I stepped out onto the dark, back porch to silence.
Expecting a huge group of loud, pre-teen boys, I found the opposite. So, I listened for any sign that my boys and their friends were still somewhere in our yard. The moonlight was perfect for playing their favorite game — Flashlight Tag.
My eyes straining, I finally saw it. A lone beam of light in the distance. Someone looking for friends hidden in the shadows. Then I heard it — squeals and screams as someone was spotted. They’d been tagged.
Satisfied, I headed back indoors. Play on!
We have a lot of words to describe 2020. Lonely. Disappointing. Frustrating. Maddening. Dark. And now that we’re well into 2021, and it feels a lot the same, we realize that what we had hoped to leave behind continues to follow us.
We’ve waited. Complained. Argued. Fought. Hidden. Ignored. Belittled. Whined. Teased. Prayed. And still the pandemic wages on. The economy struggles. The tensions rise.
In all this darkness, we’d love to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We want something or someone to put our hope in. Perhaps some of us are discovering that there’s really only One in whom to place our hope. Only One who offers light, who is the Light.
Last week we used the game of Tag to demonstrate how not to pray. We’re not meant to tag God constantly, treating Him like a genie in a bottle who grants our every wish. So, today, we’ll play with the Psalms and use Flashlight Tag as a picture of what prayer can be.
Here it is in a nutshell: we’re all in the dark, and God is the one with the flashlight. Too often we think of prayer as a way to overcome stresses in life, and it does help with that, but prayer is also about getting in God’s presence where He can shine His light IN us — healing us, making us whole, growing us in our faith — so that His light can then shine THROUGH us to the rest of the world.
We’ve seen through this series how well the authors of these poems of praise and lament capture all of our frustrations and hopes. They give words to what we feel. They point us to a path that leads us forward — the only real path that directs us in God’s ways.
Many of the Psalms use the imagery of light and dark brilliantly to convey the difficult emotions and ideas of life, as well as lofty spiritual truths. Their words create for us the contrast of the way of fools versus the way of the wise. Their word pictures become a place to hang our hope.
And, Psalms also help us visualize God — the One who is always present, who can see everything, who knows all. Our finite minds struggle to grasp the enormity of our God, yet we must try. So as we read through Psalm 139 today, let us have eyes to see God more clearly and to notice the use of the light and dark imagery. May its words light our way so we can enter God’s presence and pray.
Psalm 139:1-6 (NLT)
[NOTE: I’m posting Psalm 139 in the New Living Translation today because sometimes when we read Scripture in a familiar version, it’s too easy to jump to quick conclusions. We can miss hidden treasures because our minds think they already know. It happens to all of us, so enjoy and be challenged by a different translation!]
1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
This passage paints a vivid picture to show all the ways God knows everything about us. In religious vernacular, we’d say He’s omniscient. The Creator knows His creation. How do you feel as you read through the list of ways He knows you?
For some, God may sound like George Orwell’s Big Brother, spying on us for his own benefit and ends.
But, for those of us who have been getting to know God, we begin to grasp just how deep and wide His love for us is. Through the lens of love, we see God’s “knowing” as comforting — just as David, the author of this Psalm, says in verse 6, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”
As we attempt to correlate this truth about God’s omniscience to prayer, we might wonder the point of praying at all if He already knows everything about us. Just like a good parent, God wants us to come to Him to share all we delight in and struggle with — even if He’s already aware — because He knows how good it is for us to speak these deep truths about ourselves to Him. He becomes our safe place — the keeper of our hearts and carer of our souls — as we reveal to Him all we are. The bonds between us strengthen. Our trust in Him grows.
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
In parallel fashion, this passage reveals something of God’s nature — He is always near. He’s omnipresent. It’s one thing for our minds to grasp that God knows everything. It’s quite another to fathom that He can be everywhere, for all time, all at once. And, in case you try to work that out in your mind, just know our finite minds really can’t.
God is unlimited by time or space. Unlimited. That means God is always present. It’s fun reading David’s poetic descriptions of just how high or low we could try to go, and God would still be there.
In verses 11-12 we see the light and dark imagery, illustrating that God can never be limited or covered by darkness. Ever.
I read once a description of what happens if we sit in a dark room and open the door to light. Little by little, as we crack open the door wider and wider, the light overtakes the darkness. But the reverse is not true. We don’t sit in a room full of light, crack open the door to darkness, and watch darkness overtake the room.
How cool is that to think about?
That’s a small, limited view of God as light, but it helps us visualize how in His creation, darkness cannot hide the light. Light always overcomes darkness. God. Is. Light. It’s why when the new earth and the new heaven are established (Revelation 21), no sun or moon is needed because “the glory of God gives it light” (verse 23).
Entering God’s presence is stepping into light. Only His light-giving presence brings us the peace and joy our hearts long for — the kind that reign in us despite the storms that rage around us.
13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
In this passage, David moves into a place of understanding God that combines His omniscience and omnipresence — the location of our creation. The Creator made each of us, and because He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, He really, really, really knows us. He knew us in the womb and saw us even before we were conceived. His presence and knowledge have no boundaries. Not that of a womb nor that of pre-life.
