WHEN GOD’S DISCIPLINE SEEMS UNFAIR
The 39th Psalm is one of the most difficult to examine and discuss. With humility I will attempt to share its timeless lessons. There are only 13 verses. Please read this Psalm, underline words that are important to you, then consider these reflections:
DAVID STRUGGLED WITH HIS SUFFERINGS. He did not identify whether the suffering had to do with sickness, disappointments in the heirs to his fortune, political unrest, constant scheming of his enemies or something else heavy on his heart. Whatever it was, David felt that he was being disciplined by the Lord through these sufferings. “It is you who have done it…I am spent by the hostility of your hand” (verse 9-10). He felt he should not share this burden with anyone, so he kept it to himself. He mused about it over and over until he became extremely upset. He said: “My heart became hot within me, as I mused, the fire burned” (verse 3). David especially did not want to discuss it with people who did not share his faith. Whenever ungodly people came around he just “clammed up,” he put a “muzzle” on his mouth “so long as the wicked are in my presence” (verse 1). Perhaps he thought ungodly people would use his weaknesses against him, to make things worse than they already were. Perhaps the wicked would use David’s confessed sins and subsequent discipline to scoff at him.
DAVID TOLD GOD HIS HEART ACHES. As he struggled, he prayed: “O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (verse 4) He did not ask that God would reveal the number of days, weeks or years he would have to suffer before he died. The word “measure” is a noun indicating “an estimate of what is to be expected” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It means David was asking God to help him understand what really matters, to realize that life on the earth is very fragile and to understand how to fulfill God’s purposes for life. It is much like Moses who prayed: “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12), or as the apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Men and women of faith know that God wants His people to bring their problems and frustrations to Him, to cast those anxieties on the Lord so that He can sustain them. Truly, God “cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7)! The hymn-writer put it like this: “Are you weary, are you heavy hearted? Tell it to Jesus! Tell it to Jesus! Are you grieving over joys departed? Tell it to Jesus alone.” Here is a timeless lesson: When something is distressing (or even depressing) in the deepest recesses of your being, don’t keep it to yourself, don’t refuse to talk about it; don’t hold it inside; don’t muse over it until you become bitter with life or angry with God. You may not want to share it with those who cannot help, who may fail to encourage you, who may use what you tell them to scoff at your faith. Remember what the psalmist said: “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” (verse 7). You do not need to put a “guard” or “muzzle” on your mouth when you pray! (verse 1) You can tell the Lord all about it. Be sincere; be open; be honest; explain how you feel. Then arise from prayer to trust in the Lord to handle it! Your hope in God will be the anchor you need.
SUFFERING HELPS PUT TIME AND THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE. God does not intend for life’s problems to embitter us. God’s love is much, much stronger than that! Life is too short for that! In the words of the psalmist: “Let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (verses 4-5). True, God’s people cannot control everything that goes on around them. We don’t have control over what happens to the things we have labored and saved for the future — to be used wisely by our heirs. Sometimes what our heirs do with their inheritance may be the exact opposite of what we would want them to do. As David stated: “Man bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it” (verse 6, NIV). Things that may have “dear to us” may be consumed “like a moth” (verse 11).
OUR ULTIMATE GOAL IS TO “LAY UP TREASURES IN HEAVEN” where neither moth or rust destroys” (Matthew 6:20). We must commit ourselves to God’s plans and purposes and ask Him to give us “peace” instead of “tears” (verse 12). We need to confess our sins and to ask Him to deliver us “from all transgressions” (verse 8). When we do that we will be able to “smile again” (verse 13).
FINAL THOUGHT: When David wrote that he desired the good life, “before I depart and am no more” (verses 13) he was speaking of receiving the divine peace and God’s favor during his present, earthly existence. He did not imply that this life is the only life ––that the here and now is all there is, that when death comes we cease to exist. Unfortunately, some have used this Psalm to teach that death destroys the person, that nothing survives the death of the body. Those who lived prior to the coming of Christ did not have a clear understanding of what happens at death. It remained for Jesus to bring “immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). Other psalms affirm the reality of the world to come. Listen to these affirmations: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6); “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Psalm 73;24). “God will redeem me from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49:15, NIV). Job also had many struggles and disappointments, but he declared: “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in (or ‘apart from’) my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26, NIV).
May each of us take on this day with the peace of God in our hearts and the wisdom of God in our plans.
David Tarbet, Outreach Minister
Church of Christ, New Milford, Connecticut
(All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)