Gifts graciously given

Published 10:47 am Monday, November 27, 2017

So the legend goes, a student named Willard once turned in a test at his university. Trouble was, Willard had sat there through the entire testing period and never answered a question. Simply wrote his name on the exam and sat there. The professor called him in to explain the obvious. He would get a failing grade.

The professor then asked, “Don’t you know anything?”

“Professor,” Willard replied, “I don’t even suspect anything.”

A friend of mine wrote and published a memoir recently under the title “Fifty-Seven: A Memoir of Death and Life.” In it, he told the story of Willard, and then said, “Well, I do suspect some things, and what you hold in your hands is a record of what I suspect.” He went on to explain that his 57th birthday was approaching. He had lost both his parents while he was still quite young. His Dad had died at the tragically young age of 57. So as his same birthday approached, his cogs were turning.

In Psalm 90, the writer’s cogs were turning about life and death. He suspects some things.

God has given life, but also presides over our years including our inevitable deaths to come. He begins by affirming that God has been the source of life for what seems to be forever. But, not just a source. A dwelling place. Or as Eugene Peterson terms it, a “home” for our very souls. Fact is, the psalmist believes that God has been God since before creation itself was set into motion.

In an age where so much can feel temporary, God’s timelessness is compelling. These days, we shop for appliances wanting quality, but acknowledging that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Planned obsolescence seems to be a reality in many of the manufactured goods we buy. rom cars to refrigerators, we concede that someday we’ll probably be shopping for another. The recession reminded us that 401k’s can fail, as can entire companies. The last few decades have shown us that institutions can collapse, marriages can come apart and natural disasters can wipe out city blocks.

Somewhere in this fragile world, our very souls yearn for something that could last.

Even in acknowledging a God who has transcended time and space, the psalmist has his complaints. Perhaps reminding us of the writer of Ecclesiastes, this believer feels vulnerable in the presence of God. He will raise his fears, noticing that our power pales in comparison with God’s vast capacities. “So, don’t return us to mud, saying ‘Back to where you came from.’ Patience! You’ve got all the time in the world. Whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.”

In fact he or she says that years are, to God, “….like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” Then, we will hear the writer of Psalm 90 even register concern about the potential of God’s wrath. God, who knows our hearts and our very lives, holds forth our justice in the distilling light of truth.

It’s Thanksgiving week. Admittedly, Psalm 90 isn’t exactly light reading. Are you still waiting for the uplifting part? Do you want something that gives hope and life to your days? In one succinct and final verse, the writer makes a mature request. He asks one favor, one hope for guidance.

“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”

Rather than a genie in a bottle, this writer sees God as able to shape and guide our souls. He uses his one request not for fortune, and not for immortality. Instead, the psalmist humbly asks God to guide him. What the psalmist understands is that this lifetime, rather than lived under the weight of scrutiny, can be a freeing gift when placed into God’s care.

With a thankful heart, the writer yields all of life over to God’s care. Loved ones that have gone on before us? Sustenance that has nurtured? Relative safety and the accompaniment of loving community? All are precious gifts shared by an abiding, attending God. With grateful hearts, we can acknowledge God’s overwhelming presence that gives far more than we could anticipate. Lift your prayers this week, and see if God’s guidance doesn’t seem like a pretty good gift this holiday season.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.