When I was a 10-year-old, Psalm 90 was my favorite psalm. I knew it as the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” I had no idea that both the music and the words had been composed in the 1700s. Words such as everlasting, shelter, and eternal home were comforting to a small girl in a big world. As the organ played a melody both stately and haunting, and as our congregation raised sturdy voices, I felt a joy that was also a yearning.
I still like to sing that song, which takes its images mostly from the first third of Psalm 90. Reading the whole psalm is not as comforting; in fact, it is downright challenging. The beginning verses assure us of God’s everlastingness. But then we are brought up short by the reminder that we are sinful people and that life on earth is relatively brief.
Shortly after we married in 1949, my husband, John, said to me, “I sure hope I live to see the year 2000.” My answer was, “Whatever for? I’ll be 74 years old!” My mother hadn’t yet reached that age, and I certainly couldn’t imagine myself there. Tactfully, I didn’t add, “And you’ll be 84!” Eventually the millennium came and went with little fanfare. John celebrated his 90th birthday with family and friends and three months later left here for heaven.
So what does it mean to “number our days” as the psalmist writes in verse 12? It must be more than estimating one’s longevity. The verses that precede the advice to number our days are filled with references to God’s anger, indignation, and wrath as he looks at our iniquities and secret sins. Is our only consolation the fact that this life of trouble and sorrow won’t last forever? Hardly.
No, the verse that counsels us to number our days says that our goal is to gain a heart of wisdom. Such a heart recognizes the compassionate God who wants to restore his erring creatures. And we see that God has unfailing love for his children. Then we are encouraged to sing for joy, to realize that our ordinary tasks can be dedicated to the God of splendor. So go forth with a wise heart. Let’s make this day count!