Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations…
So begins Psalm 90, one of the oldest songs in the Bible, a song written by Moses. It’s the psalm that says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Our days span on average seventy years, or perhaps for the strong, eighty.
I turn 35 this Friday. According to Moses’ math, 35 puts me right at the middle mile-marker on the road to 70.
Genes, Statistics, and the Road to 70
I don’t assume to be among the strong who will make it to 80. Yes, I have longevity in my genes, with great-grandparents I knew and loved: three died in their late 90’s and one lived to 102. Meanwhile, three of my four grandparents are still with us, and all of them have passed the 80 milestone.
But what are genes and statistics in light of the all-surpassing wisdom of the Lord? “A thousand years in the Lord’s sight are but as yesterday when it is past,” the psalmist writes. The years of our life “are soon gone, and we fly away.”
We cannot take for granted the “average” of 70, for the Lord has numbered our days. And so, we lift our voices and say with the psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,” and “establish the work our hands!”
The Lord’s Favor Meets Our Work
Those two realities – the favor of the Lord and the work of our hands – occupy my heart and mind these days.
Much of my time during this season of life is devoted to work – work as a father and husband, work as a churchman, work as a neighbor and citizen, work as a writer and editor. And the more I feel the burdens from these different spheres in which I offer my hands to the work of the Lord, the more I find myself crying out for the Lord’s favor.
Last year, I wondered if I would have the stamina to plow through and finally finish my dissertation and receive my doctoral diploma. This year, I thought writing a more accessible, lay-level book would be easier. It has proven much harder than I ever anticipated. But in the difficulty of offering this “work of my hands,” I am pressing in as I pray for the Lord’s favor and for Him to “satisfy us in the morning with His steadfast love.”
A dear sister of faith who has encouraged me on this road told me I should see the difficulty as a blessing:
“You will be so thankful when all is said and done that Jesus required the hard work of pressing in and didn’t just let you get away with exercising your gift with a minimum of interaction with Him. That He will not let you get away with it is a gift as dear as the gift to teach and preach and write.”
Numbering Our Days
The psalmist’s emphasis on the work of our hands and the favor of the Lord draws me back up to the connection he makes between counting our days and gaining a heart of wisdom.
Traditionally, we think of wisdom as bringing our lives in line with the way God has made the world. But this psalm offers the clue that wisdom not only considers what the world is, but when we as God’s people inhabit this world. To number our days helps us live in light of the end, to put our faith into practice in particular times and places.
Numbering my days means I recognize the providence of my birth in 1981, and I recognize that until the other side of the dash on my tombstone is settled, I must cultivate and apply biblical wisdom in this – our time. Wisdom draws upon the resources of the past, looks to the promise of the future, and relies on the Spirit’s guidance in the present.
Oliver O’Donovan writes:
“The disciple is a figure who identifies with more than one time and place: a time and place to inhabit, another time and place to be centered upon.”
That’s right. We live in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We died and rose with Him. And now, as we seek to live faithfully in this time, we trust in His promises, bask in His favor, and raise our voices with the psalmist: Yes, Lord, establish the work of our hands.