Martin Luther was truly a great man of God. He lived roughly 500 years ago. He is best known as the man who stood up to the heretical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. If not for his bravery, we would not have the freedom of worship we enjoy today.
Martin Luther was not only a great crusader of the faith, he was a very loving husband and father. There was a time in his life when he was forced to wrestle with the brevity of life. His time of realization and struggle came when confronted by the illness and eventual death of his young daughter Magdalene.
In C. L. Manschreck book of Church History we get a glimpse of Luther’s struggle. There it says: As his daughter lay very ill, Dr. Luther said: ‘I love her very much, but dear God, if it be thy will to take her, I submit to thee; then he said to her as she lay in bed: ‘Magdalene, my dear little daughter, would you like to stay here with your father, or would you willingly go to your father yonder?’ She answered: ‘Darling father, as God wills.’ Then said he: ‘Dearest child, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ Then turning away he said, ‘I love her very much; if my flesh is so strong, what can my spirit do? God has given no bishop so great a gift in a thousand years as he has given me in her. I am angry with myself that I cannot rejoice in heart and be thankful as I ought.’
Now as Magdalene lay in the agony of death, her father fell down before the bed on his knees and wept bitterly and prayed that God might free her. Then she departed and fell asleep in her fathers arms…
As they laid her in the coffin he said: ‘Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea, like the sun… I am happy in spirit, but the flesh in sorrowful and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure…’ And the great man of God concluded by adding, ‘I have sent a saint to heaven.‘
As Martin Luther struggled with the passing of his young daughter, most certainly, he grasped the shortness of life. He understood that even the young children of great men and women of God can die at a tender age.
Like Luther, David wrestled with the shortness of life. King David says in Psalm 39:4 – 7 “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. 5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah 6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. 7 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.
David begins by saying, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” What is David after here? Is he seeking to determine the actual day and time of his death? I don’t believe so. Rather it appears he is requesting the Lord to help him better understand the reality of the shortness of his life.
In other words, when David says. “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” I believe the last phrase, “let me know how fleeting is my life,” clarifies the meaning of the first portion of his request, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days.”
In a sense, it seems David is encouraging God to perform a reality check upon him. Perhaps David felt he was not taking life seriously enough. It would not be too difficult to envision such a problem, as King of Israel, he was one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the world. The spiritually discerning understand that things such as fame and fortune have a way of lessening our appreciation for our place here on earth.
In verse 4 David says, “let me know how fleeting is my life.” What does the word “fleeting” indicate? Essentially, it denotes someone or something that is not eternal, but transient–on the move, momentary, temporary, passing away with time.
Here we see a man who has realized that life in this world will not last forever, yet acknowledges that he has failed to fully grasp the depth of such a concept. As a result, he cries out to God to help him mature in his understanding of such things.
Why would anyone waste their time making such a request of God? Because as they wrestled with such things and come to a fuller knowledge, a sobering affect comes with it. It’s like a spiritual smelling salt.
Anyone who has lived a long life will affirm the shortness of life. They will acknowledge how time has slipped away like grains of sand through one’s fingers. Often when someone has stared death in the eye or lost a loved one, they come away more determined to make the most of life, even if only for a moment.
For example, after the collapse of the World Trade Towers, many people began taking a good look at their priorities and even their relationship with God. David being a man after God’s own heart, wanted to make the most of his remaining years for God. David, no doubt realized that a fuller understanding of the brevity of life would better motivate him in his dedication to God.
In verse 5 David begins to share some of his basic insights regarding the shortness of life. There he points out, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.”
David notes that his days are as a mere handbreadth. What is a handbreadth? It is the width of your hand. How wide is your hand? Even the largest of hands is very small. Here David establishes the fact that life, even a long one, is very short.
David goes one step further when he says, “Each man’s life is but a breath.” Stop and take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out. Your life just passed before your eyes.
In James 4:14 it supports David’s assertion by saying, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
At best, each of us is like a short breath of air or a mist raising up from the road of life on a hot summers day.
In verse 6 David says, “Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro”. We are nothing more than ghost like beings. The Hebrew word translated as “phantom” may also be translated as “shadow.” We are mere images solely dependent on God, here one moment and gone the next.
David begins by Questioning the shortness of life, then establishes the shortness of life and lastly in verse 6 verifies the foolishness of life. There David says of man, “He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.”
David notes that man in general spends the vast majority of his or her time “bustling about,” having our personal interests and activities, one of which is amassing “wealth.”
From a spiritual perspective, such things are a waste of time. We spend our lives, performing our interests and activities in vain. We amass wealth, but have no control over who it goes to. We can draw up wills, but wills can be overturned in court. We pass our money along to those we love, but the creditor waits at their door looking to collect.
In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus shares a parable saying, “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.'” 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Clearly the Lord and David realized the foolishness of chasing after the many things this world has to offer, while neglecting the things God says are important.
What is the answer to this troubling situation man finds himself in? David provides the remedy in verse 7. There he says, “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.”
Jesus says it another way in Matthew 10:37-39, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
To celebrate life is to celebrate Christ!
How would Christ have us to celebrate Him? First, we must recognize the shortness of time we have here on earth. In doing so, we must recognize that we have only one life to invest. This in turn must lead us to recognize the Lord’s desire for each of us to invest our lives. Invest by focusing God’s word and Christ’s walk. Invest by seeking to further His Great Commission. And likewise, in vest by striving to strengthen Christ’s Bride, the Church.
Life is very short. It is like a handbreadth, a mere breath, a ghost of a shadow. Have you come to realize this in your life? Does this help you keep perspective of your life? Are you focused on the Lord and the things of the Lord or something else? If you died today, could you enter eternity knowing you have surrendered all to Christ? Or have you been withholding from the Lord as the Rich Fool? Time, money, talents, independence. Who does it belong to you or God?