“Life is Long, but Life is Short” – Psalm 90

I still can’t believe this actually happened. This is so depressing and humiliating. While cycling, I got passed by an old lady on a bicycle!  Here’s the truth: though it’s not entirely rare for me to get passed by another cyclist out there where I ride, honestly, I think I pass at least 3 to 4 times more people than pass me. No joke.

Just before it happened, I was thinking about how my regular cycling on the Western Maryland Rail Trail would be a good illustration for this sermon series finale. And then she went roaring by. And I thought, “I need to have a picture to use for the sermon introduction.”  So I tried to catch her, but I couldn’t.

Understand, this was not any just ordinary old lady – like the proverbial gal with a cane that you assist in walking across the street. No, this one was really fit. She had all the gear and looked – other than what I could see of her face and hair as she roared past me – all the part of a totally fit, young athlete. But still … how could this happen?

But regarding riding a bike on the Western Maryland Rail Trail from Big Pool to 14 miles past Hancock – a total of 24 miles one way – I can give you some good advice. You can jump on at the beginning … at 6 miles … at 10 miles … even at 13. What is smart to do is research the weather in advance, noting the wind direction and then choosing to ride so that the wind is behind you as you finish.

  • I can tell you where you can stop for a break … or for a snack.
  • I can advise you about where all the tree roots are that have damaged the pavement and made for some very unpleasant bumps if you’re not aware of them or if they’re hidden in the leaves. You need to stay to the left from miles 6-8, but be on the right between markers 9+10.
  • And I even know a number of the regular riders and runners who are out there, having become friends with quite a few.

And this illustrative sort of long-distance-riding advice is what I trust you’ve been able to glean even just a bit from our weeks together in this reflections series, applying some of it to the long-distance ride of life.

But is the distance ride of life really long?  Or is it actually short?  I would submit that the answer is that it is actually both!  So the title today is: “Life is Long; and Life is Short”.

And I have begun each week of this series by asserting both a theme, as well as a statement that describes the content for that Sunday. And so …

Theme – At the same time, our lives are in various ways both very long and very short.

Statement – There is wisdom in consciously numbering our days so that we may live a productive life for God’s glory.

And surely we should desire and value the idea of living a life that is productive regarding the things of eternal values. In several places, the Scriptures speak of those who are merely existing in this world as “mere men” … just going through the motions of attempting to live the happiest life possible and looking to find as much joy as possible in the things they find interesting. They may be – and in fact, usually are – very nice people; but they do not have an interest in thinking about how to use their days in this world to be a part of something that lasts longer than this world. And it actually is amazingly easy for Christian people to fall into this routine of mere existence and fleshly pursuits.

I am mostly going to talk about the fleeting and passing nature of life. In earlier messages in this series I did address the idea of the length of life – doing so in those several teachings that talked about God’s work in our lives to teach us to trust Him. There we spoke of the idea that God does not always fill our dreams and grant us one rapid success in life after another – blessing us always at every turn. Rather, God will sometimes delay fulfillment of His blessings in order that He might do some other work in our lives. That divine work is to often cause us to have to depend upon Him more thoroughly – the #1 thing God most desires of us.

A summary is that God often allows things to happen to us, in order that things can develop in us, in order that things can happen through us by His power. We should understand that God has His own timing in our lives, and especially early in life we should resist allowing the panic that the appearance of life passing us by to cause us to take control in a way that does not exhibit faith in our Heavenly Father.

So again, today is focused more upon the fleeting nature of life and the rapid passing of the days, weeks, months and years.

Think about how quickly times does pass by…

  • It is already 18 years since the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. None of our youth or children can remember what to most of us feels like just a few years ago.
  • Yesterday was 30 years ago already that the Berlin Wall fell. Wow!
  • It seems like only a few years ago that we moved to Maryland and built a brand new house. Now I’ve replaced the decks and am constantly needing to repair the aging roof shingles that blow off.
  • I remember when our first son went to high school – thinking about the next four boys’ years doing the same … realizing that the five of them would be in the same school for 16 out of a period of 17 years. That seemed like it would be forever! And now I consider that this lengthy period came to an end over 6 years ago!
  • Last Sunday, I hosted that college reunion I talked about a couple weeks ago – of Da Boys! Nine families got together and we went around a circle to share what has happened over the years since we were last all together in Philadelphia in the 70s. It took several hours, because it was a combined total of recounting over 360 years of history!

