By Ben Simpson


Psalm 139:1-6

You have searched me, Lord,
   and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
   you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.


Prayer not only leads us to knowledge of God, but can also lead to knowledge of self.

The human heart is unfathomably complex, a tangle of virtue and vice. Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either--but right through every human heart--and through all human hearts.” Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Though the Bible teaches that human beings were created in God’s image and made to live in God’s likeness, sin and rebellion have led us to alienation, fragmentation, separation, and death. Human beings are found as sinners, but thankfully God is one who saves.

God’s salvation extended to us in Christ is an established reality. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ: his life, death, and resurrection. In him, we have been forgiven. His work upon the cross is complete, final, and finished. Yet, there is still a sense in which salvation is being applied and grace is taking effect. In Philippians 2:12 Paul writes, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul understands that though we have been given the status of saints in Christ, there is still room to grow into the fullness of Christlikeness.

When we pray, we are opening ourselves to God. By listening to God we discover our hurts, wounds, confusions, and corruptions. God also shows us the strengths, gifts, talents, and abilities that he can uniquely use for God’s kingdom. The work is thus twofold. Through prayer, God offers guidance and direction. But, God also grants healing and restoration. We need both.

Psalm 139 is a wonderful meditation on the extent of God’s knowledge. The psalmist encourages us to drop all pretense. God already knows everything about us. But His mercy is constant, His love is unfailing, and His faithfulness is forever. God won’t let us go. Therefore, when we come before God we can drop the charade, put away our masks, and ask God to help us know ourselves rightly in order to grow to maturity. 

In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, C. S. Lewis writes, “The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” As God sets us right prayer becomes real conversation between persons, not empty chatter. Lewis is correct. When we talk with God we want to be real. We want to regard God as God actually is. We want to pray as authentic selves, as those who are mature, addressing the authentic God.

God knows all things about us and is thus uniquely equipped to lead us to maturity, revealing to us the truth about ourselves and about him. Clothe yourself in humility, and let him teach you.


How does self-knowledge help us to grow in dependence on God and deepen our prayer life?


“Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known.”


- Saint Augustine, Confessions, Book X