Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:1, 12, 17)
Being at home with God
In case you haven’t heard, we are in the midst of the worst pandemic of our lifetimes. For people on the front lines and in harm’s way—from medical personnel to grocery store stockers—these are anxious and uncertain times. For many of us who live in less-affected places and are either not working or engaged in less-risky lines of work, the most tangible reminders of our current situation are probably isolation and boredom. Many of us in those favored circumstances are going a little stir crazy, wondering what we could and should be doing right now other than “shelter-in-place.” Some of us have even taken our stir-craziness to the streets to protest those imposed restrictions, shouting loudly that our rights and freedoms are being violated.
Let’s face it, most of the people I know hate being told what to do. We clamor after the dream of unfettered freedoms and unaccountable lives…it’s the American way!
In Psalm 90, Moses “the man of God” composes a song of prayer in the midst of his own shelter-in-place order…an order issued by God Himself! Throughout their 40-year desert experience, the people of God weren’t really “wandering,” as if they had some say in the matter. Rather, they were always being told where to go, what to do, and exactly how and when to do it (Read Numbers 9:17-23). Many of them also resented and protested being told what to do. In some sense, they had not so much escaped from slavery to freedom, as they had exchanged a ruthless and unloving master (Pharaoh) for a benevolent and kind one (Yahweh).
Moses starts his song with, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (vs. 1). That sounds like a wonderful and comforting thought, to have God Himself as our House…that is until you realize this House has rules. After acknowledging God’s timelessness and limitless power, Moses is obligated to point out that God’s houseguests are “consumed” by His anger and “terrified” by His indignation. God exposes their sin and failures in the light of His presence. “All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.” (vs. 7-9)
The life God has offered His people is most certainly a better life, but it is hardly one of unfettered and unaccountable freedom!
And so, Moses concludes, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (vs. 12). What does it mean to “number our days?”
A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), the renowned pastor & author (whose birthday we just celebrated this week) wrote of this Psalm, “It is important that we remember that all our days come to us out of the sheer mercy of God, unearned, undeserved and, I fear, mostly unappreciated. By sin, our lives stand under forfeit; God owes us nothing… [It is] only by God’s infinite goodness are we yet alive to see each other’s face. Each year is a gift of grace and each day an unearned bonus.
It sounds like Moses and Tozer are saying that all God wants from us is to shut up and appreciate every terrifying and consuming day! After all, it’s not about us, is it. It is God who created the world (vs. 2); God who determines whether we live or die (vs. 5). Nevertheless, Moses’ song/prayer ends with a petition. He boldly asks God to “relent…have compassion…satisfy us with your unfailing love…make us glad” (vs. 13-15), and to “establish the work of OUR HANDS.”
Yes, God is in control. Yes, every day we live is a gift of grace and an unearned bonus. But that doesn’t mean that the “work of our hands” is meaningless or insignificant. On the contrary, our days and our work find their meaning and significance when they are established under God’s authority. It’s like Jesus told his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
We don’t like sheltering-in-place very much—regardless of the place we’re being told to shelter. In fact, we don’t like being told what to do by ANYONE…even God. But Moses reminds us to number our days…to receive each day as a bonus…to sing along with another psalmist “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) Every day, including these difficult days, is a gift from God worthy of rejoicing. Why? Because God is our permanent dwelling place; God is the one who establishes and prospers the work of our hands…if (and only if) we remain in Him.
Over these past few weeks, God has been teaching me, again and again, the difference between restlessness and freedom. I will never know freedom and life unless I agree to “dwell.” I can only hope to find significance and meaning when I choose to “remain.” As St. Augustine concluded centuries ago, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, until they find rest in you.” So, let us learn to number our days…to shelter-in-place with Jesus, even after the storm of coronavirus has passed. He alone is rest for your soul; he alone is meaning in your life; he alone is the Living Water…always stay thirsty for him!