Yes, “life is a snapshot” – that is a working title I used for this passage when preaching about it in the past, most recently at TSF on New Year’s Day Sunday – 1995!  And so we turn today to the 90th Psalm where the writer has some very practical advice for us about perspectives to maintain in a transitory world.

A prayer of Moses the man of God. … 90:1 – Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Last week as we talked through Psalm 73 on the theme of God is all we have, and all we need, that Psalm also had what is called a “superscription.”  There it was said to have been the work of Asaph – a temple musician in Israel. And you may be quite surprised here to see that this Psalm is credited as having been written by Moses!  We remind you that this is not simply a publisher’s note, or something like that. These superscriptions are a part of the inspired text. We have every reason to believe that this was indeed a writing of Moses; and it is the only Psalm credited to him. Compare verse 1 to the writing of Moses in Deuteronomy 33:27 …

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Moses Background – As we read through this Psalm, I’m sure you will agree that it was very likely written in the latter stages of Moses’ life. Remember, his life had three stages of 40 years – growing up in Egypt in the household of Pharaoh, then hiding in the desert with the sheep, and finally leading Israel out of Egypt before wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Certainly this writing comes from that last segment when the unbelieving generation over age 20 that failed to trust God to conquer the Promised Land would die off. This is evident by …

… a constant mentioning of death.

… an emphasis upon the wrath of God.

… the viewpoint that punishment is the wage of sin.

So Moses was surrounded with death. Let’s run some numbers …  

  • 603,550 men at the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 1:46)
  • 2,000,000 or more in the total nation of Israel
  • 1,200,000 would die in the 40 years of wanderings
  • 30,000 per year
  • 82 per day
  • 1 person every 17 minutes

This would give Moses some particular insight into the fragility and brevity of human life! So keep this background in mind as we go through the Psalm.

We are going to highlight three perspectives about the brevity of life in the first 12 verses, followed by reading a finale prayer that is timelessly practical for even us, today.

Perspectives about the Brevity of Life …

  1. Our lives are brief in comparison to God’s eternality. (1-6) even the longest of lives does not add up to very much by comparison to God.

90:1 – Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

We see here the eternality of God expressed in three ways …

  • The experience of every generation … From before Israel, dating back to the first humans in the garden and up to the patriarchs of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Joseph, and beyond to the generations in Egypt to the time of Moses and Aaron – every generation could testify that the one and only safe refuge in life was God. Like we talked about last week, there is nowhere else to go, but also nowhere else you need to go. Nothing better has ever been found than abiding in God as your true home. You know how after a rough day you are so relieved to get safely to the comfort of your home, where you can relax and be at peace? That is a picture of the security that exists in our relationship with God.


  • God’s existence before the oldest of physical things … The mountains are often seen as the veritable picture of the oldest things in creation. In Proverbs, wisdom is spoken of as being eternal, saying it this way … Before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth. And we have the same viewpoint and use the similar expression, perhaps when speaking of an elderly person by saying that “he is as old as the hills.”


  • Eternally, from everlasting to everlasting … This is an ancient expression that essentially says “as far as you can go out of sight in one direction to as far as you go in the other direction” … that is how long God has existed. There is no end that can be seen, because there is no end. And of course, that is beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend.

So God is eternal, but man by comparison is transitory …

90:3 – You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: 6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.

There are four comparisons here that show the brevity of man’s life …

  1. We are like dust, because we are dust.
  2. A very short period of time – a millennium – only 1000 years
  3. Like standing against a flood.
  4. As lasting and permanent as grass.

