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A Life of Satisfaction and Productivity

Wisdom and Faith  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Psalm 90 gives us wisdom and hope for satisfaction and productivity in a fallen world--as we learn to pray the whole prayer in the light of the Gospel.

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Good morning; Kyle; please turn with me to (historical context: Moses, wilderness, frustration and a sense of feeling unsettled and unproductive; theological context of Book IV: book III ends in despair and disillusionment, book iv highlights how God meets us there and gives us hope).
Happy New Year’s Eve! In a few hours we, along with the rest of the planet, will be welcoming in the New Year. There will, no doubt, be much celebration but also, I’m guessing much reflection. Today is an appropriate time to reflect, both on the year that is now passed, as well as on the year to come. Perhaps you look back into 2017 with regret: you may have done or said things that were foolish; you may have not done certain things you had hoped to accomplish. Perhaps you look into 2018 with anticipation, perhaps with apprehension as you wonder whether this will be the year when you really do stick to your Bible reading plan, your budget, your diet, etc.
At the end of the year we have a natural opportunity to reflect on our lives. And, for the most part, we want to live lives that count, lives that matter, lives in which we experience some kind of joy, satisfaction, and genuine productivity. We want to get things done in the year ahead, we want to be fruitful, productive. We desire to live a satisfied and productive life. And if you’re the kind of person who is particularly interested in how to become more satisfied and more productive, then at first sight seems like a perfect fit. Take a look at the climactic request, there at the end of verse 17 (read). In an age where we covet productivity, here we seem to have a divine endorsement that God wants to bless all our plans and make us productive and satisfied.
But I would like to put something before this morning: I would like to put it to you that verse 17 can only be safely prayed if we also pray verses 1-16. You see, if we just pray verse 17 there is a very real danger that we simply end up asking God to rubber stamp our plans. We have our plans and goals for our lives, and it’s so easy to ask God to endorse what we want to achieve. We can so easily fall into productivity idolatry, where we essentially ask God to join us in our life and mission, rather than asking God how we fit into his life and mission. To be sure, there is an invitation to prayer here, but we must approach this psalm thoughtfully. We must learn how to pray the whole thing: together, these verses show us what a life of satisfaction and productivity include. And by looking at the psalm we see three key conditions necessary for a life of satisfaction and productivity.

A Stable Spirituality (v 1-2)

The Lord is our home; His presence is our dwelling place. It has been for all believers across the generations; for Moses and the ancient Israelites, for the Jews in exile, for the Christians at the time of the Lord Jesus, and for believers today: God is our spiritual home. And because His eternality precedes time and creation, we have a stable spiritual home; we can therefore have a stable spirituality. God is not going anywhere; he is not going to leave us or forsake us; he is always and forever our God, from everlasting to everlasting, from eternity past into eternity future, God is our home.
Isaac Watts put it memorably in his classic hymn:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
Logos Hymnal O God, Our Help in Ages Past

Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting Thou art God,

To endless years the same.

