Hello, Friends. What I have to share with you today may not seem encouraging at first, but my hope is that what we discover today will give you the fuel to keep pushing on. You see, my mind has been quite consumed this week with thoughts of life and death. Life, because I’m getting closer and closer to welcoming my child into this world, and seeing him begin his life. I am amazed by all the possibilities in store for him. And death, as we lost a dear friend this week after a short battle with cancer. I’m still in shock because it seemed far too soon for her to be taken. The truth is, we don’t know what life will bring. I can tell you the things I dream and hope for my son, but in reality, I have no idea what his life will be like. And just as we cannot say what the course of our life will be, we also cannot rightly predict what its end will be. We are often left wondering why some people are taken as children or in the prime of life, while others live into their hundreds. Aside from trusting that God has a perfect timing for each one, I can’t really explain it. But what I do know is that the Bible has some clear points and thoughts regarding how we are to view our own life and death. The ones I want to focus on today come from four men who had very intense lives and experiences with God. The first, and our longest passage, comes to us from Moses, who spent many, many years of his life waiting and struggling. I want you to see this whole Psalm for context, but then we’re going to make some connections to draw out the truths of the sections that are in bold print.
Psalm 90, a psalm of Moses:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.
7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.
17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.”
If you know the whole story of Moses, then you can see how his pleas and praises in this psalm accurately echo his experiences of exile, struggle, and wandering. Now let’s make our connections and pull out the life and death truths that he is speaking of.
Look back at verse 3. Moses speaks of us as mortals returning to dust. This is our first truth – that every one of us will one day die. The writer of Hebrews puts it bluntly: “And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Perhaps not the most pleasant thought, and depending on your age right now, it may be easier or harder to grasp. I’m at a point in life were I can’t really imagine coming to the end of my life. I’m so focused on building my own life and looking forward to the new life that is coming to our family, that the idea of being an old woman and knowing my days are coming to a close is almost outside of what I can imagine.
But if we look at the next two sections, verses 5-6 and verse 10, we see that our days go by quickly and that we cannot be certain of their number. We learn just from experience that there is no minimum or maximum number of days in a life. The only boundaries are those set by God for each individual person. Let’s take the word of Job, who certainly saw his share of what we might call untimely deaths in his family, and who probably more than once wondered why he himself was still alive. He said, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:5) We are limited, not boundless, as we would often like to believe. David, the king and writer who spent many years of his life waiting for God’s plans to come to fulfillment and who spent a great deal of time running and fighting for his life, also realized how short a single human life is. He said, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:5) While 80 or 100 years may seem long to us at times, in the grand scheme of human history, and especially in light of eternity, it is just a tiny drop in an enormous bucket. Our time is short and unpredictable. I can’t guarantee that just because I’m under thirty I have many years to go. And I can’t guarantee that the sweet little old ladies at church have any less time than I do. What I can guarantee is that we each have a limited amount of time, and that should make us very thoughtful.
Look at our last passage from Psalm 90, verse 12. Moses equates numbering (counting, considering) our days with learning wisdom. David makes a similar request of God: “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4 ) When we remember the first two truths (1: That we will each face death; and 2: That our time on earth is not only limited, but relatively short) we are by necessity forced to make a choice. We can either hear those truths and then choose to ignore them and continue living carelessly, or we can realize the truth and choose to live consciously, carefully, and purposefully. While I fully believe that the Bible is the only source I need for truth about how I should live, I find it very interesting and exciting when other religions and philosophies agree with what the Bible says. A quick survey of philosophy, psychology and many major religions will echo what we find here; that is to say that life is much richer and more satisfying when we live with the mindset of making the most of a limited time and with a definite purpose (specifically a purpose other than just our own enjoyment). See what St. Paul, who clearly packed as much purpose into life as it is possible to, said about how we should live: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise— making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
How many of us truly make the most of each moment? I know that I often miss that mark. Most of us are born with excellent time-wasting skills. Today’s technological environment makes it even easier with smartphones, internet access, streaming video, and all that goes along with those things. Certainly they can be useful, and shouldn’t’ be dismissed out of hand any more than books or exercise or sleeping should, even though some people may not find those pursuits “useful”. The key is not for us to make lists of things that we should never do (or make ourselves to-do lists that take up every single moment), but for us to be wise and circumspect about how we are spending our time.