Dust – that’s sort of depressing!  You can’t make much out of dust, unless you are God. And that is what we are made of, and our bodies will turn back into that very substance. Actually, there is what I call a “dust cycle” about human life …  

  • We are made from the dust – Gen. 2:7 – Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
  • Because of sin we have to serve the dust of the earth for a living – Gen. 3:17 – “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”
  • God helps us, however, remembering that we are dust – Ps. 103:14 – … the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
  • God returns man to dust – Ps. 90:3

1,000 years – How long is that to God? What is its relative value?  (verses 4-6)

  • Like yesterday … a memory … it has no real substance.
  • Like a watch in the night … In college I sometimes worked an overnight shift as a security guard called the “graveyard shift.” Nobody really knew much about it or even that it was happening.
  • Like the grass – the night moisture makes it flourish. But the sun gradually dries it up all day long, and by night can be withered.

So, our lives compared to God are like a snapshot, very transitory, because …

  1. Our lives are brief because of God’s fury toward sin. (7-11) Because of God’s righteous character, His justice demands that He must judge sin.

90:7 – We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.

8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.

  • Our sins are an open book to God. Though we make think they are secret, He is aware of them all. The light of God’s presence breaks into the closets of our lives. As a nation, Israel had learned of God’s righteous judgment of sin.
  • The extent of human life is compared to a moan, a sigh – a mere inhale and exhale.

90:10 – Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

  • Here is stated the normal expanse of life … from 70 to 80 years. And then it is gone; it flies away … even as we have an English language expression that “time flies.”
  • Some live longer than the normal lifespan, some shorter. There is no moral equivalence that good people live longer. What it says is that, even if you live longer years, it is a relative mixed blessing. Even the best of years will be filled with the common troubles and sorrows of life in a broken and sinful world.
  • This portion of the Psalm rings with the same tone as the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes … for example in 11:9 where he said, However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Yes, even at its best, there are plenty of sorrows to experience personally and to witness in others all around us.
  • The one thing that makes it all have some meaning and perspective is to be connected to God and to His perspective. When we understand the bigger picture, there is bigger perspective. What seems like injustice is truly temporary. The knowledge of the wrath of God toward sin should propel us also toward holy living and godly respect.

But now the Psalm becomes exceeding practical. Having seen the FACT of our transitory lives (as compared to God’s eternity), and having seen the REASON for it (the issue of sin inherited), we now are given practical advice as to our current NEED …

  1. Our need is to number our days. (12) Moses is saying here that there would be great benefit for us in having an accurate understanding of the length of our lives … to do the math …

90:12 – Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

This is the climax verse of the Psalm – all of the preceding material points toward this one major point about how to live with the reality of a transitory life … to literally number our days. This means to think about how much time you actually have. And though this may sound like an especially grievous application to those who are particularly older than others, again, even for the youngest, the numbers of years are really not that many. And the older people in our church family can tell the younger ones, time really does pass remarkably fast. There is a limit to what is available to us to invest and accomplish the things that have eternal value.

And what is the goal?  It says in this verse 12: that we may gain a heart of wisdom. So what is that?  This is an awesome Hebrew word that is used here:  Chokmah meaning a wisdom that comes from living and experience … shrewdness, skill, competence and prudence. This is the stuff you learn along the way from the school of hard knocks, though it is also the stuff you can gain from others who learned it from their school of hard knocks.

Actually, this is what I’m trying to do with this whole series on Reflections on the Christian Life. I’m trying to share Chokmah with you – skill in living. This is such a central idea that I’m grieving now that I did not name the series: “Chokmah: Skillfully Living the Christian Life.”


Theologically Speaking – the goal is to gain wisdom. How do you do that?  It says in Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. We need to, yes, understand His wrath toward sin and respect and honor Him, being aware also of the wonderful grace given to us in Christ that should indeed compel us to most highly value skillful and dedicated living.

Generally Speaking – realize how short life really is and stop putting off doing that which really does need to be done now. It is easy in life to think (beginning as a Christian teenager) that there is time in college to get serious about living for God.  And then, in college, to think, “I’ll live for God when I get into my career.”  Before long, it gets postponed to “when I have a family.”  Next, it is “when the kids are growing up”… and then, “after I retire I’ll have the time.”  Then finally, in what has seemed like a mere passing of a couple of years, we are looking at soon passing into eternity.

