So teach us to number our days,
that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom
~ Psalm 90:11
Last month, we drew a contrast between two radically opposed value systems: the temporal versus the eternal. At first blush, the temporal seems so much more real and alluring, while the eternal seems remote and sacrificial. But we saw that on closer analysis, the temporal value system does not deliver what it promises. Instead, it leads those who pursue it to emptiness, delusion, and foolishness. Only by embracing the eternal value system will we find the fulfillment, reality, and wisdom we seek as spiritual beings made in the image of God.
This principle is beautifully illustrated in the oldest of the psalms. The superscription of Psalm 90 (which is the first verse in the Hebrew) tells us that it is “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” It was evidently written at the end of Moses' life, about 3,400 years ago, as a prayer for the new generation that would cross the Jordan to conquer the promised land. In spite of the antiquity of this prayer, Moses struck a timeless chord that resonates in our own lives as he cried out in the end, “And do confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17).
The word translated “confirm” means “establish” or “give permanence to.” This prayer is really the yearning of a mortal for something he can do that will not fade away and be forgotten, but will last forever. It is the plea of the worker for the perpetuity of his work in a fleeting world.
Moses was advanced in years by the time he offered this prayer, and was painfully aware of the true brevity of life. The psalm begins with a meditation on the eternality of God (“even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God;” vs. 2), and sharply contrasts this with four images of the transitory nature of man in verses 3-6. A thousand of our years in God's sight is like 24 hours, or even like “a watch in the night” (3 hours). Our time on this planet is like a sand castle that is suddenly swept away by a wave of water. It is like a delicate flower which opens in the morning and withers in the evening.
Considering the difficulties of the wilderness experience - almost 90 people a day perished - it is little wonder that Moses would write, “we have finished our years like a sigh” (vs. 9) and “we fly away” (vs. 10). We experience the same dilemma, wandering in the wilderness of routine and crowded schedules as the years race by. But there is a solution to this plight, and it is found in the pivotal verse in the psalm: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (vs. 12). If we want to have wisdom, the skill in the art of living life with each area under the dominion of God, we must regularly remind ourselves that our days upon this earth are numbered. If we blind ourselves to this reality, our value systems will automatically be distorted and we will serve the wrong master.
If, like Moses, we want the work of our hands to have permanency (vs. 17), we should daily remind ourselves that we are “aliens and strangers” (1 Pet. 2:11) on this earth and that our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Our own works quickly evaporate and are lost forever. But God is eternal (vss. 1-2), and His work abides. Therefore we must invest in that eternal work; His works done through us last forever.
Lord, teach me to number my days, that I may always remember that this life is transitory, but your life is eternal. Amen.
~ Ken Boa
Dr. Boa is devoted to a ministry of relational evangelism and discipleship, teaching, writing, and speaking. He holds a B.S. in astronomy from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford in England. Visit his website at KenBoa.org.