An act of worship at home
Reading Psalm 139
The Inescapable God
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
For the first time since starting produce this acts of worship at home I have decided to focus my thoughts on a Psalm. I think the Psalms are great because they so often reflect very real emotions. Emotions we can all feel at different times, depending either on how life is going for us or how we are feeling in ourselves. So some will be full of praise and thanks to God for something good that has happened. Others will be honest expressions suffering asking God why something bad has happened, Psalms that not only express the pain suffered but the anger felt with God for allowing it.
I have told the story several times of how when I was training at Queen’s I had gone to sit quietly at the back of the college chapel. I’d gone to find some peace and quiet, a time to sit and rest and hopefully sense God’s presence in the stillness so I hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on. There was a little light coming through large widows, lifting the gloom, and as my eyes adjusted I began to have a real sense of peace.
But just then the doors of the chapel burst open and a fellow student burst in, marched to the middle of the chapel and began shouting at God almost incoherently. It went on for perhaps a couple of minutes, the only words I could make out and which punctuated this tirade were ‘Why Lord?’. I was stunned and didn’t know what to do but as quickly as it began, it stopped. Having let rip with his anger he stopped, paused for a few moments in silence as though listening, mumbled ‘Thank you Lord’ and left, never knowing I had been witness in the darkness to this most honest and moving expression of pain and anger.
Psalm 139 is entitled ‘The Inescapable God’ and in its words are statements both of the writers awareness that God knows him better than he knows himself and that awareness makes him feel trapped by God’s presence; that no matter where he goes God knows everything he does and everything he thinks. So he says to God ‘You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.’ and asks ‘Where can I flee from your presence?’.
It may seem surprising to find such words in the Bible, but it really shouldn’t. The Bible is full of individuals, just like the student shouting at God in the college chapel, being completely open and honest with God about how they feel. And I must say I will always be grateful to that student for teaching me the lesson. There is no point pretending with God… actually, let me rephrase that, there is no need to pretend with God. If we’re happy or sad, thankful or angry, passionately in love or heartbroken, certain in our faith or full of doubts, there’s no need to pretend or to hide anything from God. God knows better than we do and understands and loves us, and I hope and pray that knowing that won’t trap us but set us free. Lord, know us and lead us in the way everlasting. Amen.
Lord God, we pray for our world and its people. So many different cultures, colours, languages – but we are all your children, all special in our own right. Whatever our gender, race, colour or creed, we all belong to you. We all need your love.
We pray that we might learn to live in harmony with each other, to recognise that even someone halfway around the world is still our neighbour in your sight. Far or near, we all belong to you. We all need your love.
With today’s technology we have access to news from afar, almost before it happens. Help us not to become careless about the situations we see, but to pray and care faithfully for all concerned. In war or peace, we all belong to you. We all need your love.
We pray for those near and dear to us: protect them, wrap them in your loving arms, and in sorrow and in joy, be with them. Near or far, we all belong to you. We all need your love. Amen.
God is love: let heaven adore him;
God is love: let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him,
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
he who spread the heavens above,
he who breathes through all creation,
he is love, eternal love.
God is love, and is enfolding
all the world in one embrace;
his unfailing grasp is holding
every child of every race;
and when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
that same sorrow, that same aching
wrings with pain the heart of God.
God is love: and though with blindness
sin afflicts and clouds the will,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
holds us fast and guides us still.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.
Timothy Rees (1874-1939)
May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us this day and always. Amen.