Numbering Days, Psalm 90

A bit over two years ago, I blogged on Psalm 90 under the title “Our Dwelling Place” (you can read that post here). Because Psalm 90 seems particularly appropriate for the last day of the year, I decided to break from my regular schedule and blog on it again. But before I wrote today’s entry, I began my day with Bible Gateway’s Book of Common Prayer reading plan. The Bible Gateway site implements a host of helpful features, including a variety of daily scripture reading plans. And I’ve truly been enjoying the Book of Common Prayer reading plan.

Guess what scripture passage the plan listed first for today? You guessed it: Psalm 90.

The English Standard Version (ESV) identifies Psalm 90 as a prayer of Moses, the man of God, under the heading “From Everlasting to Everlasting.” This heading immediately primes our minds to receive the truth of God’s infinity.

Moses begins by creating the metaphor of God as our dwelling place:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1-2, ESV).

He then compares God’s infinity to man’s transience.

You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers (3-6, ESV).

On this last day of the year, don’t you feel the fleeting quality of life? How quickly has this past year gone? Have you accomplished all the goals you set out last year at this time? Isn’t it true that this past year initially flourished with hope and promise that has quickly faded and withered?

Some of that fading and withering resulted from our own sins:

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
    by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence (7-8, ESV).

Certainly the revelation of our secret sins brings consequences that feel like God’s wrath. But feeling as if we’re enduring the wrath of God isn’t always our own fault. We know from Job that the righteous suffer. In fact, I sometimes feel as if life is weighted more heavily toward suffering than joy. Does it seem to you as if life is a series of taking a tiny step forward, only to be forced two large strides backward?

Life must have seemed something like that to Moses as well (9-11, ESV):

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

Even if we live to a ripe, old age, most of us are limited to only seventy or eighty productive years. And Moses describes those as full of toil and trouble. They are soon gone, and so are we. How should we view life’s brevity? Do we pause to consider the power of God’s anger and his wrath on those who do not believe in him and revere him?

Believing and revering God should be primary considerations when we take stock of our lives. Trusting in him and calling on him are ways to wisely number our days (12-13, ESV):

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!

Moses recommends reflection. He asks God to teach us to number our days. When we suffer or sorrow, it may seem as if God has withheld his mercy and favor for a very long time. But he is always there. He is always with us. And he is always merciful to us, even when we can’t see or feel that mercy. At those times, we can pray like Moses and ask God to have pity on us…if we are among those who serve him.

Generally each year seems to disappear more quickly than the last, but some years are so full of suffering and sorrow that we’re glad to see them end. Moses must have felt the same way at times. He pleads with God to temper evil with joy, to daily fill our hearts and minds with an awareness of his steadfast love.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil (14-15, ESV).

God knows our finite frailty. He knows that we sometimes need to see evidence of his love. He motivated Moses to conclude this prayer with a request for God to show his favor to generations of believers and to keep their work from being meaningless (16-17, ESV):

Let your work be shown to your servants,
    and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

We long to see God’s work. We long for our children to see his glorious power. We long for his favor to be upon us. And we long for our work to have meaning. It has meaning when we do it for God. This doesn’t mean we have to be a minister or a missionary; it means that everything we do–whether that’s changing diapers or changing contracts, saving pennies or saving people–should be done not for financial gain or personal glory, but for God’s glory. Missionary C.T. Studd summarized it in a popular and pithy poem: “Only one life, t’will soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” We work not for our boss, the government, or ourselves. We work for Christ. That’s the work of our hands that we long to be established!

Psalm 90 is a marvelous prayer for this moment in your life, when you stand at the end of one year and are about to step into a new one. May God show you his work. May he show his glorious power to your children. May his favor rest upon you and may he establish the work of your hands.

Won’t you pray this prayer with me?


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