- Written by Pastor Shawn Nettleton Pastor Shawn Nettleton
- Created: January 18 2019 January 18 2019
As we begin this new year and ponder what it will bring, we as God’s people know unequivocally that, come what may, the Lord will be our help, our hope, and our home now and forevermore. “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” 1 penned by the prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts confesses this comforting truth well. One of the finest of Watts’ 600 plus hymns, it declares the beauty of God's keeping throughout the years of our short lives. “O God, our help is ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.”
Played on the BBC as soon as World War II was declared, Watts’ hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 90. Though this psalm confesses God to be “from everlasting to everlasting” and “our dwelling place in all generations” (v.1), Psalm 90 is a one of lament. Even though God has always been, even before creation, and always been a refuge from enemies for every generation, Israel has still lived as though God did not exist, did not matter and was not a refuge.
The psalmist acknowledges that our life is difficult and short and that even the best of our days are wrought with toil and trouble (v. 10). He laments and confesses that man is like the grass that fades and withers in the evening (v. 6). Man is the dust that the Almighty will return to the ground (v. 4). But far worse than the brevity and mortality of life is the guilt and burden of sin under the wrath of God (vv. 9–11).
Thus, the psalmist pleads for God's mercy and steadfast love (vv. 13–14). He pleads for Yahweh to give His people hearts of wisdom that teach them to number their days and to continually turn to Him alone for mercy, refuge and security (v. 12).
Finally, the psalmist prays, “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” (vv. 16–17). Thankfully, the Lord answered this prayer revealing, manifesting, epiphaning His work in Christ to us. Christ Jesus is the work of God that bore our sin and shame and took the full brunt of God's wrath for us in death. He is the work of God that lets the favor of God rest upon us now and forever. He is the work of God that turns our brief, mortal and fragile lives into meaningful, joyful, unshakable lives lasting to eternity.
Stock markets, governments, employers, friends and even family will most likely fail us at some point this year. Life will remind us once again how fleeting and fragile it is. But the One who is constant, lasting and ever faithful is our God who is “from everlasting to everlasting.” He is our refuge, our help, our hope and our home now and forever. It is this truth and comfort of Psalm 90 that Watts’ great hymn expresses so beautifully.
“Under the shadow of Thy throne Thy saints have dwelt secure; Sufficient is Thine are alone, And our defense is sure … Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Soon bears us all away; We fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the op’ning day. O God, our help is ages past, Our hope for years to come. Be Thou our guard while troubles last And our eternal home!” What an excellent prayer for the new year and always!
Blessed New Year and Epiphany,
Rev. Shawn Nettleton is Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Lutheran Church. You can reach him in the church office, by email at nettleton@StJohnsFC.org or at 970-305-2420.