“Teach Us To Number Our Days” Psalm 90 January 30, 2011
SI: Please open your Bibles to Psalm 90.
This winter we’re studying a number of selected Psalms.
The Psalms cover the range of emotions and experiences of God’s people.
Next to 23rd Psalm, Psalm 90 has probably been read at more gravesides
than any other. You’ll understand why when we read it.
I’ll be reading from English Standard Version instead of NIV
so I could make particular points about some verses.
INTRO: This past Thursday and Friday Allison and I took Adrienne to visit
Covenant College. That’s our alma mater.
So for Allison and me it was a trip down memory lane.
Over and over again we commented on things we remembered—
classmates and professors, incidents of college life.
The trip also reminded us of the passing of time.
As many times as Allison and I said to each other: Do you remember that?
We also said: Where have the years gone?
It seems like we were just here—but it’s been 25 years.
We ran into a few classmates whose children were also visiting the college
and they looked old! We don’t look like that. Do we?
I’m sure that all of you over a certain age know exactly what I’m talking about.
Whenever you go back and visit a place that was important to you in an earlier part
of your life, the overwhelming impression is the passing of time.
And the older you are, the more quickly it seems that time is passing.
The more frequently you are reminded of the brevity of life.
The example I mentioned of visiting my old college was a gentle reminder.
It’s different at a graveside. That’s when it hits you hardest that life is passing.
I remember the graveside of my last grandparent. Momma Fay, mother’s mother.
Looking at my mom and dad, my aunts and uncles and realizing
that in the normal course of life, their generation would be next.
Time marches on.
Psalm 90 is about time. Over and over it speaks of morning and evening,
days and years, and the generations of men passing by.
Psalm 90 is not exactly what you would call cheerful, but it’s a realistic.
I like the way the Lutheran scholar H.C. Leupold summarized mood of Psalm 90.
“There does not appear to be any trace of bitterness or undue pessimism.
Just plain, realistic thinking.”
And the plain, realistic writer of this Psalm was Moses.
Some think Moses wrote after events of Numbers 20. He was 118 years old then.
For 38 years, he had been leading the Israelites in wilderness wanderings.
Remember God said Israel would wander for 40 years, until the whole
generation that refused to enter the Promised Land had died.
Moses attended lots of funerals in those years.
Then, in Numbers 20 it struck close to home. Moses buried his sister Miriam.
She was older than Moses. And even though they once had a very
serious falling out, she was still important in his life.
Also in Numbers 20 is the incident where Moses struck the rock in anger.
And God said, for that you and Aaron will not enter the Promised Land.
Just a short time after that, he buried his brother Aaron. So he was only sibling left.
Moses looked back over his life. The first 40 years as a prince in Egypt.
The next 40 years tending sheep in Midian. Then the last great chapter of his life.
What would be 40 years of leading the Israelite nation.
He must have looked back and thought—Where have the years gone?
Egypt seems like yesterday, but it was a lifetime ago.
And meeting God in the burning bush, and the parting of the Red Sea.
I’ve buried my loved ones and I’m tired. I have regrets about things I’ve done.
As time passes, I see more clearly that life is toil, frailty, brevity, and death.
But instead of that driving him to pessimism, it drove him to the Lord.
As one old Scottish preacher put it:
Moses “clings to the eternal God who can fill our fleeting days with ringing gladness.”
Our days are fleeting, but our God is eternal,
And then the heart of the Psalm is Moses’ request in verse 12.
“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
That should be your prayer too.
Because you must have a biblical approach to the brevity of your life.
How do you make that prayer a reality?
There are two steps you must take.
These will be the two points of the sermon.
1. You must believe that your life is passing.
2. You must trust Christ to redeem your days.
Let’s look at each.
MP#1 You must believe that your life is passing
A faithful Christian life is a thinking life, it’s a reflective life.
We live in a culture that spends billions trying to deny aging and death.
But a true man of God thinks seriously about the brevity of life.
Psalm 90 starts with a barrage of images.
They appear so quickly, that before you have time to focus on one,
it is replaced with another one.
It’s like the passing of time itself. It’s like our lives.
Vs. 3 Moses says that all men will return to dust.
Your body that you care about so much, that you washed and clothed so carefully
this morning, that you examined in the mirror as you brushed hair—it will decay.
Vs. 4 1000 years are like a day. No, more like a watch in the night, four hours.
Families, nations, civilizations pass away seemingly overnight.
Vs. 5 You sweep them away as with a flood.
You’ve seen that. A house in a flood or hurricane. There, then it’s gone.
You look at the spot and it’s as if it never existed. That’s your life.
