Psalm 39: Life is Short. Is Our Obsession with Success Futile?

Psalm 39: Life is Short. Is Our Obsession with Success Futile?

Today’s title has 2 truths. First, life is short. Second, we are obsessed with success. It’s part of our culture. What’s more, we keep asking, “What’s it all for? What’s the point to all our busyness?” We try to uncover the meaning of life. King David grappled with this in our next psalm. Let’s dig in…

Psalm 39

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.

I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
    and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
    when the ungodly are around me.”
But as I stood there in silence—
    not even speaking of good things—
    the turmoil within me grew worse.
The more I thought about it,
    the hotter I got,
    igniting a fire of words:
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude

We are merely moving shadows,
    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
    not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
    My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
    Do not let fools mock me.
I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
    for my punishment is from you.
10 But please stop striking me!
    I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
11 When you discipline us for our sins,
    you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
    Each of us is but a breath. Interlude

12 Hear my prayer, O Lord!
    Listen to my cries for help!
    Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
    a traveler passing through,
    as my ancestors were before me.
13 Leave me alone so I can smile again
    before I am gone and exist no more.

Psalm 39 NLT

Points to Ponder

  • Jeduthan was a Levite in charge of Temple worship. His name actually means “praise”.
  • The key to righteous Christian living is to watch what you do and hold your tongue to avoid sinning. It’s best to keep quiet than to stir up trouble. That’s great advice for today’s social media world where we are tempted to voice our opinions no matter who we hurt. Obviously, the old adage goes, “If you don’t have anything positive or constructive to say, keep your opinions to yourself.”
  • The problem with keeping your mouth shut or your opinions to yourself is they get bottled up and the pressure builds up. Eventually, like a volcano, there’s an eruption. We all need to vent our frustrations. Undoubtedly, the psalms teach us that we can blow off steam by simple prayer. God is always ready to listen — 24/7.
  • Next, David reflects on the brevity of life. Notice the word “Interlude” or in other translations, “Selah”. This means to stop and ponder what you’ve just read or heard.

“The greatest surprise in my life has been its brevity.”

Billy Graham, who lived to be 99 years old.

The Futility of Life

Interestingly enough, it was David’s son, Solomon who penned the Book of Ecclesiastes. He must have read Psalm 39 to get his perspective. In this book, Solomon states that it’s all meaningless…

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT
  • Most people waste away their time on earth on stuff that really doesn’t matter.
  • You get up, go to work, make money, to feed yourself so you can go back to work, make more money, throw in a vacation or two and that’s life. Every person rushes around for nothing. Heaping up wealth “not knowing who will spend it.”
  • Then, David asks the question, “Where do I put my hope?” Subsequently, he answers his own question, “My only hope is in you.”
  • God sometimes has to smack us upside the head to get our attention. Consequently, when we rebel, God has to rescue us. Most of the time, He has to save us from ourselves. At least, that was the case in my life.
  • In the end, David cries out to God, “Don’t ignore me!”
  • He then acknowledges that he was just a traveler passing through. That’s what we are, sojourners just minding our time on earth until Jesus comes back to get His born-again believers. Therefore, we must always remember that this world is NOT our home! We are citizens of Heaven!
  • The last verse is a little puzzling. “Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more.” NLT
    • The NKJV says, “Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more.”
    • The KJV says, “O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.”
    • Is David saying to God to leave him alone so he can regain his strength before he dies?

The folks at Spoken Gospel, as always, have a great explanation…

As it stands, David feels alienated and estranged from God (Psalm 39:12). God’s disciplinary attention is too much for him, and his final prayer asks God to turn his face away before he dies (Psalm 39:13).  

Where is the Gospel?

In David’s mind the experience of meaninglessness in our efforts and the shortness of our lives is God’s rebuke of our sin (Psalm 39:10-11). If you’ve ever thought, “What’s the point of all this?” you know what David experienced. We all have moments when we feel our efforts don’t matter and our life has been wasted. In those moments we’re experiencing the consequences of a life without God. 

This psalm invites us to break our silence and call out to God to save us (Psalm 39:8-9). And when we call out to God to save us from meaninglessness and our approaching death, Jesus answers by going to battle against both.

On the cross Jesus was overwhelmed by futility and death (Psalm 39:10). What’s more meaningless than the innocent God of Life dying for sins of guilty people? The answer is nothing. Nothing is more meaningless than that. The Apostle Paul says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we’re the most pitiful people on the planet (1 Corinthians 15:19). 

But Jesus did rise. And when he rose from death and the meaninglessness of his tomb, he was just the first (1 Corinthians 15:20). Everyone who believes in Jesus now lives forever—confident that none of their efforts are wasted, but are eternally meaningful. Everyone who trusts in Jesus’ resurrection can be comforted because their lives will not be short but last forever. 

Spoken Gospel

How to Pray Psalm 39

The way to pray the psalms is to take a journal or piece of paper and write it out in your own words. Like this…

Almighty God, I don’t want to sin by what I post online, please give me the self-control that I need and the discernment to not speak what’s bad, but only speak to what is good and give you the Glory. Help me to unleash my thoughts and vent my frustrations, to you, Lord.

I know you watch over me, I cannot hide from your gaze. Hear my prayer and my cries for help.

I know that our lives here on earth are brief. At any moment, You can return for us or call me home. I am ready. Thank You for giving me eternal life. Though my life here in this world is short, eternity awaits me with You. Thank you for Your Shalom, in Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Paraphrase on Psalm 39 by Giselle Aguiar

Are you ready?

If you’re not sure if you’re saved or not, if you truly want to be born again and have the assurance of salvation, receive the Holy Spirit, feel His Shalom — a peace that surpasses all understanding, and get a 1-way, non-stop ticket to Heaven after you die, or that you won’t be left behind at the Rapture, which can happen at any moment, this is what you have to do…

Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.

  • Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
  • Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180-degree turn in your life and surrender your life to Him. When you ask Jesus to forgive you He will. ALL your sins will be wiped clean — past, present, and future! And All means ALL!
  • Be Baptized by water baptism — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
  • Receive the gift of Holy Spirit in your heart.

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace, Joy, Peace, and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

King of Kings

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone Be The Glory!

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