“Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart” (Psalm 90:12).
There are certain occasions of the year, especially birthdays, that compel us to count our days and realize how fast time passes by, which is in fact, the passing away of our lives. It is at this time of reflection, when we celebrate our birthday, a new year of life, that we realize another year is gone. Each new year of life compels us to number our days and as we do, we realize that the passing away of our days brings us closer to the day we will meet our Maker.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We cannot change these two fixed days in our lives, but we surely can influence what happens between the time of birth and the time of death.
This is the reason the psalmist said that we must learn to number our days in such a way that we may gain a wiser heart. If the time between life and death is the time of our education for the future, then we must learn not to waste our precious little time and throw away the opportunities the school of life offers to us. Life is a school, the place where we train daily to face the challenges of the future.
As we count our days, we cannot be indifferent and unaffected by the fact that twelve months more of life have passed away. During the passing of those twelve months, most of us have experienced joys and sorrows that will be part of our memories until the end.
There is a danger in numbering our days. As we number our days we may bring back to mind things better left forgotten, we may remember our failures and disappointments, or we may regret things that might have been.
Life is ephemeral. Most of us live for seventy years or so. With good health, some of us will live to eighty or even more (Psalm 90:10). To us who are limited by time, seventy or eighty years appear to be a vast stretch of time, but to God, a thousand years is scarcely any time at all. For a thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday. Time has no relation to God; it does not affect him: “ For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). The psalmist said that to God a thousand years is like one day, like a watch of the night, a mere four hours. A thousand years or a day is all the same to God.
What the psalmist is trying to say is that human life is transient. He said that to God, the days of an individual’s life are like the grass of the field that sprouts in the morning and withers in the evening. Looking from God’s perspective, our lives last from morning to evening, or on God’s clock, a mere four hours. Such is our lives before God that we go from youth to old age in a few hours.
Because in God’s time our lives last from morning into evening, the psalmist prayed: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad as long as we live” (Psalm 90:14). By learning to rightly count the days of his life, the psalmist was asking God to enable him to take to heart the lessons which the brevity of life should teach him.
Since the school of life teaches us that life is ephemeral, we must then learn how to seek that which is eternal. We do not know whether our days will be few or many. So brief is human life that not everyone will enjoy the blessings of old age, because death can come suddenly and our lives be removed in the middle of our blossoming years, before our flower withers.
Our education in the school of life prepares us to recognize that life is a precious gift of God. So, as you celebrate your birthday today, you must remember that the sun is setting and the evening of your life is fast approaching.
For those who have faith in their Creator, the setting of the sun will not lead them into a dark and fearful night, but into a glorious morning, into another day that will have no end. But in order for them to rightly number their days that they might become wiser, they must remember the one who created them: “Remember your creator while you are young, before the evil days come, and the years approach when you will say, ‘They no longer give me pleasure’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
In order to gain a wise heart, we need God’s teaching, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). God alone can teach us the real meaning of life and the lasting values that can lead us to abundant living.
When we number our days, we realize the brevity of life, that we must give our attention to matters that last, to eternal things. Life is short and since life is short, it should be wisely spent. We do not have enough time to dissipate our precious life in things that do not last nor are we sure that we have enough days in our lives that we may postpone the times of our decision. When we gain wisdom, we discover what are the most important things in life. The Bible teaches us that the wisdom that leads to abundant living comes from God.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary