Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
As we approach the end of 2019 and get ready to enter a new decade, I find that Psalm 90 speaks very much to what is in my heart. I hope it will speak to yours as well.
The circumstances surrounding Psalm 90 are not a happy one. It speaks of a time when the people of God are “consumed by [God’s] anger” and “overwhelmed” by God’s wrath (v. 7) because of their “iniquities” (v. 8). In spite of the bad news of God’s judgment, there is the solid foundation of confidence in God’s never-ending goodness. Joy and prosperity will come again (v. 14, 17).
Psalm 90 helps us see the passing of time in a different way. The author begins with good news: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Additionally, God is not limited by time, “before the mountains were born” (v. 2). Undeniably, the writer rejoices, “from everlasting to everlasting You are God” (90:2). Because God is not bound by time, God sees the breadth of time differently than we view it: “A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (v. 4).
In contrast to God’s eternal existence, our life here on this planet is short: “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” (v. 10). Life’s shortness, especially if we live in challenging times, could be disheartening. But, as this Psalm teaches, it can lead to wisdom: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). The phrase, “count our days” means “know that our days are numbered.” When we understand the shortness of our life, such understanding can help us become wise.
How? To begin, the shortness of our life juxtaposes with the infinite life of God. We are also reminded of our smallness compared with God’s greatness. It leads us to want to use our time well. It also leads us to an utter dependence on God. Psalm 90 closes with, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us.” When God’s favor is with us and He establish us, then our work will be fruitful and prosperous. What as amazing and applicable conclusion! The psalmist’s considerations on God’s timelessness, the shortness of our lives, and our dependence on God’s grace lead to a prayer that God “prosper” our work. Though our days are numbered, our work still matters. The work we do will prosper as God’s grace is active in our lives.
So as the year changes from 2019 to 2020 and as we enter a new decade, , we do not despair in the face of the briefness of our life. Instead, as we count our days, we renew our faith in our eternal God and we ask for His favor so that our life and work might make a difference in the brief time given to us.