Feeling Our Age Back to all sermons
Date: August 23, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Psalm 90:1–90:17
Synopsis: Is age a feeling or a fact? In a way it’s both. In this message, Feeling Our Age, we discuss what the passing of years means to us, and using Psalm 90 as our text, we discover what it means to “So number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
This is the final message in our summer series on human emotions – using different Psalms as our source or text. Next Friday, Pastor Matthew from the Off Island Church and I will be doing a pulpit swap; I will be preaching at the Off Island Church, and Pastor Matthew will be preaching here at ECC, as we want to continue to preserve a strong bond between our two congregations.
Each week during the summer we have examined a different emotion; we’ve looked at discouragement, guilt, anger and fear. We have also looked at positive emotions: gratitude, hope and awe.
So what have I chosen for this final message in the series? My first choice of a sermon title for today was, “I Feel Old.” I suppose there are a couple of reasons why my thoughts took me in this direction. This past week we passed a milestone; 23 years ago, Esther Ruth and I arrived in Abu Dhabi with our two sons to take up the ministry here at ECC. In light of that, I have been going through the process of renewing my visa. I figured out that this is the 9th time I have been through that process. On top of that, in just a couple of weeks, I will mark my 63rd birthday. So there are some days, especially when I contemplate these numbers, that I feel old!
But there are other days – most days, in fact – that I don’t feel old at all. Age and feeling old are very relative things. I am reminded of the story of a 76 year old man who had a serious heart attack and ended up in the hospital. Fortunately, he received good treatment and made a good recovery, at least physically. But the doctors and care-givers were concerned that the trauma of the heart attack had affected his mental capacity. During his recovery, he kept talking about waiting for his mother to come and get him from the hospital. They were so concerned about his delusional state, that they kept him in the hospital for some extra days for observation. That is, until the day his 95 year old mother drove up to the hospital in her own car, accompanied by her 97 year old sister, to collect her son!
So I have not titled my sermon, “I Feel Old.” Because I also recognize that most of you are not so old, and you might tune out of a sermon on such a subject. Instead, I have chosen the title: Feeling Our Age. No matter what age we are, time is passing for all of us. How do we feel about that? And what can we do about it?
Memory is a funny thing, and there is no accounting for some of the rather odd things that stick in our memory. But I have one very clear memory from when I was 9 years old. It was the last day of school in 4th grade. I was attending Rift Valley Academy in Kenya at the time. On that last day of class, we were walking up the road to our classroom for the last time, and I remember a conversation I had with some of my fellow students as we reflected on the year and the passing of time. I remember it so clearly, that last month when we visited Kijabe, I pointed out the spot in the road to Esther Ruth where the conversation took place.
One thing I remember is doing some math, and observing to my friends that at the turn of the century, in the year 2000, we would all be 50 years old. At the time that seemed incredibly far in the future and 50 seemed incredibly old. The other thing I remember doing is making an observation about the passing of time; that when you look ahead, a year seems like a long time. But when you look back at a year, it seems very short. That is a piece of 9 year old wisdom that I find holds true even today.
As we reflect on our lives and the passing of time – and what it means to feel our age and to make the most of the time that has been allotted to us, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite psalms. It is Psalm 90. The inscription tells us that this is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” That makes this the oldest psalm in the book, and one of the very earliest writings in the entire Scriptures. For eloquence and simplicity of language and thought, it is unsurpassed.
In the very middle of this psalm, there is a prayer, a request, that I think lies at the heart of the writer’s thought. It is a prayer that I believe we would all do well to pray and passionately seek an answer to, no matter what our age, or where we are in our life’s journey. It is found in Psalm 90:12: So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.
The vocabulary is interesting here. The word for “get” in this verb form means “to acquire or learn information and correlate it to other ideas or facts, with a possible focus on energy and diligence.”
The word for wisdom in Hebrew is defined as “the capacity to understand and so have skill in living.”
I like that. This is deliberate, thoughtful living – assessing the passing of time and feeling our age in a way that will correlate other ideas and facts and focus our energy and diligence, leading to skill in living.
So what is the connection between feeling our age and assessing the passing of days, and wisdom? What is the link between age and wisdom? It is worth observing that wisdom doesn’t always come with age. Sometimes old age comes alone! It is clear from this verse that we don’t acquire wisdom automatically with the passing of days. Otherwise there would be no need for such a prayer. What I want to do in this sermon is to glean what we can from this psalm to find out what a heart of wisdom is, and how we can gain it. For the wisdom that Moses is praying for is actually revealed in this psalm. As I have studied and meditated on this psalm, I would summarize what I have discovered in five statements characterizing a heart of wisdom.
