One Man’s Search for Meaning

                                                                       Psalm 39




1.                  At last summer’s commencement exercises at Harding University, Mike Ireland spoke to the graduates about what is worth celebrating.

a.                   He said it’s a question that can’t be answered unless we know something of what truly matters in life--what reshapes lives and lasts forever.

b.                  He made the point like this:

“Let me share a brief picture of your future.  When you die, the office will

close for a few hours for everyone to attend your funeral.  They may even take the

afternoon off.  But when the sun comes up the next day, it will be work as usual.

Somebody will begin doing what you did.

“That is reality.  I don’t say that to depress you, and it doesn’t minimize

your contribution.  It is supposed to help you keep things in perspective.  After all,

if you don’t, how else will you know the kind of difference you want to make?”

(Harding, Fall 2009, 17)


2.                  Psalm 39 is valuable because it is the statement of a man facing reality and wondering about the meaning of his life.

a.                   Some kind of an experience, maybe an illness or a failure, has jarred him into anxious thought over how fragile a man’s life is.

b.                  He has tried to be quiet about it but the questions have only grown more urgent: what if his days were to run out without forewarning?

c.                   Now his poetic prayer puts that longing question into words, and we can learn something about what has to matter in our own lives from it.




1.                  The Question Raised


a.                   Consider some of the phrases that indicate why his “heart became hot within” him.

i.                    “What is the measure of my days” (v. 4)

ii.                  “For what do I wait?” (v. 7)

iii.                “Before I depart and am no more” (v. 13)


b.                  As David mused over these things, he was wrestling with something which is at the heart of the scriptures.

i.                    It is the subject of “the Prayer of Moses, the Man of God” in Psalm 90.

ii.                  It is the topic which is investigated in the great book of Ecclesiastes.

iii.                It is a theme that often comes up in the teaching of Jesus.

(1)               This is behind the “What do I still lack?” of the Rich Young Ruler (Matt. 19:20).

(2)               This is the point of the “This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” to the Rich Fool (Lk. 12:20).


2.                  The Reason Confronted


a.                   When “the fire burned” in the heart of David he prayed, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days.”


b.                  The life of a man is temporary, brief, and uncertain.

i.                    “Let me know how fleeting I am!”  (v. 4)

ii.                  “You have made my days a few handbreadths” (v. 5)

iii.                “My lifetime is as nothing before you” (v. 5)

iv.                “All mankind stands as a mere breath!”  (v. 5)

v.                  “A man goes about as a shadow!”  (v. 6)


c.                   Since this is the nature of our life, none of us can avoid the question of what our life will mean.

i.                    It may arise when we are making life decisions.

ii.                  It begin to dawn on us when our kids start asking, “Why?”

iii.                Maybe it will come up when we get in the middle of life and our own mortality begins to impress itself upon us.

iv.                Who can avoid the question of what his life means when pains and problems press in hard upon him?

v.                  It will certainly have to be faced in the shadow of death and the gloom of grief.


3.                  The Answer Offered


a.                   David was clear about one thing many never see: a man who knows how fleeting he is will not find meaning in anything that is just as fleeting.

i.                    “Surely for nothing they are in turmoil” (v. 6)

ii.                  “Man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (v. 6)

iii.                “You consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath!”  (v. 11)


b.                  “And now, O Lord,” David says, “my hope is in you” (v. 7).  The meaning we are longing for is to be found in three things that are ours in relation to Him.

i.                    Meaning is to be found in his forgiveness.

(1)               “Deliver me from all my transgressions” (v. 8).

(2)               Anyone who recognizes “what is the measure of his days” dreads the thought of dying unforgiven.

(3)               We want to be in right relationship to the One in whom is our hope–and, through Christ, we can be!


ii.                  Meaning is to be found in his judgment.

(1)               “Do not make me the scorn of the fool!” (v. 8)

(2)               To have this plea answered is to rest in the vindication that comes through the righteous judgment of God.

(3)               It is to proceed with the conviction that what is right matters and that the mouths of scoffers will be silenced by the triumph of what they expected to fail.

Meaning is to be found in his providence.

Several phrases indicate the involvement of the Lord in life and willing submission to his rule.

“I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it...Remove your stroke from me...When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin...” (v. 9, 10, 11).

All of this suggests divine purpose; meaning would be impossible apart from purpose.




1.                  In the final two verses of the psalm, David makes use of his own answer: before he departs and is no more, he seeks the Lord’s ear, his voice, and his mercy.

a.                   “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry”

b.                  “Hold not your peace at my tears!”

c.                   “Look away from me”


Such requests may be made when a man can genuinely say of himself, “For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.”

That is the condition God answers in Christ.

Through him, the Father makes us citizens of the kingdom of his beloved Son and qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, so that we may finally be at home with him (cf. Col. 1:12-14).