Many Bible passages have a special meaning to me. I’m sure you may be able to say the same. You have likely read or heard a piece of scripture at a certain time in your life when the moment connected deeply – and now you always remember the special significance of that passage. Even though I have ascribed personal meaning to quite a few passages myself only one Bible passage holds this particular distinction: I can remember specific details about where I was when the words grabbed me in an intense, personal way. It was Tuesday, Jan. 12, 1982, and the passage was the 139th chapter of Psalms.
I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn that I wasn’t in need of a dramatic intervention at the time. Or, that there was nothing life-threatening occurring or no situation where I needed to be supplied with dynamic words to share for a specific situation.
I was simply sitting on a twin-sized bed in the home of my host family in Owatonna, Iowa, reflecting on my day.
You see, I had arrived in the city the previous day at about 4 p.m. to join 19 other young women from across the state of Iowa – all seniors in high school – who were competing in the Iowa Junior Miss program. Seventeen of them had arrived at various times that Sunday morning, and two on Sunday afternoon – one who had even arrived by snowmobile. I, who lived four hours north, had been delayed nearly 24-additional hours by a monster blizzard that had closed most major highways in the majority of counties on the eastern part of the state: The Great Blizzard of ’82.
(Hummmmm… a bit like this January it might seem.)
Anyway … I was 48 hours behind them, as all the other young women had already held multiple rehearsals and had gotten a big jump on learning the choreography to the poise and physical fitness routines for the pageant nights.
Now … I think I’d like to pause here a moment to reshape some possible misconceptions. I was in Ottumwa to participate in a scholarship program to earn money for college, not a program that invited others to scrutinize my personal physique – (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the kind of scholarship competitions that require women to walk past judges wearing hardly any fabric) – this just wasn’t one of those deals.
This was a scholarship competition in pageant form with the heaviest scrutiny placed on academic standings and a judge’s interview to learn your personal philosophies and your understanding of current events. The talent portion and other routines were primarily for the show aspect –for the audiences that would be attending at the end of the week. Still, the judges would be watching and scoring those portions, too. I needed to learn the routines as quickly as possible, hoping the others would help me even though we were competitors. I had a lot of catching up to do before the pageant nights on Friday and Saturday.
So on Tuesday night as I sat on the pale, flowered and ruffled twin bed that really belonged to my 7-year-old host sister, I probably was feeling a tad overwhelmed … a little bit lonely … and probably a lotta bit out of my element. But I wasn’t scared. Not at all. My wee-bit-arrogant psyche got energized at times like these – not scared. I wasn’t even apprehensive.
So, what was I?
I was … well … maybe the best word would be: eager. I was eager to see what might be possible.
I wanted to know what was God planning to do with my life, because I was certainly ready! – whatever ready meant.
Now, why did I reach for my Bible that night? To petition God for a good showing later in the week? For a special blessing of success? No. I knew that was a bit silly. Perhaps I grabbed my Bible as a way to quiet for bedtime … or to summon a bit of holiness as I took on the challenges that faced me that week … or maybe it was simply to curb my loneliness. Whatever the reason, that night as I read the words of David, the psalmist king, I felt as if God had asked David write the words so they might speak to me in that moment.
“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. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”
Right there: Those were the words that shot into my core and then suspended my thoughts in time – a moment that I continue to hold close. “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”
How incredible … How purely horrifying. How … well … How: Wow!
And how – ultimately – reassuring.
I don’t know about you. But I’m compulsively candid and sometimes – many times – I say things before thinking about the consequences. I did it in 1982. I do it today. With Facebook, I’m even likely to type things without thinking.
Even when I try not to, I do it anyway. (Paul wrote a great passage about such a problem, but I’ll save that for another time.)
In this passage, David let me know that before a word as on my tongue, God knew it completely. Therefore, despite my human malfunctions, I could be confident God knew my Spirit in spite of my misspeaks and misdeeds. Yet, the words David wrote in the 139th Psalm don’t speak of predestination or forethought – they speak of David’s awareness that God knew him intimately. Verses later we learn that David has enemies – people who had accused him of things. David was being wrongly accused of something – and through the words he pored out in this Psalm, it’s clear David took comfort in the fact that God knew better.
God – David tells – us was acquainted with all David’s ways. And David was so confident that God was pleased with him, he invited God to “search him” and “know his heart” to “test” him and “know his thoughts.” David – we can tell – feels up to the challenge of living as God’s child because he knows God will always be with him.
Sitting on that bed in Ottumwa that January night, I knew God was well acquainted with me too. I knew I could withstand unforeseen challenges – even when I felt out of my element – because I had God as my constant - intimate - life companion.
The divine closeness I felt in that moment was too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain and too vast for me to out flee – not that I wanted to, mind you. I simply felt fantastic knowing I couldn’t escape God if I tried. That sort of relationship can make you invincible. It might even help you lead a nation as one of the most notable kings in history despite your human failings. Surely it could even help a 17-year-old girl learn choreography quickly and make new friends even quicker.
I was tempted to not tell you now I did that week, because it really doesn’t matter. I’d already gained something extremely important that Tuesday night. I did, however, finish as one of the judges' top finalists (2nd runner up) and was voted by the other young women to receive their top Junior Miss honor – the "Spirit of Junior Miss." As you can imagine, that award meant far more to me than anything the judge's presented that night. Perhaps even more interesting: One of the judges that year happened to be the president of Wartburg College (Dr. Robert Vogel) and the scholarships I earned that night helped me pay for the four years I spent on that campus – four wonderful years that have shaped the rest of my life.
Perhaps you can identify with feeling an affinity for such place of learning.
At a minimum I hope you connect with this: the Creator God who formed you in your mothers’ womb continues to hem you in behind and before – don’t try to understand it for its knowledge is too high to attain. And, I guess you can try to flee such a relationship, but know that it won’t work.
God’s hand is holding you fast.
And tonight as you are preparing to lie down for the night, take a moment to sit on your bed and think of God. See if you can’t think a thought that God doesn’t already know as it’s forming in the depths of your being. See if you can imagine a place God won’t already be… I don’t believe it’s possible.
You – fearful and wonderful child of God – Go in peace to love and serve God. You are invincible. Amen.