URC Daily Devotion 18 June 2023

Sunday, 18 June 2023
Psalm 139 
You are before me, Lord, You are behind.
And over me You have spread out Your hand;
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
Too high to grasp, to great to understand.

Then from Your Spirit where, Lord, shall I go;
And from Your presence where, Lord, shall I fly?
If I ascend to heaven You are there,
and still are with me if in hell I lie.

If I should take my flight into the dawn,
If I should dwell on ocean’s farthest shore,
Your mighty hand will rest upon me still,
And Your right hand will guard me evermore.

If I should say, “Let darkness cover me,
And I shall hide within the veil of night,”
Surely the darkness is not dark to You;
The night is as the day, the darkness light.

Search me, O God, search me and know my heart;
Try me, O God, my mind and spirit try;
Keep me from any path that gives You pain,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Ian Pitt-Watson (1973, 1989)
The suggested tune, Highland Cathedral, can be heard here https://hymnary.org/media/fetch/152570

We live in an age, where the unexplained spawns media speculation from the ingenious to the ludicrous. Using ambiguous evidence, and words such as ‘is it possible’, or, ‘some have thought’, theories burgeon, backed by colourful graphics. It is addictive viewing for some normally rational people who enjoy occasional excursions into fantasy. I’m not prepared to admit I find some of the programmes intriguing.

The prophet Isaiah’s exploration of the God who is mysterious, uncontainable and unexplainable is of a different order entirely. For Isaiah, God is to be found everywhere, an encompassing presence. This God is known though acts of power, a characteristic Hebraic approach.

Does this make God an oppressive power, someone who traps those who wish to escape? Isaiah’s experience is that God permits flight, but even in our rejection watches, guards and guides us. This powerful and benevolent insight into God’s nature is used liturgically by the church in situations of distress and discomfort, notably in times of death and dying, and emotional turmoil. God’s grasp of us is sure, even when we find ourselves angry and doubting. We may forget God, but God does not forget us.  God remains available to us, perhaps especially in times of trial, and God waits till we can accept the presence of the one whose care never fails.

We are given a further insight into our relationship with God in the phrase ‘Keep me from any path that gives you pain’. God is not emotionally neutral towards us, and our words and actions can damage our relationship with God. That is why prayers of confession and pardon remain in our liturgies.

Ian Pitt-Watson has given us magnificent paraphrase of Psalm 139 for our benefit. The fine tune of Highland Cathedral seems to me better left for the pipes.

Gracious God,
your gift to us of your Son
is proof, if proof were ever needed,
that you love us beyond our deserving.
Let your Spirit rest upon our lives,
strengthening and guiding us
till the day when we meet you
face to face.


Today’s writer

The Rev’d John A Young, retired minister of the National Synod of Scotland, member Giffnock URC.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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