They are like a dream. What did you dream about last night? Most of you don’t
remember. I dreamed something, but it’s completely gone from my mind.
That’s how quickly your life passes in time.
Vs. 6 They are like grass. It’s green in the morning.
You cut it and it withers and fades.
Over and over, image after image. Time is fleeting. Life is fleeting.
Death is just around the corner.
Vs. 9 We bring our years to an end like a sigh. It’s that brief.
And what is the quality of this brief life?
Vs. 10 “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.”
That was written 3500 years ago and it’s still true.
Up to this point, Moses has not said anything distinctively Christian.
All the great world religions would more or less agree with him.
All the great thinkers and poets say the same thing.
Remember Macbeth. Did you have to read Macbeth in high school?
Remember his famous soliloquy when he hears that his wife has died:
. . . Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more . . .
All thinking people, Christian and non-Christian would agree life passes quickly.
But they would disagree about why.
Why is it this way? Why do our lives pass so quickly?
Is this just the way it is? Is this the way things are supposed to be?
I remember years ago, in St. Louis, reading a newspaper column by an atheist.
He was a father, and he was relating the difficulties of raising his child as an atheist.
He was perplexed that his young son believed in the existence of God
and believed that people had souls. He hadn’t taught him that.
Figured he had picked it up from other people who were believers.
And he told how he had tried to teach his son that people die because
that’s just the way it is. Everything dies and people die too and that’s all there is.
He said that as he explained this, and as his little boy began to understand what
his father was telling him that he got an agonizing look on his face and he said:
Daddy, you mean we die just like a bug?
And the atheist dad said he felt for his son’s pain but he had to tell him the truth.
So he said: Yes, son, we die just like a bug.
A lot of people have that view but the sugar-coat it.
They say that death is natural. That death is a part of life.
We’re all part of the circle of life.
Have some vague notions of living on in the memories of others.
But if they were as brutally honest as the atheist dad they would say—
Life is brief and full of pain and that’s just the way it is.
But what does Moses say?
He connects the brevity of life with something surprising—with God’s wrath.
“For all our days pass away under your wrath.”
Life just doesn’t happen to be this way—
it’s this way because it is under the wrath of God.
There’s a clue to this back at the beginning, when Moses says:
“You return man to dust.” What’s the significance of that phrase?
Where is that phrase first found in the Bible?
It’s in Genesis 3. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
God created man to live forever. To exercise dominion over all creation.
But there was a test of obedience.
They could eat the fruit from all the trees in the Garden of Eden
except for the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
They listened to the serpent, ate the fruit. And the Lord pronounced a curse.
Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your
life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you
were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
There it is—To dust you will return.
Our days are brief and troubled because of the curse of sin.
At first glance, that might seem like a pessimistic statement.
But it’s not. Because it means that this is not the way things are supposed to be.
Our lives are not supposed to be brief.
We weren’t made to return to dust and fade like grass and be forgotten like dream.
We were made to live forever and enjoy bright days.
We were made not to look back just 30, 40, or 50 years—
but a thousand years. Ten thousand years, and say—That seems like yesterday.
We have eternity in our hearts.
It’s the curse of sin that has messed things up.
Time grinds us down because we live in a fallen world.
And God has sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem creation and reverse the fall.
And so for a Christian, to think often and soberly about the brevity of your life
is a way to be driven to the arms of Jesus Christ.
I remember as a boy, nine years old, my dad read the Bible to me.
It was thoughts about my death and my sin that drove me to faith in Christ.
And it doesn’t stop when you become a Christian. Here is Moses.
He’s walked with God over 100 years.
Even for him, thoughts of the brevity of life makes him long for the Lord.
Do you want a heart of wisdom? Here’s where it starts.
You must believe that your life is passing. Let that turn thoughts to Jesus.
MP#2 You must trust Christ to redeem your days
Moses could have said: Life is brief but heaven is eternal.
So just stick it out and soon you’ll die and go to heaven and everything will be ok.
But he didn’t.
And he didn’t even pray: Lord, just take me to heaven.
Although there would have been nothing wrong with that prayer.
The Psalm ends with Moses expressing his trust in the Lord to redeem his days.
That God will be at work and redeem this brief life.
Particularly three areas—his troubles, his children, and his work.
These are three areas where the brevity and uncertainty of life can tie you in knots.
Instead, you have to trust Christ to redeem them.
And work them out for you now.
First, the Lord redeems your troubles. Vs. 15
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Troubles and afflictions can come into a person’s life and seem to ruin it—
but Jesus Christ can redeem those troubles. How does he redeem them?
By turning them into opportunities to know him better and bring him glory.
I’m sure most of you know Joni Erikson’s story.
