Psalms: An Exile's Prayer Book | The Fragility of Life and the Hope of Eternity | Psalm 39 | John Lee

Psalms: An Exile's Prayer Book  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:29
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Good morning! My name is John and I serve Mission Church as one of the pastors. I'm thankful to be with you this morning and I'm honored to continue our sermon series through the book of Psalms.... a series that we have entitled, “An Exile’s Prayer Book.”
If you would...please grab your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Psalm 39. When you get there and if you are able to....I would like to invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Psalm 39 (CSB)
For the choir director, for Jeduthun. A psalm of David.
1 I said, “I will guard my ways
so that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was speechless and quiet;
I kept silent, even from speaking good,
and my pain intensified.
3 My heart grew hot within me;
as I mused, a fire burned.
I spoke with my tongue:
4Lord, make me aware of my end
and the number of my days
so that I will know how short-lived I am.
5 In fact, you have made my days just inches long,
and my life span is as nothing to you.
Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor.
Selah
6 Yes, a person goes about like a mere shadow.
Indeed, they rush around in vain,
gathering possessions
without knowing who will get them.
7 “Now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you.
8 Rescue me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the taunt of fools.
9 I am speechless; I do not open my mouth
because of what you have done.
10 Remove your torment from me.
Because of the force of your hand I am finished.
11 You discipline a person with punishment for iniquity,
consuming like a moth what is precious to him;
yes, every human being is only a vapor.
Selah
12 “Hear my prayer, Lord,
and listen to my cry for help;
do not be silent at my tears.
For I am here with you as an alien,
a temporary resident like all my ancestors.
13 Turn your angry gaze from me
so that I may be cheered up
before I die and am gone.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Let’s Pray
Last Sunday I began my sermon on Psalm 38 by declaring the ever present truth that..... “Life is Hard,”....and…well…let’s be honest.....not much has changed in a week......Life continues to provide unideal situations, pain, difficulties, and burdens that are....at times…too heavy to bear.
Trails are inevitable. In fact....one of the most relatable and common experiences across the history of human existence is the presence of suffering. Life is filled with its ups and downs....the truth is.... no one can completely escape facing challenges....or hardships....or seasons of trials. Whether it's a personal struggle, loss, illness, or death......suffering is something that everyone.....from all walks of life .....can relate to and understand on some level.
And…you never know when that season of trial or suffering is going to hit....and the realization that life can change unexpectedly prompts us to reflect on the fragility and transitory nature of our existence....in other words .....suffering has a way of shaping our perspective and making us mindful of how fleeting this life is.
The older I get the faster the time goes. We can’t escape it....this life is fleeting and time seems to be mocking us. And....ultimately…the brevity of life and the reality of suffering... prompts a deeper existential contemplation.... questions regarding the point.... the purpose …and the meaning of life flood my mind… such as...How can we find hope when suffering, difficulties, and trials have left us desperate and despondent? How can we find meaning as the brevity and the fragility of our existence becomes more and more apparent, and life appears meaningless?
Psalm 39 is a Psalm of Lament.....at first sight…this Psalm may seem discouraging and even depressing....but......if we can be honest with ourselves and honest with God......Psalm 39 can refresh and hydrate our dusty souls. The truth is…the Modern American Church doesn’t often allow room to express how we truly feel....but …the Psalms are written by people who deeply knew and loved God…and they remind us that we are not alone in our pain. And in Psalm 39, God has provided us with a song to sing when our hearts feel heavy and the words to pray when our life appears meaningless. And as we do we will see that ......because of what God has done through Christ.......we can find eternal hope as we humbly and confidently confess our sins, trust in the Lord's wisdom and guidance, and rest in His steadfast love and grace.
Let’s seek to understand Psalm 39 by looking at it in four movements:
1. A Silent Burden (verses 1-3)
2. A Vapor in the Wind (verses 4-6)
3. An Unshakable Hope (verses 7-11)
4. A Divine Horizon (verses 12-13)
1. A Silent Burden (verses 1-3)
Psalm 39 is a continuation of what David was experiencing in Psalm 38. David is suffering because of his sin…he’s experiencing the corrective discipline of the Lord.