First, 1. A heart of wisdom recognizes and takes comfort in the eternalness of God.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
We learn first that God’s quality of being eternal is a thing of the past. “From everlasting” deals with the past. God has always existed. There was never a time when he did not exist. I remember this was the first great theological riddle I wrestled with as a child. How could God have no beginning? My childish mind could not comprehend it. I have a confession for you. My adult mind cannot comprehend it either. It remains a mystery, something beyond my ability to comprehend. In the beginning, God was. He already existed.
To give such a statement a sort of comparison or perspective, Moses compares God to the oldest and most permanent things he can see around him; the mountains and earth upon which he stood.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
But God’s eternalness is not only a thing of the past. It is also a thing of the future. From everlasting to everlasting; Eternity past to eternity future. God is eternal. He had no beginning and he will have no end. From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
Not only does the heart of wisdom recognize the truth of God’s eternalness, but it takes comfort in it. Look at verse 1 again: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. The image of a dwelling place here carries both a sense of familiarity and permanence as well as a sense of refuge and safety. I think we can capture it by inserting a different word. Lord, you have been our home throughout all generations.
What a comfort this is to the believer. All else changes, but God remains the same from generation to generation. He is a dwelling place, a place of refuge, safety and comfort for his people. In a very real sense, this timelessness of the changeless, eternal God makes the passing of time of little significance.
During our recent visit to Kenya, we walked down to the house where I grew up; a house my father built in 1960 when I was 10 years old. My parents lived in it for 30 years, and then for a number of years, one of my brothers lived in it with his family. Others live in it now, but it still looks much the same, and my mind flooded with memories as we walked around the yard. It was a comforting reminder of an even more permanent presence in my life; an eternal presence. The God of my parents is my true home, my true dwelling place.
The God I put my faith in as a child, the God I committed myself to serve when I was a teenager, the God who stayed by my side during my first frightening days on a college campus in the 1960’s, the God whom I turned to for help when I first arrived to pastor this congregation 23 years ago - he hasn’t changed! He is the same now as he was then. He is the same now as he was when Moses wrote this psalm almost 3500 years ago. A heart of wisdom recognizes and takes comfort in the eternalness of God.
Second, 2. A heart of wisdom understands the brevity of earthly life. The shortness of human life on this earth is brought into sharp contrast with God’s eternalness as we read Psalm 90:3-6.
3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
In contrast to God, man’s life is compared to grass in a dry, hot climate. For God, a thousand years is of no significance. It passes like a watch in the night that one sleeps through. A thousand years is like yesterday to him. In contrast, man springs up like new grass in the freshness of morning only to lie withered by evening from the burning heat of the day.
In spite of this reality, we human beings tend to great arrogance during our lifetime. Life seems long and endless, especially when we are in the prime of youth. This arrogance of the immediate causes us to overemphasize the here and now, the temporal over the eternal. We are alive, we are young, like fresh green grass, and it seems like it will always be so. I mentioned that conversation when I figured out that in the year 2000, the change of the millennium, I would be 50 years old. When I pointed this out to my friends, we all laughed hysterically. At that point in time, that seemed incomprehensibly old to us! I mean, my Dad wasn’t even 50 years old yet. Now, very suddenly, the year 2000 and my 50th birthday are fading very rapidly in my rearview mirror.
Moses had an especially poignant perspective on the passing of life. After the people of Israel rebelled in fear and refused to enter the Promised Land, God declared that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until an entire generation, everyone over the age of 20 years old, had died. He watched a generation die. He was constantly reminded of the brevity of human life. Every time the Israelites packed up their tents and moved, they left graves behind.
Life is short. A heart of wisdom understands the brevity of earthly life.
Third, 3. A heart of wisdom understands that life is hard, and that the difficulties and brevity of earthly life are the consequence of human sinfulness and God’s judgment.
In Psalm 90:7-11 we read:
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
I am not going to expand on this at great length, but I need to make a few comments. These verses make it clear that there is a connection between the difficulties and brevity of earthly life and the sinfulness of the human race. Moses, as I just mentioned, was in a particularly good position to observe this. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, waiting to die, because of their sin and rebellion.
