Numbering Our Days

New Years, Psalms

The move from one year to the next serves a useful purpose.  I’m not talking about giving us a day off, an excuse for a party, or providing a time when we can watch football all day long. There are more valuable benefits.

First, the change of years helps mark the passage of time.  It gives us a reference point from which we can organize and evaluate life.  Second, the start of a New Year gives us a chance to feel like we have a New Beginning.  It provides us an opportunity to make changes, set goals, and change direction.  These are good things.

This morning I want to help this process.  We turn to Psalm 90 this morning.  This is a Psalm identified as written by Moses. To put the Psalm in context we can only guess at the historical circumstances.  Dr. James Montgomery Boice suggests the Psalm is set around the time of the events in Numbers 20.  In that chapter we read of three significant events: the death of Moses’ sister, Miram; the sin of Moses that caused him to be kept from entering the Promised Land; and the death of Moses’ brother, Aaron.  It was a time of change and reflection.

The first part of the Psalm (1-11) reminds us of some of the realities of life.  The second part of the Psalm contains some specific requests in response to these realities.  I think you will quickly see how appropriate a Psalm this is for us as we move toward a New Year that contains a great deal of uncertainty.

The Realities of Life

If Numbers 20 is the background of the Psalm, Moses had been leading the Israelites for 38 or more years.  The desert wanderings were a result of Israel’s unwillingness to enter the Promised Land.  The punishment for this refusal to trust God was that every adult alive at the time of the rebellion would die in the desert.  Consequently, over the last 38 years, Moses witnessed the death and burial of hundreds of thousands of people.

At this point in his life the only people left from his generation were his brother Aaron, his sister, Miriam, and Joshua and Caleb (who were not punished because of they continued to be faithful even when everyone else rebelled). It is hard when all your friends and contemporaries start to die. Even at this stage of my life I am sobered when I see obituaries of people who are my age and younger.  Imagine how sobering this was for Moses!  Now he has had to bury his own brother and sister. He has also been told that he will not enter the Promised Land after longing for that day for the last 40 years of his life. It was a trying time.

As Moses reflected on his life, he identifies four realities.

God is consistent (1-2) Moses starts where every person should start: by looking at the Lord.  Moses said,

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

The word everlasting is figurative in the Hebrew. It means “from the vanishing point to the vanishing point.” God is from the vanishing point in the past and reaches to the vanishing point in eternity future. Just as far as you can see, from vanishing point to vanishing point, He is still God. [1]

When life becomes overwhelming we must remember the One in whom we put our trust: He is the One who is always there.  He was here when we came into the world and He will be there when we exit this world.  He is on the throne in prosperous times and remains on the throne in economically stressful times.  He is God when we are healthy and when our health fails.  He is God when we experience victories and when we fail. No matter what happens in our lives we must remember the truth that God is consistent.  No matter what the circumstance we can remember this threefold truth

God is in Control

He Love Me

He Never Makes a Mistake

The anchor in all situations is the character of God.

Life Passes Quickly (3-6) The second thing Moses observed is that whereas God is eternal, we are not.  We are only passing through.  He says we are like the grass that is here today and gone tomorrow.  One commentator said: imagine a room with a window open on both sides of the room. A bird flies in one window and out the other.  That’s a picture of our lives.

The harsh reality is this: though we like to think we are incredibly significant and important to the world, the truth is that within 150 years we will be forgotten.  Our names may be written in family histories somewhere and there may, for a period of time, be pictures or videos of our lives; but the reality is that we will be largely forgotten.

Moses is not saying this to depress us (even though I find that his words are effectively doing just that).  He is saying this to get us to live with perspective.  He wants us to recognize the fleeting nature of our lives.

Perhaps you have found yourself giving a pep talk to your high school or college student. They may be discouraged and we say, “Hang in there . . . it is only four years!”  We try to convey that the trials of the present are nothing in comparison to the reward of finishing school. That four years may seem like an eternity to the student, but it is not.  It is only a slice of life.

Moses sees the big picture.  He sees that most of what we see as critical in our lives is but a moment in a lifetime.  Rather than living for the moment we would be wise to focus on the eternal.