Now.....Corrective discipline is a result of our continued rebellion toward the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. This kind of discipline is not just the natural consequences of sin.....rather... corrective discipline is God intentionally disciplining us because of our continued rebellion......so that …we might turn from our sin. In other words.....God causes pain and suffering in your life so that you would stop sinning and return back to Him.
The corrective discipline of the Lord is loving but it is painful nonetheless......and not only is David experiencing an internal and external anguish but also his words give way to a rising sense of discouragement and anger. As you can imagine....David is struggling....He’s wrestling and asking God questions.....he is doing what all of us do when the burdens and the storms of life seem unrelenting..... his mind is spinning…his soul is parched…and his heart is heavy.....yet....despite all of this…David is a man after God’s own heart and he longs to remain faithful. Look at v1
Psalm 39:1 (CSB)
1 I said, “I will guard my ways
so that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”
One of the most difficult things to do is to hold your tongue…to watch what you say and to remain silent....especially if someone is accusing you…misrepresenting you…or lying about you....its hard not to speak up and set the record straight....and although there are times when we should speak up ....the truth is.....our tongues are hard to control.
I am reminded of
James 3:8 (CSB)
8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
David ....knowing how dangerous words can be ...... he bit his tongue because he did not want to sin. Remember....David is already suffering for his sin…yet…even as God was punishing him…David still wanted to please God and pursue holiness.
I don’t know about you ....but when I am in sinking in the quick sand of life…when I am suffering as a result of God’s discipline....I am tempted to get angry…to be frustrated with God. Instead of trusting God....doubt begins to creep into my mind and I question God.... “God, do you still love me? Have you turned your back on me?”
And let’s be honest......oftentimes…as a result of our doubt.....frustration…and anger…rather than pursuing obedience....we fall deeper into sin. The truth is....God is discipling us to makes us holy…but sometimes....we harden our hearts and sin even more. But…Brothers and Sisters....one of the signs of Christian maturity is that you desire to please God even when life is difficult....a sign of a true believer is found in your resolve to worship God through your tears and to believe that whatever God is doing ....that He is doing it for your good and because he loves you.
David was resolved…he was determined not to sin with his words....you see....David’s mind is racing…his frustration is increasing....and doubt is overwhelming him.....and he knows that .....if he’s not careful…he’s going to say something that.....he’s either going to regret..... or even worse....he’s afraid that if he opens his mouth and vents…he’s going to cause an unbeliever to question God’s goodness.
But…David…his heart is overflowing with discouragement....his spirit is beat down with guilt and shame....he’s exhausted…he’s trying his best to keep quiet....but his heart has swelled with questions and his emotions have built up pressure like a volcano. look at verses 2-3
Psalm 39:2–3a (CSB)
2 I was speechless and quiet;
I kept silent, even from speaking good,
and my pain intensified.
3 My heart grew hot within me;
as I mused, a fire burned....
Like a kettle on a stove that has reached it’s boiling point..... David’s whistle finally blows.....He couldn’t take it any longer…the pressure kept building and building...he tried to bury his pain...... but....it didn’t work.....and let’s be honest....it never does.
Brothers and sisters....stuffing your pain deep down inside of you will only lead to a bitterness that will eventually serve as a wrecking ball....destroying you and everyone around you.........if we're not careful....we can express our frustrations in hurtful and sinful ways. You see.. If we stuff our frustrations…we will eventually explode...... but....if we aren’t careful with our words we are in danger of spewing poison.....So ....what do we do? Well look back at v 3 and 4
Psalm 39:3–4 (CSB)
3 My heart grew hot within me;
as I mused, a fire burned.
I spoke with my tongue:
4Lord, make me aware of my end
and the number of my days
so that I will know how short-lived I am.
David....he finally opens his mouth and expresses his pain and suffering …and who does he cry out to? The Lord.... He didn’t argue with the wicked…he didn’t fight against those who were mocking him....he didn't post a passive aggressive post on social media....or gossip with his friends....No! ....He simply anchored his heart to the Lord
I love what Charles Spurgeon says abut this verse. He says,
“It is well that the vent of his soul was Godward and not towards man. Oh! if my swelling heart must speak, Lord let it speak with thee.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, n.d.), 1:215.)