My parents had an oft-quoted Christian saying hanging on the wall of our dining room during my childhood years… “One life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Specifically Speaking – to literally count our days, as the Psalm reminds us of our lifespan. And whatever that number is, we should devise a plan to make that time count with righteous living and service for God. Even if the number is small, it is a number, and there is time to work for God.

The best way to do that is to jump on board with what God is doing in this time and place. This is the era of the church – God is building the church of Jesus Christ until the Savior returns again. This is His program. We have places for you to get involved. Perhaps there needs to be a reconsideration of the calendar of life – so often filled with the busyness of life activities that are nice enough, yet devoid of eternal merit and value.

The final five verses are a practical prayer that is timeless.

Moses recognizes the sorrows of the world, but also God’s goodness. The prayer seeks God’s loving favor upon us as we go through our days, that we may experience His perspective and joy in the midst of the challenges, even down through the generations that will follow us.

90:13 – 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.

It was exactly 300 years ago that Christians began singing a famous hymn of the faith – composed by Isaac Watts – that was based upon the 90th Psalm…

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.  

Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame. From everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone. Short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Be Thou our guide while life shall last and our eternal home.

Discussion Questions for Week 9

As you reflect on your life right now, does it seem long … or short … or a mix of both?

Do you find that you have regrets at this point of your life that you did not make more specific and intentional plans to invest in things of eternal value at earlier times?

What are some ideas that come to mind as to how you might “number” the rest of your days to live with “chokmah” – skill in living?

If you were writing a series called “Reflections on the Christian Life”, can you think of any other major topics or categories that you would have included beyond those we’ve covered these past two months?

Nowhere Else to Go – Psalm 73

When your doctor takes it upon himself to personally call you first thing in the morning—the day after an appointment, you know it marks the beginning of a bad day.  “I hate making calls like this,” he began.  “The X-rays picture a large abnormality in your son’s leg; possibly an aggressive benign tumor; but I must honestly tell you it looks to me like a malignancy called Ewing’s Sarcoma.”

How does one absorb such a call?  You simply do not expect to hear such a thing about yourself, let alone your 14-year-old son.  Just the day before, Nathan had begun his freshman year in high school.  Having been homeschooled all his life, entering high school was to be the launch into a great new adventure.

It was a launch into an adventure, indeed!  But not one of our choosing!

An occasional sharp pain in his leg and knee had consistently increased in intensity over that summer of 1996 leading into 9th grade.  Originally written off by the family physician as “typical growing pains,” successive tests tended toward a confirmation of the worst.  The “C” word – “cancer” – crept almost innocently into the naturally flowing discussions of the specialists.

The most brutal test to observe was the bone scan.  One of our church leaders – a nuclear medicine technologist at that time – sat with us as the radiographic dye pulsated quickly through Nathan’s system.  The problem area was painfully obvious on the screen.  Even a three-year-old could have pointed to the large, bright, radiating spot of concern.  My medical technician friend displayed a wonderful pastoral presence, but I noted how little he looked at the screen, and how much he gazed distantly at the floor.

I pressed for numbers.  I wanted to hear percentages and know what we were facing.  “Only a biopsy will determine the nature of this with certainty,” they said.  “But we feel there is sufficient clarity in the MRI and other tests to identify it as Ewing’s Sarcoma.  We honestly don’t expect to hear something different.”

That sounded like 99% to me!

I pressed again for more numbers – survival rate figures.  “About 50% survive past five years, some with amputations, and some able to salvage the leg.”   I secretly embarked on an Internet research crusade on the subject.  The results were so discouraging that I chose to not tell my wife what I discovered, nor even that I had done it.  I had reason for special concern for Diana.  Just two weeks earlier, she sat with her sister as she died from cancer – leaving eight children behind.

Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rather rare form of cancer, and we were referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.  Often regarded, as you know, as the foremost medical facility in the world, gaining an appointment is very difficult.  We would have to wait a month – a month to live in a condition one author has aptly entitled, “God’s Waiting Room.”

Our family attempted to live a normal life as we waited.  One night, Nathan and I attended a Hagerstown Suns baseball game – a favorite outing for us.  There I saw a man who I’d noticed at the ballpark practically every time we’d been there previously.  He was a very loud, foul-speaking, verbally obnoxious person in his late 60s … a man who had quite obviously lived a foolish life of hard drink and personal abuse.  Yet there he stood, basically healthy, out in public enjoying a recreational event, while my eight nieces and nephews mourned the loss of their godly mother and my son wrestled with the issues of a deadly cancer.  It didn’t just seem unfair, IT WAS UNFAIR!

I was driven into the Scriptures for any hint of perspective.  My reading soon brought me to the 73rd Psalm, which served as the anchor for my soul in the weeks to follow.

This story is a personal life background for this topic of our series. And I have begun each week by asserting both a theme, as well as a statement that describes the content for that Sunday. And so …

Theme – God is all we have and all we need.

Statement – Though I may be tempted to trust in things other than God for hope and help, such resources do not ultimately exist.

And so that leads to this title: “Nowhere Else to Go”.

Most of us like to be in charge of things … to grasp and manage and work out solutions to the challenges and problems of life. This is especially true of men. And it is why I’ve often joked that there is no more frustrating and painful situation for a man to have to endure than childbirth … sitting by his wife, I mean!  There is nothing you can do to fix it or solve it or make it better than to utter a few words of encouragement.

No, seriously, it is not just men; it is all of us who like to work things out, or to find someone who knows how to work it out for us. We want solutions to problems … like, right now!  We are annoyed and confused when we have to wait, and especially so when the problem just does not make sense at all as to why it should even be happening.

And that is the mental condition of the writer of this Psalm as we go to the beginning of Psalm 73. Note that the first words under the title say … A psalm of Asaph.

Understand that this is not a modern note that has been added by the publisher as an explanation or to share a traditional thought. This is a part of the Scripture text from the beginning. So what does it tell us?

Asaph was a temple musician in Israel, and he is listed with a number of Psalms. Many believe that this means he was the author, while others feel that he is the one who took the words and penned them in such a way as to be for musical/worship expression. Honestly, the writing sounds like that of David, the primary author of the Psalms. And the life frustration and irritation that is the experience of the writer certainly sounds like David, maybe especially at the time when he was yet to experience the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Imagine the frustration it must have been for David during that period of time when he was essentially a fugitive while King Saul was interested in eliminating him from planet Earth. David had been anointed even as a boy by the prophet Samuel to become the King in Israel. He didn’t seek it out. In fact, when Samuel showed up at the house one day, David was the kid brother out in the fields tending the sheep, and they had to fetch him from that place.

So David had a promise, but when was it going to be fulfilled?  Time was passing. When he might have expected to be living at least a decent life as “king-elect,” rather he was living in caves as a fugitive with the local clans of rednecks and rejects … some tough dudes for sure. And surely there had to be times where he had doubts and second thoughts – challenges to his faith – that God really had good plans for him.

So we don’t know if this writer is David, but it could be. In any event, the writer begins by stating an upfront truth … a sort of caveat … Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  You know how, when you’re going to say something sorta controversial or negative and you don’t want to shock the listeners, so you begin with a disclaimer that includes a statement of fact?  Like this: “Hey, I know my mom loves me and she’s a really great cook …” And then what comes next?  Yes, a big “BUT…”  And that’s what the Psalmist is saying … I know God is good to His people, to those who honor Him … then comes the “BUT” …

73:2 – But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

The Psalmist wrestles here with the age-old question of the prosperity of the wicked, while suffering and difficulties are the lot of the righteous person who names the Lord. A famous book on the 1981 NY Times Bestseller List was that of the conservative Rabbi Harold Kushner, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  This was a reflection on the death of his 14-year-old son from a rare disease.

