A Time for Prayer – “Understanding the Lord’s Knowledge”

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Psalm 139

January 14, 2024



John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? 

You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Psalm 139

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.

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.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me- those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 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.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 


For everyone who has a cell phone and knows how to use it, I invite now to take out your cell phone, turn on the camera app, then hit the button that turns the camera on you, like you are going to take a selfie. 

If it is easier for you, In your pews there are pieces of paper that act like a mirror.  Hold up your phone or your mirror and take a long look at yourself. Know this – God knows you, through and through. God knows it all. God is with you always, and God will always be with you. And God loves you and intends for you a future with hope. 

You can put your phones and mirrors down now, but keep them near. We will come back to them in a few minutes. 

God’s knowledge of us is personal. God’s knowledge of us is persevering.  God’s knowledge of us is providential. 

God’s love is a personal love. 

God loves God’s people, God loves the nations, God loves the good creation,  and yes, God loves you and me, just as we are. 

God loves us in the midst of pain in our bodies…  in the uncertainty of what will happen in our lives…  in the concern over a loved one with cancer…  in the prayers for a friend in ICU…   when we are searching for a new place to work or to live..   in the angst of our young adult years…    in the complications and debilitations of grief.

God was with us before we were born. God was with us in the good times: God was there in the bad times. God was there when we were at our very best:  God was there when we were at our very worst. 

We are never fully alone, because God, our Savior, our strong fortress, our Deliverer, will be with us always, all the days of our life, and beyond.  

Take a look in the mirror or phone again. Repeat after me: 

God knows me…God loves me…God intends for me a future with hope.

Vernon Gramling wrote in his blog this week that “The promise of the Gospel is that God not only fully and completely knows us, God also loves us.  

The first task of a Christian is to learn to receive love.  It is surprisingly difficult.   Our real-life experiences with being known do not always turn out well but in both the Psalm and the life of Jesus, the experience of being known is wonderful.

It frees us to live and love in the present.  If you have had the experience of being deeply known and loved, you cannot be the same person.  You too sing the Psalm: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Vernon Gramling blog, 1/12/24)

As the psalmist cries out:  I am fearfully and wonderfully made; that I know very well

To be sure, for some, the promise of God’s abiding presence can feel uncomfortable,  even terrifying. If we believe in a God who is a judging, critical God, then we will feel ourselves always judged and criticized. 

If we believe in a God who is compassionate and kind, then we will know God’s grace each new day.

God’s love is personal. You are not alone

As Jesus said to his followers:   I am with you, always, even to the end of the age

God’s love for us is persevering. 

Holy Scripture asserts that God will always be with us. . There is no time, no day, no situation, no place, no relationship where God is not. There is no state of mind where God is not. 

Even if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast… I come to the end – you are still with me. 

This, of course, does not mean that at times it feels as though God is absent. 

As the psalms very clearly and even often express, Where are you, Oh God?  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?, Jesus cried from the cross. 

How long, O Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever? 

Sometimes our crises of loneliness or other ills hamper our faith. Precisely in those most lonely, most desperate, most debilitating times, the Spirit of God reaches out to us, the Spirit of God speaks to us.

Sometimes, God’s Spirit speaks in that still, small voice. Sometimes, God’s Spirit instills an urge within us to change, to do something different, to get up and get going. 

Sometimes, the Spirit of God shows up with a knock on the door or a phone call  from someone unexpected.

How absent must God feel for those who are scraping to survive among the rubble of Gaza? 

How absent must God feel for those those thousands of patients lying on the floors and in the hallways of bombed out hospitals? 

How absent must God feel for those who hear yet another round of missiles flying over their heads in Ukraine?

Martin Luther King, Jr., in the midst of the struggle for civil rights, proclaimed with confidence:  “God is still around. One day, you’re going to need him. The problems of life will begin to overwhelm you; disappointments will begin to beat upon the door of your life like a tidal wave. 

 And if you don’t have a deep and patient faith, you aren’t going to be able to make it.”    (from his sermon, Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool)

When we explored this psalm on Wednesday, I asked the Bible study group  to choose several verses that they wanted to keep with them over the coming week. Several of them landed on verses 7-10. 

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.

We cannot escape the right hand of God. God holds us fast, from our first breath until our last. This does not mean that life will not be hard. This does not mean that we will not suffer hardship and pain. This does not mean that we may at times find ourselves shrouded in darkness. What this does mean is that God will be with us in the midst of the storm. God will be with us, upholding us, even in the midst of pain, even on our darkest day. 

Even when we forsake God, even when we have turned our backs on God, even when we have run as far away as we thought we could from God,  God’s Spirit does not leave us. God meets us right where we are,.  Even the darkness is not dark to you, O God. God’s love for us is persevering. 

God’s love for us is providential. 

God shows up for us with intervening help and divine guidance. In holy Scripture, a messenger from God most often comes to a person in order to call them to some particular task. The first word from the messenger is “Be not afraid; I am with you.” The second word is often that of call, of direction, of vocation. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Joseph, and Mary – all experienced the intervention of God at a critical moment for them personally and for their people. Saul, on the road to Damascus, experienced his blinding vision of Christ, and was called to go and receive a new name and a fresh calling as the Apostle Paul.  

God’s Spirit is with us not only to comfort us, but to call us, to guide us, to direct us onto a path of meaning and purpose. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Scottish theologian James Stewart: God judges a person not so much by distance traveled in the journey of faith, but by direction facing. 

God’s providential love intends to provide direction in our lives, “true north”, if you will. 

Knowing that we are loved with a personal, persevering, providential love offers comfort, assurance, strength, and grace for a life of purpose and direction.

 When we understand in our hearts that God knows us, fully and well, and loves us still, we relate to the world quite differently. We relate to ourselves and others with an attitude of grace. When we understand that we will not be left to handle our challenges alone, we face those challenges differently. We have confidence that we will receive strength beyond our own.    When we know that God will guide us when we become lost, we face seasons of lostness differently.  We discover purpose even when all of life has seemed off track. 

As our second hymn expressed so beautifully today:

There’s a wideness in God‘s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty. There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven. There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given. For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind. And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.  If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s Word, and our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord. 

(Hymn 435, Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal)  



Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia