Dr. Mike White

YOLO and the Prayer of Moses

If you’re not familiar with youth culture, you might have missed the acronym YOLO in recent years.  YOLO stands for “You Only Live Once,” which is the latest in a line of popular, youthful philosophies which urge us to “seize the day”—that is, to get out of life all that it has to offer. Often, though not always, YOLO is used dismissively to justify decisions that might ordinarily be unwise—“Why not try it? You only live once!” We must acknowledge that there is something deeply Christian about the instinct that life is short. And the urgent, reflexive response to this realization is right, too. But when it comes to their motivations and purposes, the Christian and YOLO worldviews part ways.

Consider Psalm 90, which according to the superscription has its origin as a prayer of Moses.  The psalm contrasts the everlasting character of God with the fleetingness of human existence. Our years are quickly swept away like a flood or a dream—they are grass that flourishes for a short time and then withers. Our lives, shot through with sin and struggle, pass swiftly and end with a worn out sigh. Even if we are strong and live to old age, our life span is but seventy or eighty years. On the surface Moses’ response to this seems close to YOLO: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (90:12). But as we have said, there is a vast difference.

While the YOLO outlook emphasizes maximizing pleasure in this life, the Christian worldview concerns itself with fuller, ultimate pleasure. The grave is not our final destination. Our great need is wisdom to live in such a way that maximizes our happiness in the life to come, which by God’s good grace, maximizes our happiness in the present life, too. To experience this we must press further in to know the God in whose presence is the fullness of joy, who offers everlasting, unfading pleasure at his right hand. And we must do so earnestly and urgently, because, indeed, life is like a vapor. We do only live once. But we must pursue the Giver rather than his gifts, and treasure him more than our toys or experiences.

With the dawn of every new year well-intentioned changes are vowed and resolutions are made as we examine and renew, our purpose for living. At the close of the first month of the year, many of those goals have already been forgotten! But don’t let that be the case for your pursuit of God. Life is short. Do not waste it. You will waste it if you spend it on yourself—running along, chasing the next thrill, living for the moment. But if you pursue God with all your might, serve him and his church with all your strength, and seek to make others glad in the goodness of God, your life will not be wasted and you will experience joy both now and forevermore. As the days of this year unfold, number your days, that you might gain wisdom to make much of the name of Christ.