Teach Us to Number our Days
You're an old man responsible for the welfare of over a million people on a trek from Egypt to Canaan. Those folks have tried your patience more than once and yet they are your folks. A couple of times God offered to just wipe them out and start over with your own immediate family. You turned Him down, feeling it would make the true God look really bad in the eyes of the heathen. No wonder you came to be known as "God's friend"
But one day was a particularly bad day for you. Once again the people were in an uproar over entitlements. Slavery in Egypt looked pretty good from the vantage point of a dry wilderness. This, though they were free and headed to a not-so-bad future. As usual, you consult God. You hear Him say, "Speak to that rock over there. Water enough to satisfy this crowd will gush out of it." "Jeesh, not again Lord!" You don't say it out loud, but it flashed through your mind.
You motion to your brother, Aaron. In full view of the disgruntled people, you whack away at the rock while muttering, "How long do I have to put up with these people?" Or something like that. Sure enough the water shows up. But you've blundered. It's bad! The next thing you hear is the voice of God, "That was pretty! Made a fool of yourself and me. I don't think you're the man to take this people into Canaan."
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God
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.
You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like fgrass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
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
Now get this!
For the next forty years Moses continued to lead Israel. Plenty of time to ponder his mistake, to feel sorry for himself, to get bitter and crotchety. To top things off, God commands Moses to climb Mt. Nebo from which he sees a panoramic view of what he will miss. And then he'll drop dead.
There's no evidence that Moses copped an attitude. Instead, his epitaph reads, "Since then, no prophet has arisen like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." (Deut.34:10)
Question. How do you keep going when you're trucking through a swampland of your own failures and their consequences? If you are past fifty what they call "golden years" loom just ahead. But you see the gold to be more and more tarnished, maybe even turned to lead.
Judging from Psalm 90 it seems that Moses figured out how to grow old without growing crotchety. First, he affirms that the Lord God is his dwelling place. That's a figure of speech that truly captures the joy of knowing God. Through faith in Christ we find in the Almighty protection from the enemy's accusations and assurance of God's presence. The middle part of the psalm could be depressing except for God's love and mercy. In beautifully poetic language, Moses acknowledges his and our vulnerability. We are weak and we are sinful. Only knowing God gives us the courage to face honestly, yet without despair, the failures of the past. Moses ends with three petitons which double as personal commitments. "Teach us to number our days." Use and enjoy to the max each day as it comes. "Satisfy us early in the morning with your steadfast love." Show us daily evidence of your presence. "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands." No point in trying to prove anything. Let me work hard, but you give the success.
Learn to Grow Old
Dr. Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician known for caring for the "whole person" rather than just treating physical illness, has written a book by this title. He asserts that, while we spend as many as twenty years of our lives learning to grow up and to be productive; we give little attention to preparing for old age. During that early training time we become more and more specialized so as to be experts in our field and achieve success. Old age, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to broaden out again. Nothing more to prove, now I can take a course at the community college and not worry about the grade, work at a local business and not worry about advancement, spend time with loved one and not worry about the schedule.
I think Moses and Paul (Tournier, I mean) have a lot to teach me.