39

From Pastor Chris

Today is my birthday, and I feel great. I woke up in our new house after a good night’s sleep, and I feel every bit of the 39 years young that I am. Rachael made me a nice breakfast, Samuel called me “Dada” for one of the first times, and I know there will be an apple crisp–my favorite dessert–at the end of the day. Life is fantastic.

On a lark, I decided to listen to my “Birthday Psalm” as I got ready for work. I’ve never done this before, but I figured, if one can read a Proverb every day of the calendar month, why not do the same with the Psalms and my age? So I pulled up the audio on my phone, and you can imagine the downer it was to hear these words from Psalm 39:

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days;
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! Selah
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalm 39:4–6)

I have not scoured every birthday card Hallmark produces, but I’m pretty sure these verses never made the cut. No one would call them uplifting. Yet for a young man in the prime of his strength, they may be exactly what I needed to hear.

Nothing in the Bible’s wisdom literature frowns upon enjoying youth. It simply calls us to take stock of the big picture. The alternative is captured in another piece of poetry, this one not divinely inspired but certainly insightful:

“So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend with the rainfall.” (Paul Simon)

I choose not to pretend. I choose to enjoy the good gifts of life and youth and family and vigor and mental acuity that God has given me. And I choose to hold them loosely. I will not hope foolishly in the permanence of the impermanent. I will set my sights on that one eternal surety. I will join the Psalmist in the prayer that can be prayed from despair or delight, from boundless energy or physical and mental decay–

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” (Psalms 39:7)

 

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