Our pursuit of God is only possible because of His pursuit of us. My Jesus-following life has been profoundly shaped by the insightful words of the late A.W. Tozer (1897-1963). In his devotional classic, The Pursuit of God, he wrote:
“Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which, briefly stated, means that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man…We pursue God because, and only because, he has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit…The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him…To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love” (1982, pg. 11-12 and 15).
Psalm 139 is devoted to this formational pursuit. Here is that extraordinary prayer.
To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
How do we know that our pursuit of God is only possible because of His pursuit of us? David unveils four of life’s deepest realities. First, God knows us intimately (139:1-6). David prays: “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 afar” (139:1-2). Six times throughout this Psalm David inserts the powerful word “know” (139: 1,2,4,14 and 23 twice). He also includes the noun “knowledge” (139:6). The point is clear, God knows you and me at the deepest level. “Yada” is the Hebrew word. It describes a level of understanding that leaves every part of our life disclosed and brought into the light of Him who loves us. Nothing is hidden. We have a theological term for that kind of understanding. We say of God, He is omniscient. We mean He alone is “all-knowing.” God pursues us wholeheartedly even when He knows all the mess of our soul.
Second, God longs for us passionately (139:7-12). David describes God has everywhere. He says: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (139:8)! God is so great that He fills heaven and earth. Still, in all that size, His abiding presence nudges against us, longing for our company. Again, we have a theological term for what we are talking about here. We say of God, He is omnipresent. We mean that there is no place in the universe that He does not inhabit. God pursues us with such intentionality that He is ever ahead of us.
Third, God surrounds us lovingly (139:13-18). David, in beautiful language, recognizes the loving tenderness of God when he testifies: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance” (139:13 and 15-16). In the very same way as noted previously, we have a theological term for God’s abiding love. We say of God, He is omni-benevolent. We mean that God’s love saturates every dimension of our relationship with Him, even before our birth.
Fourth, God searches us deeply (139:19-24). If it is even possible, David returns to where he began this prayer. He hungers for God to search and know him even more. David invites God to peel back the hardest layers of his heart, to uncover the deepest thoughts of his mind. If we dare, when we say something like that, we mean what David means that God alone is all-knowing, all-wise, and all-seeing.
Psalm 139 leaves me breathless. In Jesus Christ, this formational pursuit reached its zenith. Paul described this knowing, longing, loving and searching in this way. “But when the fullness of time had come God sent forth his Son born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons…And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. Formerly…you did not know God…But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:4-6 and 8-9). Pursued. Pursue. Pray. Practice. Go to the spiritual gymnasium today.