Busting God-Boxes

God-boxes busted by David in Psalm 139.

Over the years, we tend to limit who God is, stuffing Him into our comfortable boxes limited by our experience.

David does us a BIG favor, blowing the hinges off our God-boxes!

Any small thoughts we may have of God are magnificently transcended by Psalm 139. Yet it’s intensely personal.

We could never come to such extraordinary answers to our two essential questions, “What’s God like?” “How does this God see me?” As is Psalm 139, all Scripture is an invitation into fuller life. That’s why I called these series of Palms “Discover Yourself in the Psalms.” And the five Psalms I selected open up vaster experience of our transcendent God.

Even if you have faithfully walked with Him for forty plus years, God always has “more” to reveal about Himself. Some today argue that we just need to follow the “simple Jesus” and don’t need to be concerned with theology.

Not so David. Instead he shatters our God-boxes with exalted theology.

The “simple Jesus” leads us right back to the depths of God’s character. No wonder Jesus calls His followers “disciples,” lifelong life-learners. One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, states this about our God-boxes:

“There is scarcely an error in teaching or in our practical walk with Christ that is not ultimately traceable back to an immature or improper view of God” (Knowledge of the Holy).

Psalm 139 centers on concepts that are true of God as He relates with image-bearers…and each fries our mental circuits: His omniscience (God knows everything); His omnipresence (God is every-where present); His omnipotence (God can do anything); and His holiness (God is unique and pure and calls us to be holy like Him). And God initiates. The four implied questions with responses is my attempt to convey David’s flow of thought so we discover ourselves in this Psalm.

1. How well does God know me? (vv. 1-7)

A key to understanding is repetition. “You” for God and “me/my” are each used eleven times. This Psalm is a revelation of who God is, David’s “box buster,” that shatters any God-boxes we have limited God to. But God does not simply reveal His raw Deity. We see God as He relates to His image-bearers, those He created to be His intimate allies. Make this Psalm a personal discovery.

Have you ever pondered how well God knows you?

1-5: Since God is all-knowing, we are an open book to Him.

This all-knowing is personal and active as David smashes our God-boxes. Notice the common rhythms of everyday life: sit to rest, rise to do and think to communicate. Our caring God searches every aspect of our lives; nothing remains hidden. He knows our inward thoughts as well as our outward actions. Like we discovered in Psalm 13:1-2, this makes it irrational to try to hide our thoughts from Him.

When I read verse 5 (“You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me”), what was the first emotion that leaped into your heart? More the first or the second. Be honest with yourself.

  1. “I’m busted. God knows what I was thinking this morning. I can’t get away. God limits me, behind and before. Sure, I know God laid His hand on me, and He is heavy-handed!”

  2. Or more: “What a delight to know that my compassionate Father protects me completely, behind and before, surrounding me with His reassuring presence when I’m coming and going. What a tender touch His hand is upon my shoulder, comforting and encouraging.”

I have noticed that our personal response to verse 5 is a fairly accurate indicator of the picture we have of our Father in heaven in our heart. His reassuring presence surrounds us coming and going. And yes, He will also discipline me as His son. These hands were not given to discipline our children, but to touch them in caring and reassuring ways. God doesn’t come to us with a clenched fist, but lays His open hand on our shoulder as evidence of His care.

David’s three sequential responses to the discovery that God knows all things are fascinating. We are not changed by simply knowing facts, but as we take truth to encounter life.

  • 6a: First, such knowledge blows my mind. David reflexes to the merely theological, which prevents truth from exposing our hearts. “Wow, you know everything, and this is beyond my ability to grasp.”
  • 6b: Second, David shifts into “performance drive,” knowing he cannot to attain with self-effort what God freely gifts us. “Such a life is too lofty for me to attain!” Of course, because Psalm 139 busts God-boxes!
  • 7: Third, his urge is to escape and to take flight, hiding like Adam and Eve in the Garden because such intimacy is too much for this man after God’s heart. Did you catch this? The very purpose God created us is to enjoy God’s presence. David looks to flee from God’s presence. This literally means the intimacy of God’s “face.” Like in Genesis 2:7, God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and the first conscious memory Adam had was looking into the face of God.

Instead of going vertical in worship, David went horizontal, limiting God to what David could grasp with his limited capacity. What about you? What is there about your life that you try to hide from Him? God knows everything about everything and everyone all the time. What are you discovering about yourself in these few verses?

