“Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Are you one of those people who count days? As a preacher, I count days by Sundays. I can just about always tell you how many days away the next Sunday is. I can usually tell you the date by adding or subtracting from the date of the next or previous Sunday. If you have kids, I suspect they can tell you how many days are left until their birthday or Christmas or the next break from school. Maybe you have a big project coming up and the deadline makes sure you always know how many days you have left. Two wonderful families I know just added babies to their families. They were counting down the days to the arrival of their bundles of joy. Numbered days are precious days. What Moses is asking God here is for help in treating our whole lives like this. I think there’s something to this. Let’s talk about why.
Several years ago, country superstar, Tim McGraw, released a song called “Live Like You Were Dying.” The song is about a man having a conversation with a friend who had received a terminal cancer diagnosis. The man asked him how he handled the news. The friend replied that he started living like each day could be his last. He reconciled broken relationships. He sought to go ahead and have the experiences he had been putting off until later. He worked to be the kind of man he wanted to become someday. Essentially, he took stock of his life and did the work to make it one he could look back on with pride. Or, to put it another way, he began to number his days.
When we number our days, we treat them each as if the things we do in them really matter. Think about this for a minute (but not any longer than that because you’ll probably quickly get depressed by the results): How much time do you waste in an average day? How much time to do you fritter away doing things that not only don’t have any kind of eternal significance, they don’t even have a meaningful amount of temporal significance? If I’m being honest: I waste a lot of time. Occasionally I’ll go through a productive spell and suddenly find myself several sermons ahead and wondering what I could do to fill my time. (I don’t ever wonder for long because in my line of work there’s always more to do.) More often, though, each Sunday’s sermon is getting written the week before it is delivered. And while the busyness of ministry is certainly a significant factor in that more common reality, wasted time has occasionally played a role.
Then there is the even more significant time I spend with my family. I don’t even want to think about the amount of time over the years I could have spent investing in my relationship with my wife or our boys but was wasted checked out in front of a screen or pursuing a hobby or lost in a book with no redeeming value to it. I wonder how many opportunities to advance God’s kingdom through some ministry opportunity have been missed because I chose something that wouldn’t matter beyond tomorrow.
Now, none of this means we can’t ever take a break or rest or pursue recreation. We all need downtime when we aren’t engaging our brains with serious, thoughtful, taxing mental exercises. That’s okay. That’s healthy even. And we can’t say, “Yes,” to every single opportunity. Busyness can get in the way of godly character formation and active kingdom advancement just as quickly as idleness (and sometimes even faster). But numbering our days isn’t about how much or how little we are doing. It is about getting our hearts and minds wrapped around how precious our time really is.
Numbering our days focuses our attention and develops in us greater wisdom as we become more judicious in choosing what things we will do and what things we won’t, so that we have the time we need to do those things which are going to matter most in the end. It frees us from the tyranny of the temporal so that we can make the kinds of kingdom investments that will pay dividends throughout eternity. It develops in us a heart of gratitude for the time we do have. It clarifies our understanding of which kinds of things really matter and which don’t. All of this does exactly what Moses asks for: It develops in us a heart of wisdom.
So then, how many days do you have left? Actually, that’s the wrong question. Tim McGraw’s hit song is right in its call to live our lives with far more significance than we too often give them, but the idea that we should live like we are dying isn’t the best approach. Instead of living like we are dying, let us live lives that are fully alive. Let us live as if our lives have great purpose and intentionality to them. Let us live like each day is precious, like our moments matter. Because the truth is that they do. Lord, help us number our days. Let us understand that although we have an eternity of them in you, every single one of them matters.