I don’t know about you... but.....I have often wish that I could take back things that I have said to others......but I have never wanted to take back a prayer. I have never regretted asking God for help.....I have never regretted pouring out my soul to the Lord.... and this morning I want to invite you to do the same thing.
But....let’s be real...... how often is the Lord the first one we go to with our pain?
Friend....wether you are experiencing the discipline of the Lord....the natural consequences of your sin....or just the difficulty of living in this broken world.... This morning...God is inviting you to sit at His feet and to share with him your pain....your emotions…your frustration…and yes....even your anger. He already knows…and He has even provided you the words to pray in these Psalms of Lament.
Brothers and Sisters.....God is not surprised or upset by your honesty.....and if and when you are faithful to bring your pain to Him…He will use it to give you a new perspective....which leads us to Movement #2
2. A Vapor in the Wind (verses 4-6)
So.....David.....as a result of his sin.....he's in pain and he’s frustrated! He doesn’t complain or blame God…rather he honors God by being silent ....he doesn’t want to say something that will lead him to sin or lead an unbeliever to turn away from God....but...... he can only stay silent for so long.....so... .he turns to the only one who can help him....the Lord Himself and in this moment of hopelessness......what does he pray? look at verse 4
Psalm 39:4 (CSB)
4Lord, make me aware of my end
and the number of my days
so that I will know how short-lived I am.
David is crying out to God for a new perspective on life…you see....David wants to know how short his life is …Why? That seems like a morbid request…doesn’t it!? But David knows that with the right perspective he can more faithfully endure his pain and suffering. Think about it....when you know that you’re hardship is temporary its much easier to endure.
We, too, can confidently join David in praying this prayer, knowing that by God's grace, He will grant us a similar perspective. Through this prayer, we can come to recognize the brevity of our days, for as Christians, our ultimate hope is not found in a life of ease…No!!! our hope extends beyond whatever sorrows we may encounter..... and reaches into the realm of eternity…for it is a hope that lies beyond the grave.
I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)
16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Now.....this is a tough concept…for …at first reading…it’s easy to believe that David in Psalm 39…or Paul in 2 Corinthians are making light of our pain.
Think about it.........A freak car accident that takes a child’s life. Stomach cancer in a young father of three. Or…the daily…accumulated pinpricks of this world.....the haunting memories of a hurtful past…the indulgence of sin and the fresh shame that follows.....marital strife…broken friendships…anxiety…depression....or the loss of a loved one. How could anyone say that these burdens are light?
But understand.....the Bible is not making light of your pain…in and of themselves your burdens are not light. David....Paul....and especially our Lord Jesus Christ knew what it was to feel pain and to suffer…but in comparison to the eternal weight of glory …the burdens of this world are light for they are only temporary…they are fleeting.
And so…in verse 5 of Psalm 39......David is begging God to crush his momentary pain under the weight of the Lord’s eternal glory......in other words....David is longing to experience relief from his burdens.... so he pleads with God to make him aware of how fleeting…how temporary his pain is .... ...Look verse 5.
Psalm 39:5–6 (CSB)
5 In fact, you have made my days just inches long,
and my life span is as nothing to you.
Yes, every human being stands as only a vapor.
Selah
6 Yes, a person goes about like a mere shadow.
Indeed, they rush around in vain,
gathering possessions
without knowing who will get them.
Underline or make note of the word “vapor.” It speaks to the futility and the fleeting nature of life. And it’s the same word that David’s son, Solomon, would later use 38 times in the book Ecclesiastes! It’s the word הֶ֫בֶל Heb(v)el....which means breathe.....in Ecclesiastes its translated as futile…consider Ecclesiastes 1:2.
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (CSB)
2 “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.
“Absolute futility. Everything is futile.”
Some translations use the word vanity or meaningless …but it’s the same exact word that David is using here in Psalm 39.....and Solomon…he knew from personal experience .....and probably from singing Psalm 39 with his dad...... that the things of this world are fleeting. The more he tried to grab on to them, the more he found them futile and meaningless.