Our Sin is Offensive Before God (7-8) Moses reflected on the sinful character of man.  If our context is correct, Moses would have been very conscious of his own sin.  Israel was complaining about not having water to drink.  So God told Moses to speak to the Rock and God would cause water to come from that rock.  Instead Moses STRUCK the rock and said, “Must WE bring water from this rock.”  Moses in his frustration took at least some of the credit and glory from God.  He did not do what God told him to do and as a result God told Moses he would die before he would enter into the Promised Land.

As we read these words we are reminded that “even the best of men are only men at best”.  It may seem like God was being harsh with Moses but Moses was the leader of the people.  If Moses did not respect God, no one would do so. We are all sinful people.  On our own, we do much worse than Moses.  Our choices and the choices of those around us bring painful consequences into our lives.

Life is Hard (9-11) Moses writes,

All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.

The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Moses sounds negative but he is actually being realistic.  The journey of life is not easy.  Think about it.

  • In the Toddler years there is frustration that no one understands what you want/need.
  • In the school years there are social cliques, physical awkwardness, new skills that must be learned and also the mean and insensitive classmates.
  • After school there are the challenges of paying bills, finding jobs, managing a household, making good decisions, and gaining respect.
  • In middle age we must deal with teenagers and also the increasing pressure to “produce” in our jobs.  We run fast and feel like we are getting nowhere.
  • As you become a “mature adult” there are a host of physical challenges: our eyesight and hearing starts to go, there are: colonoscopies, stress tests, arthritis, and a host of diseases that lurk in the shadows.
  • In the senior years we battle an increasing loneliness as our friends die; there is the reality that our life is almost over and a feeling of increasing insignificance as you find yourself marginalized by others because of your age.

Let’s be honest. Life is not easy. Sometimes life is a struggle. Sometimes life seems meaningless. To one degree or another all of these things are the cumulative effects of sin.

A Wise Response to the Realities of Life (12-17)

Having observed these realities Moses makes three requests in the last portion of the Psalm. First he asks, Teach us to number our days.  Moses is not suggesting that we consult an actuary table to figure out our anticipated lifespan.  He is asking God to help us remember that life is short and to make the most of the days we have. He prays that we might live with perspective.

We tend to think that because we have only a few fleeting years on this earth we should cram as much into our lives as possible. Our calendars are full and we are constantly on the run.  We are overcommitted so we are never home and when we are home we are on the computer, talking on the phone, playing a video game or watching television. We spend little time talking to our kids, and our marriage consists of conversations we have in the car via our cell phone as we move from one place to another.

Those who number their days take a different approach.  They make decisions about what is truly important and give themselves to the pursuit of these things.  They understand that sometimes they must say “No” to some good things so they can do better things.

People who recognize the shortness of life stop to gaze at the stars and marvel at a sunset.  They want to live mindful of the eternal. They limit their involvements so they can actually spend quality time with people. They make time for God because they know that this life will soon be past and our relationship with God will be all that is left.

Chuck Swindoll writes,

Think of the person who is in sales. He faces the competitive battle of a monthly quota. He fights that tough assignment (talk about boring!) to keep himself clothed and his family fed. How does verse 12 apply? “Lord, show me, in the struggle to meet my quota, how to see all this as You see it.” How about the teacher? “Show me, as a teacher who faces the same routine in classes week after week, year after year, the ultimate investment I am making in these lives.” Or what about those in vocational Chris­tian service? “Lord, cause me to see that when I carry out my call to ministry, there are dimensions of meaning far beyond what I am able to understand or see.” And the homemaker? “Help me, Lord, to see the value of my role as a mother with three, four, five kiddos.” Or, “Show me as one who has no children, your plan for me.” Or perhaps, “In our home without the children any longer—now only a couple drawn back together—teach us the wisdom of taking life a day at a time. Cause us to learn how to make these days significant days. Help us to keep on soaring!”[2]

This is a prayer we should all pray: “Help me to live my life with perspective and wisdom.”

Satisfy us with your unfailing love .   The second request is powerful, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. “

Moses asked God to help him find his satisfaction in God’s great love.  He asks that the time of trial turn into building blocks that lead to true intimacy and enjoyment of the Lord. Saint Augustine wrote “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you.”

