Psalm 39 (Part 1 of 3): My Best Is A Mere Breath

“Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath.” (Psalm 39:5)

Lately Dickson, our small group leader, has been discussing with us about an observation in churches. Whenever we engage in bible studies or hear a sermon preached, Christians usually come away with a guilty feeling, saying “I cannot live up to the standard of that teaching.” On any given Sunday, the pastor could be sounding well-intentioned calls to encourage believers to read the Bible every day, pray to God at all times, share the gospel with everyone you meet, sign up to serve God at every opportunity, etc., etc., and we all come away, shaking our heads, and say, “No, I can never be like that.”

It just happened that today we study the topic of “guilt” in our parenting support group. If you really want to understand the weight of guilt, you simply have to become a parent. At every step of the way, you find yourself telling yourself “I’ve failed again. I’ve created another bad experience for my child.”

In both of these cases, the key is to realize, even if you achieve your best, and you’re even regarded as the “best Christian” (if there’s ever such a thing) or the “best parent,” your best is still just a “mere breath,” in the Psalmist terminology. To put it more graphically, it’s like that white vapor you exhale out of your mouth during cold weather. It’s visible for a short while and then it’s gone. Yes, even when you get to plant 30 churches all over the world, lead 10,000 people to Christ, write 2,000 hymns sung by people in 200 countries, all that accomplishment is just a speck of dust in God’s eyes. Like a tiny grain of sand. Like a drop of water in the ocean. My best of the best is like nothing at all.

What does all that mean? Does it mean I should not do my best? No. It means that the perfectionist in all of us can take a vacation, and the focus should turn from achieving my own idea of perfection to fully embracing God’s grace. The Christian life is not in how many things I do or what achievements I accomplished or how many people I influenced, but in whether I live my life to show that despite my failures and imperfections, God’s mercy is still evident and His grace is sufficient.

Thanksgiving is coming up in two weeks, but I often dread hearing people share about their “thanks of gifts.” Many times, when I hear people say, “Thank God for giving me a good job” or “Thank God for letting me buy this fancy house” or even “Thank God for giving me good health,” it all sounded superficial and downright selfish. They’re not really thanking God so much as telling people about what new possessions or achievements they’ve attained. They often say, “count your blessings,” as in that famous hymn. For me, I would rather say, “count your failings.” Because in my weakness, God is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When I count my failings, I see God’s mercy in my life. When I realize my rebellion, then I see God’s unconditional faithfulness to me. When I realize my mistaken chances to love my brothers and sisters and my family, then I see God actually love them way more than I could ever love them. When I realize my lack of courage to speak the truth, then I see God risking His Son’s life so that I can accept His Truth.

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3 thoughts on “Psalm 39 (Part 1 of 3): My Best Is A Mere Breath

  1. Not enough Tim. Let me push you further still. Man’s best is an abomination to the LORD, deserving God’s wrath and eternal condemnation. Isa 64:6 says, “All of our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” and Jer 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” And read Romans. And all this includes Christians. We’re all TOTALLY DEPRAVED, DEAD (not just injured or sick) in our trespasses. When we say we’re not perfect, it sounds as if we’re saying we’re good (or at worse, neutral), but not perfect. But the Bible clearly says we’re plain evil and wicked.
    Anything good that happens to come out of a Christian (starting churches, speak the gospel to a lost soul, writing hymns) is simply 100% work of God and 0% work of man, less he/she should boast. If there were even a microscopic trace of righteousness in a man (to make even a minute step toward God), then Christ died in vain and God’s grace became nothing. As is, we’re not just “not good enough”, we are worse than we can ever imagine. Sadly, most of us christians are simply blind to our own blindness.
    If Chase grows up to be a man of God and be blessed with salvation, you know it’s 100% God’s work and 0% from you or Wendy or Chase himself, though you’re commanded and held accountable to do bring him up in the training and instruction of the Lord, and Chase himself is commanded to believe.

  2. Point well taken. In fact, I did imply that man’s work is 0% and God’s work is 100%. And I completely that, if we were all given a grade, everyone will get a failing grade.

    But there’s a part 2 and a part 3 to this topic in upcoming blog entries… and I’ll focus more on parenting in another one… so don’t draw any conclusions yet.

  3. I found your “count your failings” concept very insightful. However, I still see the significance of “count one’s blessings” and won’t dismiss it as superficial and selfish. I think it depends on how the “thanks of gifts” are given. e.g. one gives thanks on good health so that they can continue to serve and serve better in a particular position, or their nice house so that they can accommodate more people when they host prayer meeting. If we genuinely give thanks on our blessings b/c they ultimately lead to His Glory instead of our personal gains, I don’t see why not.

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