Establish the Work of Our Hands
Topic: Prayer Passage: Psalm 90:1–90:17
Please turn in your Bibles to psalm 90. Matt and I wanted to kick the year off by focusing our attention on prayer so for the month of January we will be in a series called A Praying Life (a title taken from an excellent book on prayer called A Praying Life which we have available on book table). We will also be spending time praying together in our community groups this week and will be setting aside time to pray together at our building fund dinner on the 20th as well.
Prayer seemed to be an appropriate focus for the new year because prayer acknowledges our need for God. God moves when His people pray. Spurgeon used to call the prayer room in their church the “heating plant” because he knew that the power and fruitfulness of a church is generated by the prayers of its people. God has promised to work in and through His people in response to our prayers. It’s been really encouraging to see some of the women getting together several times a month to pray and I know they have been seeing God’s hand moving as they lift people and needs up in prayer. I know that others have been praying faithfully for GCC as well. I pray that one of the things that marks 2012 is a renewed commitment to prayer.
As Christians most of us would quickly acknowledge the importance of prayer, but when it comes right down to it, we find it easier to do stuff than to pray. We know we need God but we’d rather work and trust God for His blessing on our work than pray. To be honest, this is where I can struggle. By the grace of God I am pretty consistent in my morning prayer and reading time, but I am aware of how weak and shallow my prayers can be and how easy it is for me to get restless and want to get “on with the real business” of the day. I think this is where a lot of us live when it comes to prayer.
Which is why I’ve chosen to begin this first message in 2012 with Psalm 90. Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses and it gives us unique insight into the vital connection between our prayers and our work.
Psalm 90:1-17 (pray)
The tone of psalm 90 is pretty heavy. Some have called it a dark psalm or a pessimistic psalm, I would simply call it a realistic psalm. Many scholars believe Moses wrote in near the end of the 40 year Wilderness Wandering and as such reflects Moses' firsthand experience with God's judgment over the Jews for their disobedience and lack of faith. He has seen a lot of death and knows that his death is coming soon too. But the psalm ends on a high note and verse 17 is a great prayer for us to pray over our lives and our church for the new year: Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands. The work of our hands refers to more than just what we do everyday – it refers to all that we are building with our lives - the legacy our lives will leave behind, from our jobs to our families to our friendships, to our influence in every arena of life.
Moses is asking God to establish the work of our lives, to make it strong and durable and lasting. We are supposed to work, we are supposed to have goals, we are supposed to have a healthy ambition that our lives will count for the glory of God, will make a lasting difference. But Moses reminds us that for the work of our hands to be established, we also need to pray! We work, but only the Lord can establish so we need to pray too. Work and pray. Pray and work. But it can’t be one without the other.
What we build with our lives will only endure if it is built with work and prayer together because prayer connects our work with God.
For us to get a better grip on this, let’s drop into some of the “pessimistic” portions of the psalm. Only God can establish the work of our hands because…
I. God is eternal, and we are dust (vv. 1-11)
That’s the point of the first 11 verses. God is from everlasting to everlasting – He has always existed, He will always exist. Before the earth was formed, God was. You could go back to infinity and God will be there. Time doesn’t have the same hold on God that it has on us: He’s not limited or constrained by time. It’s never too long or too short to God. A thousand years is like a day – and a day is like a thousand years to God. Time doesn’t have the same effect on God that it has on us: time doesn’t wear God down or tire Him out. His life and power and energy are always infinite and self-replenishing – He doesn’t need anything to replenish His infinite power and energy.
We are not like that! Moses uses metaphors to describe how weak and frail and fleeting our lives on this earth are: we are from dust and we return to dust, we are like a dream, we are like grass that’s green in the morning and faded and withered by evening – that’s our life span. Like a flood that carries away everything in its path our lives are swept away by death and we are helpless to stop it. Our lives are fleeting.
