Psalm 139:17–18 (NIV)
How amazing are your thoughts concerning me, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake I am still with you.
I mentioned earlier in the series of serving as the groundskeeper for the residence of the president of Asbury Seminary when I was a student back in the late 1900s. Rose Hill, formerly known as the Zoniger Tree Farm, was a forty-acre tract that had been given to the seminary some years before but never occupied. Maxie and Jerry Dunnam were the first to live there in many years. A large antebellum mansion (dating back to 1799) sat at the center of the then overgrown expanse of gardens and grounds.
I remember my first walk around the property. There were trees of many varieties, intricate patterns of hedges and symmetrically placed flower beds surrounding elliptically shaped green spaces to the front and sides of the manor.
Two things stood out to me. Once upon a time, this land had been a magnificent showplace; something of a Biltmore mansion and estate on a smaller scale. Long, long ago this place had been intricately created and cared for; indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. Second, the exquisite design of the original architect and creator was unrecognizable in the now decimated state of the farm. Okay, a third thing also stood out . . . no . . . cried out to me . . . it would be my job to reclaim and restore this land!
I will never forget a particular day on which I made an astonishing discovery. I was in the midst of another massive weedeater marathon when my eye caught a deer way in the distance. As I lowered the weedeater it slipped and fell to the ground. I noticed it landed with a different kind of thud. I went to my knees and began to pull back the tangly grass. There was a brick buried beneath the sod. I continued peeling back the grass and there was another brick. And then another. There was an entire inlaid brick patio completely hidden underneath the turf. It gets better . . . from the patio began to emerge the form of a serpentine path, intricately bordered by these inlaid bricks, stretching in a meandering way through the pine forest on the corner of the property. It was incredible! Imagine our delight as we began to explore the farm with new eyes, wondering what else we would discover, uncover and begin to reclaim and restore. This would take years, but what a grand and glorious work it would be.
This, of course, has become akin to a parable for me which I believe has returned to my memory just now for the light it sheds on the demonstration plot of our inmost being. This is a farming operation at the level of soul, a garden spot, created by God, lost in the fall, now rediscovered, reclaimed, and under restoration. I hated that place for all it had become and the awful toil it required of me. I loved that place for all it had once been and for the possibility of what it could become again.
Such it is with our relationship with ourselves. We don’t love the broken, overgrown, sinful, self-centered people we have become. We must love the person God created and still intentions us to be. This is the dilemma of the garden that is our inmost being.
I always get significant pushback when it comes to loving oneself. This is not the self love of an amateur narcissist. This is what it looks like to love the God-crafted inmost being. This is what it looks like when a person loves God at the core of their being and thereby learns to appropriately love themself. It is to simultaneously delight in the image maker and the image bearer. It is to love both the Gardener and the garden. Look how the farmer psalmist handles the dilemma.
“For you created my inmost being,” says the psalmist, and again “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Then he breaks into worship: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And he’s just getting started. “Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” The psalmist is coming to grips with the deep glory of his truest and deepest and most God-intentioned self. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place; when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” He just can’t stop. “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” And finally this: “How amazing are your thoughts concerning me. How vast is the sum of them. Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand.”1
This, my soul-farming friends, is the beginning of affection. It is the surprising shift from God loves me because he has to love me to God likes me—the real me he created me to be. And if God likes the real me, maybe I can come to like the real me too.
Now, where did that weedeater go?
Wake up, sleeper! Your brokenness runs deep. But the truth of who you most truly are runs far deeper. And there is a lot to love there and even more to like. There is glory in the farm of you and Jesus wants to expose it all.
Father Farmer God, how amazing are your thoughts concerning me! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. I am in awe of this and of you—that you could love me this much; that you could be this aware of me and this attentive to me and this attuned to me and this attached to me. And then after all of this that you could have such affection for me. It fills me with awe, because I know this is how you relate to everyone else in this whole world. This is truly awe inspiring. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain. So for now I simply stand in awe. Praying in Jesus’s name, amen.
Do you sense the affection of God for you? Do you believe God likes you or is his love a kind of divine gracious tolerance? Do you like yourself?
THE HYMN (We sing on the Recording)
Today we will sing the gospel standard, “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” on page #116 of our newly released Seedbed hymnal Our Great Redeemer’s Praise.
For the Awakening,
NOTES FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
- This final phrase of this last part of the Psalm grabs me. “When I awake I am still with you.” It is almost as though the former lines were so lofty and beautiful they were spoken in a dream state. It is as if the psalmist is saying somebody pinch me so I will know I am not dreaming. Then he wakes up to realize it was not a dream. “When I awake I am still with you.” This God is too good to be real and true and yet he is real and true. I am living in a dream state and yet I am not dreaming. This wows me. It’s for another day, but what comes next is a fascinating exercise in, “And now for something completely different.” David writes: “If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me you who are bloodthirsty!” Maybe I’ll start there tomorrow!