As we turn another page on the calendar and look forward to a new year, it’s time for a reality check. I know just the place to find one.
Psalm 90 is one of the oldest songs in the Psalter. Tradition attributes the psalm to Moses, making it the oldest song in the book. It is one of three songs the leader of the Exodus wrote and the only one recorded in the book of Psalms. The others are found in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.
Psalm 90 provides us with a biblical reality check, a glimpse into life as it really is. Scan the chapter and you won’t find a single rose colored glass. Remember, this psalm was written by a man who herded desert sheep for his father-in-law during the middle forty years of his life. He presents life unvarnished.
Psalm 90 is more somber than celebratory. Bible scholars believe Moses wrote this psalm near the end of his life as he completed the years of wilderness wanderings. Pensive and reflective, Moses compares life to a “watch in the night,” reminds us we will “return to dust,” and feels the weight of his “secret sins.” He talks about finishing his years “with a moan.”
My trip to Arlington National Cemetary with family and friends two days ago was indeed a reality check. Over 320,000 servicemen and their family members plus two U.S. presidents, Kennedy and Taft, rest on the 624 acres of Virginia land across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. For baseball fans, I saw the grave of Abner Doubleday. On average, 27 burials take place every day of the year. Yes, 27 funerals a day or 9,855 every year! Moses was just being real when he wrote, "You turn men back to dust, saying 'Return to dust, O sons of men'" (v. 3).
Moaning Moses might not receive an invitation to speak at the Optimist Club any time soon. But if you think he’s a pessimist, you grossly underestimate this great man of God. He is a realist who witnessed an entire generation of stubborn Israelites die in the wilderness. Such an experience changes a man and gives him perspective.
The entire psalm pivots on verse 12. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Think about that. So how do we number our days?
I read about a guy that took these words literally. He calculated the number of days from the date of his birth until age 70. At the end of each day he reduced his total days remaining by one. Watching his numbers decline reminded him to make each day count for God and eternity.
I turn 46 years old later this month. If I live to age 70 that means I have approximately 8,760 days left on this earth. That seems like a bunch until I realize that I’ve already lived 16,790 days on earth. Even if I live to age 80, I still have fewer days remaining (12,410) than what I’ve already lived. That’s a reality check.
Moses wasn’t asking God for heaven’s new 2009 wall calendar, the one with a different angel pictured every month of the year. No, he wanted wisdom. He prayed for a dose of divine skill for living in the coming year.
Take some time right now to pray and number your days for the New Year.