Today as I write this, the date is December 28th, the last Monday of one of the most difficult and chaotic years of recent memory. What started off as a year of hopes and dreams turned into, for many, a time of struggle, pain and grief. With Christmas now past us, we return to the “reality” of our world. So how do we go forward? In what ways can we rediscover focus? How can we have hope?
In times of uncertainty and challenges, I often find myself meditating on Moses’ words in Psalm 90 because they express so much that is in my heart now and my hope is it will speak to yours as well. The context of Psalm 90 is not a happy one. It was written in a time when the people of God are under God’s judgement. We read in verse 7, “We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.” All this was a result of their sin. Nevertheless, beneath the bad news of God’s judgment is confidence in God’s everlasting goodness. Moses tells them in verses 14 and 17, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days… May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us…” In other words, rejoicing and prosperity will come again.
Psalm 90 reframes the way we think about time and its passing. The psalm begins with good news in verses 1-2, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” In spite of what they were experiencing, the psalmist reminds them that God has always shown His faithfulness and connection to the people. A truth we often overlook today is God exists outside of time. We are reminded that “before the mountains were born (created),” that “from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Verse 4 tells us, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” In other words, all we see and experience, God sees it in light of eternity.
Many live as if they are going to live forever. However, when framed by God’s eternal existence, our time on earth is short. In fact, verse 10 tells us, “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” That is why special mention is always given to those who live past 100. Living that long is not the norm.
The shortness of our lives, especially living in these difficult times, can be discouraging. But, in light of Psalm 90, it can lead towards something invaluable in our lives and that is acquiring wisdom. Verse 12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This verse has probably had more of an impact on my life over the past decade than any other. The phrase, “number our days,” means “know that our days are numbered.” Knowledge of the shortness of our life can help us become wise. It can help motivate us to make the most of each day we are given because each day is a grace and blessing from God.
But in a practical way, how does this help us? To begin, the length of our life contrasted with the eternity of God’s existence makes us understand how brief our lives truly are. We read in James 4:14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” When we count our days, we are reminded of our smallness compared with God’s greatness. This recognition leads us, on the one hand, to want to use well the time given to us. On the other hand, it also reminds us of our complete dependence on God. Thus, the final verse of Psalm 90 reads, “May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” When God’s favour rests on us, when God prospers us, then our work will be fruitful.
It is interesting how this psalm ends. The psalmist takes time to reflect on the eternality of God, the relative shortness of our lives, and our dependence on God’s grace leads to a prayer that God “prosper” our work. In this request, we hear an echo of the creation story in Genesis 1, in which God worked to create us in His image so that we might work in this world as God’s agents and co-labourers. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Though our time on earth is limited, our work still matters. What we do as workers will prosper as God’s grace is active in our lives.
This past year has been filled with challenges. Many of us are tired and void of hope. Some have experienced work loss while others have suffered personal losses due to the pandemic and other tragedies. As challenging as the year has been, I believe if we take the opportunity and take the time to reflect on this past year, we will see God’s hand at work in and through our lives.
As we farewell to 2020 and we move on to 2021, we should look forward with anticipation and hope. Although our lives, in the grand scheme of things, is brief, we do not despair. Rather, when we count our days, we renew our trust in our timeless God and we ask for His favour so that we might make a difference through our work in the brief time allotted to us.