And Moses tells us why this is so: verse 7-9. From the days of Adam and Eve, men live under the wrath of God because of sin. We cover our sins in the cloak of secrecy and darkness, but to God our sins are always exposed as if we did them in full daylight and the weariness and troubles and heartaches and sorrows we bear under is a result of the judgment of God we live under. And when we breath our last breath like a sigh, it’s God’s judgment that catches our breath away and commands us to return to the dust we were made of.
This “pessimistic” reality has Moses appealing for God’s mercy and favor for those who are under this wrath in verses 13-17 and we know that for those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, judgment and wrath have been taken away because Jesus took that wrath on himself on the cross. So the Christian doesn’t live under God’s wrath anymore but under His mercy and steadfast love.
But we still live in the fallenness of this world and there is still this temporal nature to our lives on this earth. On our own we can’t build anything eternal because all we have to work with is temporal. Imagine someone took you down to the seashore and said, build a castle out of this sand that will last 1000 years. What you have to work with is frail and temporal by nature and will wash away quickly with just a few waves. We are made out of sand’s distant cousin dust, and all we could hope to build on our own would have the duration of dust unless the everlasting God adopts and establishes our work as His own. Prayer connects our temporal lives to His eternal life, our weak effort to His powerful effort, and our sand castles to His eternal kingdom. So we pray, establish the work of our hands upon us, yes, establish the work of our hands! What we build with our lives will only endure if it is built with work and prayer together.
II. We need God to teach us to number our days if we are to gain a heart of wisdom (vs. 12)
The awareness of how fleeting our lives are leads Moses to ask God to teach us to number our days. In other words, help us keep the brevity of life in view. A young missionary once said that he considered each day to consist of 24 golden hours and each hour consisted of sixty diamond-studded minutes. As we begin the year 2012, should the Lord not return or call us home, we have the gift of another 365 days, or 8760 (or at this point 8749) golden hours or 525,600 diamond studded minutes. And, with 2011 gone never to return, we can look back and ask, how did we spend the thousands of golden hours and diamond-studded minutes we had last year?
Our lives are lived in the atmosphere of time – we all live a year at a time, a month at a time, an hour at a time, a minute at a time, a second at a time. There is a saying that “time is money” but it really isn’t true because we can always make more money but we can’t make more time than we’ve been given. In that sense how we spend our time is more important than how we spend our money – because once it’s gone we can never get it back and once we come to the end of our time on this earth, we can’t make or borrow more. In light of this, the New Year is a great time to reevaluate how we’re using our time in light of how little we have.
The reason Moses says we should number our days isn’t to manage our time better, but to gain a heart of wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t just prioritize our time, it prioritizes our time in light of eternity. It’s making the right priorities the top priorities. A businessman can decide to reprioritize his life so as to reach certain goals over the next year and then reach every one of those goals but discover with regret he made the wrong priorities the top priorities – that in pursuing his priorities he sacrificed his family, his friends, his walk with God, for goals that in the end just made a little more money or puffed up his ego. He prioritized, but with the wrong priorities in the wrong place. Is it wrong for a businessman to have business priorities? Of course not, but wisdom helps us to put the right priorities in the right place.
Let me give another example: mothers of young children often feel like they can never catch up with the mess their kids make. If a spotless home with everything in its place is a top priority to you and you’re the mother of young children – well, you’re probably close to having a nervous breakdown right now! Or fathers, when you come home you want the house to be spotless and dinner to be served right on time – that’s a high priority to you. And so maybe when that priority isn’t achieved you get frustrated with your wife and kids. Are these wrong? Not at all, but it’s wrong and shortsighted to put them at the top. Sooner than you think those kids will be grown and gone and you’ll long for the fingerprints on the walls and the toys on the floor and the noise of their bickering (well, ok, maybe you won’t long for that). There are higher priorities than a clutterless home.
