Psalm 39: Yard Work and the Discipline of God

Read Psalm 39.

Our yard is definitely not the best one on our street. It has weeds sprouting up here and there, there are a few bald batches in places that see a lot of foot traffic, and the edging along the driveway and sidewalk leaves something to be desired.

It’s not that I don’t care about my yard at all; it’s just that I don’t care as much as some other folks in our neighborhood. For instance, our neighbors on both sides are retired empty-nesters, and their yards are immaculate. They’ve turned lawn maintenance into a lifestyle. Most days I catch a glimpse of someone outside mowing, trimming, treating, weed-whacking, or otherwise fawning over their small rectangle of grass.

I, on the other hand, always have a list of other things I’d rather be doing than grass pampering. And since we have three young boys who like to have outdoor adventures, I’m not much for the chemicals required to maintain a pristine yard.

I’m comfortable with my lack of lawn perfection. I’ve concluded life is too short to spend it serving turf. Life is also too short to build a decent seashell collection, as John Piper famously observed. It’s too short to spend more time than necessary at the office. And in Psalm 39, David laments that it’s too short to sit under the weight of God’s discipline.

Once again, David is suffering, and once again, his woes are somewhat ambiguous. David understands he is being disciplined by God for some sin in his life: “Save me from my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools…. for you are the one who has done this. Remove your scourge from me” (vv. 8–10).

Whatever David’s punishment is, it is too much for him to bear, and it has caused him to think about the brevity of life. He realizes that our time on this earth is short. He doesn’t want to spend it in pain. He prays, “Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again before I depart and am no more” (v. 13).

I get David, as I too was born pain averse. Maybe we’re the only ones. I don’t know. But I do know that suffering, as bad as it can be, is far worse when it comes from the hand of God. It’s like being eaten by a bear only to find out the bear is your dad. (Sort of.)

But the Lord’s discipline is doing its work in David’s soul, as this psalm makes clear. He has reoriented his heart back toward God: “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you” (v. 7). He asks God to help him number his days: “Let me know how fleeting my life is” (v. 4). The goal is that he might see every moment as precious, and in turn avoid sin that grieves the heart of God and brings about His discipline.

We’re supposed to hate discipline. That’s the point. Let’s not waste our lives being corrected for our sin. Let’s avoid the sin altogether. If you’ve ever suffered the consequences of a big mistake in your life—again, maybe I’m the only one—it sticks with you. You gain wisdom from your wounds.

Our sin does matter, even though Christ has paid the penalty. If we want to be used by God, if we want to enjoy His friendship, if we want to enjoy our days, numbered though they may be, we can’t be indifferent to the things that break the heart of our Father.

What is this all about?

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