivial questions. Besides it is quite exhausting to recall things from the distant past. In our complacency we would just as well leave the past alone. There are too many foul pools that will begin to stink anew if we stir them up before our conscience. And this is fear of man. If we take this prayer of the Psalmist as our own, we ask God to be the examiner and thoroughly analyze our whole life. Before His face nothing is hid and His judgment is always in strictest righteousness.
Yet, we pray, Search me, O God. We recognize that without this divine examination we are hopelessly lost forever. We desire to see ourselves as God sees us, terrible though it may be, in order that through repentance of sin and striving after righteousness we may enjoy precious fellowship with Him.
David was awed by the omniscience of Jehovah. In the context he reflects upon this virtue of God. He begins by declaring, “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.” He muses upon Jehovah’s presence in the earth; it is so great that nothing takes place apart from His direction and knowledge. This omniscience is antithetically expressed. Since God knows all about the wicked he will surely slay them. His righteousness will not be cast aside, He is jealous in His holiness. Therefore David declares that he will not be counted among the friends of those that hate God; rather he will hate them that hate God and count them his enemies. Concerning the righteous however, David reflects that they may dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea and even there God leads and holds with His right hand.
This contemplation upon the omniscience of God occasions the petition of our text. We desire to know all about ourselves and to whom else can we go to learn this? Can we discover it for ourselves? Can our fellow man tell us? The answer is an emphatic, no! Only God can, and therefore we turn to Him.
We express the desire for a thorough examination.
David mentions three aspects of the human personality: the heart, thoughts, and way. He presents them in this order since our heart is the spiritual core and affects both our thoughts and way. Our way is the most apparent, for it has to do with our relationships with each other. Our bodies are the houses for our souls. When we use our eyes, ears, hands, for example we are busy in the things that can be visibly seen. Our way consists of our family life, our daily work, whether in the home or out of it. It involves our working hours and leisure hours. Our activities in church, home, and school all constitute our way. Whether we are good citizens and obey those in authority or revolt against those whom God has placed over us determines whether our way is good or not. This way is the fruit of our thoughts. There is more to our life than that which meets the eye. Beneath the surface lies the soul which is as a full time factory producing these deeds. Our minds possess the ability to retain thoughts, to recall ideas, to reason out certain things. Our human will arouses within us the desire to seek something outside of ourselves. We long for certain things and thus are motivated to action. We respond to many things about us, we laugh and cry, we love and hate, sometimes we are placid and other times violent with rage. All these things are expressions of our soul which are included in the simple designation of “thoughts.” Still deeper within each one of us lies the human heart. Man is a spiritual person. His spirituality is either good or evil. The condition of this spirituality is determined by the heart. That which David designates here as heart is really the spiritual source of all our activity. What the physical heart does to the physical body, viz., pumps through our veins the fluid of life, so our heart gives spiritual impetus to all our thoughts and consequently also our way. The love of God or the hatred of God lies at the bottom of all our deeds. This love or hatred is in our heart.
God’s examination is thorough. He knows the motives of man. He knows the secret thoughts. Nothing is hidden from his holy eyes. All our deeds are written in the book of His remembrance. This knowledge prompts David to say, “Search me and know my heart.” Literally this means that God looks into us and digs into our heart and uncovers for us what motivates us to act the way we do. Do we think about the things we do and act the way we do because we really love God or do we do it to be seen of men? Are we hypocrites or are we sincere? We desire to know and therefore we request that God examine our heart and communicate to us what He finds. Still more, we know there is an area of human experience which is secret to other people, but known to us and God. This is the area of our thoughts. Hence we pray that God likewise try our thoughts, weigh them upon the scales of His divine judgment and view them according to His holy law and see how they compare to what God demands of us. Finally we also include a petition for our way, “See if there be any evil way in me.” Are we walking on the straight and narrow way that leads to the kingdom of heaven or are we on the broad and crooked that leads to destruction? With this petition we request of God an answer.
Perhaps you face a problem at this point. Why do we ask God to do the examining? Why is it not sufficient for us to look at our own heart and search it out, to try our thoughts, and see our own way. Why do we request God to be the examiner?
The answer is simply this: man cannot examine himself properly. Any examination which has the purpose of analyzing our spiritual condition and is done apart from God is destined for failure. The natural man is not qualified to conduct such an examination. There are two reasons for this. There are natural reasons first of all. Our heart lies beneath our conscious experience; we can only see the fruits of the heart, but not the heart itself. Besides, even if we were to judge our heart by the fruits, there are many works that are lost to the scope of our finite experience. We cannot possibly recall all the past thoughts, much less deeds. Some are forgotten because they didn’t make much of an impression, others are willfully repressed. Add to this the whole world of dreams, which also forms a large part of our thoughts. Many of these things are lost to us; we cannot even examine them. Besides these, there also are spiritual reasons for our inadequacy to examine ourselves. The natural man does not call sin by its proper name; we try to find some other designation like, weakness, shortcomings, or such like. If we are to judge our deeds to learn whether they are spiritually good or evil, we most certainly would not use God’s holy law; we would use our own fickle standard. This is true because the human heart is evil. We do not have the love of God in our hearts; by nature we hate Him. Therefore our judgment of ourselves from a spiritual point of view is not trustworthy. We excuse sin and imagine hypocritically that all is well with our soul. We need but look at the world about us and see how they find “hope” in a life hereafter on the basis of all kinds of foolish works. Man likes to sin with impunity.
Only God Himself is qualified to examine us. His way is the only way that leads to covenant peace. He maintains that only in the way of perfect love can one ever find His divine favor. This mandate to love is spelled out clearly in His holy law. The law tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This objective law is the standard for God’s judgment of our spiritual condition. He searches out our inmost being with the penetrating light of His holy law.
All this sounds terrible, doesn’t it? We ask the righteous God who is a consuming fire against all who violate His perfect ordinance to examine us? Indeed, because this God is also merciful. His justice is irrevocable. His mercy satisfies His justice. What a thrill to make this petition with our eye fixed upon the cross. This constitutes our only hope. Our prayer for examination by God is brought to the throne of grace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If so, why do we desire that God examine us? Are not our sins washed away once for all? Indeed they are, but the conscious appropriation of the forgiveness of sins becomes ours only in the way of the repentance from sin. This is the heart of this prayer. And how can we repent from sins we do not even know? How can we repent if we excuse our sins? We cannot, and therefore the natural man doesn’t know repentance. The spiritual man of God cries unto the Almighty that He examine us and according to His holy law know our heart, try our thoughts, and see our way, and that He communicate to us what He finds, that we may repent of all our sins and seek His forgiveness for the sake of Christ Jesus.
God answers this prayer. It leaves us smitten and broken hearted. No, He doesn’t answer with a voice from heaven. He calls to us through the preaching of the Word and tells us who we are and what our heart, thoughts, and way really is. He holds the mirror of His law before us and gives us insight through the working of the Holy Spirit. Then we begin to see ourselves as God sees us.
And what a sight!
We tremble at the horror of death that lurks within us and is so frequently manifest without us. Our trembling knees sink to the earth and our burdened heart cries out: God be merciful to me, a sinner. We tell God that we hate our evil way, we desire to do what He wills us to do, for deeply within our hearts we love Him. We pray, lead me on the way everlasting. That way is the faithful way of His perfect law.
Shall we make this our daily prayer?
The way everlasting is moistened with the tears of those that walk thereon. The more earnestly that we pray this petition, the more we will weep. Our sorrow is not as those that have no hope, we know the joy of forgiveness.
After the final searching before the great white throne we will rejoice evermore in the God of mercy.
Search me, O God!