Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90:12 is something I deeply desire and pray for as I enter into another New Year. After rehearsing God’s timelessness and holiness (in the first part of the psalm)–and mankind’s smallness and sinfulness that stands in stark contrast to God–Moses humbly prays:
“So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
I attended a memorial service this past Saturday for a dear brother named Tom Kira. He was only 71 years old, a very strong and capable man, enjoying all his grandchildren, and about 3 weeks ago, he had an aneurism that burst and he was gone, just like that. My guess is that he was not expecting that to happen, but it did. But Tom was a man who had learned how to number his days. He had the wisdom that came with facing the reality of sin and of death. And it was such a blessing to hear all that his sons and his wife shared about the kind of man he was. Those testimonies spoke volumes of one who did not know when he would die, but who did know that death would come, and he lived his life in such a way as to make the most of the days that were given to him. As one of his sons said, he was a great man, not because of degrees he earned or wealth he accumulated but because he loved God supremely and loved people well. His life is a testimony to me of what it means to number our days—to live wisely in light of the reality that is coming.
So when Moses is asking God in this prayer “Teach us to number our days…” he is asking that we would not just know something—not just gain some information—but that we would do something—that the evaluation of our time would result in different ways of living. And the goal of numbering our days is that we would “get a heart of wisdom.”
Our English word “get” (or some translations use the word “gain”) doesn’t quite capture what Moses is asking God in his prayer. When we use the word “get” or “gain” we tend to think of it as a single transaction. If you “get” a gift for Christmas, someone gives it to you, you receive it, and then it’s yours. You got it, and now it’s done. The transaction is completed. “Gain” might have a little more sense of it being a process—if you “gain” the respect of a coworker it’s probably little by little over time, but there’s still a sense of it being done once you’ve gained it. If we read this verse with that understanding of “get,” then it might seem like the psalmist is asking God for a one-time favor: teach us to number our days, and when we do that a few times, we will be granted a heart of wisdom—poof!—and then we’re done. We got the wisdom. Transaction complete.
The Hebrew word used here is more often translated “come” or “bring” or “enter.” Therefore the esvbible.org study app translates the phrase more literally as “that we may cause to enter a heart of wisdom.” Entering in also implies that you go out, or at least that’s possible, right? It’s not just a one-time transaction, but it implies more of a sense of continual movement. And that seems to fit with what I experience in my own life about growth in wisdom. I wish I could say that God just gave me a heart of wisdom and now I am wise, period. But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the way it works. Instead, I learn something and act on it, and through that I enter in to a bit of wisdom. But then I forget and I act from my old self and from my flesh, and I leave wisdom behind. And then I have to re-learn that same truth and act on it again, and enter once again into a bit of wisdom. And that’s the process, over and over again. Wisdom is not gained all at once, but little by little over my whole lifetime.
So the perspective that is gained as we reflect on the timelessness and holiness of God, and as we realize our own finiteness and frailty in contrast, that perspective then leads us to this petition that God would continually grow our hearts in wisdom by making us to really understand the brevity of our days. May God make that true of you, as well as of me, as we enter in to this New Year.