Monday, 18 November 2019
A Wilderness Song for the New Year
What song will you sing this January 1, 2020, as you face a new year in the wilderness? Instead of pounding out a list of serious (or funny) resolutions, how about breaking into a song of joy?
Last year’s New Years Day dawned bright and shiny in the Sonoran Desert outside of Tucson. It burst forth like this cactus we spied on our hike. Rearing back, arms held up in permanent astonishment, our cactus seemed to be singing. Because it faced east, we decided the sunrise must have triggered its song of joy.
What song do you find yourself singing this New Year’s Day?
Do you hear yourself beating out the tune of “busy, busy, busy”? Or has the flu or some unexpected calamity knocked the music right out of you?
A Song of Resolution
I used to march into the new year with a Song of Resolution on my lips. This is what I’m going to do! And this is how I want to change! And this and this and this and this and this!
But I’m older now. I can’t remember what it was I was going to do. Sometimes I can’t remember to wash my hair. I think it’s time for my nap.
Moses was an old man, too, when he wrote a song for you and me. Psalm 90 is a song, not of his privileged and reckless youth, when he tried to rescue his people singlehandedly and had to flee to the desert. Nor is it a song of his middle years, when he resigned himself to a life of failure and regret.
Psalm 90 is the song of Moses’ old age. It starts with realism and ends in joy.
A Song of Realism
The turn of the calendar page promises a fresh start. We’ve taken down the Christmas decorations and cleaned out the pantry. We think, this year will be different! We hope that this year we will finally lose the weight or finish our degree or find the right job. We’re hoping to enter our version of the promised land.
Moses is more realistic than that. He knows that today is another day in the wilderness, much the same as yesterday was and tomorrow will be. The dishwasher will break. Flu season will come and go. The children will fight. The weeds will flourish. The wilderness is his reality check.
But that isn’t all he knows. He knows the Lord. The Lord is his Reality in the wilderness. So his song is directed to God. He starts,
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Psalm 90:1
He thinks about the Lord for a while. And then he begins to sing his prayer. What shall we think and pray and sing about this year on our way to the promised land?
What Shall We Ponder?
Moses might not have been distracted by FaceBook or junk emails filling his inbox (note to self: unsubscribe from all those lists), but he had plenty to do in the desert. He had to lead that unruly flock day after day–setting up camp, settling quarrels, squinting at the Cloud, moving on. Yet as months turned into years, he took time to ponder. What did he see?
Moses pondered creation. He looked at the mountains and thought about God. God is bigger than the mountains. God made the mountains. The mountains dominated his landscape, but God dominated Moses’ thoughts. The sand under his feet made him think of man. Dust to dust. And the flash floods of desert storms made him think of judgment. Sudden and swift.
Moses also pondered covenant. God had revealed himself to Moses in the desert in two ways. He had given him his Law, written on stone. He had also passed before Moses and proclaimed his Name:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, (Exodus 34:6)”
Moses pondered the grace of God in the wilderness. He thought about God’s steadfast love day after endless day. And it amazed him. What tangible evidence of God’s love did each rising sun bring him?
What Shall We Pray?
Manna was the visible proof that the LORD had not forgotten his people. It gave Moses courage to pray these five requests:
- Satisfy us!
- Make us glad!
- Show us your work!
- Give us your favor!
- Establish our work!
Bold prayers all of them–prayers that take his God more seriously than his circumstances. These prayers expressed the song of his heart, and can guide our song today.
Give us joy! That’s what you and I need everyday in this wilderness. How will we find joy this year not just on the good days, but on the crummy ones? Moses tells us in his prayer:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14
Breakfast in the wilderness came straight from heaven. As God’s people satisfied their hunger with it each morning, they were meant to literally taste his love. God was setting them up to receive the true “bread from heaven,” Jesus.
Jesus is our manna. We taste God’s love for us whenever we get a taste of Jesus, day or night, at church or in his Word.
A Song of Joy
When Moses prayed, “Establish the work of our hands,” he was asking for his work to bear fruit. To remain. Isn’t that what all of our resolutions, lists, and projects express?
Fruitfulness is our second great need in the wilderness, the guarantee that our labor is not in vain. Because, you see, in the wilderness things wear out, fall apart, get lost, or blow away. And not just for mothers of small children either.
The latest news cycle brings scandals and firings and the fall of the famous. What hope do any of us have that our work will remain and our lives will matter?
Moses becomes quite passionate at this point. His song ends with a ringing repetition:
“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!” Psalm 90:17
Jesus isn’t just our food in the wilderness, he’s our guarantee that we will bear fruit. Our labor will not be in vain this year, in the Lord. That’s why we can embark on another year with confidence–Jesus wants us to bear fruit, much fruit, fruit that will remain.
So go change that diaper and write that thesis and give a cup of water to that homeless man in Jesus’ name.
And ring in your new year with a song of joy.
This post was first published January 15, 2018. Happy New Year again!