I am reminded of Sequoia National Forest …if you drive six hours into California you can see the biggest trees in world and they are absolutely impressive!!! The oldest tree in the forest is 3500 years old and stands 280 feet tall. Its trunk is 155 feet around and it has branches that are 12 feet in diameter…that’s not the tree....just a branch!! I am 6 foot 3…usually I am one of the tallest guys in a room....but even if I stretched out my full height with my arms in the air I would look like a infant at the base of a sequoia.
Last weekend I met a woman who is 100 years old! Which is impressive…yet her days are nothing compared to the days of our eternal God! We can eat vegan....take our vitamins…do Cross-fit…and even drive a Subaru but in spite of our best efforts our lives are fleeting…they’re brief....they are a flicker of a candle compared to the sun. Our days are but a couple of inches before the Lord and this world is as solid and lasting as a soap bubble. friends.....We are but vapors in the wind.
Now..... I don’t know about you....but at this point in the text....Im feeling pretty beat down and even a bit depressed! I mean....if life is fleeting....does anything matter? Is there a purpose to all of this? Is there any hope to be found?
Well...…the good news is ....as we sail through the fog in this storm we call life....there is an unshakable hope that we can hold onto. Which leads us to movement #3
3. An Unshakable Hope (Verses 7-11)
David has reached the end of himself....he has a newfound and divine perspective…he sees clearly now that this life is short and everything we work so hard for will not last....and everything we let get us down is only temporary.....and what would seem like a hopeless situation is exactly what provides hope to the one who’s foundation is the Lord. You see....David removes his sight from the smallness of humanity to see the grandeur of God.
Look at v7
Psalm 39:7 (CSB)
7 “Now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you.
David is at a turning point. …he silently endured the Lord’s discipline until a burning anguish compelled him to cry out to the Lord, “God …What am I waiting for?!?” …but before he allows God to answer to him.....he quickly answers himself...and says, “My hope is in You Lord.” In other words.... “I am going to patiently endure this storm…because I know that the one behind this storm is my salvation.”
David knows. that he has no other choice but to wait and to hope in the Lord because there is no other deliver from God’s discipline than God himself. Brothers and Sisters…you and I are but shadows......but God …HE is the substance. … we are created creatures… but God…He is the uncreated creator.... Friends…there is nothing solid in this soap bubble of a world for us to hope in or hold onto.....but the good news is.....God is a solid rock…He is a firm foundation for everyone who turns from their sins and trusts in Him.
Tell me…what are you hoping in? Where are you looking to.....to find meaning and purpose for your life?
Are you looking to your career? to family? to financial stability? How’s that working for you?
The truth is .....the more you try to grab a hold of these things... the more they’re like sand slipping through your fingers…they are shadows you will never be able grab a hold of.........the purpose they promise to provide is fleeting....it does not and it will not last…because …well.......it was never meant to sustain you....or save you…or provide your life with meaning for they are but shadows.
But friends…The Lord is the greater reality behind the shadows....He is the solid foundation for you to stand on when your life seems like a vapor. All other ground is sinking sand ....but the good news …is that there is a solid hope found in Jesus.....who delivers us from this life of grasping for shadows.
It's only when you see the truth of your brokenness and your sinfulness that you are awakened to the reality of an eternity without Jesus…and when you see Jesus…who took upon himself your sin and your brokenness so that you might have his perfection…his righteousness....and then turn by faith and ask him to save you....and to not only save you from sin, death, and hell....but to save you from a meaningless existence....and to open your eyes to the true meaning of life. Which is.....The Lord Himself. Friends…Jesus is the point....there truly is no meaning…no purpose apart from Him.
So David…he realizes that apart from the LORD…he is without hope…so …he turns to God for mercy and forgiveness. Look at verses 8-11
Psalm 39:8–11 (CSB)
8 Rescue me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the taunt of fools.
9 I am speechless; I do not open my mouth
because of what you have done.
10 Remove your torment from me.
Because of the force of your hand I am finished.
11 You discipline a person with punishment for iniquity,
consuming like a moth what is precious to him;
yes, every human being is only a vapor.
Selah
David’s suffering and torment serves as a foreshadow of Christ.....who willingly united Himself with us....taking on our sins and becoming sin for us...... And although Jesus had no sin of His own for God to punish .....He willingly suffered for our sake.
