One of the great privileges of having Scripture is that we get to enter into the prayer life of King David. We get to hear, from his heart, the struggles and pain and joys he experienced. It’s sometimes raw and emotional, sometimes poetic, but always honest. As we read the Psalms we can often link his petitions to events that are recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel and elsewhere.
For instance, Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God after having been confronted by Nathan about his relationship with Bathsheba. David pleads for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.
Similarly, back in Psalm 39, David is praying to God after losing the son that he had sinfully conceived with Bathsheba. It is in the midst of this pain and sorrow that we hear these words in verse 4, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am.”
It seems that this tragedy in his life, the death of his son, was making David contemplate his own death. Not in some suicidal way but in a way that brings humility and trust in God. Much of David’s problems arose out of pride. Pride in being king, thinking that he was untouchable. Thinking that he would not get caught. Thinking that he was above the commands of God. Now David asks God to remind him of the shortness of life, his in particular.
This is a needed reminder for us. With doctors, diets, and drugs we are tempted to believe that we control the longevity of our lives. And, when we truly begin to believe this, it causes us to live with pride and laziness. No longer is the mission of God in our lives urgent. We become lazy with the command to go and make disciples, whether in our own homes, in our city or around the world.
There is nothing like a tragedy of death to remind us of the brevity of life. God often uses the death of those around us to teach us that. But he has also given us Scripture. He has given us the words of David so that maybe we will pray, “let me know how fleeting I am.” David says our life is a mere shadow, a breath.
Those words are humbling. They are pride-killing. They help us fight our laziness for the mission of God. As we are humbled and reminded of the shortness of life, may we be filled with an urgency to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.