Logos Hymnal, 1st edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
Logos Hymnal, 1st edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).
This would have been particularly poignant to the original audience, who, with their leader Moses, were wandering around in the wilderness. Homeless, experiencing trials and suffering, feeling unsettled, dissatisfied and unproductive, these believers knew that their true home was found in the Lord. God’s people may often feel scared, disillusioned, and frustrated. This psalm reminds us that wherever we find ourselves—geographically, psychologically, or spiritually: the Lord is our home. The first step in building a life of satisfaction and productivity is identifying a firm foundation, and a stable spirituality gives you a foundation that is immovable.
I think we all know, even intuitively, how important it is to have a home. One of the worst things about South African history is how so many people had been uprooted and forced out of their homes. The migrant labour system, forced removals, and many other atrocities in our history removed any real sense of home that many people may have experienced. And we’re still suffering as a nation because of those things. We are designed to long for a home. And what this psalm is saying, is that in addition to the importance of a physical home, we have a need for a psycho-spiritual home—and the Lord is that for us. He is our home. So a stable spirituality helps us when we are buffeted by suffering and loss; it settles us when we are feeling unsettled.
Think with me how this helps us in our quest for productivity: Because productivity has become such a high value in our culture, there is a danger that those who are really good at being productive and efficient and capable will find their identity and worth in it. We don’t say this out loud, but we think to ourselves: “I’m the person who gets things done. I’m the person who has high capacity, who finishes the job, who scores the goal, who closes the deal.” And the more productive and efficient we are, the more our self-conception is shaped by our performance and achievements. Eventually, these things start to define us; they become our home. When we do these things, we feel that we finally belong. We feel that we finally matter, that our lives are significant and not just a big waste of time.
But having a stable spirituality protects you from that silliness. The Lord is your home, regardless of how high (or how low!) your productivity levels are. Because your home is with the Lord; you belong in his presence. This stable spirituality grounds us: it means that success doesn't go to your head, and it also means that failure doesn't go to your heart. It helps you think about the year that’s been and the year to come: because whatever happens, whether you fail terribly or whether you succeed spectacularly, the Lord is your home. Your failures don’t put Him off and your success don’t impress Him away. He is your home; he was your home in 2017 and he will be your home in 2018. And he will be your home for all of eternity. So plan your goals, make your resolutions, schedule your events…but do so knowing that the Lord is your home. He is your dwelling place. A life of satisfaction and productivity begins with having a stable spirituality.
In our culture, it’s very easy to believe that you are defined by your successes. Whether it is your physical attractiveness, your wealth, your career, or even your relationships, we have a tendency to find a sense of belonging (a home) in things or people around us. We think: if I can just get that, then I’ll be OK. If I can just look like that, then I’ll be loved. If I can just have him/her/them like me, then I’ll finally be at rest. But this psalm exposes that as a lie: the only place we will ever find the deep soul-rest we need is in the Lord. He is our home.
So before we move on, can I ask you: where is your home? Where does your heart go to rest? Where is your psycho-spiritual dwelling place? If it is in anything other than the stable, unchanging, eternal God, then you will tossed and turned with whatever fortune or misfortune comes your way in 2018. But if your heart finds its home in His presence, then your stable spirituality will give you the foundation you need to live consistently, no matter the circumstances. A life of satisfaction and productivity begins with having a stable spirituality.
This stable spirituality grounds us: in times of suffering, and in times of prosperity. It should also help you think about the year that’s been and the year to come: because whatever happens, whether you fail terribly or whether you succeed spectacularly, the Lord is your home. Your failures don’t put Him off and your success don’t impress Him away. He is your home; he was your home in 2017 and he will be your home in 2018. And he will be your home for all of eternity. So plan your goals, make your resolutions, schedule your events…but know, that no matter what, the Lord is your home. He is your dwelling place.
And the prayer now moves forward, and transitions from the Lord’s permanence to humanity’s transience. And to recognize our mortality is to gain a sober wisdom.

A Sober Wisdom (v 3-12)

