Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.Psalm 90:12
I counted my days today, as the psalmist suggests – I have lived 20,492 of them. Wow! Have I really surpassed 20,000 days?! That is hard for me to believe! But it’s true, of course, and simply doing that little exercise proved meaningful for me. (By the way, it’s easy for you to do this, too, at this website: https://www.everything-birthday.com/)
Teach us to count our days, we pray with the psalmist, but why? Why count our days? Psalm 90 tells us why: so that we might gain wise hearts. Wisdom is tied to recognizing our mortality. Our days, after all, “are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) Most of us don’t like to think about this. We go through our days without thinking about it, hoping, perhaps, not to be reminded of it. But if this COVID-19 pandemic has not reminded you of your mortality, then you are doing a better job than me of avoiding what this psalm is trying to teach us!
The truth is that life does pass very quickly, and the future is uncertain. The only thing that can be counted on is that it will come to an end. For me, even if I am blessed with a long life, I still have to accept that I am two-thirds of my way through it! And all of this can seem a little depressing, except for the “turn” that this psalm makes after verse 12. Here it is:
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.Psalm 90:12-14
This psalm’s meditation on our mortality leads to an urgent prayer asking the Lord to turn to us, and to have compassion on us. And here is where we find the wise heart that we are seeking – in this prayer. Wisdom, true wisdom, can only be found by turning to our Creator. And so, as we think about how short and fleeting this life is, our faith leads us to turn to our eternal God. We turn to the one who has been “our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1), recognizing that “before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2) We turn to this everlasting God, on this particular day, with the urgency that comes from having counted our days and considered their brevity in the grand scheme of things.
By the way, I love the poetry of this prayer in verse 13, because the language of this prayer returns to the word “turn” used back in verse 3: “You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” Ten verses later, we pray with the psalmist that the one who turns us back to dust might turn toward us and have compassion on us. And then, having prayed that, we pray the prayer that has been my daily prayer this week: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
We wake up to a new day, one that will no doubt contain “toil and trouble.” And who knows what that toil and trouble might be? And, even worse, this new day brings us a day closer to the day we “fly away” and are gone from this life. But if this new day begins with our being satisfied with God’s steadfast love, then what more do we need? No matter the toil or trouble this day brings, we can rejoice and be glad, simply because we have been filled with the one thing that truly satisfies: the steadfast love of God.
And now, having spent time with God and having been reminded of God’s steadfast love for us, we are ready to meet this day. We don’t need the events of this day to satisfy us. We don’t need the people we encounter this day to satisfy us. Because we are already satisfied! We don’t have to go through the day hungry for love, and seeking satisfaction from this day. And this frees us to live this day for God alone. And in that freedom we pray the final words of this psalm:
Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!Psalm 90:16-17
We pray, in other words, that we might see God at work in this world, that we might have the blessing of participating in God’s work, and that the work that we do this day for God and with God might prosper.
We are finished counting our days, at least for today. We now see that this day is the only day that matters, because it is the only day that can be lived for God and with God. This is the day that Lord has made – when we remember this, we rejoice and are glad in it. How can we not rejoice, after all, when we are satisfied with God’s eternal and steadfast love?
So, even as we count our days, O Lord, help us to live this day as if it is the only one that counts; and bless the work that we do, for you and with you, today and always. Amen