The question was simple: “How old are you?” With gusto, my then two-year-old responded, “Five!” That same person asked my son’s buddy (who’s just a month older) the same question. The answer again came loud and proud: “Sixteen!” While these two little guys have a ways to go in their grasp of numbers and age, their hilariously adorable wrong answers can remind us of a problem that plagues us all. Psalm 90:12 speaks of “numbering our days,” but like these two toddlers, we often don’t get it right. While we know exactly how many candles should go on our birthday cake (even if we prefer that no one else knew), we still tend to get the math wrong.
Bad Method #1: Counting Like a Miser
“I will never be hungry again!” Scarlett O’Hara, the protagonist of Gone with the Wind, shakes her fist at the sky and makes this vow the day that she is reduced to crawling to her neighbor’s garden to claw at the dirt in search of anything edible in order to survive the aftermath of the Yankees’ march through Georgia in the Civil War. From that time forward, Scarlett, obsessed with work and money, keeps her promise, sacrificing any relationship or societal norm in order to avoid poverty. She becomes a miser.
Scarlett’s devotion to money illustrates the first incorrect method we tend to use in numbering our days. We often count like misers. We hoard our days, trying to stockpile them for ourselves. We think that if we aren’t wasteful, we can make our days last a little longer.
Misers avoid taking risks and hate entering new relationships (or perhaps relationships at all) because the stakes are just too high. They’ll do anything to avoid discomfort or inconvenience. Misers believe that they’re entitled to comfort and peace, and that nothing should interrupt that. Friends betray, disappoint, or leave. Ministry demands hard work, self-sacrifice, and often tears. Misers seek to avoid all of that, preferring to make each day as pain- and risk-free as possible.
Of course, we’re warned in Scripture not to take unnecessary risks or to cast our “pearls before swine” (Matt 7:6). We absolutely should count the cost of our decisions (Luke 14:25-33); but counting the cost isn’t the problem. When we fail to number our days or calculate a risk in light of its eternal dividends, we end up victims of bad math and (ironically) a wasted life.
Bad Method #2: Counting Like a Prodigal
On the other end of the spectrum, we find the wasteful prodigal who doesn’t count the cost of anything. Like the son in Jesus’ parable, the prodigal spends his money without a thought as to where it’s going. If something sounds like fun, he slaps the plastic down and indulges, never considering the bill that he’s racking up. You may never handle your money with such reckless abandon, but what about the days of your life?
Numbering your days like a prodigal actually means not counting at all. The prodigal assumes that there is a limitless supply of days, so he can waste as many as he’d like. “There’s another one coming,” he tells himself and carelessly assumes that he’ll have time to repent, serve, witness, pray, or attend church later. Today he has other more important—and more fun—stuff to do. The prodigal can zone out for hours on her phone or binge an entire TV series is just a few days. The prodigal may spend most of the day in bed and most of the night on video games. On the other hand, he might get up early to go for a run, leave for work early and arrive home late, too late to see the kids. He’ll get serious about spiritual things later, when he’s got more time. Right now, he’s going to do what he wants to get all the gusto he can.
Bad Method #3: Like a Commercial-Skipper
Whether because of streaming services or DVRs, watching commercials has (thankfully) become almost obsolete. I love watching a show I’ve recorded and zipping right through the commercials. Honestly, I might enjoy it more than if the ads weren’t there at all because I can see how much time I’m saving! But that mentality becomes a problem when it’s how I approach my life.
As a parent of small kids, I can find myself eagerly waiting for the next season when things will “get easier.” Whether it’s when they sleep through the night; are able to feed themselves, walk, or talk; are potty trained, in school, in middle school, or done with school—the list could go one forever. I realized just this morning as I was wistfully thinking about when my son is just a little bit older that I was foolishly numbering my days.
While we rightfully look forward to milestone moments like the first words, first steps, first and last days of school, our lives are mostly lived in between them. If we live always looking forward to the next milestone, we’ll miss all of the moments in the middle—moments that, while mundane and often tedious, are opportunities to see and savor the covenant love of God.
Number Your Days the Right Way: Like a Wise Investor
We know how not to count our days, but how do we do it right? Moses had this question as well. He asked Yahweh to “Teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). I certainly have a long way to go. In fact, this post isn’t me having all the answers. It’s me thinking with my fingers about what the answer is. So, here are my ideas about how we can number our days the right way—God’s way.
- Don’t get too comfy—Whatever the number of our days here on earth may be, that number represents a specific quantity. A quantity that will come to an end sooner or later. Eternity represents a quantity that never diminishes no matter how many days go by. Numbering our days God’s way means that we live with eternity in view, using each day here on earth in light of the life that will never end.
Therefore, with your minds ready for action] be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)
- Don’t be afraid to enjoy God’s good gifts—Moses goes on in Psalm 90 to ask God to “satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness” (v. 14). Finding joy and contentment in God’s faithful, covenant love means that I won’t be looking for it in any lesser thing. Therefore, I can enjoy those lesser things for what they are (in most cases): gifts of God’s good and bountiful grace. Eat the chocolate, drink the latte, take the vacation—but don’t seek satisfaction in it. Let it remind you of the never-ending love that does satisfy.
Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (Psalm 90:14)
- Invest where it matters—Take a risk, but count the risk in light of eternity. Will the payoff of this risk reap any eternal rewards, or does it bring with it only temporary pleasures? If the reward is in this life only, it’s not a risk worth taking. In commending the calculating of risks in Luke 14, Jesus is actually talking about discipleship. He demands all-in disciples. Leaving family, jobs, and comfort for the Savior only makes sense if it’s viewed through the right lens. We must use the same lens in calculating the benefit of a risk.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matt 6:33)
- Don’t waste time. Start Now—It’s true that there’s really no substitute for age when it comes to growing in wisdom and maturity. It just takes some years to develop those things. However, if you’re not growing now, you won’t be any farther along five years from now. If you’ve been living like a miser, hoarding your days for yourself; or like a prodigal, lavishly spending them without a thought of the future; this is the day to make Moses’ prayer your own:
“Teach me to number my days that I may present to you a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12)