Friday, March 6, 2009

Search Me

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

                        Psalm 139.23-24

An Unfinished Manuscript

Psalm 139 reads like an intimate letter from a gifted author to the beloved editor who patiently, attentively shaped his sensibilities. David begins by confessing total trust in God’s close scrutiny of his story: “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.” (v1) He marvels at God’s awareness of every move he makes, how he thinks, and what he wants to say. Without hesitation, David credits his Maker as the Source and Force driving his creativity. “You created my inmost being… I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful… All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (vv13-14,16) Over their longstanding collaboration, David has learned to cherish God’s insights and guidance. In verse 17, he exclaims, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

But recent developments are frustrating David. Critics, perhaps reacting to his shortfalls, now attack God’s name and methods. Angst over this infects David’s work. His first-person protagonist has got away from him. He’s written himself into a corner and can’t find his way out. He ends presenting his life as an open book—an unfinished manuscript—for God to examine page-by-page, line-by-line, for character flaws, illogical plot twists, and thematic lurches steering his story toward a pessimistic resolution. “Give what I’ve written a look,” he asks, “to see where anxieties and prejudices pop up and throw me off-track.”

Course Correction

Whether we’ve ever been bitten by the creative writing bug or not, we can relate to David’s dilemma because life operates very similarly to fiction. We make it up as we go. Often we lose control of our narratives. Unexpected curves come our way. Characters enter our stories, not always for our best. Critics deride our work and our reliance on God’s guidance, stirring doubt, frustration, bitterness, and anger that filter into our words and plans. We wind up feeling cornered, unable to extricate ourselves from dead-end situations. Every possible strategy we conceive seems to lead us away from the happy, meaningful way we want the story to end. Instead of writing and writing and getting nowhere, it’s time to fire off a note to God, asking Him to look at what we’ve done so far and provide much needed course correction. “Search me,” is how our letter begins.

God’s Business

Flannery O’Connor, the great Southern writer, once said, “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for a writer to worry is to take over God’s business.” By submitting the book of our lives to God for His scrutiny and revision, our story—its glorious passages, as well as its problematic parts—becomes His business. In prayer, meditation, and study, we listen closely for His comments and direction. He highlights habits of self-indulgence, places we need to tighten our focus, pointless repetitions, characters and plot lines we should cut, and others requiring added attention. He underscores moments we allow personal anxieties and prejudices to infect our story, mar its clarity, and impact its final outcome.

“The Spirit searches all things,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2. “We have not the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” It’s our story. But the gift to write it comes from God. He made us. He knows us. He can read us like a book. When we find we’re losing our way, we seek His Spirit’s guidance and make the necessary corrections. Knowing what to do with our story requires us to know what to do with our gift.

Our lives are like unfinished manuscripts—works in progress that we submit to God for scrutiny and revision.

(Tomorrow: No Regret)


Annette said...


I love the concept of looking at us as the writer of our story, and God as our editor. Wow...I've been struggling with an issue - something that is a recurring theme in my world. Just before I read your post, I read this quote:

"Adjusting to a new path and a new direction will require new qualities and strengths, and these qualities are always exactly what we need to acquire in order to accomplish the great things ahead in our life."

He will give us those new skills, or at least the strength and direction. Like a loving editor.

Today I will forge ahead and seek Him for the strength and skills I so desperately need. I'm lucky He's patient! (o:

I love you my dear friend, for being here for me and for everyone who passes through.


Tim said...

Annette, your comment came in while I was on the phone with a video editor, discussing how we could make a piece we were working on brisker, more effective, and better focused. At first, we reviewed the footage. But it was tough to discern what cuts were most prudent. So we pulled up the original script to look at what we could lose and still keep the story intact.

There was no problem with the original script or the video images. The issue was the music beneath it--it grew monotonous and distracting very quickly. While simply replacing it would be an easy fix, hearing the script and seeing the images while it played also alerted us to other areas where additional changes would make the end product better.

I think life works that way, too. Often not until our story really begins to gel do we perceive how all of it plays together. A weakness in one area alerts us to improvements we can make in stronger ones. As your quote says, we gain new strengths and skills as we need them.

As the script's writer, I was naturally reluctant to let some of the original material go. I thought I'd pruned out all the superfluous details in the draft/redraft process. But having a sharp-eyed, insightful editor showed me there were more improvements we could make. That's what God does. He says things like, "You don't need to say it now that you're showing it," and "Hanging on to this slows you down," and--on the other hand--"This is what's most important. You need to take a little more time with it."

Every time we submit ourselves for revision, we acquire invaluable new skills and strengths to make our stories better, tighter, more compelling, and more securely headed in the right direction.

Sorry for the long story, but it seemed particularly apt (in the moment at least) to your comment.

Joy, love, peace--and strength--as you write your story, Annette!

James said...

This is an excellent post; you've hit on a lot of truths and you've given me some food for thought. Thank you for that.

kkryno said...

This post simplifies so many things for me. :)

Tim said...

Thanks so much, James. It's always encouraging to hear when a post rings true with others. Often I'm not sure if the message will apply to everyone or if I'm writing mostly to myself--if what I'm finding in the Word will make sense to anyone else. I'm truly grateful for your comment.

Blessings always,

Tim said...

Vikki, your comment came in as I was replying to James's above. Had I seen it, I would have addressed my response to both of you. Thank you--it's always a blessing to hear we're all learning together.

Have a terrific weekend!