Psalm 39 -An Honest Look at the Shortness of Life

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The Hebrew-Christian faith is the only religion I know of where people are given an opportunity to have a personal relationship with God. As in any genuine relationship, there are occasional easy conversations and at other times difficult talks.

Psalm 39 is a difficult talk between the speaker and God. A sick man approached God and talks about how short life is. The Book of Job is a longer treatment of the same honest conversation between humans and God.

A Troubled Heart

If you have a chronic illness, you may wonder when “the next shoe will drop.” If you have a loved one who is in hospice or nearing death, you may be anxious and worried about their future.

If you don’t know what to say to God about your situation, this Psalm may help. Honest and plain speech is the nature of a dialogue between friends about serious subjects.

My suffering only grew worse,
and I was overcome with anxiety.
The more I thought, the more troubled I became;
I could not keep from asking:
“Lord, how long will I live?
When will I die?
Tell me how soon my life will end.”
(Psalm 39.3-4)

Like the speaker in this Psalm, Job described his pain and frustration to God. Trouble, worry, and fear robbed him of sleep.

Month after month I have nothing to live for;
night after night brings me grief.
When I lie down to sleep, the hours drag;
I toss all night and long for dawn.
(Job 7.3-4)

The Bible reveals the character of God. He gives us permission to tell him exactly what we feel. Our prayers don’t have to sound like a public prayer in church. They can be raw and full of frustration over our troubles.

Searching for Meaning

As the saying goes, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but they just don’t want to be on today’s boat load.” The shortness of life is painfully recognized at almost any age.

The most difficult funerals I have officiated have been for children. However, I have seen families grieve with great emotion over loved ones in their 80s.

This Psalm and the Book of Job help us explore how short life seems to be, while we talk to God about it.

How short you have made my life!
In your sight my lifetime seems nothing.
Indeed every living being is no more than a puff of wind,
no more than a shadow.
All we do is for nothing;
we gather wealth, but don’t know who will get it.
Indeed we are no more than a puff of wind!
(Psalm 39.5-6,11)

The title of one of the books in my library is, “To Deny Our Nothingness.” The title says it all. Everyone want to think their life counts even if it is “no more than a puff of wind.”

Whether our life counts for something or not is a great discussion topic to bring to our loving God. The speaker of this Psalm wondered if “all we do is for nothing.”

Some people have been so badgered by our culture that says “production equals value,” that even to ask about whether their life has meaning or not is tremendously painful.

Some of our deep fears about our “true self” likewise makes the question of our worth very difficult.

I believe it is a great value to us to ask the kind of deep questions of God that are in this Psalm. A walk in the woods or a private hour or two with God will set the stage for such a conversation.

Faith and Fear

When this Psalm was first prayed, people believed that everything came from God – both good and ill. There was no thought of germs, virus, or so-called “natural causes.” God was behind everything.

The very honest prayer of the speaker both asked for God’s help and for God to leave him alone.

What, then, can I hope for, Lord?
I put my hope in you.
Save me from all my sins.
Hear my prayer, Lord,
and listen to my cry;
come to my aid when I weep.
Leave me alone so that I may have some happiness
before I go away and am no more.
(Psalm 39.8-9, 12-13)

Similar to Psalm 32, the speaker wants God to remove his “hand” of punishment from him and to relieve him of his suffering.

Day and night you punished me, Lord;
my strength was completely drained.
(Psalm 32.4)

Also similar to Psalm 32, the speaker confessed his sins and asked God to come to his aid.

The Psalm is a good example of the question, “Shall we only put our faith in God when things are going well?”

The Psalm reminds us that when we are in trouble, we can talk to God and even complain to him. We can bring to him the real issues of life that keep us awake at night.

In addition, we can ask him for help. Our pain and distress may make us feel distant from him. We may even suffer because of sin that we have committed. Still, we can approach him as a friend and ask for his help.

In the end, we can praise God for his amazing nature and willingness to be our personal friend.

May We Pray for You?

Maywood Baptist Church has a prayer team, who is honored to pray for you. Please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. We will pray for you.

4 Comments

  1. When we read about the brevity of life, when we realize how short our time on earth, is it any wonder we want to rush through our days trying to have it all? We make “bucket lists” and plans for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and beyond. We save and spend and build and remodel….and end up empty, still wanting more.

    It’s only in the realization that our tiny moments in time only have meaning and value through the cross if Christ that we can find contentment and peace in our hearts.

    I’m reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote “Aim for Heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim for earth and you’ll get neither.”

    Psalm 39, like so many we’ve read so far, reminds me of the access I have to our God. To Heaven. To Jesus. I can go to Him and complain. I can ask Him if there isn’t more. I can trust Him to forgive my confessions. I can plead for longer life. I can be honest about my own fears, frustrations and frailties. And through my personal relationship with Him, through salvation, through faith, the puff of wind that is my life can make a difference.

    He gives me purpose and value. The legacy I want to leave is having a personal relationship with God. That my puff of wind turn others to Jesus.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This year for many has felt anything but brief; but through it all God has been right there with us through it all! I am grateful for the hard lessons learned during 2020 and know that God heard every complaint I had….and blessed me through it, many times in spite of myself!

    Denise, I love the quote of CS Lewis you mention in your comment! Thank you for sharing it…it puts a different perspective on the goals we set for ourselves and the “bucket list” items we strive to check off the list!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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