“LORD, make me to know my end,
And what is the measure of my days,
That I may know how frail I am.”
In one of his very earliest science fiction stories, Robert Heinlein wrote about a machine that could predict the day and time of a person’s death. The question posed by Mr. Heinlein was whether or not we should we truly seek to know when we are to die. And if we have such knowledge, what are we to do with it? If we know we shall not die for another year, then would we become more reckless right now? Or if we know we are to die tomorrow, would we suddenly develop a conscience? These are good questions, all part of a sort of science fiction conundrum. Of course, Samuel Johnson considered the idea a little differently when he wrote, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” For Mr. Johnson, the knowledge of one’s death would necessarily lead us to consider things more acutely, to better focus on what was in front of us. In our verse today, David comes up with a slightly different but not altogether unrelated conclusion: knowing the length of our lives will remind us or our own mortality.
I think sometimes that many people think they ARE immortal. They seek to live fast, fight hard, and leave nothing behind for posterity. Others believe that if they just build a big enough building or a well-run company or a huge family, then their “immortality” is assured. Of course, as we can understand from the fallen statue in Percy Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”–whose shattered base read “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”–the monuments of today are the sand of tomorrow. Solomon knew that.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.
Yes, worldly immortality is a vain thing, worthless and without profit in this or the next life.
David sought to be reminded that he was mortal, lest he think himself better than he was. David understood that we who labor and toil under the sun are here but for a moment, but the Lord God is immortal and immovable, eternal and righteous. In this psalm, David asked the Lord to remind him of his own mortality, to remind him how humble were his beginnings and how humble shall be his end. Being aware of his own frailty and smallness, David was able to reflect upon God’s own power and greatness. And more than that, David was able to reflect on the wonder of God’s mercy on such insignificant creatures as us.
“And now, Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in You.”
And that really is the point. If we were to truly consider all that we are and how truly small we are when measured against the eternity of God, we would think twice about setting ourselves up as idols of our own. Come to think of it, it is perhaps this consideration of our mortality that frightens some away from believing in an immortal God, for such a Being would indeed have standards and thoughts far beyond our own, incomprehensible and inconceivable to us. Who would want to consider facing such a One? And yet, as David has written, our hope is in Him, in this immortal, eternal, and invisible God. And it is not the vain hope of earthly wealth or power, but a well-founded hope based upon God’s mercy and faith. Jeremiah put it this way:
21 This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
22 Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
For all our suffering and weakness, God is merciful and strong. For all our inability to make headway against the evil of this world, Christ is mighty to save us and has defeated Satan forever. For all our sinfulness and frailty and mortality, we have been given salvation and the promise of resurrection unto eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. And so, like David, we can say, “And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.”
This day, let us consider our own frailty and the limit of our days. Let us remember that our earthly lives are but a vapor when compared to the eternity of the Lord God. We are sojourners and pilgrims here on our way to something better and glorious. And yet, here we are. We do not know the day and hour of our death, and yet knowing there must be an end to this life, let therefore do our best to be all that God intends us to be while we are here. He has set us here with purpose and with faith, and we should remember that while we may not have the power to accomplish things on our own, His grace is sufficient for us, enabling us to do mighty things in His name. As frail and mortal as we are in this life, we are all immortal in Christ, and we should therefore act as if this mortal day were our last, casting aside all sin and malice and seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Knowing that there is a certain measure to our days, let us take up the cross of Christ and carry it as far and as long as we can, knowing that God has in store for us an endless measure of days in His glory and grace. Let us consider our frailty and then place our hope in the One who does not faint nor grow weary, the one living and mighty God Most High. And let us place our hope in His Son Jesus Christ, whose frailty in this life paid the price for glory and eternal life for all who believe in Him.
Lord God, show me the measure of my days, that I may consider my own short time and thus seek to know You more in what little time I have left. Remind me that my days are but a vapor but Your kingdom is eternal, and so bring me to the truth of Your Word. Let what remains of my life be a testament to Your gospel, a living book showing the glories of Your kingdom. Let my short days be lived to Your eternal glory, with hope and faith in the life You have promised through Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.