Lord, Teach Us to Number Our Days

Moses on Mt. Nebo by Gail PalpantSo teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, ESV)

Today is the forty-second anniversary of my birth, and since 1994 I have begun my day by meditating on Psalm 90. I came to this practice through the recording of a presentation by Rev. Jim Dethmer that I was given that year by friends at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lansing, Michigan. Psalm 90 is unique among the Biblical psalms in that it was written by Moses and, as Rev. Dethmer opined, Moses appears to have written it at the end of his life on Mt. Nebo, overlooking the Promised Land that The Lord would—after years of struggle—allow him to see but not enter. Psalm 90 is a sobering psalm, expressing undeniable truths about the shortness of life and the impact of sin. Yet, it is also profoundly faithful and hopeful, extolling the joy of life and work, a joy that rests upon trust in The Lord’s steadfast love.

Moses writes:

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.” (Psalm 90:10, ESV)

Yet he also says:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14, ESV)

In Rev. Dethmer’s presentation he talked about how he meditated on this psalm and did the math, calculated where he was, and just pondered those numbers. A year is 365 days, which means that 70 years is roughly 25,567 days and 80 years is roughly 29,220 days (with “leap years”). Particularly sobering for me when I first heard this presentation in 1994 was the fact that my father died on died on December 9, 1992, at the age of 50. That’s roughly 18,262 days. I was 24 years old in 1994, had just emerged from a suicidal depression, found hope and a future in Christ and an extended family of faith in His church. I was working in Michigan’s state government at the time, for a delightful State Representative from Sturgis, Michigan by the name of Glenn Oxender, but I knew that politics could not be my life’s vocation. It was around the time that I heard Rev. Dethmer’s presentation that I began to think about being a pastor…

I have learned bitterly and painfully that life is short, whether by my father’s untimely death or by the recent tragic death of my beloved cousins, Steve and Kim Hatch, or by the many untimely deaths that I have witnessed as a pastor. When I first applied for the seminary I was 25. That was a deeply sobering birthday for me, for I thought, “If I live as long as my father I have now lived half my life.”

So, here I am. Forty-two years old. If I have strength, as Moses says, and live to 80, that means I have some 13,880 days left; if to 70 then 10,227; if to 50 then just 2,922; or, of course, my time could come before that, perhaps even today. That may sound a bit morose, but it’s a reality for each of us. I am confident in Christ; I know that God will take care of my family if something should happen to me “prematurely.” I am hopeful for the days ahead. I love my family and my work and that is a gift that few men have. The Lord has added “grace upon grace” since He brought me back to life in His church in 1993.

Moses’ prayer has been my prayer for 18 years now. Confident in Christ, I pray, in conclusion, as Moses does:

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 90:16-17, ESV)

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