“Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
“But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.”
I need deadlines. It’s easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter, but if my employer or a client has given me a hard date to complete something, I find that it’s easier to manage my time. Time is a funny thing; it speeds by when you don’t have a set goal to focus on. When you can see the end of things, it’s easier to make sure you’re not wasting time in the present. I don’t think any of us have watching thousands of hours of TV on our bucket lists, but it ends up that way if we don’t have something more important to occupy our attention.
One of the biggest changes in my life, over the last 30 years, is my ability to think about the end of my life. When I was in my early 20s, I couldn’t picture it. I felt like I had all the time in the world, and managed to waste a lot of what I did have. Back then, there were too many years ahead to picture how it would feel when I reached 50, or even worse, 60. The truth is, we don’t want to picture that. It’s troubling, envisioning what our lives will be like when we are old. But now I can picture it, finally, having reached the first of the dreaded milestones.
This is a good thing, because over the last couple of years, something has struck me. I have no more time to waste.
In Psalm 39, David’s prayer is that he would be shown the end of his life and the number of days he had left, so that he would be reminded how little time he has. It seems like a strange thing to ask God for, but it’s a prayer to keep him focused on the goal. Nothing is more important than that goal. The sense that you have all the time in the world is a sure guarantee that you will not spend that time wisely. When we have endless amounts of anything, we tend to waste it. David wants none of that. He wants the time he has left to count.
We live in a culture which is caught up in the moment. We seek the best of what we can get today. We believe it will make us happy. Accumulating wealth is not just the priority of American consumer culture, it has been the principal pursuit of humanity from the beginning. Wealth means comfort and security, in the present. David says all of this is in vain, though, because in the end, you hold on to none of it. It is not a denunciation of wealth, or any other diversion in our lives, such as pleasure or notoriety. It is simply a valuation, from the perspective of the time invested and the end goal. It is a pursuit that, on your final day on earth, will not matter, because the thing you sank your heart into, the thing you spent your days on, will be gone. It’s true of many things we invest our time in. You will have reached the deadline, the final goal, and have nothing to show for it.
David prays to be shown the end of his days so that he doesn’t miss the thing that is important. It is the hope he invests his life in. It is the One he waits for. It is the only thing that will matter, when this life comes to an end.
He waits for his Lord, and for the eternity that lies ahead, together with him. It is his hope. And by “hope” he does not mean he isn’t sure, though that is the way we use that word today. He means the yearning and anticipation of his heart for something that has not yet arrived, but will. He waits for the goal, knowing that he has invested everything in that moment, though the whole world spends their time differently. David was a man who failed horribly, but he was also a man who received God’s mercy and turned his heart toward his Rock and his Savior. I am that man also, by the grace of God. And you, too, are that person, if you do the same.
Pray his prayer. Look at your priorities. Get up off the couch. Invest yourself in the kingdom which lasts forever.