Psalm 90:3 NIV
You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
Psalm 90:3
Verse 3 (read) introduces one of the major themes in this psalm: our mortality. Humanity is transient, temporary, ephemeral. You see, unlike the Lord who is from everlasting to everlasting, our lives are brief. And to make the point sink in (because we have a tendency to dispute this), Moses piles up a series of devastating comparisons: take a look at verses 4-7.
The first metaphor is time; the idea is that even if a human were to live for a thousand years, that would be just a brief moment for God, like yesterday (remember yesterday?), like a watch in the night (one of the smallest measurements of time). Our lives are brief.
Secondly, we are swept away like debris in a flood. Flash floods in this part of the world could be extremely dangerous. In fact, flash floods continue to pose a real threat: the University I got my Master’s degree from was vulnerable to flash floods and during a time of high and intense rain, they will actually close down the campus. In the US, the biggest cause of death in a flash flood is people getting swept away in their vehicles. Being inside a car gives someone a false sense of security—in reality, the car offers very little protection and is easily swept away. Well, just as a car is easily swept away by a flash flood, so too are our lives swept away. And what are they swept away by? The sleep of death: death sweeps over us and puts us into a sleep that we’ll never wake up from. Our lives are brief, and they will certainly end.
Finally, our lives are like grass. In the morning, the vitality of the green grass is rich with promise. And that’s what makes its decay by evening so frustrating and disappointing. We see this with flowers as well: the joy of their beauty is tinged with the certain knowledge of their inevitable decay. And their initial beauty makes the inevitable decay even more bitter. Freshness gets faded, vitality gets lost. And so it is with our brief lives.
These metaphors help us paint a realistic picture of the brevity of our lives: we are like the smallest unit of time, like a memory of yesterday, we get swept away like debris in a flood, we are like a withering grass. Life is brief; life is temporary.
And it would be right, it would be important, for us to ask: why? Why is human life so temporary? Why has God ordained that it be this way? It’s so frustrating, it’s so unsatisfying, it seems pointless. Why is it that things we labour for seem to disintegrate? Well, verses 7-10 give us the answer: God’s anger (read).
The reason human life is short is that God is angry with sin. We do well to remember that God’s Word to Adam, echoed in verse 3, was in the context of judgement over sin. And God’s awareness of sin is all-encompassing, including even our secret sins. We have no excuse for our sins, our lives end with a moan as we contemplate having to face a Holy God. Even if we live into old age, death still comes knocking; its unavoidable grip will take hold of us eventually. Human life is short because God is angry with sin.
I bet you’re glad to have come to church today to hear this! Yet contains a message that we must reflect on because we live in a culture that is addicted to the denial of death; we spend so much time and energy on trying to maximize our transient living that we never prepare for our inevitable dying. And we fail to recognize the connection between our mortality and our sinfulness. And we’re not the first generation to live in denial of death; despite all these signs of God’s displeasure, the message never seems to register until God brings it home to us (read verse 11). Human life is short because God is angry with sin—when will we see that?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is perhaps the most well-known modern movies that reflects on the transience of life. BB ages in reverse: born as a small, old man, he looks younger as he gets older. It’s a clever way of highlighting how quickly time passes, and the movie is something of a lament on our mortality. And at one point in the movie, BB is looking at his wife/girlfriend, and she asks, “What are you thinking?” He answers: “I was thinking of how nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” Nothing lasts. Life and relationships come to an end. What the movie doesn’t give the viewer is the intellectual resources for interpreting why life is so short. We know that life is short, but why is it so short? Why are our lives so fleeting? This psalm tells us: because God is very angry with sin.
Well, why is this here? Why the prolonged meditation on mortality and judgement? Why does it take up so much space in this psalm? What does God wants us to do as a result of thinking through this? The big ‘SO WHAT’ is found in verse 12 (read). This is the first request in the psalm, and Moses is asking God to help us to make the best use of our time; good use of time = wisdom. The wise person realises that their time on earth is limited. The foolish person thinks that they have all the time they need; they’re casual about their use of time. Wise people seek to make the best use of the time they have. This is why making goals or resolutions can be useful because they help us focus on the things that really matter.
Wise people seek to make the best use of the time they have. This is why making goals or resolutions can be useful because they help us focus on the things that really matter.
What would it look like for you to number your days? What would it mean, in 2018, for you to make the most use of the time?
Edwards’ resolutions: when he was about 18 years, the great American pastor and theologian wrote a list of resolutions. The first 4 resolutions were about how he might glorify God with his life. Resolutions 5-7 were all about time management: how Edwards would use his time. You see, Edwards understood the connection between how we glorify God and how we use our time because he understood the lesson of psalm 90. Your time is short, and if you’re going to glorify God in 2018, you’re going to have to think carefully about how to best use the time you have.
I think this is particularly important because now, more than ever before, we live in a distracted age. We can ignore our mortality, we can log in to virtual reality, we can build relationships online, we can anesthetize ourselves with entertainments, we can get lost in hobbies or political causes or in the pursuit of leisure. But our time is short. We need to use our time carefully.
To live like this is to gain a sober wisdom. A sober wisdom realises that I need to make every day count. I need live aware of my mortality; I need to live aware of God’s anger on human sin; I need to live with an awareness that my days are limited. Sober wisdom will help you think and prioritize for 2018.
Psalm 90:7–10 NIV
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. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
One final comment: a sober wisdom will also help you see that the plans you and I make are only ever provisional. We can plan things, but whether those plans come to fruition is another matter entirely.
Zoe’s hospitalization: we didn’t plan for that. You may have some noble plans for 2018 but we all need to remember that whatever plans we make, they always need to be provisional.
So we’re getting to verse 17 but hopefully you can see that it’s important for us to have these other elements in our prayers as well. The truly wise and productive person is grounded in a stable spirituality, they have gained a sober wisdom, and, lastly, they have embraced a certain hope.

