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.
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.”
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.
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)