We need to pray because we need God to impress on our hearts the brevity of life so that we might live wisely and give our lives to the right things. We need God’s Spirit to impress on our hearts the true priorities of life, the eternal priorities, the glory and beauty of Christ, or our hearts will never see them on our own. We need God to teach us to number our days so that we gain a heart of wisdom so that we don’t just make task lists, we build a legacy that endures. Pray that God help us to love Christ and help others love Him too.
What we build with our lives will only endure if it is built with work and prayer together because prayer connects our work with God.
III. We need God’s work to establish our work
It’s interesting to me how in verse 16 Moses asks God to show His people His work and His power, and in verse 17 he asks God to establish the work of our hands. As I mentioned earlier, many scholars believe that Moses wrote this near the end of the 40 year Wilderness Wandering, which means he has seen hundreds of thousands, if not millions of the Jews perish in the desert because of their disobedience and unbelief. Moses himself knows he will never see the Promised Land because of his sinful anger. Soon the work of their hands – the next generation – will be beyond their influence, but not beyond God’s. When Moses prays the Lord establish the work of their hands – included in that is the prayer that this next generation serve and obey the Lord. And the next generation did. The generation that entered the Promised Land under Joshua's leadership was one of the high points of Jewish history in terms of faith and obedience. God honored Moses’ prayer.
As we close this morning, here’s the burden on my heart for GCC. I know enough of you in this room to know that you want to serve Jesus with your lives. You want to be a witness, you want to glorify Jesus, you want to leave a legacy that honors Christ. I know that about so many of you.
My concern for many of you is the concern I have for myself: we see the value of our work more than we see the vital importance of our prayers. As we begin 2012, may the Lord stir our hearts with fresh resolve and eyes to see that only God can establish the sand castles we build. As a parent, I can tell you, apart from the grace of God in my kids lives, my efforts would be sand castles. As a pastor, I can tell you, apart from the grace of God in this church’s life, my efforts, Matt’s efforts, your efforts – they would all produce sand castles. We don’t stop working – if anything, let’s work harder (and I’m talking about all areas of our lives where we have the privilege and responsibility to build). But let’s pray harder too. For we can work, but only God can establish. We need His work to establish our work.
Let me close with a personal story that has to do with you, GCC. A year ago September was this church’s 7th anniversary. It was a discouraging time – we had seen some dear friends leave the church (for different reasons – relocation, finding new church’s closer to them, and some for what I called baffling reasons – we really didn’t understand why). Financially we were falling behind on our bills and needed to make some painful decisions. And we were seeing very few visitors. In fact, some of us came to the conclusion that we just would never see visitors as long as we were in this building – because it’s out of the way and has no visibility in town and all that.
So on our 7th anniversary we marked it by doing nothing – no mention, no celebration, nothing. I didn’t feel like celebrating and I don’t think anyone else did either. But I felt the Lord impress on me to pray. The seventh year is significant in scripture and the year of Jubilee is the 7th cycle of 7 years. So all I knew to do was to pray. And this is part of what I wrote in my journal: As we come into our seventh year, I pray that it would be a very different year- a year of abundant blessing from Your hand. A year of fruitfulness. A year of salvations – new births into the kingdom. A year of growth. A year of establishing. Please Lord, only You can do all this. I know that You are faithful.
2011 was a different year than we’ve ever had before in so many ways – and we have seen God’s gracious blessing on us. It’s not complete, we’re not done, and we’re not satisfied, but what I want to make clear is, the blessing we’ve experienced wasn’t primarily a result of our work – not strategic planning, or stunning giftedness, or amazing marketing. We really didn’t do anything differently. No, it’s unexplainable except to say, God hears and answers prayers.
What we build with our lives will only endure if it is built with work and prayer together. If the goal we have for 2012 and our lives is that what we build with our hands and lives bears fruit that glorifies Christ then let’s make our resolution for this New Year to pray more fervently and with morefaith. May God establish the works of our hands, yes, establish the work of our hands!