Lord, Help Me To Keep Things In Perspective (Psalm 39)

R. Dwain Minor   -  

Sometimes trouble falls upon us over a long period of time. Sometimes we don’t get a happy ending, or at least that doesn’t happen for a long time. And sometimes we just wish the struggle would be over. And I’m glad that God has all of these feelings within His Word so that we can both receive affirmation of these feelings and time periods in our lives as well as learn how to deal with them.

And in this psalm, we see David do two things. First, he makes a commitment not to sin against the Lord and second, he asks the Lord to give him a better perspective on life. This will lead him to pray for relief from God’s discipline. But you should notice that this psalm is not like most other psalms. It does not end on a happy note. It ends in a rather sorrowful mood.

Lord, help me to keep things in perspective.


Commit To Not Sin (Psalm 39:1-3)

David was facing incredible hardship. But he did make a commitment to guard his ways so that he would not sin in what he said (Psalm 39:1).

The problem that David was facing was wicked people in his presence. We don’t know what they were doing, but we know that they were giving him incredible trouble. And to make matters worse it was people that were close to him and doing him wrong.

What an incredibly frustrating situation! Anyone that has been betrayed by another person knows that this is a deep kind of pain. And as David held his tongue his anger grew (Psalm 39:3).

We live in a complaining age. I can remember the hardships my parents went through and don’t remember them complaining about it. I also remember the same sort of thing with my grandparents. The only time I remember those things being discussed is after the fact. But ours has become and age of whininess. And oftentimes in that whininess and complaining we sin.

So, here is a good thing for us to remember. When hardships come upon us, we should commit to be people who will not sin with our mouths.

On the other side of this, it seems that David was probably a bit too quiet. He pondered and thought through his trouble and just tried to handle it with a stoic quietness. But this too is wrong.

We understand that we are to go to the Lord, not in a sinful manner, but seeking His comfort and aid. We also understand that we should share our burdens with those around us. We should seek the help of other believers.

We should have some balance here. We should seek to be faithful to the Lord and not sin through excess. But at the same time, we should share our burdens with one another and seek shelter from the Lord.


Pray For Perspective (Psalm 39:4-6)

David then stopped and prayed. This seems to be what he had needed to do for some time. But notice what he prayed for. He prayed for perspective.

“O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days: let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4 ESV)

He asked for a better understanding of himself in light of the vastness of the world that God created and God Himself. He is in the middle of all this hardship and he is constantly thinking about himself and his hardship, as we all do when this kind of thing happens. But he prayed that God would give him perspective.

God made his life short and small, like the distance of a few handbreadths. A handbreadth is the distance between a forefinger and a pinky when the hand is closed. And, in comparison to the Lord, this is nothing. He even states that people are like a shadow to make this point even further.

How is our life like a shadow? Well, I can answer that by thinking about Peter pan. The funny thing about Peter Pan trying to catch his shadow is that, here in the real world that can’t happen. It has no substance and there is nothing to hold on to. How is our life like a shadow? In comparison to the Lord it has no substance. In other words, the events that seem so large in our lives are oftentimes not nearly as big as we make them out to be.

Why is it that a child will have a total meltdown over something rather insignificant? They do this because their perspective is rather small. They really don’t understand how small and insignificant this thing is because, from their rather small perspective on life, this really is a big deal.

And why is it that people today are more whiney over seemingly insignificant matters? It is because much hardship has been eliminated from life. So, they lack perspective. Think about it. Everybody has AC, plumbing, a refrigerator, a television, and an expensive device in their pocket. We have it easy today and perspective is lacking. But perspective is something we need to have if we are going to walk through the many trials and sufferings of this life.

David’s prayer for perspective was answered. He suddenly seems to come to a full view of the vanity of life and the vanity of most everything people spend their time worrying about. He goes so far as to say, “man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!” (Psalm 39:6 ESV)

Perspective is something that, once gained, will lead to a more content life. It does not do away with all our problems and struggles, but it does help us to see the vanity of the many things we spend terrible amounts of time worrying about.

I oftentimes spend time money. We have enough. We pay the bills and have some left over. But there are times when I would like to have more, and it is not because I need more. Envy and covetousness may rise within me and suddenly I want something, and I don’t have the money for it. But if I have a good perspective on things then I begin to understand the vanity of having all that stuff. And I also begin to see how stupid it is for me to have spent so much time and sleeplessness worrying about such a stupid thing.


Pray For Relief (Psalm 39:7-13)

If a prayer for perspective is answered, you may still have the trouble that led you there. And that was the case for David. But this endeavor did lead him to understand that his hope was in the Lord and in the Lord only. So he prayed for the Lord to delver him from his transgressions.

This took me aback the first time I read it. He had not yet discussed this text with regard to his being disciplined by the Lord. But now he does. What happened?

I think that his gained perspective caused him to realize that he did bring this upon himself. The gained perspective seems to have knocked him on the head and brought him to the realization that he was being disciplined for something he’d done (Psalm 39:9).

But this doesn’t mean that the hardship was now easy. Far from it. This stroke of discipline from the Lord was excruciatingly painful (Psalm 39:10-11). So he goes to the Lord for relief and prays for the Lord to listen and deliver him (Psalm 39:12-13). He loved the Lord and sought respite from the one who was delivering the hardship.

This psalm doesn’t end on a happy note. The last line is a plea for God to remove His disciplining hand so that David can have a little joy. This is difficult. This is hard. This is David right in the middle of the struggle.

Sometimes we will go through long periods of struggle and it feels as if the Lord will not stop what is going on. And this psalm does not show any sign that relief happened. It ends with David praying for the Lord to withdraw His disciplining hand from him. But this ending is helpful for you and I.

David is not at the end of the discipline. He is in the middle of it. And so we see how he struggles in the middle of his hardship and this is incredibly helpful for us. Had he spent the last 5 verses talking about the restoration of the Lord we wouldn’t be left here to speak of David’s attitude toward the Lord in the middle of the hardship.



David has committed to not sin against the Lord. He understands that the Lord is in control and even that the Lord is bringing this about. So, he has submitted himself completely to the Lord. But he also does something else here. He has gone to the Lord for comfort and peace.

And we should do the same. Submit to the Lord, seek a proper perspective on matters, and understand that He is in control and is our only deliverer.

Sometimes that is the best we can do with the circumstances we’ve been given, but it is the right thing to do.