First Mennonite Church
August 1, 2021
A Prayer for Wisdom
Text: Psalm 90
In ancient Israel, when disaster struck the nation, the people, under the leadership of the priests and temple leaders, would come together to discern the will of God on how to handle the situation. (For examples see Ezra 9, 10; par. Neh. 9, 10)) Israel believed God was involved in everything and that God’s providence encompassed everything.
The discernment process was carried out through ardent prayer of confession, worship, and earnest supplications for God’s mercy. Regardless of the crisis and the cause of it, Israel trusted that God’s steadfast love was still available to them.
Psalm 90 is the product of that process of community discernment. Psalm 90 is the only Psalm attributed to Moses. Yet, scholars believe this psalm has as its background the Judean experience of the Babylonian exile. Judah was conquered and carried captive to Babylon for seventy years. Thus, this psalm expresses elements of both that past experience and their hope for a future with God. Psalm 90 is a community lament for what had happened and a plea for mercy and future shalom.
Two themes dominate verses 1-12. The first is the contrast between the permanence of God and the brevity of human life. God is the eternal refuge, for he is from everlasting to everlasting. In contrast, human life is brief. It is like the grass of the field, which is luxuriant and lush in the morning, but at the end of the day it withers away. The psalmist gives the impression that even death happens by God’s command: You say, “Turn back, you mortal, and you turns us to dust.”
The psalmist laments that not only is human life so precarious, but our sins are always in the light of God’s face. Therefore, it does not matter how long or short human life is, the average is 70 and the robust, up to 80, it is only toil and hardship and still more, under the wrath of God. Life in this light seems like a moan or like a sigh when compared God’s eternal existence.
The second theme found in the first 12 verses is that of God as a place of refuge. The psalm opens with praise: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Therefore, despite the brevity of our lives in comparison to God’s, we have a place of security. God is the tower of refuge. He is our dwelling place, and he remains available to all generations. God was there for our grandparents, our parents and for us today, and he will be there for our children, their children, and beyond.
Grounded on these two facts, that God is eternal and human life is brief, that the psalmist pleads with God for wisdom on how to live accordingly. And so he prays, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
When someone dies young, we say, “It was a life cut short.” When someone dies of old age, we say, “She live a full life.” The psalmist’s perspective about life is that even for those who are robust and have a long life, it is still like a sigh or like a dream. Therefore, wisdom is needed in order to live with purpose in the fear of God. Proverbs says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9:10). And in 10, verse 27, we read: The fear of the Lord adds length to life,but the years of the wicked are cut short.
God’s wisdom would bring discernment to the heart to know how to deal with the brevity and frailty of life. There are so many challenges that confront life. A pressing one throughout this country and the world is the new wave of the pandemic. In this part of the country we have the drought and wild fires burning uncontrollably. Beside all of this, there is widespread social discontentment and fear. And, on top of all of these challenges, there are deep divisions among leaders and followers. There is political paralysis crippling the nation.
We are part of that society in crisis. We all suffer the consequences of bad decisions or of inaction, as the rest of society. There are issues that are out of the control of everyone, the drought for example. And just like the ordinary Judean citizens of the psalmist times, there were things beyond their control. However, as Psalm 90, gives witness, they prayed ardently to God. They acknowledge God’s eternal protection, righteousness, but also his mercy. They pleaded with God:
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.
This prayers shows us Israel’s bold faith in Yahweh, as the God of all compassion. Instead of complaining against those who brought calamity over the people and instead of pleading for the destruction of their enemies for taking them captives, Israel pleaded with God to bring to an end their afflictions and to have compassion over them.
How do we pray about what is happening today? Do we pray about the problems affecting us?
The psalmist prayed: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love. What a nugget of wisdom that prayer is! We should ask God to give us grace to take us through, one day at a time. We should ask God to empower us, with his Spirit to take us through the day with grace, gratitude, and gladness. Every morning, we should place our lives at the feet of Christ and commend into his hands everything coming to us during the day. In Psalm 127 we read:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved (Psalm 127:1-2).
It sounds like cliché to say that we are living at a time as the world has never seen before. And because of that, the way God’s people respond to the various and complicated situations confronting us today is the most powerful testimony we can give.
Let us therefore pray with the psalmist, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom . . . . Have compassion on your servants. Establish the work of our hands for us.” Amen!