“LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am…. My age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but a vapor” (Psalm 39:4,5)
For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return. (Job 16:22 ESV)
Lately I’ve been thinking about the brevity of life. I’ve been brought face-to-face with the reality of death. I’ve watched men who were once strong and the epitome of vitality and human life come to the point of physical, emotional, and mental weakness. And I realize that I too am quickly going that same way. And life for me has become a time to prepare for death…and for the eternity to follow.
I cannot help but to think back to a few men whose lives were snuffed out so quickly as they sought to take the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ to some unreached tribal people in Ecuador. One of those men was Jim Elliot who before his death wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot loose.” It wasn’t long ago that “The Chet Bitterman” story was brought to life during Missions Emphasis week at our church. He was a Wycliffe missionary to Columbia, South America who was abducted by government rebels, held hostage, and killed. Chet left behind a wife and two young children. Yet in his personal journal we find these words,
The Apostle Paul, being imprisoned, beaten, stoned, dragged through cities by mobs of people, and banned from others penned these great words, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
In Psalm 39:4,5 the Psalmist prays a familiar prayer, “make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days.” (cf. Job 6:11; 7:7; 14:13; Psalm 90:12; Eccl. 2:3) The Psalmist requests something that we must all come to understand, embrace, and experience. Chet Bitterman, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and many who’ve gone on before us have all come to the point of understanding the frailty and brevity of life, embracing the sovereignty of God, and experiencing the joy of living in submission to Him.
As you look at these verses you see immediately that all begins with the Lord God. Why does the Psalmist pray “make me to know my end”? He prays that way because God ALREADY KNOWS HIS END. In fact, just as God has decreed the beginning of every man He has also decreed his end (Deut. 8:3; Psalm 23:4; 37:23; 48:14; 116:15; Prov. 14:32; Rev. 14:13).
He also prays to know the measure of his days. That is not a request to know how long he would have on the earth but a request that he might remember that his days are short. In the very next phrase he reveals that he knows what the measure of his days is—a handbreadth. That is the smallest measuring unit of the ancient times—in other words, it is symbolic rather than literal. The handbreadth is approximately just less than 3 inches. It is used here in a figurative manner. Man’s life is not 3 inches long, obviously. He is speaking of the frailty and brevity of life—it is as small in comparison with God as we can possibly think. That is the Biblical truth that is sounded forth in many passages of Scripture. That is the Biblical truth that so many others have come to understand.
My question is why are there so many more who have failed to embrace this truth? Why is it that so few have embraced the sovereignty of God—the absolute control of God—over the affairs of this life? By embracing God’s sovereignty, I am referring to the kind of attitude that allowed Joseph to say, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). Or as Paul wrote, “But we know that [God works all things together] for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). That is a full-fledged embrace of God’s sovereignty. It is not a passive resignation, to be sure. It is an embracing of the truth that we have come to understand. We know that our life is frail and brief. We know that this life is not eternal, neither is it the end. We also know that we don’t know everything but that He does. So we embrace His loving and compassionate control, we embrace His goodness and glory, and we embrace His holiness and righteousness.
Such understanding and embracing leads to the wonderful experience of joy—true joy in the presence of God. The truly joyful Christian is one who has come to grips with the frailty and brevity of this life, and embraced the sovereignty of God over the affairs of this life. When commanding his readers to rejoice Paul said that they were to find their joy in the Lord (Phil. 4:4). Nehemiah reminded his people that the joy of the Lord is their strength (Neh. 8:8). And we must not forget the teaching of our Lord when he taught His parable of the talents. Remember his reply and reward to the faithful servants? “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).
I await to hear those words…do you?