Whether we are workers, friends, husbands and wives, parents, or students, we all have the same question: “How am I doing?” Honest evaluation and feedback is a part of any healthy relationship. This is true in a workplace setting, a ministry, or in a family. We want to know where we are doing well and where we are weak. At the heart of every sincere friend of Jesus is the deep desire to love well. However, we often stumble and fall short in loving others well and want to know how we can improve.
What makes improvement difficult – in communication, in serving, and in collaboration – is that we have many “blind spots” in our lives. These are areas where we cannot see where we need the grace of God to help us change and grow. In some areas, we are simply unaware of where we are coming up short. In other areas, the problem is worse: we imagine that we are doing well when we are really a mess. Not only do we need help to grow and to mature in various areas of our lives, we need help to know where we need help.
The normal mode of forward progress is lateral communication, meaning, find our peers and our leaders and ask them to point out areas of improvement. Ideas, insights, and techniques to build healthy communication with others fills the bookshelves. This subject deserves the “ink” that it has received. Clear, insightful, and helpful communication that spurs growth and maturity is hard to do!
King David, however, had an incredible “outside of the box” method to obtaining feedback on his progress. It involved vertical communication with God in prayer. David was dependent on the Lord to help the growth process and find blind spots in his life and leadership. The problem with this approach is obvious – how can an imperfect person that listens poorly receive and put into action great feedback from an invisible God?
This is what made King David’s approach so brilliant. However, his approach was also quite shocking.
The prayer of King David (Psalm 139:23-24): “Search me…!”
23Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; 24 and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)
King David unlocked an important truth about himself in Psalm 139. He realized – and this is powerful – that he did not understand the depths of his sin and the weakness and broken state of his heart. How much does a mind still connected to wrong ideas get us into trouble with others? How many times does our dull, disconnected heart help to shape our choices, thoughts, and emotions? The prophet Isaiah understood the depths of this problem when he identified his unclean speech as a means of defilement; yet he understood that his speech was in part of a culture of unclean speech that hid the problem from his sight. In other words, Isaiah knew that there were areas of compromise in his life that he did not realize were wrong, because of the permissive nature of his culture.
We are often too dull of heart and disconnected from God to truly and fully appreciate how dull of heart and disconnected we are from God. Unperceived sin and pride are a constant threat to standing confidently in truth and growing in love. David’s prayer was a glorious admission that his transcendent Maker knew him fully and inescapably. God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. The prayer of David was about a desire to tap into the only real truth we can get about ourselves. Only what God thinks and speaks about us is true. No one gets to define me – not my friends, enemies, or even my family. Even more powerfully, I do not even have the right to define myself. Only God’s words, desires, and thoughts can define who I really am.
David asked God to do four things: to “search”, to “know”, to “test”, and to “lead”. David opened all of his heart up to God’s examination with a desire for hidden things to be revealed through testing and trials. The four parts of David’s prayer work together. He wanted God to pick an area of weakness – a blind spot. Now, here’s the outside of the box solution: based on God’s knowledge of how David was wired, he wanted God to shake up his life in a way designed to expose that area of weakness. (Wow.)
Then, David opened all of his life up to God. He wanted God to lead him by grace out of his sinful condition and wicked way. David wanted to find an “everlasting way”, or superior way out of that area of weakness that would never fail. Yes, David wanted true information about his heart condition. However, he also wanted grace and help finding deliverance from it. He was confident that, once difficulty revealed weakness, God would help him in a powerful way. He felt safe with God’s leadership and love to ask for trouble and ask for freedom. (Wow, again.) The knowledge of our heart and its condition has to be combined with the knowledge of God’s affection and love for us. Together, this “divine feedback process” can allow us to exercise faith in saying a wholehearted “yes” to God’s dealings to reveal and God’s dealings to remove.
This method is not for the faint-hearted. It takes real confidence in the love of God and His leadership to see this process through. If we can give ourselves to this prayer and to the process that follows, we can have confidence that the fruit has eternal significance – both for ourselves and everyone who we connect with.