"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12, NIV)
On a particularly gloomy morning when the tattered fog was just beginning to give way to a breeze, I began reading and meditating on Psalm 90. The weather seemed to fit the mood created as I reflected about the brevity of my life—here today, withered tomorrow, like morning grass, and gone—like the mist. And over the next three days I did a great deal of thinking about my death.
Here's how some of my thoughts went: "I‘m almost 65. I have already outlasted a number of my friends. If the length of our days are generally seventy years then I have 5 years left. My own dad was gone at 80. If I follow in his footsteps, I have 15 years to live." But the truth is I may not have even that long, for as the poet Wendell Berry reminds me, "death is my own black angel, as near me as my own flesh." I was mortal from the day I was born and one of these "tomorrows“ I will fly away. "What does this mean for me, for my family, for my ministry?"
In Psalm 90, Moses, that austere, yet humble man, paints a picture of a life that is difficult and that quickly comes to an end. "We finish our years with a moan," he says. And he presents to us a God who is frightening—angry against sin, angry with recalcitrant people. A God who sees everything we do and is to be feared above all. These distressing truths Moses portrays with stark candor.
Yet even this same man of God—hardened by the years of leading God‘s difficult people through the desert and battered from interceding with this righteous deity—trusts in this same God‘s mercy and compassion. He prays, "Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants!…Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love…Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us…May Your favor rest upon us…Establish the work of our hands for us." And I find myself praying these things with him. For though my own challenges with myself, with people, and with God may be smaller than Moses', they are of a similar kind.
It may be morbid, but it is more likely spiritually healthy to reflect on the shortness of my life. "Didst thou oftener think of thy death, than of thy living long, there is no question but thou wouldst be more zealous to amend," said Thomas à Kempis. Moses reminds me that while life is brief, its brevity is no reason to just "eat, drink and be merry," but rather a reason to live wisely with God‘s help, every day that I have left. Ultimately, whether or not I have lived in vain is in the hands of this fearsome, yet good God who alone can "establish the work of our hands." And this wise God can give me the wisdom and grace to live each numbered day for Jesus Christ.
Warmly in Christ, Greg Aikins
For Reflection "Listen, for I [Wisdom] have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness." (Proverbs 8:6,7, NIV).
How does it make you feel when you consider the truth that your life is brief?
What might “numbering your days” look like?
What are some amendments you might make as you consider your death?