Life can be difficult, and the older you get the more difficult life becomes. It’s no wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes concludes, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!…Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3). One thing I like about the Bible is that it often talks about real life. God’s Word deals with the difficulties, and realities of life.
Cartoons can do the same thing! A good cartoon has a way of saying a lot about life in a constrained box. Here are some examples of what I mean:
Yes, life can be difficult…and then you die!
Aren’t you glad you came to church today?
Psalm 90 is believed to be the oldest of all the psalms. In other words, Psalm 90 was the very first psalm written, or at least the oldest psalm we have on record. In the preface of this psalm we read, “A prayer of Moses the man of God.” Moses died around 1270 B.C. Assuming Psalm 90 was written near the end of his life, this psalm (or prayer) is almost 3,300 years old!
Moses is one of the more important biblical heroes. No doubt, he truly was a man of God. But his life was far from ideal and conflict free. The Egyptian authorities wanted to kill him (along with all male Hebrew babies) upon his birth. To spare his life, his mother, Jochebed, hid him in a basket, in the reeds of the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found him, adopted him as her own, and then hired Moses’ mom to nurse him (Exodus 3:1-10).
Moses grew up around royalty. He had the best of everything and was educated in the best of schools. He could have lived a comfortable life, possibly becoming a Pharaoh himself. But he knew he was a Hebrew and had a strong sense of justice. He also had a temper. At the age of 40, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. His crime was uncovered and Pharaoh tried to arrest him and kill him. Most fled Egypt and settled in the wilderness in the town of Midian. The writer of Hebrews describes Moses’ decisions like this: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value then the treasures of Egypt…” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
In Midian, he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, a priest. Moses became a shepherd for Jethro, and spent the next 40 years of his life tending to sheep all across the wilderness (Exodus 2:15-25). The fall from power Moses experienced cannot be understated. He was the adopted grandson of Pharaoh. Now, he was a shepherd; a dirty, poor, lower class position in society.
Then, at the age of 80, God calls Moses to return to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to set over a million Hebrew slaves free (Genes 3:1-14). Not an easy task for an old man!
Over the next 40 years, Moses leads a group of freed slaves through the same wilderness in which he had been working, raising sheep. And sheep are far easier to lead then people. Flocks are a lot easier than folks. The last 40 years of his life may have been more difficult than the first 80 years of his life. Nothing went right in the wilderness. There was strife and complaining from the people and battles and defeats and sicknesses and more strife and complaining from the people followed by more battles and defeats and sicknesses and strife and complaining. Then, to make things even worse, because of his temper, God told Moses he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Moses spent his entire 120-year life without ever reaching his full potential and without ever realizing his dreams!
God said to Moses, “On that same day the Lord told Moses, ‘Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel’” (Deuteronomy 32:48-52).
Moses’ life wasn’t easy. Chances are your life has been easy either. Sure, you have been blessed. But more than likely you have experienced ups and downs, blessings and curses, life and death, good and bad. And, like Moses, maybe you feel like you will never reach your full potential or realize your personal dreams. Yet, through it all, Psalm 90 says Moses was a “man of God.” Can the same thing be said of you? “He was a man of God.” “She was a woman of God.” Real faith is lived out in real life. Moses prayer is a real prayer about real life. It is a prayer that we can find great encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Moses’ prayer opens with a hymn of praise, “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” (Psalm 90:1-2). There is an important lesson here: No matter how difficult life may be, never stop praising God. While praising God doesn’t change your situation, it does change your perspective about your situation. Through all of life God is our “dwelling place.” He is your source of strength, security, and sustenance. God is sovereign, and He is eternal. He can be trusted to walk with you, and carry you, through all the difficulties of life.
Through the remainder of the psalm, Moses offer four things we can do to handle real life with real faith. To help us remember these four things, we will use the acrostic, R.E.A.L.
First is the “R”—Recognize your own mortality. Everyone who has ever lived, with the possible exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, has died at least once! Unless we are alive when Christ returns, we will all die. The sooner you come to grips with your own mortality, the freer you will be to live life to the fullest.
Moses prays, “You (God) turn men back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, O sons of men’ (Psalm 90:3). In Genesis we read these words, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). But then, after sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, Genesis records, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).
While Moses’ understanding of life after death was not as developed as the New Testaments, one thing Moses clearly understood was the brevity of life. He continues, “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 men 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” (Psalm 90:4-6). Listen to what else the Bible says about how quickly life goes by:
- “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).
- “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Psalm 39:4).
- “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
- “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
Aren’t you glad you came to church today? Are you depressed yet? Moses’ prayer is a very real prayer! I repeat, The sooner you recognize your own mortality, the freer you will be to live life to the fullest.
