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Learning to number our days

I stood at the ice-cold glass staring out into the settling darkness. I can remember feeling the pressing cold on my fingertips as I fervently whispered, “God, please let them find him. Please let him be alive.”

A few days later, my bones chilled and quaked as my 10-year-old brother was buried in the local cemetery. At the time I was 15, and his tragic death was my first tangible experience of human frailty. His death opened a new, unwanted journey for my family. And for me, an impressionable teen, it left a heart-mess of anger, bitterness, uncertainty and mistrust of a God who sovereignly allowed the tragedy. 

Some twenty years later I stood, camera in hand, as ten candles flickered on top of a birthday cake. My firstborn grinned as family gathered to sing. She blew out her candles. I snapped some pictures. On one hand, I was joyous, for a tenth birthday is a worthy celebration. On the other hand, I could feel rising dread as my daughter turned the same age of my brother when I last saw him.



The meeting of celebration and dread was a strange place of friction. A battle for my affections warred. Where my Savior wanted to give me a heart of wisdom, my enemy wanted me bound by an unhealthy fear. Satan wanted me to hold my breath, plagued in the darkness of what-ifs. The same father of lies (John 8:44) who had a heyday with me in my youth, again tried to derail my faith as I struggled through the emotion of my daughter’s birthday. Satan tried to fracture the ever-building trust between my heart and my God with this fiery dart: “Human life is fragile and short, and what if your daughter doesn’t live to see 11? Your brother didn’t...”

In response to the attack, God wanted me to inhale and exhale the beauty of His living Word as my battle cry, even as it applied to death.

But is life found in pondering death? Psalm 90 has an answer.

Verse 12 says this: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Here Moses, the author of the psalm, says we SHOULD think about the fleeting nature of human life. And not only should we think on it, we should learn to number our days. And not only should we learn to number our days, but in doing so, we gain a heart of wisdom!

Human Frailty

I didn’t know it as a grieving teenager, but my awareness of the brevity of human life was a potential source of increased wisdom. My brother’s death illustrated the middle section of Psalm 90 with clarity: People return to dust (verse 3). Our days are swept away as with a flood (verse 5a). Our days are like a dream (verse 5b). Our days are like grass that flourishes in the morning, but by evening, fades and withers (verses 5c-6). Our years will come to an end like a sigh (verse 9b). Life is short and full of trouble (verse 10).

Moses tells the truth about our dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes life. Taking note of the world around us shows that Moses’ portrayal of mankind is accurate. So how can we find hope within the truth of human frailty?

One key is found in the structure of the Psalm. The heavy words of verses 3-11 don’t stand alone. Death is surrounded by God’s eternity on one end (verses 1-2), and a heartfelt prayer on the other (verses 12-17).

Everlasting to Everlasting

Moses puts things into perspective by contrasting the shortness of human life with the eternity of God.

He writes: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

God is eternal. He is outside of time. He is not touched by decay. Before He created, He was. He sees a thousand years as a watch in the night. He teaches and satisfies. He allots our days.

In light of the Everlasting to Everlasting, it is good for us to compare our frailty with God’s eternity. It is good to abide in an all-sovereign God. It is good to remember He controls life and death.

Even as we live in our frail bodies, we find our dwelling--our permanence--in our everlasting God. It is here, abiding in truth, that we can ask for, and receive, a heart of wisdom.

Heart of Wisdom

Moses concludes his Psalm with a prayer, starting with verse 12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Another way to say this is, “cause our hearts to come.”

It isn’t enough for us to have head knowledge about the frailty of human life. It isn’t enough to know that the average lifespan of a human is 79 years. It isn’t even enough to experience the death of a 10-year-old brother.

It is the transfer from head to heart that supplies wisdom, and that can only be done with the Lord as the teacher, for as Charles Spurgeon says, “[God] alone can teach to real and lasting profit.” Having a mind and heart set to remember how brief life is will help God’s people stay about His business. A short life should not be wasted.

Spurgeon, in his commentary on Psalm 90, writes: “It is most meet that the heart which will so soon cease to beat should while it moves be regulated by wisdom’s hand. A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment. If we were wise in heart we should see this, but mere head wisdom will not guide us aright.”

But how do we avoid wasting the precious time we have? I for one have been distracted. I have procrastinated. I have wasted time. But, there is grace here, in my sin and in my failure. God is the giver of a heart of wisdom. He is daily focused on our sanctification. May we be as well, joining Moses in his prayer:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90: 12-17)

Life is fleeting, yes. But in Christ we find permanence in the Everlasting to Everlasting. May we find great joy as we’re daily taught to number our days, taking comfort in the dwelling place of the Lord of all generations.

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