ďLifeís But A Walking ShadowĒ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† August 24, 2014

Psalm 39

 

SI:Weíve spent the summer studying the Psalms.

Iím sure you have been as surprised as I am by how diverse they areó

†† every experience of the human soul is turned into poetry and prayer.

 

Some Psalms you may relate to more than others,

†† but all are inspired and profitable for as Paul says,

†† for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.

 

 


 

INTRO:A number of years ago, I went home for lunch, I walked in the door,

†† and I saw Allison on the couch in pajamas, watching a movie.

†† It scared me to death.

Let me explain why.Allison never lounges around in pajamas.

†† When sheís up, sheís up, and she gets dressed.

†† She makes the bed so quickly after getting up that many times Iíve thought

†† Iíd get back under the covers and read for a while and I go to do it and bed made.

And in all the years weíve been married,

†† Iíve never seen her turn on the TV in the middle of the day

 

So now you understand why seeing her like that gave me a jolt.

The thought that went through my mind like a shot was that my cheerful wife

†† had plunged into a deep pit of depression.I said:Whatís wrong?!

†† She saw my expression and knew what I was thinking and started laughing.

It turns out Adrienne and Eliza had begged Allison to allow them to pamper her.

†† They made her change and sit on the couch and watch a movie while cleaned.

†† Allison was just humoring them.So it turned out to be a false alarm.

 

But sometimes people really do things or say things that are out of character.

†† When that happens, itís disconcerting.You sense that something is not right.

Thatís the feeling you get when you read this Psalm of David.

†† The content and tone donít sound like the David we know.

 

It doesnít sound like David the poet of the 23rd Psalm, in love with the Lord,

†† delighting in the beauty of Godís world and seeing his hand in it.

†† The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures.

It doesnít sound like David the king in the many, many Psalms where he

†† prays that the Lord would help him and deliver him from enemies.

All those Psalms express confidence and they all end on a note of praise.

 

And it doesnít even sound like David the sinner.

†† In his great penitential Psalms, like Psalm 51, he expresses himself in a

†† straightforward Gospel fashionóhereís my sin, O Lord, Iíve offended you,

†† please forgive me, I appeal to your mercy.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

 

In all of Davidís Psalms, whether he his praising God, or asking for his help,

†† or confessing his sins to him, he speaks in a clear, confident voice of faith.

But Psalm 39 is different.It doesnít sound like the David we know.

†† It sounds out of character.He sounds cynical about life.

We do see glimpses of the David we know.

He says his hope is in the Lordóand thatís a very important phrase.

But he seems to end on a down note, asking the Lord to please leave him alone

†† for a while so he can regain his joy.It is a very much out of character.

†† Because all of Davidís other psalms end on a high note.

 

So whatís going on with David?

†† And what does the Holy Spirit want to teach us in this Psalm?

We donít know the circumstances that led David to write this.

†† The commentaries have all sorts of speculationóthat he was sick,

†† that this was during Absalomís rebellion or after Uzzahís death.

We just donít know, and thatís fine.

†† Something prompted David to look at his life, and all the things he had poured

†† his blood, sweat, and tears into building and it appeared short and meaningless.

To put it very bluntly, David was saying:Life stinks.

 

He felt this so strongly, he had such a negative attitude toward life that he

†† realized that if he started talking, if he started saying the things he was thinking,

†† unbelievers would have a heyday with it.

Imagine if Billy Graham was being interviewed and he said:

†† You know, sometimes my life feels meaningless.

†† It seems like it has barely begun and now itís almost over.

All the work I did, all those evangelistic meetings, the crowds, the sermons,

†† I wonder sometimes if that was just smoke and vapor?

The atheists would take that football and run with it.

 

So David says:These thoughts of mine could be misused by unbelievers,

†† so Iím going to keep my mouth shut around them.

But he canít keep it in, so he opens his mouth and he tells all this to the Lord.

†† And then he writes it down, gives to music director Jeduthun.Letís sing it.

†† Itís good for believers to wrestle with the hard questions of life.

†† Whether you have felt this way or not, there is wisdom in Psalm 39 for believers.

Two points:

†† 1.You must acknowledge the fact of lifeís brevity.

†† 2.You must look for Godís grace in lifeís brevity.

 

 

MP#1You must acknowledge the fact of lifeís brevity.

David didnít try to deny the negative thoughts he was having about life,

†† he asked the Lord to help him process them as a believer.

Show me, O LORD, my lifeís end and the number of my days;

†† let me know how fleeting is my life.

The Christian life is to be a reflective life.

And one of the things the Lord wants us to think about deeply and often

†† is the brevity of our lives in this world.

 

David says:Itís painful.I donít want to think about life passing.

†† Itís especially painful to me right now.

†† But Lord, show it to me anyway.Let me know it.

 

Then with a poetís skill he gives us a barrage of three quick images.

First, You have made my days a mere handbreadth.

