A prayer of Moses the man of God.
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.
You turn people back to dust,
saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death –
they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
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.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
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 splendour to their children.
May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;(Ps. 90:1-17 NIV)
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.
You reach that age when you look back over your life thinking ‘my life is now past the halfway point. I have lived more years than I have left, and what have I achieved? Will I leave any legacy behind?’ When I was a child the summers seemed so long, but now the years just fly past. People live by the clock, because time is important to all of us.
Benjamin Franklin said,
“Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”
A.W. Tozer wrote:
“Time is a resource that is non-renewable and non- transferable. You cannot store it, slow it up, hold it up, divide it up or give it up. You can’t hoard it up or save it for a rainy day–when it’s lost it’s unrecoverable. When you kill time, remember that it has no resurrection.”
Time is a very important gift that God has given us. So important that God has given us this song to sing that is all about time. The Psalm speaks about days, years, eternity, generations, morning and evening, it speaks of how long a normal life time is, 70 or 80 years and it asks a question about how long God is going to take before he shows mercy. It shows us how God views time, a thousand years to us is just like yesterday to God.
The key verse that dominates the Psalm is verse 12, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. If we need God to teach us, then what is obvious is that there is something that we don’t know. We don’t know how to number our days. Well I suspect that most of us can count, so the prayer is not asking God to teach us how to do arithmetic. It is a prayer that I might be taught the lessons about my time that the Psalmist has already referred to.
Teach me about what you have been doing through every generation
I need to learn from verse one and two that my generation is not the most important generation, or that some bygone day was a golden age, but that what is important is that God is an everlasting God, He is eternal and does not change. While you think the mountains are unmovable and ancient, yet before the mountains came into being God was there. It is this eternal God who has been the dwelling place throughout all generations. One generation comes and another goes but God remains and is a home to each generation. Over against the eternity of God, the Psalmist sets the succession of generations. The eternity of God is set against the mortality of humanity. However, God is not just the opposite to the shortness of our lives, God’s eternity will be seen to be the answer to our homelessness and our brevity of life. God, because he is God, brings one generation into being and v3 He returns another generation to dust. As God, by speaking the word, brought the mountains into being, so by divine word He causes us to return to the dust out of which we were made. God says v 3 return to dust you mortals. The day of our death is the last thing that we want to think about, and in polite society today it is not acceptable to speak of death. Because we hide ourselves from the reality of this aspect of life, we need to turn to God and ask that we be taught that there is a time limit to our existence here on earth.
Teach me from v4-6 to understand time from God’s perspective.
With God a thousand days seems just like a yesterday. You close your eyes at night for what you think is just a few minutes, and when you check the time you realise you have been asleep for hours. That’s how time is with God. We may think we have a long life ahead of us and we can spend time with God, and for God, in the years to come. God, because he is God, sweeps people away in what is described as the sleep of death. We appear for a little time and then the wind of God blows us away and we leave no trace that we ever existed. God, who is sovereign, gives us the gift of life. We appear for a very short time like grass in the cool of the morning only to be scorched by the sun before evening. We come and go for the briefest of moments. To learn to number our days is to learn that our generation is no different from the previous generation. That God is eternal, and only in him can we find refuge. To have a heart of wisdom is to learn to apply God’s perspective to our lives. We are mortal, we are weak, we are dependent upon God. The hardest lesson that I am still trying to learn is that God is God and I am not. I want to be in control, and I need God to teach me to number my days
The third lesson I need to learn about my days and my life is that God is angry with me because of my sin
V 7-8 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. It is sometimes said that God loves the sinner and hates the sin, but that is bad theology. My sin is part of who I am. My sin is not some external thing that I have put on. My very nature is sinful and the sins that I commit are merely the outworking of what I am. I needed Christ to die for me the sinner. In polite company today we don’t speak of God’s anger, and indignation. But part of learning to number my days is to learn that my days are sinful, and that God is angry with who and what I am. But why would God give us such a negative and miserable message? Simply because it is the reality. If I am to bathe in the enjoyment of the forgiveness of sin, I need to realise how exceedingly sinful my sins are. If I underestimate the sinfulness of my sin, then I will underestimate the importance of the death of Christ.
The fourth lesson that I need to learn about my days is that my days are not only brief, and that God is angry with me, but also that there are consequences to my sin.
V10 I might make it through to 70, and if I’m strong enough I might see 80, but even the best of those days is full of trouble and the sorrow. That trouble and sorrow are the consequences of sin. The ultimate consequence of my sin is death itself. Death was never part of the original plan. Death is God’s punishment for sin. As the Psalmist reflects upon all these lessons he exclaims in v11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. It’s because I don’t understand how to number my days, I don’t understand the brevity of my life, I don’t understand God’s anger against me and my sin. This is why the Psalmist comes to the key verse. The implied response from the Psalmist is ‘Lord I don’t know, but will you teach me to number my days that I might gain a heart of wisdom’. The Psalmist has learned wisdom, and he displays that wisdom by turning to the God who has been a home for God’s people in every generation In v 13-17 the Psalmist prays, he turns to the God who is angry and says, turn from your anger and show us compassion. The reason why God was angry was because we had rebelled and stayed away. Now that we have come to him, we say, V14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love. The term behind this phrase is unfailing love (hesed). Lord remember You promised that You would be our God and we would be Your people. The outworking of that covenant love and promise was the promise of a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who would come and demonstrate His love. While we were still sinners and sinning Christ died for us. Lord teach my heart to be satisfied with Christ. I have frittered away my days in endless pursuit of other things to satisfy, but if you teach me to number my days, then the wisdom that I gain is to learn that I can really only be satisfied with Christ. There is none but Christ can satisfy. It takes me so long to learn that lesson. The days of gladness and joy in v14 contrast with the days of sorrow and trouble of v10. God has given me beauty for ashes, joy and gladness instead of sorrow and trouble. God is my refuge, he is my home, in God I rest and know to be satisfied by his covenant love. Joy and gladness are the new consequences of being at home in God. V15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us for as many years as we have seen trouble. Once my days have been set in the context of the eternal God who is sovereign over my life, then satisfaction, joy and gladness are new dimensions that I begin to experience. My daily circumstances may not change, but the way I have of looking at them does change. Without God my life lacked significance. Life was pointless, I would just appear for a brief moment, my life would vanish like a puff of smoke, I would achieve nothing and leave no worthwhile memory. But when I turned to God and prayed ‘teach me to number my days,’ not just to count how many days I had lived and then speculate about how many I might have left, but to learn how God sees my life, then I gained a heart of wisdom. V17 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. Before I learned to number my days, my work was meaningless, but now with the favour of God upon my life, with God as my home and refuge, then the work of hands is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters , stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. It is a good time to take stock of your life, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Lord God, everlasting God, teach us to number our days. We do not know the day of our death, but it is sooner today than it was yesterday. Help us to redeem the time we have left, so that we don’t squander this precious resource You have given us. Teach us to number our days, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.