2. How near does God stay to me? (vv. 8-12)

In 8-12, David poetically and imaginatively expresses the truth that God is everywhere present. Talk about aIt’s like he is thinking, “Imagine a situation or place where God is not.” Everywhere David thought of fleeing in verse 7, God was already there.

8-12: God sees all.

God is present in every place, although uniquely different than His creation. Can you imagine a situation or a place where God’s presence is absent in your life? Again, David is writing to blow the doors off of any way we limit who God is.

And why would a person even want to flee from God? What are some possible reasons?

  • Adam and Eve’s first response in Genesis 3 after sin brought separation with the accompanying guilt and shame was to hide and cover up, guilt for what they did and shame for who they are. It’s our natural response when we are unwilling to expose all of ourselves before God. If you felt any of this, please get prayer. Your Father is waiting with open arms!

  • In Luke 5:1-11, Peter told the Lord to go away for “I am a sinful man” when Jesus revealed a small portion of His authority. Shame for who he was.

So, what does this mean for us as NT believers?

God is with us in all we do and say. Shatter any God-boxes in your mind that say otherwise!

If this ever feels too intimate, if any feelings of fleeing bubble up within us as His child, why would you or I want to flee? Forgiveness releases us from all guilt (for what we do) and shame (for who we are). Jesus paid it all. We no longer have any barriers to access with the Father.

Like the prayer in Psalm 13:4, “Look,” God reveals that He is always looking. He has had us on His heart from before the foundation of the world. The NT makes clear, when we come to Christ, He envelops us with His life, drawing us into emotional intimacy with the Father, Son and Spirit so we are forever and always different. God is always moving towards us without boundaries.

3. How intimately involved is God with me? (vv. 13-18)

This third question as David breaks our God-boxes brings the first two questions forward and expands on them. God sees the invisible and penetrates the inaccessible, and also actively operated there for our good. I could camp on these verses until midnight since they touch on something breathtaking about God’s relationship with His people.

Instead, read verses 13-18 with these few brief comments in mind. I encourage each of you to soak in this passage for the next month. God is not only all-knowing and everywhere present, He is also all-powerful.

David could have used the starry universe to overwhelm us with how all-powerful God is, as he does in Psalm 8. Instead he goes micro. David sketches out in broad strokes the intricacy and wonder of a baby’s conception, as God knits two minute cells together.

Are we sure, certain, unswerving in our belief of how intimately involved God is with you? In Genesis 1, God designed us for such moment-by-moment intimacy.

13-14: David’s response to the first statement in verse 13 is worship (14).

How marvelously God creates a human being. David knew this wonder then so how much greater is our awe in how God designed His image-bearers with all the advances in identifying the marvelous way our body works. This is another reminder of the value of one human life. God wants us to respond to revelation. We don’t know until we respond to it, and reflect how this truth encounters our lives. David knows this care “full well.”

15-16: Again David uses the metaphor of the marvel of conception,…

…where God took two cells and intricately knitted them together. If we ignore this revelation of insight where we come from and who guides and directs our lives, we will walk through life with a cavernous hole in our hearts, trying to fill with counterfeits. If instead we bow to this in worship, our lives quickly come to order as we respond to our God-assignments with a ready “Yes, Sir!”

17-18: Precious, of value beyond measuring.

The NLT properly makes these thoughts personal, “about me.” God has you on His thoughts, constantly. You are His favorite son or daughter because His ability to love is without limits. Zephaniah 3:17 reveals that God takes great delight in you, and rejoices over you with singing.

How vast are these love thoughts God pours into my life?

The stream of them outnumber the grains of sand. Think about this. I used to live in Huntington Beach, CA. Imagine picking up one handful of sand, and letting the grains slip through your fingers as you count them. Mind-blowing. Then take whatever number you come up with an multiply by all the handfuls of sand on the entire beach! God’s love-thoughts streaming towards me vastly exceed whatever number I came up with.

And when I awake each morning with the Reality that this God, whose good pleasure it was to adopt me as His son, is still with me, how significantly will this impact my day?

For David, his next response to bust God-boxes was God’s call to holiness (139:19-24), which I briefly explored in my previous post on August 12, 2018, When I See Injustice.”

If this Psalm has touched you in any way in how you see injustice, why not begin reading through the Psalms regularly, one Psalm a month and it takes 90 days; 5 Psalms a day and only one month. I wrote Discover Yourself in the Psalms a companion to walk you through the Psalms, with very short pointed helps (or find it on my Books Page).

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