“Staying Positive in a Negative World – No Time for the Pits”

February 2, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Feb. 2, 2020

“Staying Positive in a Negative World – No Time for the Pits”
Psalm 90: 1-4

As we continue our series on Staying Positive in a Negative World, today we are focusing on time. I used to hear older people complain that the older they got, the faster the time went. When I was young, I passed that off as a bit strange. Now that I am middle aged, I completely understand the sentiment. We have more people to consider and things to take our time. Time passes quickly!

In a moment, we will consider what time has to do with staying positive. Psalm 90 is our traditional word for today. The psalms are divided into thematic sections. Psalm 90 is the beginning of the IV section. Book III is heavily weighted with prayer that lament the destruction of Jerusalem. But Book IV immediately takes the reader back to the time of Moses, when there was no land or Temple or monarchy.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust,
and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
Psalm 90:1-4

When you think of the Psalms, you think of David. I was always taught (as a child), that David was the author of most of the psalms. But Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. In fact, it is the only psalm attributed to Moses. The commentators say that when we read Psalm 90, it is important to hear it as an imagined prayer of Moses. This is because Moses’ problem was time – namely, his time was too short.

You may remember why. The illustrious Moses, who led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt where they were enslaved and then helped them through the many years in the desert… died right before they got to the promised land. Moses’ time was too short. Because of that, Moses became a paradigm for Israel’s existence and for human existence. We always come up short – in terms of time, intentions, and accomplishments.

I understand that seems like a depressing message! However, let’s understand that Moses is remembered 4,000+ years after his life ended. If the great Moses came up short, then it may not be such a disaster that we do too. Our time is limited. Psalm 90 is a call to entrust ourselves and our time to God in the hope that something eternal is accomplished in our short time.

Two weeks ago, one of my son Adam’s best friends, Ed, who is a young married man with three children, fell down his stairs and broke his spine in three places. While in the hospital, Ed had a cardiac event and was revived and put on a ventilator. He has been in a medically induced coma ever since and the odds of a meaningful recovery are slim. For a 30-something young man and his family and friends, this has been extremely difficult.

When I was talking to Adam this week, I suggested that humanity considers the value of life based on longevity, but that is not always what we get. Ed may not get much more time.
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
It would appear that time is not what the Divine values. If not time – what can we find in life to value? What will the minister say at his funeral if Ed doesn’t survive?

I am convinced that God does not see time the same way that humans do. God does not give the same value to time. What if the divine value of life is not measured by time, but love? What if Ed doesn’t get time… but what if his life is measured by love?

That is why Moses is remembered all these millennia later…
* He led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
* He led them across the Red Sea and made them independent.
* He gave them rules to live by.
* He helped them find food in the desert.
* He taught them morality.
* He brought up leaders among them.
* He taught them about God.
* He loved them and nurtured them.
He is remembered because of the way he lived – not because of the length of his life. Psalm 90 compares our lives to the grass that grows up quickly and is soon cut down.

So, to stay positive, we must realize that time is priceless and is to be used for the good. This seems simple, but it is vitally important. We have all spent valuable time in a negative frame of mind, miserable, negative, grumpy, complaining, and having pity parties. It is easy to slip into fault finding.

Instead, here are some tips to using our time wisely:

1. Determine that you do not have time to be negative. Choosing to be happy can be a choice. You can think that you are unhappy because of external things whether you blame it on fate, experiences, parents, relationships, or you can choose to be happy.

Teaching yourself that happiness is a choice can be one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. When find yourself in a bad situation, you can find something good regardless of what’s happening. You do not need to point fingers, place blame, or choose to be unhappy. You can choose how you feel. Determine how you use your time and your emotion.
2. Be thankful for the good things that are happening to you right now. How many things can you name about your present life that are true, honest, lovely, happy, or just right? That goodness for those! The moment you concentrate on those things and people that are blessings in your life, the better you will feel, even if those are small things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous sermons, Thanksgiving cancels negativism. When we wake in the morning, offering gratitude that we are well for the blessings we have, it starts our day in a positive way. Hard times will come to us all. In the future we will all have difficulties – but until the going gets tough, why not celebrate and be positive as often as possible?

3. Seize each moment and enjoy it. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical decisive hour. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year. He only is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with worry, fret, and anxiety.”

Drink deeply from the present. Look for beauty that surrounds you but that you have been too busy or preoccupied to see. Listen for sounds that you have been missing. Hold someone you love and be glad that you are alive. In the book How to Win Over Worry, John Edmund Haggai writes, “Give every moment your all. Give your entire attention to the work at hand, the person with whom you are talking or dealing. The Lord grants unto us time only in the quantity that we can use it – one moment at a time.”

4. Remember that each moment has eternal value. You’ve heard the adage that time is money. Time is even more precious than that. Ask any person on their deathbed how precious time is and tears are likely to form in their eyes. It is easy to forget how important our time is when we are in the middle of our everyday lives.

When Charles Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he challenged a management consultant to show him how to get more things done and offered to pay him whatever the solution was worth. The consultant asked Schwab to write down all the things he had to do the next day and then to number the items in order of their importance. After doing that, Schwab was told to start working his way down from #1 and stay with it until it was completed and then to start on #2 until it was completed, and so on. If he couldn’t complete everything on the list, he wasn’t to worry – because he would have accomplished the most important things on his list.

His consultant, Ivy Lee, told him to do this routine daily and to evaluate the importance of the things he had to get done – his priorities and then to record his plan of action – each day. After Schwab tried the system himself, he implemented the process with his employees at Bethlehem Steel and eventually sent Lee a check in 1918 for $25,000 for the idea!

The point is that each moment we live is important. It isn’t that we must race around accomplishing things like chickens with our heads cut off. Rather, we are to remember that our time is important. And our lives are too short to waste any major portion of them in the pits.

There is positive in everything… in every person, in every situation, there is something good. Often, it’s not all that obvious. We need to look – and sometimes we must look high and low! It is tempting to just go with the feelings of the moment, but it is a challenge (and much more spiritually enriching to look for the positive in every situation). That is our challenge this week – because none of us really have time for the pits!

Resources Used:
“The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary” volume III. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2015.
Campbell, Roger. “Staying Positive in a Negative World”. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books. 1986.