Our Dwelling Place in Uncertain Times
Turn to Psalm 90. I know some of you are listening to this in your car on audio, some of you are watching this at home alone. Others of you have gathered in small groups — life groups or small groups of families. That is very exciting to me. Just imagining this weekend as a fire drill for, God forbid, that we one day would not be able to meet in a big gathering. We get these opportunities to practice meeting in homes, sitting under his Word, praying together, encouraging one another. I hope we can view this week that way.
I’ve been teaching all week, and each day when I came out of hours of teaching, hearing the latest news, realizing how quickly things are changing with the coronavirus, and the waves that are impacting some nations, and the way we need to wisely prepare so that we’re not waiting until it’s too late to help prevent things from getting to the place where they are in some places. It became obvious to us as leaders that we needed to do something proactive and that is why we are not meeting as a big gathering this weekend, but rather in small gatherings online or in homes. And so, in light of that, I want to delay our next Revelation message.
And if you can, if you’re not there yet, turn to Psalm 90. And I want us to try to gain some help in thinking about what is happening here and around the world right now from this psalm. It is a psalm that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, primarily surrounding my dad’s homegoing. I actually talked from this psalm a few weeks ago at his homegoing service. I view this psalm like a spiritual GPS that enables us to navigate the kind of changes that are happening right now. From day to day, so many things are changing. It describes, Psalm 90, the Psalm of Moses, describes two different dwelling places. You have dwelling place number 1 is an eternal dwelling place described in verses 1-2.
“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.”
What is a dwelling place? Dwelling place is a home, a familiar place, a place of refuge, a place of refreshment. When I think of that kind of place, I can imagine my home as a little kid. I can imagine my grandparents’ house on a lake. We used to go there each summer and spend a week or so. They had an upstairs room, long room, and all of us kids would sleep. They had multiple beds all in this room. And then at the end there was a room facing the lake that my parents would sleep in. And so many mornings on these summer days, I remember waking up and a slight breeze would be blowing from one window to the other window, and you’d look out on the lake, and it would be still in the morning. And you’re just imagining having all day, no school, being with my family, swimming. It just seemed like this is a place of joy and endless refreshment.
And if you can, try to grab on to a memory like that. Some of you may not have something like that. Some of you can quickly grab onto some of those. But what God is saying in Psalm 90 is, when you taste those kinds of home experiences, those are but appetizers — passing, transient, temporary (as we’ll see in a moment), appetizers of our true dwelling place. A true place where we really belong. A familiar place, THE familiar place, a place of refuge, home. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place.” And not just a temporary one. “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” That is dwelling place number 1.
Dwelling place number 2, and you’ll notice this one comes to us as if we are awakened from a pleasant dream by an obnoxious dog barking. The contrast is so sharp between verses 1 and 2 and verse 3.
“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. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”
He begins a new section here describing our earthly dwelling place in contrast to our eternal dwelling place. This earthly dwelling place has three primary characteristics. The first one here in verses 3-6 is that it is transient, it is passing. And he uses a bunch of illustrations to highlight the fact that we come from dust, we return to dust (verse 3). Notice the illustrations begin in verse 4. Things change as fast as today becomes yesterday. Verse 4, as fast “as a watch in the night.” In other words, the hours pass while you sleep. As fast as a flood (verse 5) sweeps everything away. As fast as a dream that you wake up from and it is gone. As fast as the grass that flourishes and is renewed and then withers and fades away. Our lives are likened to that kind of transience.
Second characteristic of this earthly existence is that it is cursed. Verse 7,
“For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.”
Now what’s all this wrath language? Why is he talking so much about wrath? It’s not that God is irritated or irate like we often can be, but it’s highlighting the fact that this world is under the wrath of God. Because when Adam and Eve sinned, God in his holiness brought about the judgment he had warned them of. And that is, sin and death came into this world, and we now live in a world that, as Romans 8 makes clear, is groaning. It is broken. It is under a curse because of the fact that God is opposed to all that is immoral, all that is oppressive, all that is harmful.
His point is not that we should try to find a 1:1 relationship between sin and judgment as if we can say this virus, coronavirus, is caused by this sin. And you will hear people making those statements, unfortunately. Jesus actually warned us against that. He said in Luke 13, when people were describing Galileans who had been killed by Pilate, and when they described also a tower, the Tower of Siloam that had fallen on a crowd. They were asking, were those Galileans worse sinners? Were the people in the crowd that were crushed — whether it’s the human disaster or a natural disaster, were they worse sinners in need of greater judgment than us? And Jesus answered very directly,
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
We shouldn’t try to guess what some kind of 1:1 relationship is between sin and judgment but rather see human and divine, natural disasters as signs of brokenness, invitations to repent, to come home to our true dwelling place.