A Certain Hope (v 13-17)

Read .
Psalm 90:13–16 NIV
Relent, 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 splendor to their children.
Psalm 90:
In the remaining verses the prayer now largely begs for a reversal of what’s come before. Note this reversal by comparing verse 3 with verse 13: God rebukes humanity—return to dust. Humanity cries to God—relent; turn to us! Verse 9, all our days are under God’s wrath; verse 14—satisfy us with your love all our days. The “morning” of verse 6 is temporary (it gets withered by evening) but the “morning” of verse 14 is an endless freshness of intimacy in God’s presence. The NT will outrun verse 15’s modest prayer to balance affliction with joy, because in Paul will tell us that our afflictions generate an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. In these verses, the word satisfied is really the anti-thesis to the feeling of disillusionment and despair. Angst and frustration are replaced by satisfaction and joy. Our relationship with God brings a deep and lasting satisfaction that the things of this world can’t. Nothing can refresh and satisfy you like the love of God can. He is an endless fountain of delight. True refreshment comes from drinking in the love of God.
Drinking a big, cold, glass of water on a hot day. You drink until your thirst is quenched, you drink until you are satisfied. That’s the idea here: that God would satisfy us so that we become content and satisfied.
Finally, the crowning contrast is the perishable, transient nature of life we saw in verses 3-12 and the enduring glory of what God does (read 16-17a). God’s deeds endure, so that even our kids can see God working in their lives and generation. Here is something solid for our children, verse 17, here is delight (a better word than favour), and here, finally, is the possibility of work that is not in vain (read 17b). Here’s how this psalm ends: not only will God’s deeds endure, but your labour will as well. With his blessing, the work of our hands will endure too. Amazingly, transient humanity is caught up into the life and work of the eternal God. The things you do for him will echo into eternity. We see this developed in the NT:
Matthew 10:42 NIV
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Now, let’s just make sure we’re thinking clearly about this: I don’t think this means necessarily that God will bless all our plans, and our organisations in exactly the way we ask. So the company you work for, or the church I work for, may not endure for all time. So God may not bless our lives with health and wealth and productivity in the way we ask for—but God will bless us in the ways that really count: God can actually turn you into a righteous and wise person; God can make us kind, wise, and useful in His service. We often want to count things and measure things—even in churches there’s an obsession with numbers and productivity. But the things that really count are hard to measure: People coming to know the love of Christ. People growing in righteousness and holiness. Generosity and justice being cultivated in our hearts and lives. True worship flowing from our hearts; gentleness and humility. These things matter supremely, and yet are very difficult to measure.
So we’ve faced the unwelcome facts of time, wrath and death. Now, the prayer ends with a promise that your life can really make a difference. Your life counts; God can make it count. You can really transform someone’s life. You can add your contribution, and it won’t be forgotten by the one person whose accounting really matters. And it’s probably just worth mentioning that we shouldn’t hyper-spiritualise this too much. Jesus’ example of the cup of water is so helpful: even small acts of practical to service to others make a difference. This means that we can ask God to help us be productive with the most practical aspects of our lives: our everyday jobs, our money, our relationships. May he establish the work of our hands. May he make us truly productive.
And it’s probably just worth mentioning that we shouldn’t hyper-spiritualise this too much. Jesus’ example of the cup of water is so helpful: even small acts of practical to service to others make a difference. This means that we can ask God to help us be productive with the most practical aspects of our lives: our everyday jobs, our money, our relationships. May he establish the work of our hands. May he make us truly productive.
How can the prayer end like this? How is such a reversal possible? How can God bring life and satisfaction and productivity out of death, wrath, and futility? Well, the rest of the Bible tells us how that reversal happened, but we have a hint of it here. Take another look at verse 11 (read).
There was someone who did experience the power of God’s anger. He didn’t deserve to because he did nothing to elicit God’s righteous wrath, but he experienced so that we don’t have to. Jesus was, verse 7, consumed by God’s anger and terrified by his indignation, because our iniquities were reckoned to him, our secret sins placed on him. Because Jesus took our place, bearing our sin and shame, experiencing the power of God’s wrath, we can be forgiven. So instead of getting the death we deserve, we can enter into the eternal life we don’t deserve. Instead of living lives of futility, we can live lives of productivity. And instead of meandering through life aimlessly, we can now walk with purpose. A life of true satisfaction and lasting productivity is possible because of Jesus. Knowing Jesus gives us a stable spirituality—because he will never leave us or forsake us. No matter how much we fail or how much we succeed—he with be with us always, even to the end of the age. Knowing Jesus gives us a sober wisdom—he said that night was coming, and that he needed to do God’s work whilst it was still day. Jesus teaches us that we need to do God’s work while it is still day. And knowing Jesus gives us a confident hope—that the lives we live really can make an eternal difference. That our labour is not in vain. That what you do matters.
So go into 2018 resolved to live a life of satisfaction and productivity. Plan your goals, make your resolutions, schedule your events…but do so rooted in a stable spirituality, a sober wisdom, and a certain hope. And may the Lord establish the work of your hands.
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