Silence for 2-5 minutes:
If your mind wanders, silently pray a simple prayer again and again, such as, "I surrender to your love" or "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me" until the Holy Spirit gives you a sense of peace and focus.
1 I said, "I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle, so long as the wicked are in my presence." 2 I was mute and silent; I held my peace to no avail, and my distress grew worse. 3 My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue:
4 "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! 5 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! Selah 6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing[a] they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
7 "And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. 8 Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool! 9 I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. 10 Remove your stroke from me; I am spent by the hostility of your hand. 11 When you discipline a man with rebukes for sin, you consume like a moth what is dear to him; surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah
12 "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears! For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers. 13 Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!"
There are days when we wonder if our lives have any real meaning at all. David expresses that sentiment fully in this Psalm. The Psalmist uses the same Hebrew word for breath that is used in the book of Ecclesiastes over forty times as "vanity." Every breath we take can seem vain as we comprehend that we are but a breath that will soon vanish. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity…."
David expresses the desperation of knowing that all of our efforts to acquire wealth are but turmoil, not knowing who will eventually benefit. (verse 6) It reminds me of Shakespeare's oft quoted line from Macbeth about the life of a human:
A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing
We need times of reflection and desperation such as these, for they cause us to wait upon the Lord and hope in him. These desperate times push us to deal with our sins honestly and begin to live life wisely. (verses 7-8) We realize that, like all other men, we will die and that we are but sojourners and guests in this world. (verse 12)
It is comforting to me that this Psalm is in the cannon of prayers. God knows what it is like to be surrounded by these realities, for he became like us in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus had to face the grim truth that the cross was awaiting him, and like David, our Lord's soul was troubled. (John 12:27)
Think of your own mortality and how fleeting life is. What issues does the Lord bring to mind as you do this? Respond to the Spirit’s leading, as you wait on the Lord and hope in him alone.
Lord, I often give too much credence to the things of this world and this life. Give me the wake- up call that will bring me to realize that all of my efforts apart from you are vain. Let me live in the shadow of eternity so that my fleeting life will have meaning because I surrender all to you. Amen.