December 30, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 90:12 (NRSV)
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
As the year changes from 2021 to 2022, and as we remember the shortness of our lives, we do not despair. Rather, when we count our days, we renew our trust in our timeless God and we ask for his favor so that we might make a difference through our work in the brief time allotted to us.
Today is the last day of 2021. If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about this past year. It was filled with things both terrible and wonderful, both sad and joyful, both discouraging and hopeful. Yet, no matter how I feel about the past year, I’ve found it helpful at year’s end to reflect upon what’s happened, to see what God might want to show me through a time of annual examination.
For several years, I have used Psalm 90 to guide my end of the year reflections. The context of Psalm 90 is not a happy one. It was written in a time when the people of God were “consumed by [God’s] anger” and “overwhelmed” by God’s wrath (90:7) because of their “iniquities” (90:8). Nevertheless, beneath the bad news of God’s judgment lies a bedrock of confidence in God’s everlasting goodness. Rejoicing and prosperity will come again because of God’s “steadfast love” and “favor” (90:14, 17).
Psalm 90 reframes the way we think about time and its passing. The psalm begins with good news: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (90:1). Moreover, God exists outside of time, even “before the mountains were brought forth” (90:2). Indeed, the psalmist exults, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (90:2). Because God is timeless, God views the expanse of time differently than we see it: “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past” (90:4).
In contrast to God’s eternal existence, our time on earth is short: “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (90:10). The shortness of our life, especially if we live in difficult times, could be discouraging. But, in Psalm 90 it can lead to wisdom: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (90:12). The phrase, “count our days” means “know that our days are numbered.” Knowledge of the shortness of our life can help us become wise.
How? How can the number of our days help us to be wise? To begin, the brevity of our life contrasts with the eternity of God’s life. When we count our days, we are reminded of our smallness compared with God’s greatness. This recognition leads us, on the one hand, to want to use well the time given to us. On the other hand, it also reminds us of our utter dependence on God. Thus, the final verse of Psalm 90 reads, “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!” (90:17). When God’s favor rests on us, when God prospers us, then our work will be fruitful.
What a fascinating — and relevant — conclusion to this psalm! The psalmist’s reflections on God’s timelessness, the relative shortness of our lives, and our dependence on God’s grace lead to a prayer that God “prosper” our work. In this request, we hear an echo of the creation story in Genesis 1, in which God created us in his image so that we might work in this world as God’s agents and co-laborers. Though our time on earth is limited, our work still matters. It matters to the world and it matters to God. Psalm 90 reminds us that what we do as workers will prosper as God’s grace is active in our lives. (Remember that the biblical understanding of work includes all human work, not just that for which we are paid. If you’re raising children, volunteering as a soccer coach, caring for your aging parents or spouse, leading a Bible study for your neighbors, or you name it, you’re working.)
As the year changes from 2021 to 2022, and as we remember the shortness of our lives, we do not despair. Rather, when we count our days, we renew our trust in our timeless God and we ask for his favor so that we might make a difference through our work in the brief time allotted to us. From that perspective, it can be helpful to examine our lives, to count our days in the past year so that we might live more fully and fruitfully in the future.
How does the passing of the years affect you? How do you feel? What do you think?
Has your work made a difference in the last year? If so, in what way?
How is your work (all of your work, not just paid work) a result of God’s favor in your life?
How would you like God to prosper your work in 2022?
Set aside some time today or in the next few days to reflect upon the past year. Ask the Lord to show you what’s significant and what you might learn from the past so that you might live more fully and fruitfully in the future.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
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.
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! Amen.
Psalm 90:1-2, 4, 9-10, 12-14, 16-17
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Are You Satisfied? Really?
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.