Various biblical characters wrestled with the same question. Just listen to these words …

Job … in chapter 21 …

7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?

8 They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes.

9 Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not on them.

13 They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace.

14 Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways.

15 Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’

Jeremiah … in chapter 12:1You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Habakkuk … 1:2-3, 132 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? … 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked     swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

And over the years here at TSF we’ve seen some very fine people who have succumbed to diseases and death at even untimely ages. Therefore, we might ponder as to what advantage we truly have in naming Christ as Savior and Lord when it surely appears that the sorrows of this life become squatters in our homes at least as indiscriminately often as they do to our godless neighbors.

So these questions in verses 2+3 are the beginning expressions of the Psalmist – representing the first of three interpretive points we want to make about Psalm 73 today, followed by three perspectives to take away with us.

  1. The General Observations of the Psalmist (2-11)

We first make note here about how the writer looks at the situation around him, at the stuff that simply does not make sense, being struck by the successes of those who do not honestly know God or honor Him.  Speaking of the prosperity of the wicked, he goes on to say of them …

73:4 – They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

So here are some of the observations of the Psalmist about the prosperity of the wicked …

–           They seem to have few struggles in life. While physical ailments are commonplace, they are the beautiful people. It is as if they have some special “life inoculation” against common problems. Surely their affluence helps them afford the best things in life.

–           They are proud in an open way, and why not? Everything seems to come up roses for them.

–           They are able to always get their own way. They are “connected” to the systems of this world, and they can afford to use their connections to their advantage and wantonly against others. In so many ways they seem to be above the law, literally and figuratively.

–           They have a huge following of people who want to be like them and known by them. People listen to their opinions and honor their thoughts, even though they truly know nothing about the situation at hand, while also being constituently evil and opposed to God and all that is good and righteous.

–           They scoff at the idea of God; they see themselves as God. They don’t need such a fairytale, as that is for the weak of the world.

Yes, we see the Hollywood crowd, the deep state political operatives of the world, the wealthy who have gained their abundance often through questionable means. And they appear so prosperous in every way, even as we see they reject God. How can this be?  It does not seem right by any measure.

And this is what the Psalmist noted, and it was grievous to him. And as he tried to understand it and make sense of it, his natural inclinations took him to where … well … natural inclinations always take any of us …

  1. The Foggy, Earth-Centric Interpretation of the Psalmist (12-15, 21-22)

The flat and linear perspective of this world will lead us to simplistic, confused, minimal and errant conclusions. And that is what happened to the writer …

73:12 – This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.

21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

–           He concluded that the wicked somehow go on in a non-accountable way, from success to success.

–           He experiences a sense of futility, pondering what his efforts at righteous living have accrued for him. It appeared that it was a losing strategy. It was depressing, a daily sense of failure. He knew this was crazy thinking, but it certainly seemed verifiable.

–           It led to increased sadness and even bitterness, estrangement from God. His foolishness rendered his relationship with God to a quality no better than a stupid animal.

But, here comes another “But” …

  1. The Clear, God-Centric Understanding of the Psalmist (16-20, 23-28)

The writer did not stay in that lowly place. His troubles and grieving sent him to the presence of God, and there he gained a higher perspective …

73:16 – When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! 20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Yes, the writer gains a new view from “mount perspective” – from the place of God’s overarching truth and His viewpoint on the world.

–           The writer sees that the currently prosperous people of this world who do not honor God are in a slippery place. They’re standing briefly, but they have a disastrous destiny. They will be swept away. Their current prosperity is like a dream – lasting for a time, but an awakening to reality will ultimately come, likely soon.

–           On the other hand, the righteous who claim God as Father are secure when perilous times come. They have God’s continuous presence, they are held by God’s hand, and they have His counsel in the dark times. Beyond that, they have a promise of glory – an eternal presence with God.

–           The conclusion is that there is nothing in heaven or on the earth that is better. This is the one true and timeless reality. There is nothing better, and that is because there ultimately is nothing else or no one else to turn to … but there does not need to be anything else.

