“Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
In 1990 I embarked on a yearlong backpacking adventure to the Middle East and Europe. My first destination was Cairo, Egypt. As I stepped into the Cairo immigration area the contrast to Australia could not have been more different. My first vision was of a soldier placing his Uzi sub-machine gun on the floor as he recited his evening prayers. The weaving high speed taxi ride to the hotel room that followed was every bit as thrilling (read terrifying) as any carnival ride. On the streets were teeming masses of people, animals, chaos and guns.
Culturally overwhelmed, I was in some trepidation when on my arrival at the hotel the concierge insisted that I surrender my passport overnight. My fears were not allayed when I asked if it could be returned the following day. “Inshallah,” was his casual reply, (“If it is God’s will”). I immediately supposed that the concierge was being obstructive. But lest I made a bad situation worse, I repeated my question, to which he repeated the same answer – “Inshallah.”
“Inshallah” (God-willing) is an expression used all over the Arab-speaking world by Muslims and Christians alike. The concierge was not being difficult. Like so many of his countrymen he did not presume that life was in his own hands, but rested on God’s grace. His humble attitude is shared by many of the poor in other parts of the world, and by those who lived in earlier ages where death and the uncertainties of life were ever-present.
We complain of difficult flu seasons, but throughout history, it was not flu, but plague or other serious illnesses like smallpox that carried people off every Winter. As I write today there are 320 000 suspected, (largely unreported), cases of cholera in the Yemen. I wonder if many Yemenis are presuming to have a gap year backpacking in Europe as I did in 1990?
The Apostle James had much to say about our presumptions in this regard:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)
Everybody knows that they are going to die, but nobody believes it…at least not in the west. But the Scriptures tell us to “number our days” and that, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten…fourscore if your strength endures.” (Psalm 90:10).
Anyone who lived a mere threescore and ten (70 years) in our context would feel cheated…especially if they had retired at 65 or 67. It is not what the retirement brochures promise. But an average life span among Australian men did not hit 70 until 1977. In 1900, the average lifespan was 51. In 1890, it was a mere 47. Within two to three generations we are living a 1/3 longer than our ancestors and have quickly forgotten that life is in the Lord’s hands.
We know we are going to die, but we don’t believe it. We need to believe it. We need to number our days, that we might gain the heart of wisdom. May you live many days – Inshallah.
For Prayer and Reflection: Ask God to help you number your days and give you a heart of wisdom. Pray that the Lord will show you when you are being presumptuous about your life.
For Further Reading: Luke 12: 13-21
The other saying among Arabs (such as my parents) is “iza Allah bi reid”, which essentially translates into the same thing as “inshallah” (if it is God’s will). When I was at uni and talking to my dad about the future, he would often add it to the end of my statements. I didn’t really appreciate the profoundness of this simple statement until I was much older though, and the truth it speaks into God’s goodness, his sovereignty, and our dependency on Him for all things. Thanks for this wonderful reflection Andrew. Your last paragraph has really resonated with me.
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