†† A handbreadth is the width of four fingers.

†† It was a common measurement in the ancient Middle East.

†† Hold up your hand.Look at it.Thatís the measurement of the days of your life.

 

Second, the span of my years is as nothing before you.

The span was another common measurement.

†† It was from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinkie.

Hold up your hand again, open it wide, look at the distance from thumb to pinkie.

†† Thatís the measurement of your years.

When youíre five years old, a year is 20% of your entire life.A year seems forever.

But the older you get, a years is a smaller and smaller percentage of your life.

†† So they seem to pass more and more quickly, zip, zip zipó

†† like telephone poles on the highway.

You talk to someone who is 80 years old, years do seem like a span of hand.

 

Third, Each manís life is but a breath.

Vapor, wind, fog, smoke.Itís an insubstantial thing.

†† It disappears and the world goes on like it was never here.

When we lived on the west coast of Florida, every afternoon in the summer

†† enormous thunderheads would form over the Everglades.

Vast, billowing towers, soaring tens of thousands of feet into the sky.

But you would look up several hours later and they would be gone.

†† Because they were just vapor.

 

Remember what Jonathan read a moment ago, James 4?

†† Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.What is your life?

†† You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Thatís the wisdom David wanted God to teach him.

 

Then, after that three-part image of lifeís brevity, David goes deeper.

He lists three things that seem so important, that people base their lives upon.

†† He declares all three to be wind, vanity, passing away.

 

First, the vanity of honors and awards.

Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro.

†† King James Version says:Surely every man walketh in a vain show.

Imagine moving and finding an old dusty box full of plaques in the basement.

†† Salesman of year for this company.Honors list for that school.

†† In recognition of your exceptional leadership in this or that initiative.

They seemed so important at the time.

†† But you take the whole box and put them out on the curb for the garbage man.

 

Second, the vanity of griefs, anxieties, and fears.

He bustles about but only in vain.

†† King James:They are disquieted in vain.

This word vain is the very same word above translated breath or vapor.

†† The word used over and over in Ecclesiastesóvanity, meaningless.

We are overwhelmed with sorrows and problems so much that they

†† seem to define our lives, but even those blow away like mist.

There is a little cemetery out near Trimble, Sardis cemetery.

†† Allison and I found one tombstone with two brothers on it, one six, the other 12.

†† They died about five days apart.

The date was 1918, so we figured it was the Spanish flu pandemic.

†† We wondered how those parents felt, but they are long dead and griefs forgotten.

 

Third, the vanity of work and wealth.

†† He heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

The anecdotes and proverbs about the vanity of wealth are too numerous to count.

†† Thereís the one about the man who said:

†† If I canít take it with me, then I just wonít go.

But we all go, and then little we have accumulated goes to others.

†† How strange that people would build lives on something so insubstantial.

Up to this point, David has not said anything distinctively Christian.

 

All the great world religions would more or less agree with him.

†† All the great thinkers and poets say the same thing.

All thinking people, Christian and non-Christian agree life passes quickly.

†† They agree the brevity of life makes building your life on passing things

†† foolish and empty.

But the real question is:What are you going to do with ?

†† There are two pagan responses.

 

One is to become cynical.Life stinks and then you die.

†† Nothing delights and pleases you.The world becomes gray and dull.

†† There is no incentive to go on striving and building.

That seems to be the direction toward which David was tempted

†† during this difficult season of his life.

†† There is a bit of cynicism in him early in this Psalm.

The other pagan response is to party.

†† Letís eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.

†† Dull the uncomfortable thoughts of the brevity of life.

 

David presents us with a third way.

After this powerful poetic presentation lifeís brevity and vanity, David says:

†† But now, O Lord, what do I look for?

Thatís the third way:

†† You have to look for something in the brevity of life.

What is it?What are you looking for?

†† You are looking for Godís grace.

†† David says, My hope is in you.

 

That brings us to our second point.

 

 

 


 

MP#2You must look for Godís grace in lifeís brevity.

Verse 7 is the turning point.

From this point on in the Psalm, David begins to look at the whole matter

†† of the brevity of life from a different perspective.††

You canít say heís cheerful.This isnít a cheerful Psalm.

†† But heís hopeful.He is able to say:Lord, my hope is in you.

†† His hope comes from being able to see Godís grace in lifeís brevity.

 

Where did David see Godís grace?Iím going to show you, but be prepared.

†† This is strong stuff. This is not a Hallmark card with a feel-good poem.

†† This is not a pat on the arm and someone telling you to just be happy in the Lord.

The grace of God in this Psalm is going to feel like a kick in the pants for

†† those of you who have said at times:Life stinks.

I know there are some of you who have said that.Iíve heard you.

†† Well, guess what.David has a message of Godís grace to you.

 

Here it is.It comes in two parts.

Your life is brief because God knows his discipline hurts.

†† As a believer, you not only have to deal with all the sorrows and pains of life

†† in a fallen world, you have the added pain of Godís discipline for your sins.

