Speaking of Dying

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We avoid thinking about death in our culture. We’re uncomfortable talking about it. We would rather just brush it aside with a nervous laugh and change the subject. But we can’t brush it aside for too long, because we and everyone we know will die.
The story is told of a young man who was flown into the remote Alaskan wilderness in 1981 to photograph the natural beauty of the tundra. In addition to his photo equipment, he took several firearms and 1,400 pounds of provisions. As the months passed, the entries in his diary turned from a fascination with the wildlife around him, into a pathetic record of a nightmare. “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure. I’ll soon find out,” he wrote.
He waited, but no one came to his rescue. He died in a nameless valley by a nameless lake. An investigation revealed that he had carefully mapped out his venture, but he had made no provision to be flown out of the area.
That was a bit shortsighted of him, was it not? And yet, how many people live their lives without making any plans for their departure to face eternity? We know we will be departing. The statistics on death are quite impressive.
Moses was a man surrounded by death. Because of Israel’s disobedience and lack of faith, God condemned nearly an entire generation to die in the wilderness. They felt themselves to be wasting away under God’s wrath, consumed by His anger. They were spending their years as a tale that is told.
Psalm 90 was most likely written during this time, and it deals with this question: How does thinking honestly about the swiftness and surety of death affect our perspective on life?
Many people who know not God are driven to despair and cynicism. But Moses, being a man of God, was driven to worship and prayer. And the result is the majestic Psalm 90. Notice four requests in Moses' prayer that seem to grow directly out of the reality of and nearness of death.
1. Teach Us. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psa 90:12). Learning to number our days is not a course in Arithmetic, but rather in Theology. In the preceding verses, Moses highlighted the fact that men die because of sin. He sensed keenly the wrath and justice of God as he watched the people, whom he had helped lead out of Egypt, succumb to death in just a few short years. He knew that dying men do not naturally seek God and His wisdom, but are consumed rather with self-interest. “If this life is all I have to live, why not live it up?” Or perhaps, “What is the point of even living?”
Have we become calloused, and careless, and forgotten the link between God’s wrath and our own mortality? Have we become so tied to the transient, that we try to convince ourselves that although death has visited other people, it won’t happen to us?
So, Teach Us. When we grasp the frailty of our life, and our propensity toward sin, don’t despair—apply our hearts to wisdom! Wise hearts know and trust their Maker and make plans to meet Him.
2. Satisfy Us. “O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psa 90:14). Israel often turned to other gods, but always found that other gods could do nothing for them. Life is too short to spend of the insignificant, looking for the person, place, or promotion that will give us satisfaction. What is keeping us from turning to God and asking Him to be our soul’s satisfaction?
The cry of Moses must be ours: Satisfy us early in the morning with your steadfast love. Where is the steadfast love of God made clear to us? In the Cross of Jesus Christ! We will never find satisfaction unless we seek it in Him.
3. Gladden Us. “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (Psa 90:15). A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Sometimes we feel afflicted, and the weight of the sin about us and within us makes us ask, “Can we make it through?”
This was a great request by Moses, but not unreasonable, for days and years of sorrow often give us capacity for receiving blessing. Let us, too, ask Him to put gladness into our hearts. Let us believe that it will honor and please Him if we dare to lay claim to blessedness, such as He alone can give.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2Co 4:16-17).
4. Favor Us. “And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it” (Psa 90:17).
As Moses understood these two realities—the sureness of death and the brevity of life, he became keenly aware that if anything of lasting value was to come from his life, it would be because of the grace and help of God. God’s work will endure. So too, will the work of our hands when done under His favor and blessing. We must commit what we have, what we do, and who we are to God, for it is God Who establishes.
As we think about life and death, whether it be the death of others or our own death, we would find blessing in also praying this prayer of Moses. Ask God to teach us. To satisfy us. To gladden us. And to favor us.