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  Three Layers Deep    
   Psalm 139:23, 24    
  #4 in a series Click here for print format, PDF  

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.                                                                        Psalm 139:23, 24



We are complex beings, each propelled through life by the unique mixture of personality, gifting and experiences which make us the individual we are. A major challenge in our pilgrimage toward Christian wholeness is to increasingly know ourselves, and to humbly come to terms with how “the real me” impacts our life and relationships. 

David was on to something in Psalm 139:23, 24. One day when I was looking at this text I saw that it represented three levels, or depths of "knowing." I came to see that each level influences those above it, and each reveals things about those below it. 

The deepest level is the heart. It is this, which most shapes who we are and what we become. The heart is the foundation of character. It is the underground reservoir from which the river of thoughts, words and actions flows. As Proverbs 27:19 says, "As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the person." And in Matthew 15:19 Jesus said, "For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, - - ."

But only God knows the heart. We might think otherwise, but we don't know ourselves very well at that level. We don't always know why we do the things we do. Have you ever had the courage to stand back and watch yourself and try to figure yourself out?

The influences and experiences of our past, many forgotten, become entwined with each other to create an indescribable concoction of attitudes and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, actions and reactions – all of which mark "me" as "me!"
Why are we outgoing or withdrawn? Positive or negative? Why do we tend to have conflicts with certain kinds of people? Where does our anger come from? What is the root of a certain persistent temptation? Often we attempt to address symptoms which represent much deeper issues of the heart.

I remember a particularly painful part of my life's pilgrimage. I had expected a certain relationship to produce incredible joy, but instead it was taking on the opposite nature. I had such a knot in my gut that I thought I had an ulcer. I hurt – physically and emotionally.

I begged God to show me what was in my heart that was causing me to experience this relationship in such a way. He did and it wasn't pretty. I knew in an instant that He was right. I took drastic and costly action but the reward has been more than worth it. God will show us our hearts and give us opportunity to let Him make them new!

I have also, in my quiet times with God, asked Him to uncover the childhood experience that shaped me in ways that were now causing me concern. I tell you – He can do that
The next level is our thoughts. Both God and you know your thoughts but others don't.

The mind is a battleground. Our thoughts shape our mood, countenance, words and actions. Every sin is related to things that take place in our thought life. That is why the Apostle Paul said, "Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8b

A key to our success here is to accept responsibility for what we spend our time thinking about. We may not be responsible for the ungodly thoughts that come to us, but we are responsible if we let them hang around.

Patterns of imagination and thought develop like well traveled animal paths in the forest. Some years ago I asked God to show me the primrose paths I frequented, and to give me opportunity to turn off of them. He did. If we observe ourselves we can soon learn to predict where we will end up if we are at a certain point in our thoughts and imaginations, and continue in the same direction. With God’s help we can choose to take our mind off of one thing and place it on another. It’s a sweet choice and help is available when we ask for it.

The upper level that David speaks of is our ways, i.e. our words and actions. The NAS says, "And see if there be any hurtful way in me." "Hurtful" there means "way of pain." David is saying, "God, are their ways about me which cause pain to others?" God, you, and I can all hear my words and see my actions, which simply reflect what is in my heart and mind!

We often don't realize how offensive our words and actions are to God and to persons around us. If we are serious about walking well with Him and representing Him effectively to others, we will care deeply about that. And we will be willing to look at the thoughts, and the issues of our heart, that have shaped them.

It is an exciting pilgrimage, this walking with God in an increasing knowledge of ourselves. He knows us fully and loves us with unrestrained passion – in spite of who we are. It is safe to ask Him to tell us about ourselves. He knows what we can handle. As we come to trust Him, we open ourselves more and more to the light of His truth. It's sorta scary, but it leads to greater freedom in our heart – which then moves up and out through our thoughts, words and actions!


This is #4 in the series "Snippets from the Good Book", and is one of many short articles that can be found at   Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation, © 1996 by Tyndale House Publishers. © Ken Stoltzfus,, P.O. Box 228, Kidron, OH 44636 USA. May be printed for personal use and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes without further permission if proper acknowledgment is given.

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