Tim Keller once put it this way:

Before you become a Christian you are at peace with yourself and at war with God.

After you become a Christian, you are at peace with God and at war with yourself.

†† And which one is harder?

 

David makes the case that itís the latter.

There are times when Godís discipline makes your life feel especially hard.

He says:

†† You have done this to me.This is your scourge.

†† This is the blow of your hand.You consume my wealth like a moth.

†† You rebuke and discipline for sin.

All the things that make David look at his life and shake his head are from the Lord.

 

But those the Lord loves, he disciplines.

†† He is not content to leave you blind to your sin, he is putting you through

†† a refinerís fire to prepare you for something better.

And the grace is that the Lord knows his discipline hurts.

†† He knows it makes life in this old fallen word of sin especially hard.

†† And heís not going to leave you in this forever.

That brings us to the other expression of Godís grace.

†† Your life is brief because this world, as it is now, is not your home.

And the Lord, in his goodness wants you to know that, and not sink your

†† roots down here and put your hopes in the things of this life that are going

†† to fail you in the end.

David says that all this reflection on the brevity of life and the vanity of life

†† makes him feel like he doesnít belong here.††

†† For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger as all my fathers were.

 

In India, people eat with their hands.

The two times Iíve been to India for mission trips, I tried to have an open mind.

†† I tried to follow the custom and be polite.I ate with my hands.

†† But it never felt right.

And every once in a while, I would look at someoneís plate and see him

†† pushing around some rice and beans into a sticky glob to put in his mouth

†† and I would gag a little bit and lose my appetite.

Why did the eating custom of one billion people feel strange to me?

†† Because I was an alien and a stranger in that world.

 

David is saying:Thatís how I feel about life here in this world of sin.

†† Iím an alien and stranger.

I see people all around me living as if they were never going to die,

†† not a care in the world about death and judgment.

I see people all around me devoting the hours and days of their lives to vanity.

†† Chasing after rewards and honors,

†† consumed by their fears and griefs,

†† piling up money and wealth and possessions and I donít get it.

They are going to die and it will all blow away like the wind.

†† I feel out of place in this fallen world.There must be more to life.

 

And there is.There is a better country.There is the heavenly Promised Land.

†† There are the mansions Christ is preparing for us,

†† and the new Jerusalem in a glorified and new creation.

And the Lord sometimes uses the painful knowledge of the brevity

†† of life to wean us from this world and whet our appetites for the world to come.

 

So itís Godís grace that you sometimes feel that life stinks.

†† Because he doesnít want you to fall in love with this passing world,

†† but to put your hopes in that which he has for you.

So thatís Davidís answer.Godís grace is present in the brevity of life.

†† Those he loves he disciplines, but he knows that makes life hard, so has mercy.

†† And he wants you to know you are a stranger and alien and a better home awaits.

But look at the very last verse.

†† You expect David to take this strong medicine and buck up

†† and be a good, Christian, get his spiritual mojo back.

 

Instead he says this to the Lord:

Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.

I think what David is saying is that he knows this is true,

†† but itís too much for him, itís too heavy to handle.

†† What do we make of this ending to the Psalm?

 

Corrie ten Boom tells a story in The Hiding Place

†† about a conversation with her father when she was a little girl.

You remember the ten Boom family were Dutch Christians who

†† hid Jews from the Nazis in their home.

They were eventually arrested and sent to concentration camps where

†† they all died except for Corrie.

 

But once when she was a little girl, she heard something and was curious

†† and asked her father:What is sexual sin?

He didnít answer but said, bring me my briefcase.

†† He had a watch repair shop and his briefcase full of watch parts.

†† Corrie tried dragging it over but she said, This is too heavy for me.

Father said, Youíre right.Some things are too heavy for children.

†† When you are older, I will answer your question.Until then, let me carry it.

 

Corrie remembered that conversation while she was in the concentration camp.

†† There were terrible things she saw that she could not bear.

††† Why did I live when all the others died?How can there be this evil in world?

She realized that she would have to let her heavenly Father carry it.

 

Thatís true of us today.Like David.Like Corrie ten Boom.

†† There are many things canít bear.

†† And in the middle of it all you want to say, Life stinks.

But donít stop there.Let that frustration turn into trust and hope,

†† and look to the gracious and of a saving God to carry the weight for you.

 

Isnít that the good news of the cross?

There was a burden we could not carry.

†† Not just the burden of your sin and rebellion,

†† but the very brokenness of this world, the brevity and vanity of life.

Think of that.The Son of God left that perfect world at his Fatherís side,

†† to come into this broken world of shadows, mist and vanity

Jesus came and bore that burden on the cross, so that you donít have to.

 

Thatís the Gospel.

Itís the same Gospel that comes to you in your weakness and struggle.

†† When you canít handle it, can trust the Lord to take that weight

†† and handle it for you.