The terrible tragedy that our nation experienced on Tuesday (Sept. 11, 2001) is a stark reminder that time is filled with swift transition. It teaches us, or reminds us that tomorrow, the next hour, the next minute is not promised to us. As sand through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Whether life lasts sixteen days or one hundred years, in some sense, we all have a feeling that life is too short.
Stacked up against the yardstick of eternity, life on this ball of confusion called earth is really short. Once the hands of time begin for us, they are unstoppable. Time marches on. From the moment we take our very first infant breath, we are one moment closer to the grave. As sand through an hourglass, so are the days of our lives. The days of our lives are days of no promise, no real guarantees, no certainties. These are days of transition, days of change, days of great uncertainty. Such are the days of our lives.
At such a time as this for our nation, for such a time as this that causes us great personal anguish, sorrow and sadness, we ought to turn to God and the Word of God for some clarity, some understanding and some direction. And, so it is that as we consider these days, these strange times, there is a word from the Lord today.
Really, my people, there are only two major points that I want us to take with us from this message. First, the days of our lives are short. Secondly, God is our only hope.
The days of our lives are short; therefore, there is a particular way in which we ought to live our lives. Since life is short, we must do what we can while we can. Our days are measured and it would be a shame and a sin if we squandered these days that God has allotted us. If there is any good that we ought to do, we ought to do it today. If there is any kindness that we can show, we ought to show it today. If there is any help we can give, we ought to give it today, for life is short and we know not when we will be no more. Seeing then that life is short, we ought to be careful how we live, we ought to be careful what we do with these measured days.
Perhaps itís something about the realization that life is so fleeting and frail, that drives our souls into a frantic search for some understanding of life, sometimes. Perhaps itís the stark reminder that in the twinkling of an eye, we can vanish like fog under a summer sun that makes heavy the heart and strains the soul. Take heart my beloved, you are not alone. In fact, the Word of God tells us that these are re-occurring emotions for all who are born of woman.
David, the psalmist has a word today for the people of God who are trying to grapple with the meaning of life. We would do well to see the struggles of this our brother in the face of darkness and pain.
--"Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath."-- Psalm 39: 4,5 (NRSV)
The text tells us that David had determined in his heart that he was going to be careful how he lived his life. He was determined to keep his tongue in check so that he would not sin against God. In fact, he says that he was so serious about not messing up that he was willing to wear a muzzle, like a dog, on his mouth.
You see, sometimes when life is hard and it makes no sense we speak too soon. We speak when we ought to be listening. We speak when we ought to be in prayer. We speak rashly and hastily and foolishly sometimes when God is trying to tell us something. David understood that when the storms of life are raging, that was the time to be still and know that God is God.
David says, "I was silent, I didnít speak out of turn. I was silent Lord. I didnít speak evil or harsh words. I was silent Lord. But, not only was I silent, I was still as well. You see, Lord, I was obedient to your word. You said in your Word to be still and know that you are God. I was still. I didnít rush off prematurely, impatiently, but in divine obedience to your Word, I waited on you Lord.
I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse, my heart became hot within me. Psalm 39: 2, 3 (NRSV)
Oh Father, let me remind you once again just how Iíve been living the days of my life because it seems to me that just maybe you have forgotten. Let me remind you, oh, ancient of days, I guarded my ways. I watched my step. I put a bridle on my tongue and I put a muzzle on my mouth.
But, since I love you like I do, since I want to live so that you can use me anytime and anywhere, Lord thatís not all that I did. I was silent like your Word commanded. I stood still, patiently, quietly, expectantly, anticipating a blessing from you oh Lord, expecting some deliverance from you, expecting some healing, some peace, some joy.
But, Lord, I just donít understand you sometimes. Lord, I just donít understand your ways sometimes. You see, in spite of how I tried to do right. In spite of how I tried to love everybody. In spite of how I tried to help somebody, my life is full of anguish and sleepless nights. In fact Lord, Iím starting to think that life is really full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.
I done done what you told me to do. But, my distress, Iím not talking about other folk Lord, but my distress has grown worse. My heart doesnít understand Lord, why bad things happen to good and innocent people. Now, look here Lord, Iím not speculating that someone might be good or trying to live right. Lord, Iím talking about me.
I ainít saying that Iím the most holy and righteous person on the face of the earth. But, there is no denying that I really watched my ways, I really bridled my tongue, hushed my mouth and patiently, silently waited on you. But, some bad things have been happening in my life, anyhow. My distress has grown worse. My heart is on fire with a little rage over the contradictions of life.
Oh, Lord, something is wrong with this picture. I have tried to be a good and holy person, yet bad things, terrible things always come to me and makes my distress grow worse. In fact, Lord, my life seems like an unending battle, one unending struggle, one unending headache. So, do me a favor Lord, if you will. Let me know my end, in other words, tell me sir, just how much more of this thing called life do I got to endure. Lord, what is the measure of my days?
Lord, you know that I love you and you know that I trust you and you know that I truly adore you, so it isnít anything personal against you, you see. But, Iím really tired now. Iím tired and confused deep in my soul. My body is weary from trying so hard and getting nowhere. Iím tired Lord, my soul is hurting. Iíve seen too many babies die too young. Iíve seen too many acts of senseless violence. Iíve seen too much bloodshed and too much war. Lord, my soul is tired now.
