Psalm 39:4, "LORD, make me to
know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail
This morning, balance is necessary in many different areas of our life. For example, man's perspective of himself can be quite unbalanced in either ditch to yield an equally unprofitable conclusion. If a man thinks too highly of himself, he is full of self-worth or exaltation that leads to prideful destruction. (Proverbs 16:18) If a man thinks too little of himself, he is full of self-pity that leads to fruitless work and labour in the Lord's service. The balanced perspective is that we understand that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5), but through Him, we can do all things. (Philippians 4:13) In both cases, the emphasis on the work is the person. The person cannot work to a profitable end without Christ, but with the strength and help of Christ, the person can work and do great service in the Lord's name. This strikes the proper Biblical chord of harmony of God's power and man's responsibility. However, we must, when considering this subject, always keep in mind the importance and shortness of our labour here.
In our verse, David is in the midst of describing the folly of his past efforts. In the preceding verses, David has described past events when he spoke and should have kept silent or kept silent when he should have spoken. Indeed, we all wrestle with similar situations do we not? My life is littered with past failures when I acted in the wrong fashion for that time and occasion. However, viewing these past failures - as David does here - is not for the purpose of having a pity-party and keeping the focus on "poor pitiful me." Rather, David brings these events to the forefront of the discussion so that he can encourage himself in the Lord to beseech Him to not only strengthen him personally but also view his labour in the proper light.
David knows that he has come short, and his awareness of that fact is shown in the description of "how frail I am." David understands that his best efforts are frail, and he later describes his best natural state as altogether vanity. (Verse 5) One might now inquire, "How can talking about this lead to any other outcome than sorrow upon sorrow with no peace of mind?" A valid and interesting question, and the answer is found in David's prayer to God in our verse. David's prayer is that the Lord show him some things that he might be renewed in hope and strong consolation in the Lord. (Verses 7, 12) For our hope to be refreshed with comfort from the Lord we must exhibit a certain perspective to properly receive the comfort.
There is an old adage that states, "You can be too comfortable to be comforted." Indeed, one of the many problems that people have today who are rich and increased with goods is that their creature comforts exceed their felt need and dependency on the Lord. We need the Lord as much today as we have ever needed Him, for He is the source of our strength, comfort, hope, and rest. If we are in a position that we feel to be in need of nothing (as the church at Laodicea was), then a refreshing of hope and comfort from the Lord will not be received by us as it should, for we will not see it as it truly is. The only way that hope can be properly seen and stir us accordingly is that we understand our own frailty, the shortness of our days, and the end of our tenure here.
While David is not beseeching the Lord to show him the exact moment of his death, he is requesting once again the reminder to know that his life is but a drop of a bucket in the grand scale of things. My secular boss and I had an interesting conversation yesterday about a past general manager of the company and his perspectives on life, particularly the importance of individual employees. The former general manager was known on many occasions to say something like this, "If you want to know how important you are to this company in the grand scheme of things, stick your finger in a bucket of water and then pull it out. It will make waves, but eventually the bucket of water will return to the position it was before." While that sounds sorrowful and can sting our pride and flesh, our stay here is quite short, comparatively speaking.
Considering the bucket analogy, certainly some men have made greater impact than others (i.e. their finger went further into the water), and others made a great commotion while they were here (i.e. their finger splashed violently on the way out). However, their "legacy" ultimately ends even if the memory lives on by way of history or some other venue. We remember people like David today based on the pages of Holy Writ, but I am not aware of any today on earth that are his living heirs and descendants. Other than the Greater David who rules in heaven, his successors do not currently occupy positions of authority based on the legacy of their grandparent'
Looking for a moment at the spiritual realm, we see, sadly sometimes, how quickly a man's work can be gone and all work and labour cut down. Sometimes a man may labour in a particular vineyard for decades, pass from this life, and that same vineyard be overrun by the ravening wolves in quick and short order. At other times, we see a man begin to run well, but his race fades down the later stretches as he begins to think more of himself than he ought to think. In either case, the point is made that our frailty and shortness of days on this earth make for effort that may not have the lasting effect that we desire. It is my hope that the people I try to serve and preach to remember what I have tried to teach and hold fast to the principles that the Lord might bless me to expound unto them. It is my hope that my children never forget the instruction that I hope to give them in the coming years, and I certainly hope to never forget what has been instilled in me by my parents and others that have helped me along.
Understanding that our best of efforts are still fraught with frailty, we need to be constantly renewed with the desire that David had to be made to understand these things. Knowing that there may not be some "legacy" for us and/or our efforts, we can then more acceptably do some things. If I was constantly in turmoil of mind about how my life's work would be viewed later in life or after my departure, my work would be quite a bit more unprofitable than it needed to be. If that drove my thoughts and actions, I would come short of attaining heights with God's help as my focus would be on myself. One might think that David's language is calling for a focus on himself, but rather David beseeches the Lord that his thoughts of himself take the focus off himself. If we are frail, short in days, and understand our end, let us take those thoughts and focus on the vivid brilliance of God's person to gain strength for our service here. David finishes the Psalm by declaring that God's help and assistance to his call would increase David's strength and ability of service before his eventual end in this life. (Verse 13)
Knowing that we will one day die should not be an abysmally woeful thought that sends us in the doldrums of depression. Knowing that our life's work may be covered over by the sands of time so that coming generations not even know who we are should not make us lie down and give up. Rather knowing these things, we should beseech the Lord with this knowledge to help us and give us the strength to more acceptably serve Him while we are here. David's prayer is that the Lord make him to know his end. Do we understand our "end?" If we truly do, then we understand that the end here is but the real beginning of the book that has no end with page after page of beauty and glory that mortal tongue cannot express.
A little over 5 years ago, I was ordained as a minister in the Lord's church, and that special day is still vivid in my recollection. However, one of the things that happened on that day also stays with me. Trying to be nice and courteous, several people on that day told me, "Your father is looking down from heaven right now and smiling at this. He taught you the Bible and now knows how his life's work has affected your life and his legacy." With absolutely no offense meant and in all fairness, I do not believe for a moment that he did such. What my father had that day and today is the same thing that the other departed saints have right now in glory. They have the perfection, holiness, glory, and majesty of the Lord to behold forever and ever. Things of this life, their transitory nature, and frailty of action are not worthy to be compared to what they now experience and behold. (Romans 8:18)
At our end here, there will be a glorious beginning there. We will not be concerned about our legacy, if we ever had one to begin with. Rather, that end of this mortal existence begins that glorious rest of immortality in heaven's pure world. Do we know and understand that? If we do, what great service can we perform here! Knowing that heaven is ours by God's grace and mercy, we can take strength and solace that while our efforts here may not be for long or last all that long, He is worthy of all that we can do. Knowing that He is our strength, light, and life, we can serve Him acceptably and with Godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28) Therefore, may our thoughts of ourselves and our condition never stray to the pity-parties or the glory-fests of man. Rather, may we understand our weak condition coupled with His power that He has imparted to us and labour with the hope of good effort here with far better things to come.