Maybe you’ve read her autobiography or other books.
Several years ago some of the women in our church went to hear her speak.
When Joni was a teenageer years old she broke her neck diving into shallow water
and became a quadriplegic. You can imagine how she thought and felt.
That all the things she had dreamed of doing were closed to her.
That her life was over before it began.
The troubles of her life compounded the sense of brevity and frailty.
She truly had days of affliction and years of evil.
But the Lord redeemed her trouble and made her glad. Not for the accident itself.
But by his grace he enabled her to catch a glimpse of his purposes.
She was able to say, Yes, Lord. This is not the life I would have chosen.
But this is the life you have given me, and you’ve met me here.
Joni has said that she hopes her wheelchair will be with her in heaven.
Not that she will need it. But that it will remind her forever,
of God’s good purposes and grace in her life.
I had someone say to me recently about a relationship that failed—
This was not the way it was supposed to be—but the Lord has redeemed
Life is brief and so are your troubles. What are your troubles?
What are your days of affliction and years of evil?
Trust Jesus to redeem them.
Look for and ask him to show you his grace and blessing in your troubles.
Ask him to help you see his purposes. How he is sanctifying you through them.
Second, the Lord redeems your children. Vs. 16
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
There are few areas of life that can give you as much joy as your children.
And when you can pass on your faith to your children there is this extra blessing.
The Lord, through his grace to your children, overwhelms the brevity of your life.
Because you know that another generation is going to trust God
and call him their dwelling place, and as Moses says here,
see the Lord’s glorious power in their lives.
Parents often think of themselves living on in their children.
But that is nowhere more real than when your children follow Christ.
When you understand that your life is passing, when you number your days,
you realize that there are few things more important
than raising your children in the faith.
And that means you take time to do the important things.
Reading the Bible to them. Praying with them.
Teaching them to love worship and the fellowship of the church.
Challenging them to live for Christ.
But all the while, your trust must be in Christ to redeem them.
Christian parents of Christ Covenant. Are you doing all you can?
If you don’t have children of your own—you can still trust Christ for this.
Because it’s not just biological children that are referred to here—
it’s spiritual children. You can bring people to Christ.
You can help them along the way.
Adrienne and Eliza have been helping teach the Kindergarten Sunday school class.
At lunch on Sunday we all laugh at the stories they tell about these little souls.
A few weeks ago their Bible verse was:
“And the Lord spoke, I will strengthen you and help you.”
When they read it, one of the children said: What? The Lord smokes?
Another child said: My grandpa smokes.
Adrienne and Eliza said, No, no, no—
“And the Lord spoke: I will strengthen you and help you.”
Ok, who thinks they can say that Bible verse? One child raised her hand.
“God smokes.” So that was the great theological lesson of the day.
Trust Christ to redeem the brevity of life by using you to pass on the faith
to the next generation and then do your part.
Third, the Lord redeems your work. Vs. 17
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!
Is your work going to last? You are putting years of your life into it.
But when your life is ended, what will you have to show for it?
Will it turn to dust? Will it be swept away like a flood?
There are many men who give their lives to their work.
It becomes their idol. And they see the futility of it and despair.
But what about believers.
Here’s the wonderful promise. The Lord will establish the work of your hands.
What that means is that if you pursue your work as a calling from God.
Then Christ will honor that as service to him.
And that work will somehow be established for eternity.
It will lay a good foundation for your life and work in the eternal kingdom.
This doesn’t just refer to church work or religious work.
It’s not just the preacher’s work or the missionary’s work that is established.
It’s the work of the Christian no matter what his calling—
the Christian teacher, the Christian accountant, the Christian farmer.
Martin Luther said:
“. . . the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ
one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman
going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
The Puritan William Perkins said:
The work of a shepherd tending sheep is as good a work before God as is the action of
a judge giving a sentence, or a magistrate in ruling, or a minister preaching.
William Tyndale—English translator, burned at the stake for faith, wrote:
“There is a difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the Word of God,
but as touching to please God, none at all.”
Do you feel sometimes the toil and futility of your work?
Do you say to yourself,
I don’t see how I can keep doing this for 20, 30, 40 more years?
What am I doing? What lasting things am I building?
Trust Christ to redeem your work. Every day dedicating your labor to him.
And long after you are gone, your work will be established in eternity.
CONC: Your life is brief. But the Lord is eternal.
And if you have faith in Jesus Christ, and have given your life to him—
You can be assured that the wrath of God has passed over you
and all the good things you do in this brief life, will be redeemed by Christ.
Let the prayer of Moses be your prayer:
“Lord, teach me to number my days, that I may get a heart of wisdom.”