Should a Christian pray for a longer life on earth? Never mind admitting that that’s what you want; the question is whether you have any grounds for asking God to give you more years of this life.
In 1869, Methodist theologian William Burt Pope published a sermon for the new year, on the last line of Psalm 39: “O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.”
It’s not what you’d call a cheery line of scripture.
But as W.B. Pope turned the passage over in his mind, read it in the context of the entire psalm, and then considered how this verse could be prayed by Christians, he produced a remarkable sermon. Its virtues are its seriousness, earnestness, and sobriety rather than its cheerfulness or inspiration, yet it is a sermon with a fundamentally joyful outlook and an affirmation that life is fulfilled in the happy enjoyment of God’s blessings. Pope does not conceal from his readers that as the new year dawns he has a strong desire to remain alive; even less does he attempt to conceal this desire from his God. Instead, he meticulously draws out the reasons why it is a good thing to ask God for more days in this life, for more time in this world.
You can read the sermon as originally printed in the Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine of 1869, or read it below. It’s about 4,000 words long; I’ve broken up the paragraphs a little bit, and have added some things like block-quoting and bullet-pointing to make it easier to read online.
A Prayer for “All Men Everywhere”
“O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.” Psalm 39:13
With this prayer David closes a most affecting meditation upon the mystery of human life. Chastened for his sins, and not yet assured of the Divine favour, he muses upon the misery of his own condition, and upon the wretchedness of man generally, under the displeasure of God. To his thought the race is groaning hopelessly and helplessly under a burden too heavy for it to bear. His meditation on God as the Ruler of his life is not this time sweet: it begins in a tone of inexpressible sadness which it scarcely loses to the end; and his appeal to his Maker is almost entirely desponding. Though he restrained his lips before men, before God he is under no restraint.