–           Final conclusion – So where do you go to hide when things are going poorly, when all of life seems to be falling apart?  You go to the refuge – as the writer says that God is the place of refuge to run and hide and to gain strength.

Here then are three takeaway perspectives when life does not make sense …

  1. God is really, really good at keeping score!

The Psalmist says, “I entered the Sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.   You cast them down to ruin.  How suddenly they are destroyed.  Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you” (Ps. 73:18,19,27).  The perspective is this – God is a good score keeper, and in the end the righteous always win.

Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers football coach, said, “Sometimes the clock runs out, but in the end, we will win.”  Even championship teams suffer some regular season defeats.  We’ve even seen in the past week that you can lose every game at home in the World Series and yet win in the end. Yes, the ultimate goal is to win the playoffs, and such becomes our guarantee as believers.  That really is an incredible knowledge to possess!  How much else in life are we able to know with such certainty?  We know the final score before the game concludes, and we know we win and the wicked lose.

  1. When sorrows move in, God doesn’t move out!

The Psalm writer pens a second great perspective as he considers the nature of his relationship with God, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:23,24,26).

God pledges to us His constant presence, counsel and strength extending into eternity. The weight and pain of the sorrows we experience may seem to suggest that God has vacated our lives and an ugly stranger has taken up residence, but such is far from reality.  Amidst such times of frail incapability, God often reveals his most real presence – at a time when there is absolutely nothing we can do but rest in Him.

  1. We just plain don’t have anyone else to turn to!

The pinnacle of the Psalm was scaled in verse 25, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”  The fact of the matter is that we ultimately possess no other options as a refuge for inclement times.  But the great truth is this – we don’t need anybody else!  Doctors may help, loved ones may support, but only God will pour an eternal peace into our empty and hurting souls.

My month in God’s waiting room provided the opportunity to uniquely experience the reality of His sufficient peace.  I also gained a new appreciation for the incredible blessing and assistance of the prayers of God’s people.  Reports of prayer support came to us from as far as Kazakhstan.  Heaven surely resonated with the supplications of friends and family.

The orthopedic specialist at Johns Hopkins looked at the various magnetic images and X-rays and said, “Could be Ewing’s Sarcoma – it would look like this.  But let’s not cross that bridge until we have to.”  “Too late,” I thought.  I was already across that bridge and well up the other side!  He continued, “My gut feeling is that this is an infection rather than cancer,” he said.  “A biopsy will tell us immediately what we are dealing with.  If it is cancer, we’ll close it up and come back to fight another day.  If it is an infection, we’ll begin cleaning it out immediately.”

An excruciating pain wracked Nathan’s leg the last several days before surgery.  But an hour after sending him off, the doctor sent word out to us that it was indeed a bone marrow infection.  The news dropped us into a limp emotional heap.  It caused great excitement and rejoicing for friends and family, and left our local medical community stunned.  The hospital radiology technicians posted some of the pictures and ultimate results on a bulletin board with a label that said, “Can You Believe This One?”

Some folks have suggested we were on the receiving end of a miracle.  I don’t know.  Such is surely possible.  The worst thing that could be said is that we received a huge answer to prayer. And 23 years later, Nathan is well … the father of four children … and I guess he was not offended that I told his story today, since he is running the sound this morning and did not cut me off!

But honestly, for me, the greatest lesson, however, was the experience of knowing God’s sufficient grace in some very dark days of life.  I learned that: He is all we have, and He is all we need!

Week Eight Items for Discussion

  1. Have you had a time in your life that you could share where you felt like a situation you were facing was very unfair and that it did not seem that God was anywhere around to help you or to make sense of it all?
  2. What happened in that situation in terms of how it resolved? Did you learn some surprising lessons from it?  Were you able to see a larger picture of God’s hand in your life?
  3. Why do we have such a natural tendency to try to work out situations on our own? But it is not wrong to look for solutions in the earthly realm, is it?… like looking to doctors for resolutions to medical crises. But where does working in the flesh end, and faith in God begin?
  4. What are the elements of truth that we may list about trusting in God that give us peace even in the darkest of times?