My Dear Shepherds,
Ever since he preached on Psalm 90, a pastor friend has kept a whiteboard on the back of his closet door which he updates every day. He sent me a photo of it. He’d written, “To 65,” and beneath that: “6194 days, 882 Sundays.” He also records the number of days he’s lived and the days and Sundays he’d have till age 90. It’s not because he can’t wait to retire. It’s because of Moses’ solemn psalm, which is a good word for the turning of the year.
I presume Moses wrote Psalm 90 from the wilderness of Israel’s profound faithlessness. God, who is “from everlasting to everlasting,” turns people back to dust in what seems like a few hours. What’s worse, God’s wrath over his people’s sin makes even the best of their short years only “trouble and sorrow,” ending with a “moan.” Which brings us to Moses’ lament, “If only we realized the power of your anger.” Then he prays,
Teach us to number our days
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Your Sundays may seem to stretch out forever but one day you’ll preach no more. Take it from me, one day you’ll disperse your library and empty your study. Someone will take your name off the door. I remember once telling a wise older preacher about a clever sermon series I was developing around little-known figures in Scripture. He replied, “Lee, you only have so many Sundays to preach in your life. Preach the great themes.”
Moses’ prayer turned from the threshold of despair toward God’s grace. What he prayed for next we have received through Jesus Christ our Lord in greater measure than Moses, for all his faith, could have ever imagined.
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (vv. 13b,14)
“He has done it!” “It is finished!” Now what we invest in our days as shepherds of God’s people rises not from fear but from gratitude and the life the Holy Spirit has given us. In the accounting of our days, we can’t begin to enumerate all the opportunities God has granted us to preach, counsel, and sing the glad news of God’s loyal love extended even to us!
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children. (v. 16)
We pastors, of all people, have seen God’s splendid deeds in Scripture and in lives. Ours is the telling of Jesus as the great Amen to every Old Testament symbol and promise. We preach his Incarnation, the Sermon on the Mount, the kingdom parables and miracles, Christ’s suffering for us, his Resurrection and reign. We preach his church, “being built together to become a dwelling in which Christ lives by his Spirit.” And we preach a far better Promised Land than Canaan. And there’s more
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. (v. 17)
When I was young and unemployed I often prayed, “Lord, please give me a job that will matter in 100 years.” What better answer than to be a pastor. Sometimes it feels as though our work is in vain but all we have done in obedience and faith builds, not with wood, hay, or stubble, but with gold, silver, and precious stones. God has taught us to invest our days in what lasts. He has granted us wise hearts. So …
Be ye glad and sing for joy!