We Have to Be Carefully Taught

Carol Bechtel

READ : Psalm 39:4-7

Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days. (v. 4)

Most of us go through life in various levels of denial about the fact that we are going to die. Teenagers are notorious for thinking – and acting – as if they were immortal. But most of us don’t like to think about our own mortality at any age. It often takes an illness or a tragedy to give us a “reality check.”

When the psalmist prays for God to teach him the measure of his days, he is asking for just this kind of reality check. It may seem like a strange request. Yet, we will often live our lives more wisely once we learn this lesson.

In Charles Dickens’ famous short story A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed by a nightmare in which he sees his own name on a tombstone. While most of us do not experience such a dramatic personality transplant, a close brush with death will often produce a significant change in attitude. We learn to savor things we used to take for granted. And we know – as the psalmist does – that our hope lies not in ourselves, but in God.


Teach us, O God, that our days are numbered. But teach us, as well, that in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.

Listening option: Brahms’ Requiem, Movement 3.