Reflections on Psalm 139 (Part 1)

This beautiful Psalm begins by boldly declaring that God knows all about us, will never let us go, and has been involved with us from our earliest beginnings (vs.1-18). The latter part of the Psalm provides the context – one of feeling the injustice of people who go about doing wrong and need to be held to account (vs.19-23). When we are faced with life's contradictions, with personal challenges, or opposition from others, it's good to remind ourselves of these truths about God:

God With Us

God-With-Us

Vs.3-5. I'm never out of your sight …
I look behind me and you're there,
then up ahead and you're there, too —
your reassuring presence, coming and going. The Message Bible

The truth of God's 'omnipresence' is taught everywhere through the Bible. God is everywhere at once. There is nowhere you can go that he isn't already there. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the language that Christians use today has hints of Greek 'dualism' – the separation of the world into sacred and secular spaces. We often hear statements during church services such as, "Isn't it good to be in God's presence today?", as if we weren't beforehand and won't be when the church meeting is done! Another classic is, "Isn't it good to be in God's house today", as if God lives in the church building and will be waiting all week, hoping we will return next week! Of course, there is often something special that happens when followers of Jesus gather together but let's not let that result in a mindset that assumes that God is not with us unless we are with other believers. Another common prayer phrase is, "God, please be with us today", as if he is somewhere else and we need to call him to come hang out with us. 

The truth is that we are always in God's presence. He is Emmanuel – "God WITH us". WE are God's house. He dwells, or lives, inside of us as his people. What we need is not more of God's presence. We need a greater awareness of His presence. 

I love the story of Jacob who came to a certain desert place. Once asleep, he had a dream of angels ascending up into heaven and and descending back down to earth on a ladder. When he woke up he declared, "God is in the place and I did not know it!" What turned a desert place into 'Bethel' – the place where God lives? Awareness of God's presence. 

God is with us – always. Imagine if we could live with this reality. 

Of course, it's worth considering whether this is good news or bad news. This truth can be both solemn, realising that God sees everything and we are accountable for our words and actions, and encouraging, knowing God is always near.

It reminds me of one of the prayers believed to belong to St Patrick, the 5th century Irish missionary. He is widely celebrated as being the one who brought the good news of Christ to what was, at the time, a largely pagan island. By the time of his death he is said to have established over 2,000 churches in Ireland. The prayer is written in the style of a druid chant. Legend has it that St Patrick recited these words before encountering a number of druids who had been plotting against him. 

Here are a few stanzas. As you read them slowly, may they be your prayer as you live each day in the presence of Almighty God – wherever you are and whatever you may be doing. Remember, God IS with you.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Read: Part 2