Lord, you have been our dwelling-place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O children.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep people away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.
May the favour, the beauty, of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.
If you haven’t done so, may I suggest that you read this psalm aloud to yourself now; read it slowly, perhaps several times, noticing different phrases and how they speak to you today, in the times which are currently your circumstances.
Are you full of plans and hopes for the future, confident and expectant for what lies ahead? Then perhaps the reminder of the fleeting day which is humanity’s lot is not welcome to you. Ultimately, none of us knows what tomorrow may brings, none can be sure that our plans will be realised, and it does us good to remember this, to humble ourselves before the one in whose hands all our days lie, for good or ill.
Are you weary with the situation in which you find yourself, seeking purpose and significance and yet finding only vanity and emptiness with nothing to show for your labour? Then take heart from the psalmist’s closing prayer – he knows exactly how you feel, and shares your sense that all is futile unless the Lord bless and give it substance. It is true that as the beloved, redeemed children of the Everlasting Father, we have no need to earn his acceptance by our labour – we receive all we need and abundantly more than that, by his grace through Jesus our Lord. BUT, since he is our maker as well as our Father, he surely knows and has placed in us that desire for significance, the hunger to leave our mark on history in some way.
The honesty and longing of this psalm are powerful in expressing the turmoil of our lives in the face of our short time on earth, and the limitations imposed on us by health, opportunities etc. We are in a relationship with eternity, and yet feel our temporality so acutely. What do we have to offer the one who birthed universes? What does the dust have to offer the author of the constellations?
We cannot enrich our God in any way; but we can respond to the love which he has lavished upon us by living in glad, trusting obedience, and bringing all our concerns to his feet – all the time, for everything that makes up our lives, and everyone who shares them. His love for us makes us significant; his joy in our obedience gives all our labour purpose and our endurance meaning. In everything we do, think and are, we have daily opportunities to respond to his love and to know that in so doing, we offer up a sacrifice of praise, an entirely appropriate and meaningful way of living which is of eternal significance.
The world around may write us off as cranks who live on a delusion; our lives may be limited (in the eyes of unbelievers) by illness, poverty, lack of the right education or skills. But in the eyes of God, who is from everlasting to everlasting – and therefore more significant than anyone who ever lived a human life – we matter, matter enough to be died for, matter enough to be transformed into the image of Christ and prepared for a new life in a new earth. There our eternal significance will finally become fully clear to us, because we will be made of the stuff of eternity, we will have come home to be with our Lord for ever, sharing his life, his love and his family.