By examining a hymn written by Isaac Watts based on Psalm 39, Steve Fazekas, AiG–U.S., explains how important it is for us to consider the shortness of life.
Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. (Psalm 39:4)
In the ongoing discussion surrounding music and “worship wars” there is one fact that cannot be argued. Paul, in his epistles, admonished the church to sing psalms.
Psalmody reaches back many centuries. “God’s hymnal” provides the seeking heart an open door to bring the whole range of human emotions before the Lord. All of our hurts, frustrations, doubts, disappointments, complaints, and confusions are given utterance through the Psalms. Incredibly, anguish and remorse are often transformed into singing and hopeful expectation.
King David sensed the movement of time over against the vanity of life. I can’t help but think of Hollywood in the words, “Some walk in honor’s gaudy show…but all their noise is vain.”In contemporary language he is telling us not to trust the “rat-race.” Men, in their frenetic striving for “stuff,” will attempt to pull the searching heart into the vortex of materialism.
David concluded by reminding us that life is extremely short and vapor-like. Repentance is in order, and frequent reflection upon the brevity of life before the all-seeing God is a good thing. Isaac Watts used the psalm as the basis for the hymn, “Teach Me the Measure of My Days.”
Teach me the measure of my days, Thou maker of my frame,
I would survey life’s narrow space, and learn how frail I am.
A span is all that we can boast, how short, how fleet our time;
Man is but vanity and dust, in all his flower and prime.
See the vain race of mortals move, like shadows on the plain,
They rage and strive, desire and hope, but all their noise is vain.
Some walk in honor’s gaudy show, some dig for golden ore,
They toil for heirs, They know not who, and straight are seen no more.
What should I wish and wait for then, from creatures, earth or dust?
They make our expectations vain and disappoint our trust.
Now I forbid my carnal hope, my fond desires recall,
My mortal interests I give up, and make my God my all.
Today’s big idea: life is short; we should spend it serving God.
What to pray: praise God for the days He gives you.