Jesus was clear about HIs purpose in Mark 10:45.
Mark 10:45 (CSB)
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And Psalm 39 provides context and reveals truly how hard it was for Jesus to remain silent as he carried our sin. Despite the excruciating pain....Jesus did not lash out or curse the men who were falsely accusing Him....He didn’t fight against the soldiers who were whipping him and driving the nails through His hands and feet. In fact…he cried out, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And as he hung on the cross…he didn’t yell at the onlookers.. “You better appreciate what I am doing for you!” NO! His love for us endured as He bit his tongue and suffered in silence.
David…in verses 8-11...…he's begging God to relent....He's being honest about his sin....he isn’t trying to hide or make excuses…he is simply laying himself before the mercy of God and asking God to lift His heavy hand of judgement and rescue him from his sin...Why?....Well....because…he knew that there’s no other refuge.....there’s no where else to run ....no where else to go but to God Himself.
Perhaps…like David....you too are feeling the weight of God’s discipline this morning? Maybe you feel like God has cut you to the quick by taking away the things you love? Like a moth he has consumed what you hold dear. Is it possible that the pain you feel is God burning idols in your life? Maybe....just maybe....God…in his grace is calling you to stop grasping for shadows so that you can find meaning in Him.
This morning ....you are faced with a choice.....you can harden your heart…you can turn your back on God and get angry at him....or you can humble yourself....confess your sin....and ask Him for forgiveness. Like David…you can come to him…humbly....as a servant and proclaim.... "Lord, what am I waiting for? My hope is in You. Please rescue me from all my sin.”
If you do......you can be sure that He will forgive you.
1 John 1:9 (CSB)
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Friend…Jesus died for sinners like us..... God punished Jesus for our sins! Consider Isaiah 53:5.
Isaiah 53:5 (CSB)
5 But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on him,
and we are healed by his wounds.
Friend.....If you sense God's judgment upon your sins this morning....I plead with you.... do not delay. Turn to Him .... for His mercy knows no bounds.....and He stands ready to forgive you....to restore you…and to save you from a meaningless existence as he opens your eyes to the true meaning of life and to a real gospel hope that is rooted and grounded in a relationship with Him…a relationship that will allow you to see past the this temporary life to the next one....in fact you’ll not only be able to see it but you will be equipped with an unshakable hope and joy!
This leads us now to the fourth and final movement in Psalm 39.
4. A Divine Horizon (verses 12-13)
Psalm 39:12–13 (CSB)
12 “Hear my prayer, Lord,
and listen to my cry for help;
do not be silent at my tears.
For I am here with you as an alien,
a temporary resident like all my ancestors.
13 Turn your angry gaze from me
so that I may be cheered up
before I die and am gone.”
These final two verses speak to the truth that David still feels pain. There is still sorrow in his heart. There are still tears in his eyes because even with solid gospel hope......sometimes life in this broken world is just hard.
And maybe ....like David…you have have repented of your sin....you have found hope and joy in the good news of gospel hope…but your eyes are still welling up with tears as a result of life in this broken world. Hear me this morning..... Your pain and your suffering is temporary…it may seem like this season of suffering is unending…but friend…this world is not your home.... we are but temporary residents....sojourners passing through. We don’t belong here. We are simply passing through. I know that it feels painful right now.....but in light of eternity…this is just a moment…a blip on the radar....this life is just a short stay in a foreign land…but friend…we can hold onto hope for just ahead....out there on the divine horizon…we can see that we are almost home.
And while we look toward the divine horizon.....God gives us the grace to find joy today.... God gives the gift of a meal with a friend .....vacation with your family........a hike in the mountains…blue skies…a good drink…and a great steak...... beautiful art and a moving piece of music....a joke that makes us laugh and smile....and these gifts…these small joys are just a shadow of the real substance....for there will be a day when we will experience the fullness of joy for all eternity. But until them …we keep our eyes on Jesus......we hold onto hope ....we lift our hands to heaven …and we enjoy every beautiful moment of this life as a little glimpse of the joy that awaits those of us who trust in Christ.
Lets Pray.
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