Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom.
Psalm 90 is a perfect psalm for the end of the year. For one thing, this psalm includes the word “year” more than any other psalm. In the Hebrew text of Psalm 90, the word translated as “year” (shena) appears seven times. No other psalm includes shena more than twice.
But, apart from the frequency of the word “year” in Psalm 90, its themes speak to us as we wrap up another calendar year. It begins by noting that God has been our home “through all the generations,” from year to year to year (90:1). Even “before the mountains were born,” God is God (90:2). God is always there for us.
Though we can make a big deal out of the change of years, from God’s perspective, “a thousand years are as a passing day” (90:4). This fact reminds us of God’s unmatched majesty. It also suggests that all the hype surrounding New Year’s doesn’t really matter in the long run. Tomorrow night, the big crystal ball will fall in Times Square, but what will really be different, other than the number of the year?
Psalm 90 acknowledges the difficulties of life: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away” (90:10). Now that could sound pretty depressing. But, the fact that the Bible doesn’t “make nice” commends to us its truthfulness. Yes, indeed, even when life is fine for us, others are suffering. We may have plenty to eat, but millions throughout the world are without food today. And we might feel as if we’re going to live forever, but, in fact, our days are numbered.
Does this mean we should get all down in the mouth? Hardly. Verse 12 offers this prayer to the Lord: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” The Hebrew of this verse could be translated literally, “Teach us to count our days, so we might gain a heart of wisdom.” How does acknowledging the brevity of life help us to be wise? Well, for one thing, when we realize that we have only so many hours on earth, we’ll be eager to use them well, rather than frittering them away with empty activities. Accepting the limits of our lives will help us to use well every minute God gives us.
Psalm 90 underscores the fact that fulfillment in life isn’t a matter of how much we have or how much we accomplish. Rather, what gives life purpose and meaning is a living relationship with the living God: “Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (90:14). I can’t think of a better thought with which to end the year and begin a new one. If we live each day in the satisfaction of God’s love, we will be empowered to live for him, to love him through serving our neighbors. We won’t fret about the passing of the years, but will accept the gift of each day as a new opportunity for love and service.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you come to the end of the year, what thoughts do you have about 2012? Have you lived this year to the fullest? In what areas of life do you need more of God’s wisdom? Are you open to being satisfied each day with God’s unfailing love for you?
PRAYER: All praise be to you, O God, because you have been our home through all generations. We are always at home with you, and you are always there for us.
All praise be to you, O God, because you see all of time in a single moment. Years are like seconds to you. Your wisdom and majesty exceed anything we can imagine.
All praise be to you, O God, because you make your presence known to us, even and especially in times of trial. When our years are filled with pain, they are also filled with your love.
All praise be to you, O God, because you help us to be wise. You teach us through your Word. You instruct and guide us through your Spirit.
All praise be to you, O God, because your unfailing love is there for us each morning. How we sing for joy because of your goodness to us.
All praise be to you, O God, because you have been with us in this past year, and you will be with us always! Amen.
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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.