For David, this is a marvelous wonder. Like him, we can be assured that God knows us so well that we can go to Him with everything in our hearts and minds, and none of it will surprise Him. Ironically, in my experience, sometimes as I open up to Him, I am surprised at what flows from me — as if a door unlatched and all those thoughts and feelings finally released. This is part of what makes prayer so powerful.
This passage can also help us to see ourselves as God’s children — each of us made wonderfully complex. Our identity is rooted in our Creator, our Father. Even when we don’t like what we see in the mirror or resent the physical imperfections of our bodies, we can trust that God loves us and claims us as His own. Always.
17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
These two verses capture David’s response to all that he has discovered about God, and he sounds pretty blown away by Him. If we think about King David, a man who wholly loved God, he was also a man who made major mistakes, including two biggies — adultery and murder. But when he went to God, confessed his sins and sought forgiveness, he was made whole by this God who knew him intimately. In other words, God knew exactly who and what He was forgiving, and He did it anyway.
David’s response can be ours because God sees us, our true selves, and loves us anyway. There is nothing we have done or could do that would end that love He has for us. His love is unconditional. We don’t earn it. We can’t lose it. God will always be there. Always.
19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.
Just when you thought we’d escaped the lament, here it is. 😉
We’re witnessing David’s stream of thought, and though this passage may seem out of place in this Psalm, it captures what he’s thinking in the context of God’s omniscience and omnipresence. I thought Charles Spurgeon made the connection well, “As we delight to have the holy God always near us, so would we eagerly desire to have wicked men removed as far as possible from us.“
As Christians we often struggle with the Bible’s use of the word “hate.” Jesus, after all, teaches us to love our enemies, so how do we make sense of David’s hatred here? I’ll defer to Dr. Spurgeon once again,
“To hate a man for his own sake, or for any evil done to us, would be wrong; but to hate a man because he is the foe of all goodness and the enemy of all righteousness, is nothing more nor less than an obligation. The more we love God the more indignant shall we grow with those who refuse him their affection.“Charles Spurgeon
Dr. Spurgeon points out that David could also be setting himself apart from those who blaspheme God, which leads us to our final passage.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Contextually, David is carrying out his assertion that he hates anyone who hates God. And, to prove it, he invites God to search him to see if it isn’t true. Interesting way to read these last verses, isn’t it?
Poetically, these verses create a beautiful frame with the opening verses where David invites God to search him. This device reminds us of where we began — that when we enter God’s presence, when we sit down to have a heart-to-heart with Him, we’re inviting Him into our dark, inner places.
Spiritually, when we go to God, we acknowledge His omnipresence. We seek to access his omniscience, and we invite Him to search us out — why? To show us what needs reproof, repair, and redirection. The Holy Spirit reminds us that in Him, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). So, as He convicts, instructs and encourages us, we can engage with Him in the process of transformation, of becoming more like Christ. And we can trust that the path God puts us on will be for our good (Jeremiah 29:11), as well as for the good of others (Philippians 2:1-4) and God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:15).
Pray with Me
Father God, we’re like David — pretty blown away by how big You are. You are everywhere all the time. You see everything and everyone. You know us, each and every one of us, intimately, personally, fully. And You love us. We invite You to search us, revealing to us those dark corners of our hearts that need Your light. Shine bright in us, Jesus, so that we can bring all our brokenness, all our mistakes, all our thoughts and feelings into Your light — to be cleansed and made pure, to be redeemed and made whole, to be transformed and made righteous.
Lord, we thank You that You are always near — that all we have to do is look to You for love, acceptance, healing, peace, wholeness, and help. Your Word promises that when we seek You, we’ll find You — what a comfort and encouragement that is. Draw us to you. Envelope us in your strong arms that strengthen and protect us, offering us assurance that You are present. As we become more and more like Jesus, we ask that Your light would shine through us, reflecting the love and acceptance that You’ve given us to those around us.
It’s in Your most holy name we pray, Amen.
A Game and the Moon
There will be days, seasons, and years when we feel like we are sitting in total, utter darkness. In those times, let’s go to God’s Word, like to Psalm 139, to remember that God, in His omniscience and omnipresence, is there for us, ready to come alongside us. He is the great flashlight, and He is seeking us out — not to tag us but to shine light into our dark places with a heart to make us whole. Because we have God, we have the light! It gives life. It offers hope. And, it’s with that flashlight we can run toward those in the dark — with His light.
Chris Tomlin, Brett Young, and Cassadee Pope have written a song, “Be the Moon,” that illustrates perfectly how this exchange works — God giving us His light then us reflecting it back to others for God. It’s catchy and fun and oh, so true. I’ve added it to our Playing Psalms playlist. I hope you like it!
Ready to be the moon, Shelley Johnson
- If you’d like to read ahead, check out Psalm 23.
- Invite friends to come play with us!
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- Finally, if you’d like to be further encouraged, I’ve created a “Playing Psalms” playlist on Spotify. If you’ve been listening to the playlist, you’ll notice “Be the Moon” is now tucked in between the Psalm 139 and Psalm 23 songs. So fun!