A Prayer for the New Year

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There’s something about one year ending and another beginning that encourages reflection on what life is really about. As we reflect on the previous year’s joys and disappointments and wonder at what the coming year might bring, we often are more ready than usual to face questions about mortality and significance. Such musing may lead us to resolutions for good behavior—but it would be better if it led us first to pray the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Moses was no stranger to death. He had seen God’s plagues strike Egypt, and he had seen God’s judgment fall on Israel for its disobedience in the wilderness. One might think that given such experiences, he would already be tuned in to his own mortality. But Moses clearly still found this prayer necessary. And as we consider the circumstances of our own day, we must be prepared to admit that we, too, need help understanding our lives’ significance.

But reflecting on circumstances alone can’t give us godly wisdom for the coming year. We need God Himself to teach us. And for that, we can turn to Moses’s prayer.

The Dusty Ones and the Everlasting One

Psalm 90 calls us to think beyond our own limited, man-centered perspectives. Indeed, Moses’s prayer for wisdom only comes after these tremendous statements:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
 in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
 or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
 from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
 and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
 are but as yesterday when it is past,
 or as a watch in the night. (Ps. 90:1–4)

Our daily temptation is to forget our finiteness. Yet even a slight understanding of world history reveals that many palaces of kings that marked greatness in earlier generations have crumbled beneath the hands of time. The greatest historical sites in the world are merely remnants today—monuments to this great antithesis between mankind’s transience and God’s eternality. We are the dusty ones, but He is the Everlasting One.

Our daily temptation is to forget our finiteness.

God was when nothing else was. He was God when the earth was nothing but chaos. Before the hills stood in their place, there was God. This immense truth offers stability and security in the chaotic period in which we dwell. God is everlasting. Only when we understand this fact in our heart of hearts will we have the wisdom to anchor ourselves to Him and share in His everlasting life. Moses’s prayer can help us in coming to God for this wisdom.

More Than a Math Problem

In his prayer, Moses asks God, “Teach me to number my days.” We might try to do so. To take an example from midlife: a forty-year-old who can be expected to live to the age of seventy has thirty years left. Thirty years is 1,564 weeks. That’s 10,948 days, or 262,752 hours. But take out the time spent working, eating, and sleeping, and well over half of that time is “sunk.” Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like a lot!

But Psalm 90 is not primarily a matter of arithmetic. As some English translations make clear, it’s not merely about numbering our days but about numbering them rightly. In other words, Moses asks to see his life in the light of eternity. He asks God to help him understand how small he is before the largeness of God and His design. The point is not to budget his time but to see that however much time he has, it will soon be gone, and God will remain.

The math may not be that hard to do, but to understand our own time in the light of eternity is, without God’s wisdom, an impossibility. We cannot bear it, because we cannot bear to think of our own end. It is only God’s Spirit who can bring the truth of our finitude and His permanence to our hearts in a way that transforms us. That’s why Moses prayed for a heart of wisdom.

A Heart of Wisdom

Much of our world works from the premise that there is no God—a premise the Bible describes as foolish (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). We are told that we were born purposelessly, sustain ourselves randomly, and die in futility, so we had better “seize the day,” because there is nothing else worthwhile in life. The promise of mortality drives men and women to ignore death in the hope of squeezing some small morsel of happiness out of life. And without God, this is indeed the best we could hope for. Until we are humbled before God, we are left in our own futility.

It is only God’s Spirit who can bring the truth of our finitude and His permanence to our hearts in a way that transforms us.

A change of heart cannot emerge as a result of a calculation; it must be the result of transformation: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). As the Holy Spirit transforms those who embrace life in Christ, He gives them eyes for eternity and hope for everlasting life. He transforms them into new people who may take joy in all of life, because all of their lives are given for God’s glory and in the light of God’s promise in eternity. This is godly wisdom.

Ultimately, it is those who are heavenly minded in this way who do the most earthly good. Wisdom changes the way we think about everything—our scientific projects, our homemaking, our creative endeavors, our community involvement. Wisdom affects the way we feel and respond as friends, coworkers, spouses, and parents. And wisdom brings a new purpose to our lives: to lead those who are still lost in foolishness to an understanding of the wisdom found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Prov. 11:30).

God, Our Eternal Home

As we number our days rightly, we will begin to recognize how quickly time passes through our fingers. The words of Isaac Watts may come to mind:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.

However, we need not fret at this reality, because the Lord Himself is the answer to our brevity and frailty:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.1

If we make Moses’s prayer our own in this new year, we may discover once more the wisdom that has been made clear in Christ. That wisdom can guide us not to trivialize our time or abuse our gifts but to receive every moment as a gift from God and to trust that He is working all things together for His glory and our good. Whether we find ourselves in the mechanic’s shop, in a classroom, or behind a pile of laundry—whatever we do—let us “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)!

This article was adapted from the sermon “A New Year’s Prayer” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.

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  1. Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (1719).↩︎

 

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