But I must offer a word of caution. Scripture makes it clear that we are not in a position to judge and apply a mechanical, one to one formula; one that says: “You are suffering more than I am, therefore you are more sinful than I am.” Job and his “comforters” wrestled with this issue. Jesus’ disciples came and asked: “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus responded, “Neither one. This was for the glory of God.” Jesus also commented on a particular human disaster of his day, asking, “These people who were killed when the tower fell on them, do you think they were more sinful than those who survived?” He was obviously expecting the answer “No”.
We must avoid such superficial judgments. But at the same time, I believe we must still remember that there is a connection between human sinfulness and the suffering in the world as we see it today. This world is not the way it came from the Creator’s hand. It’s been messed up, and we are the ones who messed it up. We recoil from the natural and man-made disasters that we see around us in the world today. But if we truly understood the depths of man’s rebellion against the holiness of God, we would marvel not at the disasters we see around us, but rather marvel that they are not even greater in magnitude and severity. As the Scripture says, “It is only by God’s mercy that we are not consumed.”
Without professing to understand all the specifics or attempting to make judgments in individual cases, a heart of wisdom understands that life is hard and that the difficulties and brevity of earthly life are the consequences of human sinfulness and God’s judgment.
Fourth, 4. A heart of wisdom understands that true and lasting joy comes only from the hand of God.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
This section is spoken as a petition to God. Notice the specific petition in verse 14b: That we may rejoice and be glad all our days. How can we have that? Where does such true and lasting joy come from? It comes from God. That’s why he is making this in the form of a request to God. This joy comes from God as he reaches out to us.
One line especially says it so clearly in verse 14: Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love.
People today want joy. They want lasting joy and gladness. They are looking for something to satisfy that longing. Wisdom knows where to look.
I would call our minds back to Psalm 16, a psalm Micah preached on just a few weeks ago. Let’s look at verses 5-6 again.
5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
When we choose God as our portion – we have a beautiful inheritance. As the psalmist goes on to say in verse 11:
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Real, lasting joy comes only from God and a right relationship with him. It comes in answer to this prayer: Satisfy us with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Finally, 5. A heart of wisdom understands that only the eternal God can transform the efforts of the believer’s brief, earthly life into something that counts for eternity.
Moses closes the psalm with another petition in Psalm 90 and verse 17:
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
I believe there is in all of us a seed of the eternal. We want to make an impact, to leave a legacy; to leave something permanent behind us. We have visited the pyramids of Egypt – incredible efforts by the pharaohs to leave a lasting legacy. I have also stood before the elaborate tombs of Petra in Jordan. They are remarkable edifices carved into the face of the rock. But behind the carved fronts, only simple caves where bodies were laid – and then decayed. Such human efforts at permanence are ultimately doomed. The poet Shelley wrote of a traveler crossing a desert where he came across part of an ancient statue. Only two vast and trunkless legs of stone remained on the pedestal. Nearby lay a shattered face, half buried in the sand. On the pedestal were engraved these words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.” And the poet concludes: “Nothing else remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Life is short, and our efforts at lasting impact usually do not survive us very long. But there is a way to make an impact; an impact that will stand the test of time. It is found in this prayer to God: “O Lord, establish the work of our hands upon us – yes establish the work of our hands.”
I guess that is one thing that comes with the passing of the years. A sense that one’s time to make a difference and to have a lasting impact is passing by. How can we make the most of our opportunities? How can we seize the day? When we live by Gods’ power, in God’s way, trusting in him and in him alone to make a difference through us, then we will have a lasting impact and leave a lasting legacy: one that will be felt in eternity. In John 15:16, Jesus said to his disciples: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.
During the years I was growing up, my parents had a small plaque hanging on the wall of our home – that same home I revisited last month. It was a simple but powerful reminder. “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” This is a truth we do well to remember whenever we are feeling our age – whether that age is 63 or 23!
O Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- Discuss age, aging, where you are in life’s progression and your feelings about the passing of time. (Clearly this discussion will vary depending on the ages represented in your group.)
- Read Psalm 90 together.
- Verse 12 is the key verse in this Psalm. How do you think “numbering our days” relates to a “heart of wisdom”?
- Read verses 1-2. How does reflecting on God as eternal affect our perception of our own life and passing of our own life-times?
- Read verses 3-6. How does contemplating the brevity of human life help us acquire a heart of wisdom?
- Read verses 7-11. What light does this passage shed on our experiences in life? What questions does this passage raise in your mind? Discuss the questions and possible answers.
- Where does real joy and satisfaction in life come from? (Read verses 13-16 for the answer to this question – and discuss how this relates to the heart of wisdom.) What are some substitute sources people sometimes pursue?
- How should the prayer in verse 17 affect our priorities and investment of our time and energies?