Providence In The Details

Psalm 139

I used to think that God only concerned Himself with big things. I always believed that God knew everything, could do anything, and was everywhere all at once, yet I doubted that God bothered with the insignificant details of my life. I was wrong.

I knew that He cared about whether I attended church, whether I read my Bible, or whether I prayed. And I knew that it mattered to God who I would marry and what my occupation would be. But, for the longest time, I didn't think God cared about the trivial matters in my day. I didn't think God cared about the score of my hockey game, what I had for dinner, or how I drove my car on the highway. Again, I was wrong.

Psalm 139, a psalm of David, reveals just how extensive and how pervasive God's providence is. In this passage, we are reminded that there is no such thing as an ordinary event in the lives of God's children. No detail of our life is insignificant to God.

This point is driven home by Jesus when He tells us that "the very hairs on (our) head are all numbered"(Mt. 10:30). King David understood this, as he writes, "O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thoughts from afar. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways"(139:1-3).

In telling us that God has numbered the hairs on our head, and in telling us that we have been "searched" and are "known" by God, the Bible means to tell us that God knows us better than we know ourselves. No detail of our life escapes God's notice--not even when we sit down or when we get up.

When we consider that no detail in our life escapes God's notice, we should then begin to think about the implications this has for how we live our lives--every minute of the day. For the truth is, even if we have our doctrine right, even if we believe that God is everywhere and knows everything, most of us betray our beliefs by living as if God was naive. For example, we are on our best behaviour when we are at church, but many of us behave differently at home as if God could not see what goes on outside the walls of a church!

We are even told that "before there is a word on (our) tongue"(139:4) the Lord knows what we are thinking. This is how I am sure that I sin numerous times every single day. Because even if I am able to guard my actions, even if I can successfully hold my tongue, the Lord knows my every thought. He knows when I am harbouring bitterness. He knows when I am impatient. He knows my impure thoughts and my self-centred motives. Nothing escapes His notice.

And this would surely frighten us if we were not aware of the compassion God has towards His children. For we read in Psalm 130, verse 3, "Lord, if you were to count our sins, who could stand? But with Thee, there is forgiveness"(130:3,4).

You see, God does not use His omniscience and His omnipresence in order to keep a ledger of our good and bad deeds. For the psalmist writes that if God did keep a ledger we would all perish. If there were no forgiveness in God, His omniscience and His omnipresence would be a terrifying reality. But since there is forgiveness with God, through Jesus Christ, we should, and must, count God's omniscience and omnipresence to be a most blessed reality.

How we react to the truths of Psalm 139 will depend on our relationship with God. If you are not right with God, you have good reason to be frightened by the fact that He observes your every move. On the other hand, if you have been made right with God through Christ, then the fact that God observes your every move should bring you tremendous comfort.

Have a look at verse 5, "You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me." Reading this reminded me of summer camp as a child. When we would go hiking, there was always one instructor leading the group, and another instructor following the group. Hemming the children in between two instructors meant that none of the children could get off the trail or get lost.

Surely, this is what David has in mind. Because we are hemmed in on every side by God's providence, we are sure to stay on the correct path. And though we may encounter obstacles, and even enemies, God goes before us and will ensure that we stay on track.

After considering God's intimate knowledge of His creation, David confesses in verse 6, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it." John Calvin, commenting on this verse, writes, "David . . . speaks against the folly of measuring God's knowledge by our own . . . Very commonly (people) will not allow God's knowledge to be greater than what comes up to their own apprehensions of things. David, on the contrary, confesses that (God's knowledge) is beyond his comprehension."

The first 6 verses of Psalm 139 describe the implications of the omniscience of God, while the next 6 verses describe the implications of His omnipresence. Verse 7, "Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?" These are rhetorical questions! There is no place where God is not present, for no place could exist without being sustained by God's power.

Whether you are at church or at work; whether you are in a distant country or in your own backyard--God is there. And God is not some idle bystander, but He is an active God. David confesses that, "Even (if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea) Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me"(139:10).

Commenting on the omnipresence of God, Charles Spurgeon writes, "if it were possible to go to any place where God is not to be found, that would be the hell of hells to His people . . . even when we are not seeking Him, even still He is above, beneath, and all around us. He is never far from any one of us." In times of trial and adversity, this truth should bring us tremendous comfort. We are never alone.

I have always been baffled by prayers that ask, "Dear Lord, please be with so-and-so." This is complete nonsense. Our problem is not that the Lord isn't with us, our problem is that we forget that the Lord is always with us. We forget that, by His will and by His power, He is causing all things to work together for good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28).

We do not need to pray for the presence of God--we always have that. What we need to pray for is for us to be mindful of His presence. Perhaps the reason we are on our best behaviour at church is because we are more mindful of God's presence here. But when we are at home, or at work, we must not forget that the Lord is no less present.

The truth is that God must be present everywhere because everything depends on God for its very existence. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the Colossians, "by (Christ) all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth . . . and in Him all things hold together"(Col. 1:16-18). You see, Scripture declares that God does more than create all things--He also sustains all things.

David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, understands God's creative power in his life. Read again verses 13 through 16, "For it was You who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In Your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed."

In the midst of this beautiful description of God's creative power, I am struck by one thing in particular: We exist because God wanted us to exist. Psalm 139 teaches us that there is no such thing as an unwanted child. Psalm 139 reminds us how precious we are to God.

This theme is continued in verse 17, "How precious are Thy thoughts to me, O God!". Friends, the fact that God thinks of us is a precious thing.

Think about how you feel when someone tells you that they have been thinking of you. It feels great, it is comforting, to know that our spouse, or our children, or our friends are thinking about us. But here, we have a more blessed truth: God thinks about us. In fact, there is not a moment in time when God is not thinking about us.

Another reason why God's thoughts are so precious is because God's thoughts accomplish things. I must admit, I often tell people that I am thinking of them, but my thoughts are not usually accompanied by any practical help. God's thoughts, on the other hand, always bring practical help. God has what we do not have: God has the power to carry out His every thought. This is what we call providence.

Friends, there is an aspect of providence that we have not yet touched on. In light of God's care and concern for us, how shall we respond?

Since God thinks about us without ceasing, we would do well to think often about God. Does it not honour a person to say, 'I am thinking of you'? Well, let us honour God by constantly bringing to our mind His attributes. Let us not be so occupied with the toils and cares of this life that we forget about the One who gave us life in the first place!

If you love Christ, think about the fact that He is with you always. Think about how His providential hand is upon you, causing everything to work together for your good.

What a wonderful God we have! Let us give Him the glory and praise that is due Him--now, and forevermore. Amen.