Psalm 139: Launching SHAPE
God makes billions of snowflakes, each of them a different shape. We make ice cubes, all of them the same.
In January and February last year, we all followed a prayer diary designed to help us work out what God wanted for the church. Over 100 individual comments and proposals were made, and that allowed us to understand what God was calling us all to as a church. This year, we’ll be using these prayer diaries in January and February, not so much to get the big picture of what God wants from St Michael’s as to get the individual picture of how we fit in his purposes. We’re each like one piece of the jigsaw; now we know what design the jigsaw is, we can discover what shape we are.
Each of us will be unique, because we make ice cubes, all of them the same, but God makes billions of snowflakes, each of them a different shape.
So today I’m doing my best to launch SHAPE, which is what this programme is called. And I want to start by looking at Psalm 139 and seeing three things about God.
1. God’s being is a reality you can’t escape.
a) The first six verses tell us his knowledge of you is total. He knows your outside – where you go, what you do, stuff like that. But he also knows your inside, your motivations, your heart’s desires, your psyche. SHAPE stands for five words or phrases – S for Spiritual Gifts, H for Heart’s desires, A for Abilities, P for Personality, E for Experience – the five things that make you you. God knows all of that, and he still loves you.
b) Verses 7-12 tell us that his presence is total. You cannot go anywhere and discover God isn’t there.
c) Verses 13-18 tell us that his power is infinite. It’s the source of every fibre of your being, your psyche, your uniqueness, your you-ness – you are who you are because he is what he is. If you were human-made, you’d be an ice cube; but you’re God-made, so there’s no one like you. And the God who was there at the moment of your conception, verse 13, will be there at the last moment of your life, verse 16.
2. God’s being is a radical threat.
If you are cut with a knife, what that means is that your being is softer than its being, so your being gives way before it. “I can’t cope with having a God like this” says David, I want to escape. Verse 7 – how do I get away? That’s the human reaction to a God like this. Jean-Paul Sartre tells a story in Being and Nothingness of a dream he had. He was looking at someone’s life through a keyhole. He was enjoying being the unviewed viewer, until the moment that he became aware of a keyhole behind him - someone he couldn’t see was watching him! And that, said Sartre, was the reason that he chose not to be a Christian. “If I am to be a free human subject,” he says, “I must reject the unviewed viewer”.
Let’s be honest, we all feel a bit like that. We want to avoid being deep-scanned. Some people don’t even want to do SHAPE because they’d hate for themselves and their homegroups to know what shape they are! So how much more do we run away from being known by God. On the one hand, we really want to be seen and fear that we won’t be noticed. But on the other hand, we hate the idea that we might be known fully because we think if we’re known fully we’ll be judged, and no one wants to be judged, right? Here’s the dilemma: we want to be known because we want to be loved, but we don’t want to be known because we want to be loved! We’re stuck.
3. God’s being is a transforming delight.
But in verse 10, something amazing happens to David. “How can I escape God?” he’s been asking. “I know, I’ll go to the sky – O no, verse 8, that won’t work. Maybe if I go potholing – nope, unfortunately that won’t hide me from you. Maybe I could emigrate, verse 9, and settle in Spain or somewhere, but no , because even there...”
And that’s where the change happens – he doesn’t say “even if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your dehumanising gaze will be on me”. Sartre’s problem is that he assumes that if God knows him completely he would do with that knowledge what Sartre or you and I would do with that knowledge – reject and exploit- but in the Psalm David realises God isn’t like that at all. It’s not like Santa Claus – “he knows when you’ve been naughty, so be good for goodness sake”. God has absolute knowledge of us, but he uses all that knowledge for us, not against us; to forgive, not to judge. You put a smile on God’s face. So David finally gets it. “Even if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” God knows my shape and that’s Good News. At the beginning he hated the idea of God knowing his thoughts, but by verse 17 he’s saying that God’s thoughts about him are precious. He delights in God’s loving gaze. So for example at the end of the Psalm he goes off on one – “I hate my enemies” he says in his rant in verses 19-22, “I wish you’d kill them”! But he’s living transparently before God now, so he doesn’t beat himself up, he says to God verse 23-24 “I think you’d better have a look at my thinking, God, I’m not sure I got that right.” He is welcoming God’s loving gaze now. He doesn’t mind him looking at him.
When someone looks at you with admiration in their eyes, you don’t mind them looking at you. God looks at your shape with loving eyes, so there’s nothing to be afraid of. He chose to make you you, he made you to show an aspect of his character that could not be demonstrated by anyone else in the whole universe. We make ice cubes, all of them the same, but God makes billions of snowflakes, each of them a different shape, and he delights in each of them. The only person who really ultimately matters in the whole universe is saying to you “I delight in you, I know you completely and I love you to the bottom of your being”.
Please do make use of the prayer diary to help you get to know yourself - in a small way – as God knows you. Don’t hide your true self – come and live in the light, even if it feels uncomfortable when the lights come on. Come to our morning services over the next two months, because most of our sermons refer to SHAPE too. Join with others to talk about who you are and find out what shape they are – either in homegroups or in a set of extra groups we’re setting up – there’ll be details next week. But don’t forget – your shape is a good shape, the right shape for you. We make ice cubes, all of them the same, but God makes billions of beautiful snowflakes, each of them a different shape.