The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 6, 2016
18, 144, 383, 417
I said, “I will guard my ways,
Lest I sin with my tongue;
I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle,
While the wicked are before me.”
I was mute with silence,
I held my peace even from good;
And my sorrow was stirred up.
My heart was hot within me;
While I was musing, the fire burned.
Then I spoke with my tongue:
“Lord, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my age is as nothing before You;
Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.
Surely every man walks about like a shadow;
Surely they busy themselves in vain;
He heaps up riches,
And does not know who will gather them.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.
Deliver me from all my transgressions;
Do not make me the reproach of the foolish.
I was mute, I did not open my mouth,
Because it was You who did it.
Remove Your plague from me;
I am consumed by the blow of Your hand.
When with rebukes You correct man for iniquity,
You make his beauty melt away like a moth;
Surely every man is vapor.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord,
And give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner, as all my fathers were.
Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
Have you ever seen a beautiful landscape painting with nothing but straight lines in it? Of course not. Beautiful paintings of God’s creation also require bent, curved, and crooked lines.
Many years ago I built a deacon’s bench out of 100-year-old fur and oak boards. My jigsaw burned out and I had to finish cutting the curved end-pieces of the bench with what is called a “coping saw.” The coping saw has a narrow blade in an U-shape frame for cutting curved lines. Looking ahead to the finished product, I had decided that curved end-pieces would be more attractive than straight lines. So the coping saw became necessary to “cope,” or manage, the desired curves.
Our Lord God is designing us for Himself to bring us to Himself in Heaven. If the artist or the wood-worker knows that curves are better than straight lines, then He who is designing us for Heaven will certainly fill our lives with more difficult curves than with simple, straight lines. How then shall we cope with life? WE COPE WITH HOPE IN GOD’S COPING.
God gave David the words to this Psalm during one of David’s many trials in life. He may have been suffering some physical distress, or felt betrayed by those who had been his friends, but were now speaking against him. Maybe, like Asaph in Psalm 73, David was troubled by how the wicked seemed to do well in life, while he experienced one sorrow after another. Whatever David was dealing with at this particular time, he was being plagued by unbelieving thoughts and tempted to complain against God.
We all are familiar with David’s experience. We’ve also been tempted to complain to God in unbelief as we try to manage the difficult curves of our earthly lives. How shall we get safely around them? David’s first concern in coping the curve was to guard his tongue. “I will guard my ways; lest I sin with my tongue,” he says (v. 1).
David didn’t want to grumble about his problems in the presence of the wicked or the unbelieving lest they be led away from their God and Savior. If we go on about our problems and sorrows, do you think the weak or the unbelieving will want to get to know our Lord better? They may think: “If this Christian’s faith in his God makes him miserable, I don’t want any part of it!” If we are God’s children, and yet complain about how he treats us, won’t God’s enemies mock Him even more? So let us also guard our tongues, lest we lead others to mock our God and be driven from their only Savior from sin!
However, in verse 2 David says that he became “mute with silence”—He refused to speak “even from good.” In trying to avoid one ditch, he fell into another! Perhaps David thought that if he quit speaking altogether he would avoid the sin of the tongue against God. Yet, if we become completely silent to those around us, how shall we do good with our tongues by speaking of our Savior-God and His Word to others?
David’s total silence did nothing to help his situation. Instead, the more he tried to keep his inner conflict to himself, the more the pressure increased within until his muzzled mouth blew open, and he “spoke with his tongue” (v. 3). Total silence in affliction is not helpful or healthy. Our silence multiplies our stress, and it is unnecessary for the Christian. We have free access to the throne of God’s grace in Christ, who died for our sins and lives to intercede for us!
So Peter encourages us to approach our God: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). We hear Peter say that our humble attitude is even more important than unloading our burdens to God. Did David finally explode in a sinful and ungrateful complaint against God? No. His next words are a humble prayer that the Lord would cause him to acknowledge what is really “nothing” in this life.
In verses 4-5, David asks for help in remembering how mortal and frail he is. If he could only remember that God had made all his days on earth to be no more than “handbreadths”—the width of our hands—then he would not be so distressed by his loss of this world’s things which must be left behind anyway. Isn’t this often the reason we have so much trouble coping the curves of our Christian lives? O, that the Lord would make us know how frail and passing we truly are!
Surely we all should say with David in “My age is nothing before You” (v. 5). Compared to the eternal God, the age of frail man is less than a nanosecond—one billionth of a second! Man’s time on earth is nothing!
“And certainly, every man at his best state is but vapor” (v. 5). David doesn’t say that man at his worst, or the average man, but man at his very best is nothing but vaporous gas! Everything about man from the best to the worst has as little substance as a vapor blown away by the slightest wind! This is sad news for those whose treasures are on earth and who think that by their hard work they can “have it all.” Those who pride themselves on what they have gathered for themselves ought to hang their flag at half-mast for that mortal self they trust is no more than a vapor. For “surely,” David says, “every man walks about as a shadow” (v. 6).
Worldly people fret and fume—all for nothing! “Surely they busy themselves in vain” (v. 6). They are nothings pursuing nothings—shadows pursuing shadows—while the shadow of death pursues them! What could we possibly lack in this world of vapor and shadows that should cause us real distress? If man is nothing, and the world is nothing, the Christian needs only one thing to cope the curves of his Christian life: Hope in the Lord’s coping!
“What am I waiting for?” David asks (v. 7). We ought to ask ourselves the same question often: What do we wait for in time of trouble? Is it our great hope that the Lord will soon restore financial prosperity, or our health, or perhaps shut the mouths of our enemies? This is not hoping “in the Lord.” This is hoping in the thing itself, rather than in the God who is coping us. This is no way to cope the curves of our Christian lives!
But to ask our Lord for forgiveness or deliverance from all our transgressions—this is hoping in the Lord’s coping! To recognize as David says in v. 9 that God is the One who “did it,” and God is the One who must “remove” the misery—this is hoping in the Lord’s coping! To accept the truth that when God sends some trouble or misery upon us, He desires to correct us and turn us from sin to Himself as our Savior (v. 11a)—this is hoping in the Lord’s coping!
If we begin to think that God is mistaken in His dealings with us—that our troubles and distresses in life don’t match our beauty and worthiness before God—we are forgetting His grace! What does our Savior God do then? Verse 11 says that God works “like a moth” to consume or eat up our “beauty,” or as one translation has it, “that which “is dear” to us (ESV).
God uses various chastisements and trials to eat away at our foolish pride and make us see our nothingness and to make us feel like worn out, worthless garments. So He did with David, with Job, and countless others before us. It’s all part of His coping of us!
Our Lord’s design for us is that through our suffering we may learn the more to cast ourselves and our care upon Him in faith’s hope. That’s why David prays in the closing verses: “Do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner, as all my fathers were. Remove your gaze from me that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more” (vv.12-13). This is the argument our Lord loves to hear from us: “Help, Lord, for I have no other help! Unless you spare me and turn your angry face away from me so that I may become strong again, I will perish!”
Like David, and every Christian before us, we too are merely passing through the life of this world. We are not here to stay. In this world, we are “strangers with the Lord.” Our real “citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Rejoicing in this certain hope, we will guard our tongues in time of trial. We will recognize the “nothings” of frail, human life and passing riches.
May we see that, like the wood-worker who uses the “coping saw” to conform the raw wood to fit his design, God is at work making painful “cuts” in our lives. He is coping to carve the bends and curves in our lives to finally make us beautiful in His own sight forever! By God’s grace may we all learn to cope with hope in God’s coping! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.