Third characteristic of this earthly dwelling place. Not only is it transient and under the curse, but third, it’s difficult. It’s difficult. Look at verse 10. “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?” Our days, according to verses 10 and 11 are not only limited, they’re also difficult, hard. He describes them as full of “toil and trouble.”
And this is one of the things I’m so grateful for how God communicates. God does not sugar coat difficulty. He doesn’t hide the challenges of life. Christians are called to face the challenges and difficulties of life in a straightforward manner. When we think of what the world is facing right now with the coronavirus, it is extremely contagious. It is extremely dangerous, especially for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. And so, as we face this difficulty, it is a challenge for many in our country, especially at this time when many of us tend to view ourselves as immune to this kind of difficulty. Why would we ever have to face this? We have such a great medical community. We should be completely protected from this at all times. And Moses is actually saying, “No. Actually, this is part of our earthly dwelling.” We will always face (I don’t mean always, in every day) in various forms, we will face challenges. This one is affecting the world on a global level and affecting our nation on a national level. But the idea of facing difficulty, toil and trouble, is what it looks like to live in a broken, difficult world.
In light of this, in light of the fact that we have this eternal dwelling and we have this earthly dwelling characterized by transience, under the curse, and hardship, difficulty. In light of that, Moses makes three requests. Let’s look at those three requests.
First of all, in verse 12, he asks for wisdom to prioritize. Wisdom to prioritize.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
By facing reality squarely, we learn. Notice, teach us, teach us. It’s interesting to read the early Christian writings where they talk about facing difficulty like plagues as an educational experience. Not that they wanted it to come or enjoyed it, but we are going to school with God. Teach us so that our hearts can grow in wisdom. We learn the limit of our days, the length of our days, but much more than that. This is not simply saying, when he says, “number our days,” he’s not simply saying know how short life is. He’s saying that. But also, prioritize your days. In other words, number your days in the sense that, you know they’re limited. So, therefore, redeem the days, redeem the time. Use the days God gives you in a way that is characterized by wisdom.
Let me give you a historical example. In 1918 to 1920, the Spanish flu swept through America. Two different cities responded differently. First St. Louis. The officials canceled all large gatherings right away, within days. Philadelphia took longer. They actually permitted a massive public parade. And I know there are a variety of factors, but St. Louis and Philadelphia, in the end, experienced a very different result simply by the leaders of one city taking action more quickly than the other. Philadelphia had twice the death rate as St. Louis. As a nation we are needing wisdom to prioritize, and I think all of us as believers. I know it’s inconvenient and I know we can second guess every decision because if something’s canceled, it feels like fear mongering. If something’s not cancelled it feels irresponsible. It’s going to feel wrong either way. But in one sense, this is a very unique moment.
You know how people constantly say that capitalism is just all about profit at the expense of everything. Lives don’t matter, the well-being of the poor, nothing matters. So, it’s just so fascinating to watch major companies make decisions that are costing them millions of dollars for the sake of saving lives. What a beautiful thing. What a remarkable time. In one sense, what a gift of God to prioritize. What is more important, even if it costs our country a time, God forbid, but most likely, a time of economic recession. Is that worth saving lives? What is most valuable? For a country together that is characterized by materialism, to be making decisions like that. I believe this is one aspect of what Moses is talking about. Teach us to number our days. They’re limited. And in the end, there are decisions we are going to make that will reveal what is really important. Who is important? Not just how short our days are, but how valuable. Let’s ask for wisdom to prioritize, even in the mundane moments like when you’re in the middle of Walmart, and people are fighting over toilet paper. God give me wisdom to prioritize. When most of our schedule gets totally blown away, canceled, and I have to reschedule everything. When our normal cultural rhythms are disrupted, perhaps, God, you will use this in a way of drawing our hearts away from these ruts that we find ourselves in, in a way that reminds us that you are our true dwelling. You are teaching us wisdom in the middle of this moment. First prayer is, God give us wisdom to prioritize.
Secondly, a love that satisfies. Look at verse 13. A love that satisfies.
“Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”
Verse 14 is a shocking request, given the fact that our current earthly dwelling is so temporary, under the curse, characterized by difficulty. And yet in the middle of this, when you would think we would be crying out, “Well then what does it matter? Curse God and die. Eat, drink and be merry. There’s no reason to go on.” In response, in contrast to that, Moses is saying,
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
Early morning love leads to all-day long joy. Early morning love leads to all-day long joy. When I can wake up in the morning and my first response is not to check the news, not to post on Facebook, not to get a coronavirus update, first response is, “God, let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love. Let me hear how much you love me through Jesus Christ so that that love is louder, clearer, stronger, more constant than all the cacophony of voices that are going to pummel me today from within and without. Satisfy my heart in your life.” And when we have our hearts filled up and satisfied and stabilized in his steadfast love through Christ, his love that was proven on the cross to wash away all our sin, to remove the curse that he described earlier so that we have life, a different kind of life to live in. The overflow of this kind of love is actually contagious.
