The approach of Lent in concert with a series of recent encounters, conversations and reading drew my attention to Matthew 7:1-5 and from there to Psalm 139. Most of us can count on one hand the number of times we have heard Psalm 139:19-22 read in public and still have fingers to spare. The harsh tone of those words seems like psychic break from the grandeur of the first 18. In those four verses the Psalmist’s finger points away to others in opposition to the personal focus of what preceded them.
Then comes the magnificent and well-known conclusion, “ Search me, O God, and know my heart, . . .”; an ending similar to the opening verse. Same verbs, ‘search and know’, but a different mood is used. In verse 23, the mood is now imperative not indicative. My curiosity was sparked. In verses 1-18, the Psalmist has acknowledged God’s thorough and intimate knowledge of his being and situation with a resultant sense of joyful adoration and confident wonder. Why after the outburst in 19-22 does he now demand God re-search his heart?
Ah! If those who find themselves at counter purposes with God are doomed to divine interdiction, let me not be unwittingly found in such company. It is as though it suddenly dawns on the Psalmist, that while there is wonderful solace in God’s abiding presence and intimate knowledge, it also means that God is fully aware of every frailty [wicked way] that lurks within. So rather than being upset with the wicked out there, he desperately needs to be concerned with the wicked in him, so he can be turned back to God’s path of life.
Lent’s traditional emphasis on selfexamination seems to be more than timely these days. Personally, I have become aware of myself often thinking and even speaking the harsh, judgmental perspectives of verses 19-22. And I suspect at times my analysis of those others was quite accurate! Nonetheless, the Psalmist’s concluding call out for a fresh search of his heart, along with Jesus’ warning in Matthew, reversed my focus from their frailties to my own.
Projecting one’s own experiences, insight and journey is fraught with danger. Nonetheless let me suggest that in these challenging days in The PCC and in our secular culture, the Psalmist’s concluding prayer offers wise counsel for those of us belonging to the Fellowship. Let us pause first to ask the Spirit to make us deeply aware of the possible dark recesses of our own hearts. Then invite the light of God’s powerful grace to cleanse away all that is rooted there.
Secondly, ask the Spirit to help us examine thoughts, opinions and perspectives we are holding and voicing and to help us know which embrace most fully God’s truth and grace and to have the ability to set the rest aside for less hectic times. (Now is no time to major on minors or even mediums.)
The Board has been wrestling with priorities that will best promote renewal among us. As I’ve noted before, our collective resources on paper are small, therefore clarity and accuracy are vital. Pray for us that we neither get sidetracked with the obvious specks in the eyes of others nor have our vision impeded by the ‘logs’ in our own.
Rev. Ian Shaw is the Renewal Fellowship Board Chairperson.