Next is the “E”—Examine your own life. Coming to grips with your own mortality should cause you to pause and consider how you are living your life. The key is looking at your own life, not someone else’s. There’s a saying among prisoners that goes something like this, “Can’t nobody do your time for you.” Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Just mind your own business and do what you need to do.
Moses prays, “We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation” (Psalm 90:7). I don’t like that verse. I prefer Jeremiah’s words, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). But on some level, both those verses are true. I can’t stand in judgment of anyone’s life because I have my own problems, and I deserve God’s anger as much as anyone else. That’s just the honest truth! We like to judge other people’s sins while excusing our own. But Moses prays, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Psalm 90:8). Nothing you do, and nothing I do, goes unseen by God. “All our days pass away under your wrath…” (Psalm 90:9a). In other words, God is always watching; and, “…we finish our years with a moan” (Psalm 90:9b). I have been in the hospital room when people have died. Once, I was on a dive boat, scuba diving, and a person, whom I was giving mouth-to-mouth to, died. Often, when a person’s last breath leaves his or her body, there is a moan, and it is a haunting noise. Moses had watched an entire generation die. He knew the pain of which he was references in this verse. Here is the application: When you examine your own life, you realize the importance of God’s grace to your life and are better suited to offer grace to others.
Now the “A”—Accept the fact that life is difficult. Someone wisely said life is made up of seven stages—Spills, Drills, Thrills, Bills, Ills, Pills, and Wills. Each stage is filled with its own challenges and difficulties. The Apostle Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Moses prayed, “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” (Psalm 90:10). It helps to remember that Moses’ theology did not include a detailed explanation of life after death. For much of the Old Testament period, death was simply described as sheol, the place of the dead, where every person and animal go. Not much thought was given to what happened next. The prophet Isaiah was one of the first to mention any type of resurrection of the dead. He prophesied, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isaiah 26:19).
How are we to respond to our own mortality, our own sinfulness, and our own difficult life, without the assurance of eternity? Moses prayed, “Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, the we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:11-12). In spite of all life’s difficulties, maybe because of them, live each day to the fullest and gain as much wisdom as possible. When we accept the fact that life is difficult, we stop whining and complaining and find joy in the journey.
Finally, the “L”—Let God know how you really feel. Through the first twelve verses you get the idea that Moses may be a little depressed. He is not a pessimist. Just a realist. And he wasn’t afraid to let God know exactly how he felt. We can learn from him. In your prayers, it is perfectly acceptable to express your anger and frustrations and hurts and doubts to God. He has big shoulders. He can carry your burdens.
Moses began his prayer with a hymn. He ends it by praising God and asking God for five things. First, Moses asks for compassion. He prays, “Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants” (Psalm 90:13). You really sense Moses’ frustration in that verse. He is begging God to stop the pain. Have you ever been in that place, so dark, that if God doesn’t show compassion you don’t know if you will survive? That is where Moses was, and so he cries out for compassion.
Second, Moses asks for satisfaction. He prays that tomorrow will be a new day and things will be better. He says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). That, my friends, is a request based solely on Moses’ deep faith and trust in Almighty God! What a powerful request!
Third, Moses asks for happiness. He prays, “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble” (Psalm 90:15). In other words, may everything balance out so that at the end of our days, we have no regrets and are able to say our days were full.
Fourth, Moses asks for legacy. Out of all the things he could have desired to be able to leave his children—fame and fortune—Moses’ prayer was, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children” (Psalm 90:16). Moses’ one desire was to leave a legacy of faith for his children. Wow! What a prayer!
Fifth, Moses asks for favor. He prays, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17). What Moses is really asking is for God’s grace to surround him and guide him all the days of his life. The simple truth is, you cannot make it through this life without God’s grace. The good news is, God gives His grace freely to all who ask. When we let God know how we really feel, He lets us know what we really need, and that is His grace.
As a new born baby, Moses was hidden in a basket, in a river, all alone. At his death, Moses died on a mountain, all alone, buried in a secret grave by God Himself. One-hundred-twenty years separated his death alone on a mountain from his infancy alone in a basket. There is no doubt in my mind Moses’ life was completely different than what he thought it would be. Yet, he is called a “man of God.” I think Moses’ life is best illustrated by this cartoon:
In reality, that cartoon is how life works out for most of us. It is for this reason we need a real faith in God to survive the realities of life. In the end, despite the difficulties, following God will be worth it. Why? Because eternity is a lot longer than this life. Here is how the writer of Hebrews described the life of Moses:
“By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel” (Hebrews 11:24-28).