Book 4 begins with the somber Psalm 90. “You turn us back to dust…our years come to an end like a sigh” (Ps. 90:3, 9). This psalm focuses our attention on the difficulty and the brevity of life. “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10). The brevity of life shades every aspect of our life and work. We have only so many years in which to earn enough to support our families, save something for times of hardship or old age, contribute to the common good, do our share in God’s work in the world. When young, we may be too inexperienced to get the kind of work we want. When old, we face declining skills and abilities and sometimes age discrimination. In between, we worry whether we are on a fast enough track to achieve our objectives. Work was meant to be a creative co-laboring with God (Genesis 2:19). But the pressure of time makes work feel like “toil and trouble.”
What then are we to do? Invite God to inhabit our work, no matter how toilsome it may seem. “Let your [God’s] work be manifest to your servants….Prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!” This does not mean merely placing reminders of our Lord in our places of work. It means getting God into the “work of our hands.” This includes our awareness of God’s presence at work, our recognition of God’s purpose for our work, our commitment to work according to God’s principles, and our service to those around us, who after all are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6; James 3:9).
Psalm 101:2 illustrates how we become equipped for doing God’s work. “I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house.” Cultivating good character before God and people is our first task. If we have children, one of our jobs is to help them learn the knowledge of God’s ways and grow in godly character. We are doing God’s work when we manage our homes well and give our children the chance to grow up strong and be prepared for the hardships of life. For the nihilist and the cynic, the cruelty of life justifies immorality and selfishness. For the believer, it is all the more reason to cultivate character.