When I look around at the world, when I look at my own life, I realize that life is too short. Itís here one minute and gone the next. We are all like grass. We sprout for but a season and then we are gone and no one remembers us for long. Vanity of vanity, all of life is vanity Lord. Good is met by evil, love is met by hatred, peace is met by violence. Life is mean, short and brutal. Iím tired Lord, the days of our lives are as nothing. They are as a shadow and a candle in the wind.
And, so it was my beloved people, that David cried unto the Lord as he faced a life that seemed to be filled with more misery than mercy and more grief than grace. What then are we to say about these things? What then are we to do, seeing that life is short and fleeting?
As we search for some answers, as we search for some direction, let me caution you, and if I could, I would caution the nation, lean not to thine own understanding, but trust in the Lord with all thine heart and he will direct thy paths. Though life be short, though life be difficult at times, though evil seems to triumph sometimes, there is a remedy for our distress. There is a remedy for human despair. There is a remedy for confusion and turmoil. Hope thou in God!
Our hope is not found in our goodness. Our hope is not found in simply watching what we say and what we do. If we look for our hope in these things, the days of our lives will be hard and harsh and we will find ourselves with more distress instead of less distress. We will find ourselves physically tired, emotionally strained and spiritually drained.
But, they whose hope is in God are not so. Hope in God is the remedy for distress. Hope in God is the solution to a cast down spirit. Hope in God is the power to push on through the deep waters in our lives.
"What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, thatís what Iím doingóhoping"
From The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson, Psalm 39
It is here that I want us to realize that there is a two-dimensional reality to hoping in God. If God is your hope, you have a secure future. But, if your future is secure, then your present can be lived with peace and power and with purpose.
If God is your hope, you know that tomorrow will be all right, so you can live today with some purpose. If your hope is in God and God alone, you can have hope for today and bright hope for tomorrow. When God is your hope, it matters not the circumstances of life. Hope in God is a hope that grants peace to troubled souls. This is the kind of peace that allows a cancer patient to sing on his deathbed. This is the kind of peace that allows a hijacked stewardess to sing in the face of certain death, "it is well, it is well, it is well with my soul."
When God is the source of our hope, we no longer worry about how long or how short our lives are, for we realize that life is best measured by deeds and not by decades. Hoping in God, it does not matter how short your life or how violent your end, for if you are in Christ Jesus, we can have your funeral tomorrow and you will still be more alive than ever before.
But, my beloved, I would not have you misled about the place and the power of Godly hope. Be not misled, my people. Hoping in God will not always keep you out of danger; but, God will see you through danger. Be not misled, I would not have you to be misinformed about God.
Hoping in God will not prevent every catastrophe, but if you believe in God, then no catastrophe will be able to keep God from coming to your aid. Be not misled. God will not heal every sickness and He will not cure every disease; but, God will give you a peace that no sickness can destroy and no disease can conquer.
Our lives may be flooded with sickness and death on every hand, yet, if we look unto Jesus, if we put our faith, our trust in the master, the floods will not overwhelm us, for our God, whom we serve and trust and love, our God will not leave us to drown, helpless and hopeless. No, no, God will deliver us either from death or through death.
In the course of the days of our lives, we all will face the deep waters of unimaginable sorrow and difficult situations. But, if our hope, our trust is in God, it will please God to walk with us in the midst of the deep and hot waters. And, we will be able to make it safely through the worst that life has to offer.
Maybe the fires of personal pain will never cease in our lives; but, if our hope is in God, even in the fire, we will be able to find some cause to rejoice, for God will meet us in the fires.
Didnít God meet Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego in the fiery furnace? Didnít God meet Daniel in a lionís den? Didnít God meet the children of Israel at the Red Sea? Didnít God meet Paul and Silas in a midnight jail? Didnít He meet Jesus on a hill called Calvary? And, Iím just trying to tell you that whatever youíre going through, whatever you will have to face tomorrow, if your hope is in God, He will meet you where you are and He will either take you out of your situation or He will bless you in your situation.
We donít always have to get better, but Godís grace is sufficient. We donít always have to rise above our troubles, but God can bless us in our troubles.
Trust the mercy of God, even when you canít trace the movement of God. Heís real, I tell you. Even when you canít see the sun, itís still there; and even when you canít see God, Heís still there, watching you, blessing you, keeping you, loving you and holding you. Trust in God, with all your heart and He will see you through.
Now I know, that just maybe you havenít understood a word of what Iíve been trying to say today. I realize that just maybe Iíve been rambling and mumbling all afternoon, and Iíve made no sense. Well then, if thatís the case, let me not take up too much more of your time, but, let me tell you this one thing.
Let me tell you what you really need to know when planes are dropping and bombs are flying and death is approaching and sorrow is encroaching. I got this Word from the Lord today. I got this one thing that you must not forget.
Hold to Godís unchanging hand!
Time, time is filled with swift transition. And, naught
of earth unmoved can stand, so you better, build, build your hopes on
things eternal, hold on to Godís unchanging hand. Trust in Him who will
not leave you, whatsoever years may bring, if by earthly friends forsaken,
still more closely to Him cling, cling to Him who is able to save you.
Cling to Him who is able to strengthen you. Cling to him who is able to
deliver you. Build your hopes, build your life, build your dreams, build
your hopes on things eternal. Hold to Godís unchanging hand!
Delivered Sept. 16, 2001, five days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9-11-01.
Rev. Clarence W. Davis is pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A frequent contributor to BlackandChristian.com, Davis earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology degree from Harvard Divinity School. The opinions expressed are those of the author and are used by permission. Also read, Grief and Grace by Rev. Davis, exclusively on BlackandChristian.com.