New Year’s Eve – 2019 LSB #733
Text – Psalm 90:10 & 12
As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years, or if due to strength, 80 years, yet their pride is but labor & sorrow; for soon it is gone & we fly away. So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (NASB)
Presenting a Heart of Wisdom
“Four score & seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, & dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived & so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting & proper that we should do this.”
Those well-known words were given by president Lincoln at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. In his day, the KJV was the English Bible, & its wording is similar to Lincoln’s opening. On the internet, there’s a claim that Lincoln was self-consciously alluding to Psalm 90 as he chose the words of his speech.
If true, the president could not have chosen a more fitting verse of Scripture to honor the lives of all the strong, young men whose flames had been snuffed out even before their allotted fourscore years had been counted. Nevertheless, Lincoln did not confine his speech to a wallowing in the past, but rather pointed to the great task remaining before the nation.
That task was to keep freedom alive that the dead shall not have died in vain. Similarly, Moses, who authored Psalm 90, was writing not to wallow in the past regarding the multitudes whose bodies God scattered in the Sinai wilderness. Moses also was pointing ahead to the great task that lay before the people of God. They were about to cross into the Promised Land, but they’d have to conquer it first. Many trials & challenges, many failures & successes were to come. Even though they were moving into a land that would become their new home, through this prayer Moses reminded them of a foundational truth, “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” (Psalm 90:1 KJV)
If you remember, Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20 ESV) You see, technically speaking, Jesus did not need a home because the heavenly Father is His dwelling place. The same is true for us.
People who really struggle with letting go of the family homestead are missing that truth. The generation that left Egypt struggled with that truth. They barely crossed the Red Sea & were complaining. They wanted to go back, to slavery no less, because they struggled to find their dwelling place in God. Do you know where this is going? You & I struggle with that too!
Moses calls us to the past not for hope there, but so we remember how the heavenly Father provided for us then. He cared for us, even blessed us, through all the trials of our past, so we can be certain, that even in our unknown future, Yahweh will do the same for us there. Learning that lesson we can present to our Lord a heart of wisdom instead of a heart of evil.
Numbering our days is one key to learning that lesson – the equivalent of learning to be humble. As this year draws to a close, what lessons in humility have you learned? Is your heart any wiser today, than a year ago? What have you presented to your Lord & Savior over the past year? What will you be presenting to your Lord & Savior during the coming year?
Those are the sort of questions that God’s children should be asking themselves. As for what we present to God, we’re simply giving back to Him what He’s already given us in the 1st place. As the prayer says, “We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whatever the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” Only if God grants me a heart of wisdom does His sin-blinded creature know enough to acknowledge the power of His anger & then to flee to His steadfast love for redemption. I don’t come to any of that knowledge or faith on my own. So it is wise to spend time in God’s house on this evening, above all evenings. Each of God’s children is blessed to take stock of the year past & contemplate the days to come.
Martin Luther wrote of Psalm 90: From the beginning of his prayer to this point, Moses stressed the truth that another life follows after this one – a life of wrath or of grace. Moses wishes to kindle in us fear of the impending wrath & the hope of eternal life. His goal is not merely to drive us away from something in fear, but also to draw us toward something in hope & love. Unbelievers are unable to say with assurance that God exists & that’s He’s still concerned about people after they die.
We’ve just been through the season of Advent & its purpose is not just about preparing our hearts for Christmas in this time & in this place. It is also about preparing our hearts for the day when Jesus returns. An honest look at the day of our death will prepare us for the remedy that God has in store. We should not allow the things of this life to overshadow that.
How do we walk in the center of God’s will? How much control do we have over our actions? This evening, at midnight, the year 2019 will come to its death. At the same time, a new year, 2020, will come to life. But years are only an abstract concept. They have no concreteness, no reality of substance.
The calendar is only a cataloguing of time – a time that will cease to exist on the Last Day. It’s in the moment that things happen, & it’s in the moment that the Spirit moves. It is in the moment that we are able to relate to God – not in the past, nor in the future – only in the now!
Now is the time to turn your heart to your Creator. If you do not you miss the blessings of that moment & they can never be returned to you. “The days of our years are threescore years & ten; & if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor & sorrow; for it is soon cut off, & we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10 KJV)
The Civil War created a time of grave reflection for the people of our nation. Wars tend
to do that. The calamities of our personal lives have the same effect. If we turn to our Creator He uses them to bless us, as painful as it may be. Faith believes & trusts Him in all things. The heart of wisdom that we gain can then be presented to our Lord in grateful devotion:
“We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whatever the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord, from Thee.”
If, in times of discipline, we turn our heart away from our Creator then all the time in this world will be too short, because eternity will never end.
I try to put the words of Psalm 90 into play in my life by using this prayer when I’ve finished receiving communion: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, & renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NASB) May that be your prayer also, not only when you receive Christ’s body & blood, but also every time you hear His Word.
Then, each day, you may present to your Lord & Savior a heart of wisdom. Amen.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, & our eternal home: under the shadow of Thy throne Thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is Thine arm alone, & our defense is sure. Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away; we fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guard while troubles last & our eternal home. Amen. LSB 733:1-2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet