“The worshiper cries out to God. More than anything, he wants the Lord to hear his prayer and to give His favorable response to it.”
In Luke 18:10, Jesus tells a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray. Prayer is to be a part of worship. Paul wrote to Timothy that the priority for the church in Ephesus was to pray (I Timothy 2:1, 6). In Matthew 6, Jesus indicated that prayer is a key part of the believer’s worship experience. However, prayer is a puzzle for many worshipers. We know we need to pray because the Lord commanded it, but we are often confused about how much, how long, and how wide our prayers should be.
For part of the answer, we turn to the Psalms. It has been said that the Psalms are God’s revelation to His people and their responses to that revelation. The responses reveal a wide range of human emotion from anger to depression and from prayer to praise. How spiritually prepared are we to pray?
Psalm 39 is a psalm of lament from the heart of David. Lament means to give vocal expression to sorrow, to mourn over something that has happened. The background seems to indicate that David composed this individual lament while suffering a prolonged illness that almost proved fatal. The historical circumstances are unknown. He prayed that God would allow him to live and not continue His chastening.
It is a song to be sung in worship. The superscript is addressed to Jeduthun who was one of David's chief musicians (I Chronicles 16:41-42). Dr. Derek Kidner observes, “The burning question of this Psalm is why should God so assiduously discipline a creature as frail and fleeting as man” (Psalms 1-72, p. 153). He continues that “the question… is not asked in arrogance but with touching loyalty (1) and a submissive faith (7).” Many of us have found ourselves from time to time in the same place with the same attitude.
Psalm 39 divides itself into four divisions. Like nesting boxes, the first must be opened and it reveals the next and so on. The point of it all comes as the last box is opened.
Box 1: HEAR ME! Psalm 39:1-3
It becomes obvious that David has sinned against the Lord in some way (v. 9): note the expressions “my transgressions” (v. 8), “remove your scourge from me” (v. 10), etc. It may have been his speech (cp. “keep my tongue from sin” v 1). Words can hurt. God was chastening David. How long we are not told.
David felt deeply about his situation. He did not want to voice his objection to his situation too loudly lest “the wicked” would hear (v. 1) even during the worship service. David did not want the name of God to be dishonored in any way by what he said or give occasion for the wicked to justify themselves.
We need to exercise care to note that not all sickness or physical challenges are due to some divine chastening because of disobedience. Some illnesses are the result of nature, genetic disposition, aging, etc. But there are some that do result in divine chastening: the children of Israel’s failure to enter the Promised Land resulted in their being chastened 40 years in the wilderness (Numbers 13-14); Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he smote the rock instead of speaking to it (Numbers 20:11); some Corinthians were stricken with illness due to partaking of the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner (I Corinthians 11:27-30).
As his sorrow continued, David’s heart “was hot within” him (v. 3) to the point that he just had to give vent to his deep emotion, but he chose to voice his feelings in such a way that there would be no occasion for anyone to feel as though he were accusing God. He is honest as he speaks to God…and voices to God exactly how he feels. In prayer, God wants to hear “it all” with no holds barred, but the godly will do so in a way and manner that focuses on the right of God to do with His creatures as He pleases.
Box 2: SHOW ME! Psalm 39:4-6
David finally prayed that God would allow him to appreciate the brevity of human life (Psalm 90:10, 12). As an older man, David confesses how quickly his life had passed by like a “handbreadth” (v. 5). To any thinking person life goes by quickly. like a “vapor” that passes for a moment and then is gone (James 4:14). His life seemed very short looking back on it. How quickly time flies!
As every person walks, a shadow is cast. David likens the pursuit of riches to a passing shadow that appears for a brief moment and then vanishes away. To make life’s goal the piling up of riches is to miss the meaning of life. We will leave all tangible possessions behind. We do not know who will ultimately gather them (Matthew 6:19-21).
Box 3: SAVE ME! Psalm 39:7-11
God loves David too much to allow him to have pursued his sinful ways whatever they were. It has been said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." David’s desire is that the Lord would make the rest of his life enjoyable.
David does not delay any further. “And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You” (v. 7). DAVID KNOWS HIS ONLY HOPE IS IN GOD! Even though he may have grave difficulty in understanding why things have happened as they have or for as long as they have, he makes confession that his hope in in the Lord from Whom He desires to receive some understanding.
As David knew his heart, he needed the remedy of some relief. David saw his life being “chewed up” as a moth eats a garment…slowly, silently, surely (v. 11). He had a renewed awareness how limited his time was. He desired his reproach to be removed. The long duration of his affliction made him sense the brevity of life. God was disciplining him (Hebrews 12:5-11).
BOX 4: SPARE ME! Psalm 39:12-13
“O look away from me and spare me, that I may recover cheerfulness and encouraging strength and know gladness before I go and am no more” (Amplified).
The worshiper cries out to God. More than anything, he wants the Lord to hear his prayer and to give His favorable response to it (“be not deaf to my weeping” v. 12). The distance had widened but it had not been God who had moved; David had.
He did not want to die out of fellowship with his God. David asked God to restore him in God’s sight so that he could serve the Lord and enjoy his closing years of life. It is true for all of us: the brevity of life impresses the individual as one grows older.
All believers should join with David in desiring for the Lord to teach them how to look on their sinfulness with wisdom and patience allowing God to continue doing His transforming work in view of the brevity of life. When we worship God in spirit and in truth, He will do this and much more in our lives. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
Dr. Donald Hubbard is a seasoned preacher, teacher and has been a partner with Songtime for many years.