Observe: David is suffering. He guards his words around the wicked, but finally chooses silence -- not golden, but a burning fire of intense inner turmoil. (1-3) What can he do?
He prays and ponders the terrible brevity of life: O LORD, make me know my end, and the measure of my days, let me know how fleeting I am…all mankind is a mere breath (4,5). He wants to know not how long his life is, but how to live in this brief time: You have made my days a few handbreadths (5), the shortest measure of length in ancient Israel.
There are echoes of Ecclesiastes: … man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather (6). God is chastening him (10,11), and he accepts His correction humbly. As in many laments, he recognizes My hope is in You (7). A sojourner (temporary resident), he knows only God can deliver him from the desolation that often accompanies a sensitive soul’s wrongdoing.
Finally, in tears, the sojourner humbly implores God to turn away His angry gaze so that he can find joy again.
Interpret: David possibly wrote this psalm in his later years, given his observations on life and its brevity.
Truly Lenten, Psalm 39 laments the shortness of life, a realistic view that demands meditation. It is also oddly relevant to the pandemic. Two years have sped into eternity, amazingly. What happened to them? And in this terrible war, lives are invaded by death, loss, trauma, injury. The wicked are all around, and where is help?
In more personally painful situations, we recognize 1) life is short, 2) we are fragile, and 3) God is our only hope, an ever-present help in time of trouble.(Ps. 46:1). We can’t take care of ourselves without Him, and mercifully He knows and deeply loves His shredded images of Himself.
Apply: Meditating on the shortness of life can bring panic or acceptance.
Once one is over 40, each year seemingly races by, calendar pages flipping relentlessly. Why this panic? A “mere breath”, we’re not as significant as we think we are. Perhaps we have thrown away God’s good gifts, wasting our lives. Perhaps we have many regrets, little time to make good with those we have wronged, or to reconcile with those estranged from us, old issues we haven’t dealt with because we lack the humility to admit to being wrong.
Acceptance? David’s laments help us to recognize ourselves, our confusions, sins, joys, hopes; God gives opportunities to accept His grace. We pray daily for His presence, wisdom, and Spirit-life, because He delights to give good things to those who ask. As we read beyond ourselves and into the mind of God via His Spirit’s groans, we accept this realistic view of life. It may at times be nasty, brutish, and short, but in quietly following the Lord, it can become merciful, kind, forgiving … alas, still short!
Welcomed into God’s heart, we find He has fulfilled His plans for us, all along – plans for your good and not for your harm, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)
And then, we can’t keep silent – so we share this Good News!
Ask: When God seems absent, what should I do? Who do I talk to? Do I keep my troubles to myself -- or just complain?
Pray: O Lord, I have sought You, called upon You and prayed to You. And I found You because You didn’t hide Yourself from me in my need. My hope is always in You, maker of hope, giver of hope, Hope itself. Praise be to Thee, O God!
Sing Psalm 39: Psalms Project Show Me My Life’s End
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.