Rodney Stark has a chapter in his book, “The Rise of Christianity” entitled, the chapter’s entitled, “Epidemics, Networks, and Conversion.” “Epidemics, Networks, and Conversion.” And in that chapter, he writes example after example of how the Christians responded with unparalleled courage and compassion during several plagues that swept through the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd century. One example, Dionysius wrote during the second great epidemic about how (these are his words) “the best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner.” And he had just described how often pagan family members would flee their homes, would leave the cities when their relatives were dying, and no one was there to care for them. So, the ones who were dying could not eat, would not receive any medical care. And the Christians, at the risk of their own lives, would move toward these people in their loneliness, in their hopelessness, and would feed them and nourish them and care for them, even though it often cost them their own lives. That is the kind of love where we are so satisfied in our love in God, he is our dwelling place, that when the world around us is panicking, we can reach out with his compassion.
Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t mean reach out in unwise ways, in ways that actually can hurt our neighbors. We can reach out with wisdom and care so that we’re not endangering anyone. But the point is that Christians in all of church history have been characterized by a compassion in a time of crisis. For example, Julian the Apostate. It’s not his real name. Christians know him as Julian the Apostate. He was an emperor who was quite antagonistic against Christians. He called them the impious Galileans. And yet he noticed how much they cared for the sick and the poor. And he even wrote one of his priests at one point and he said this,
“Everyone can see that our people lack aid from us, and they’re being cared for by Christians.”
This is something we might pray about. Lord, show us ways, first of all, that our hearts can be satisfied in your love so that there’s no room for fear or panic. But then from that, the overflow of that love, Lord, show us practical ways we can show thoughtfulness and kindness, encouragement, and care for one another first, checking in on one another. Some of our people may in the coming weeks be unable to work or not have work because of things being canceled. We want to find out about those, and we want to make sure they’re cared for. But then also with our neighbors in the community. This is a love that satisfies.
Then finally, he prays a third prayer. And that is, give us work that multiplies. Work that multiplies. Look at verse 16.
“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
This word “favor” is talking about, which is the overflow of this love that’s on us. This delight, this kindness of God through Christ is on us. And the result is, two times he says, based on that favor, please establish the work of our hands. Take the very mundane things we do, whether we’re working to provide for a family or we’re showing compassion on someone or we’re doing a daily task, Lord, establish these works. And that word “establish” is in striking contrast to all the passing transient examples we saw earlier, like the days that passed, the sleep, the dreams, the grass (verses 4-8). Our earthly dwelling is temporary, but in contrast to that, you can make what seems transient, enduring. And you do it first and foremost, look at verse 16, in a multi-generational way. You make what is passing, lasting as it is passed on to our children. They have opportunities to see, “Oh, that’s what it looks like to trust God in a crisis. That’s what it looks like to cry out to God for a satisfying love, to show compassion at a time when others are panicking.”
This is a high calling. God willing, this virus will pass soon, but how we respond will live on. The way we reside in our true dwelling place in God, the way we look out for one another, care for our neighbors, the way we pray for not just an immediate reprieve (which we are praying for), but also that God would use this time to bring about revival in our country, a country that often feels we’re immune to trouble. This kind of thing can wake up many people, and God’s Spirit can use it in a big way.
Here are a couple of discussion questions that I want to leave you with and prayers. First one is that you could talk about as families or as life groups, what does it mean, what does it look like to have God as your dwelling place? Paint pictures of that through common, ordinary expressions of this place of dwelling, this place of refreshment, a refuge place where you are familiar with and at home at. But then, let’s ask God to show us what does that look like in our relationship with God?
Secondly, in what ways do times like these highlight our earthly dwelling, remind us what it’s like to live in a temporary tent, as the Bible calls our transient, cursed, difficult world? And don’t be afraid to just read those verses over and talk about what is that like for you right now? What are some of the difficulties? How can we pray for you in the midst of that? And then let that discussion lead you to the goal. Let’s pray for one another, that he would give us wisdom to prioritize, love that satisfies, work that multiplies. That God would use this time, which the enemy wants to use for fear, disunity, and a host of other things. God has good plans for us.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you that in the midst of this changing time, this transient time, this even chaotic time, you are here. You’re in the midst of us. You are our true dwelling place. You are the one where we find a deep stability, a peace that passes all understanding. And so, Father, may we run to you and may we link our thinking to your promises, to your Word. Please use this passage in Psalm 90 to root us and then to be a catalyst for our prayers and our compassion. Lord, bless us as we apply this passage for your glory, in Jesus’ name, amen.