Forever is a word we throw around all the time without thinking about its true meaning. In frustration, we say things like, I’ve been stuck in this traffic forever! In sincerity, we say things like; I will love you forever. In reality, we can’t fully comprehend forever, yet we will spend forever in worship.
It’s not always good to dwell on the past, but it is good to remember where we’ve come from and what we’ve learned from our experiences to appreciate where we are now and to prepare us to move forward. The theme of remembrance appears all throughout Scripture. Psalm 90 begins with this theme and then looks to the future.
Authored by Moses, Psalm 90 is a community prayer and song of lament inviting the singers to look back to (remember) some unknown affliction (v. 15) and to ask God to have pity on them (v. 13). The Psalm begins with remembering the eternality of God (vv. 1-2), His sovereignty (vv. 3-6) and His wrath (vv. 7-9; 11). This understanding of who God is and what He has done in the past provides a clear and proper perspective of where people stand in relation to Him, including our dependence upon Him.
The importance of remembering who God is and what He has done in the past cannot be overemphasized in the life of the believer. Failing to do so puts us in a position of weakness, doubt, and self-centeredness and leads to shallow, insincere worship. Likewise, failing to consider how brief our time on earth causes us to become prideful and self-reliant leading to being flippant, casual worship in our worship.
In Psalm 90, Moses demonstrates these crucial truths. He points to who God is, what He has done, the fact that human life is very short and how we are completely dependent upon God to accomplish anything in life.
In verses 1 and 2, Moses exalts the security and the eternality of God. He directs Israel back to the time of Deuteronomy and reminds them how God had been their refuge. He then recalls the fact that God existed before time and will exist and rule for all eternity.
In verses 3, 4, 5, and 10 Moses speaks of the brevity of human life and the future. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span (or pride) is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (v. 10). Then, in verse 12, Moses prays, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” This is such a prayer of humility. “Teach us to number our days.” That is to say, help us to remember that our time on this earth is short.
Just as it isn’t always good to dwell on the past and become stuck there, it can also be paralyzing to only think about the distant future. But having a sober understanding of the shortness of time and the urgency of our work as Christians is significant. Seventy or eighty years, even a hundred years seems like a long time. To us as humans, it is, but in light of eternity, it is only a mist that is here one moment and gone the next (James 4:14). The ESV Study Bible notes, “The awareness of how short human life is (v. 10) leads to earnest prayer for God’s help, without which his people can accomplish nothing of lasting value (vv. 16-17).”
With all of this in view—the eternality of God, the sovereignty and provision of God, the brevity of human life—Moses’ final request in this psalm in verse 17 is, “Let the favor (or beauty) of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” We get the sense of urgency that comes with the understanding of the shortness of our time on earth and the need for the favor of God. Moses does not want himself nor the Israelites to waste the time God has given them and is asking God to establish (to bring about, effect, prove, substantiate) their work for His Kingdom and His glory.
Understanding that all of life is worship, we look to Psalm 90 for the exhortation to worship in light of eternity. When we remember where God has brought us from and all that He has done for us, most importantly, His saving us by the blood of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we realize how very brief our time on this earth is, our worship—our lives—should demonstrate our awareness of it all. It also should motivate us to be diligent in the work of God in service to Him and witness to the world. Lastly, it should humble us and cause us to pour out our lives before Him in worship, fully dependent upon His sustaining grace.