Do you feel restless in your life?  Does it seem like you are on a treadmill and getting nowhere? Are you surrounded with stuff but still feel empty? If so it is likely that you are looking for satisfaction in the wrong places.

Finding satisfaction in the love of God involves several things.  First, it involves getting to truly know the Lord rather than simply know ABOUT the Lord.  You can read information about people and you can even memorize their resume . . . but that doesn’t mean you have a relationship with that person. Suppose there was a person to whom you were attracted.  You ask people about the person, you study the person, you are fascinated and infatuated by the person.  However, you will not find any satisfaction for your longings until you actually get to know the person.

Our relationship with God is like that.  If we will take the time to get to know Him we will discover that He is good, merciful, holy, and loving.  We get to know God by read the Bible not as a history book but as a communication from God to us.  We get to know Him by making prayer an intimate and honest conversation rather than a formal (and sometimes pretentious) monologue. We get to know Him as we learn to listen for the whispers of His Spirit in our hearts and minds and through the lives of others.

Second, we need to dare to take steps of trust in our relationship with God. Just as in any relationship, trust the foundation on which we build. When we trust God we dare to do things God’s way even though it conflicts with the way of the world, our instinct, or our desires.  It is like an apprentice doing what the experienced craftsman tells him to do even though he has always done it another way because he trusts the wisdom of his mentor.  We must learn to trust God because we are confident of the love and wisdom of the one who gives the instruction.  We don’t obey God because we are afraid of Him; we obey God because we trust Him.  As we dare to trust we discover His sufficiency and discover that satisfaction that we have been looking for.

Establish the work of our hands.  I think Moses is doing more than simply asking God to prosper what he does.  I think Moses is saying, “Lord, help me to do something eternally significant with my life.” When all is said and done most of us would like to look back on our lives and feel that we had done something that will live beyond us. The money will dissipate, the awards will be put in a box, the stuff will eventually be sold in a yard sale or dumped in the garbage.  Moses asks God to make a lasting difference through his life.  Be honest with yourself.  Isn’t this what you want also?

Conclusions

Let’s get practical. As you begin a New Year let me give you some simple suggestions on how you can make a difference this year.

1.      Make time for people. Remind yourself again and again that People matter more than things.  Making time for people is more than spending time with people.  We make time for people when we stop to listen, when we enter into the world of another, when we take time to care. Give yourself to cultivating real relationships.  Start in your own home and work from there.

2.      Look for ways to invest yourself in that which will live beyond you.  Look for opportunities to share your faith with someone (the people we lead to Christ will last throughout eternity!) Give of yourself to meet a need.  Be generous! Also do the little things: Work on making a Memory book.  Write down significant events of your life.  Write notes to family members.  Put together that photo album that you have been meaning to assemble.  Write that family history before those who know the history are gone.  Write down the story of your conversion so that others know how you came to Christ.  Write a book.  Make a work of art.  Write a song.  Plan a special vacation. Do something that will be significant even after you are gone.

3.      Give priority attention to your spiritual life. Life is short but eternity lasts forever. We should consequently invest ourselves in that which is eternal. Our relationship with God is not only the key to what happens after we die; it is also the key to our enjoyment and satisfaction now. Remind yourself that the Christian life is not about rules, it is about a relationship.  We serve God not in order to avoid punishment but because He is worth serving!

We hear all the time about the need to plan for retirement.  The best plan is the one that starts early and is consistent and steady.  It is the same for our spiritual future.  We should start early, invest regularly and strive for consistency. However, knowing what we should do and doing it are two different things.  Having the right information is not the same as acting on that information.

There is a good chance that most of us know what needs to be addressed or changed in your life.  Perhaps there is a sin that needs to be abandoned.  Maybe you need to limit your activities so you have time for what’s most important. Maybe you know and believe that true life is found only in Jesus Christ . . . but you have not made a commitment to Him.  Maybe there is someone you need to talk to.  Maybe there is a project that needs to be finished. The beginning of a New Year is a great time to take action.  Get to it!  Our days on earth are fleeting. The wise person won’t want to waste a single day.

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Scripture:

Psalm 90