Psalm 90:7-12 (NIV)I am drawn repeatedly to the last verse of this excerpt: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I most assuredly desire a heart of wisdom, and I think I understand the concept of numbering days. But I’m not entirely sure how the two halves are part of the same whole thought. Even in looking at the larger context, I don’t find the insight I need to reach an understanding.
We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
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.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
(I do, however, find verse seven to be a pretty apt description of how parents feel when encountering the terrible twos for the first time: “We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.” That about sums up my experience. Although I suppose the upside is my second and third times through the twos were not nearly as terrible. It’s never a walk in the park, but a tantrum has to be extra special these days to rise above the general din of everyday life. That is not a complaint.)
It would be wonderful for my days to number 70 or 80 years, especially if I’m actively able to participate in life the entire time. But even at nearly halfway to 70 I’m not at all inclined to suggest the best of my days have been trouble and sorrow. I’m sure I’d feel differently had I lived in the Middle East under constant religious persecution, and surely some of my Christian contemporaries would suggest I ought to be much more fearful of the power of God’s anger and wrath. But no matter my perception, in the big picture my days will quickly pass.
And there it is again — learning to number those days, fleeting though they may be, somehow unlocks the path to a heart of wisdom. Perhaps the Psalmist is simply asking God for help in appreciating the value of each day, or understanding the concept of making the most out of whatever time we’re allotted in human form. Those lessons surely improved my overall philosophy, and I’d very much like my children to have that perspective when they reach an age of reason.
On a related note, I would very much like them to learn (and for me to be able to remember) to value not just the gift of their own life but the fact we’re all equally blessed to be here. It can be very easy to forget to see other people as intentionally created, just as we are. If our days are precious, then so are everyone else’s. Loving my neighbor as myself has always been fairly easy to understand and yet incredibly challenging to put into practice.
Maybe that heart for wisdom would help me do a better job of applying myself properly, of fully living out Jesus’ direct command to believers. And since I don’t quite know what is meant by numbering my days, I guess I can start by asking God to teach me the what and the why and how. My iniquities and secret sins are indeed laid bare before God, but rather than fear God’s wrath I am thankful for His forgiveness. I don’t deserve to be welcomed home, but the promise of the door being always open sustains me as I wade through life’s challenges. I don’t always succeed, but I know I don’t need to be perfect to be loved.
A prayer for July 13:
Lord, please don’t ever let me forget the value of my life or that of anyone else. I so often come to thank you for my many blessings, and when I do so it is so easy to overlook the simple gift to be alive and to be loved. You have promised me an eternity with you, but you’ve also given me the chance to live here, to make a positive impact on those around me and to care for everyone you place in my path. Please give me the strength, wisdom, courage and patience to answer your call. Amen.