That means that we are careful about how we choose to use our energies. It is tempting to think that making the most of the time means doing the most things with our time. It would seem to us that we ought to put in the extra hours at work to please our bosses and clients (and possibly to make some extra money so that we can be good providers for our families), to say yes to every volunteer opportunity, and then to push ourselves to go the extra mile and home to do the maintenance or renovation projects that we feel will make our lives much better (and increase the resale value of our house!). In reality, though, more is not always more. When you are pulled in too many directions, when you are exhausted, when you are committing yourself to tasks and roles that are not using your talents and abilities to their best effect, you are actually making less of the time, rather than more. God, and the world, does not need you to do everything. Your company will not (usually) go out of business if you don’t work 20 hours a day, every day. The church will not cease to function if you don’t volunteer for the building committee, men’s ministry, outreach bowling league, and nursery duty. Your home will not fall into chaos if you aren’t able to replace all the cabinets and siding and landscape the lawn like a pro this summer. Don’t make yourself less effective by thinking you have to do everything for everyone, and don’t rob others of the opportunities to serve, give, and be responsible. God put more people than just you on the earth for a reason, and that reason was not so that you could do their work for them. What you need to do is to know what gifts, talents, abilities, and skills God has equipped you with, and also have a realistic understanding of the limitations He created you with. Evaluate every opportunity through those filters, and you will find yourself making better choices about how to wisely make the most of every moment you have been given.
If we are being wise about how we spend our moments, what room does that leave for rest, play, and relaxation? I believe that rest and recreation are critical to our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. God was very clear about setting a precedent for rest, even going so far as to mandate one day of rest a week for the Israelites. It is important that you take time out to get adequate sleep so that your body continues to function at its best. If you work 18 hours a day every single day, you may be working a lot of “moments” but it is very doubtful that you are making the most of those moments because you are not at your best. You also need relaxation, time where you mind can slow down, where you can focus your thoughts and energies on something other than work (your day job or your service/volunteer work) or you will quickly become burnt out, jaded, or overwhelmed. The key to this is to make the most of your rest “moments” as well as your work “moments”. Does that mean formulating a relaxation checklist or a rest agenda? As much as I would probably be the first to fall into that trap, I have to say no. What it does mean is that when you are resting, relaxing, and recreating, you need to truly be resting, relaxing, and recreating. Don’t multitask your rest time. It’s tempting to try to watch a movie, spend time with your spouse, and read a book at the same time. (Or at least it is for me.) It’s easy to say that you’re going to lay down on the couch or your bed for a nap, and then pull out your phone and start answering emails. There are as many different pitfalls as there are individuals when it comes to sabotaging your rest times.
Try an experiment this week: when you are “off the clock” so to speak, be more intentional about your rest and recreation. If you are going to read, do only that – no TV, no background music, no chatting on the phone or texting. If you are going to watch a show or a movie, do only that (I’ll allow for some snuggling on the couch with your spouse or child, though!). When you spend time with a friend, spouse, or child, be intentional. Do something truly together, not just at the same time. Have a real conversation. Ignore your phone and emails. Really be with that person. When you go to bed, don’t take your tablet, smartphone or laptop with you. Just lie down, think restful thoughts (the classic “counting your blessings” really does work!), and let rest come to you, rather than cramming something into every moment before you fall asleep out of exhaustion. It will be harder than you think (I know I will struggle with it this week!) but give it a try, and see how you feel at the end of the week. Do you feel like you are both more productive and more rested? Did anything interesting happen when you really focused your attention on the people you spend time with? I’d love for you to share your experiences in the comments this week.
Joy to you!