This past Sunday at the church I attend, as the minister wrapped up his message, he presented a prayer request I had never heard of before. He mentioned that his birthday was coming soon and he was facing a new decade. He was seeking God’s wisdom on what to do in the next decade of his life. He spoke of the biblical phrase to “Number our days” in the context of his life journey. In planning our purposeful direction in our long range goals, it is important to take time to reflect over future time periods.
I appreciated his openness to remind us that it is important to seek prayer from others on our life journey’s direction. As well, we need personal reflection times to look at the long range decades of our lives and the numbering of our days. As soon as I was home at my computer I looked up the Biblical references of “numbering our days.” There were two Psalms with the phrase in them.
Psalm 39:4 "Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” The emphasis of the Psalm is the reality of how brief our life is. In verse 5 David goes on to say, ”Each man’s life is but a breath.” No matter how long you can hold your breath; a breath is not a long time. David seems to be complaining to God in the text. Commentators on the passage, bring to light that he may be reflecting over the many difficulties in his life; such as his years of being on the run from King Saul even though David was anointed as King. He had to have been heartbroken by also being chased away by his own son, Absalom at one point in time. He had many tragedies and sad hurtful emotions that he took before God. Looking again at the text in verses 2 & 3 , “my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me”. Here are feelings of anger and anxiety David is experiencing. These feelings are not wrong instead, it is what we do with them. Here he is bringing them to God in prayer. If he lived today he would have been tempted to star in a reality tv show and rage against the injustices in his life. But something tells me being the man after God’s own heart he still would have taken the feelings to God in his quiet time and would reject tv deals. In difficult times and times of regret we often realize how short a time our life journey is. This Psalm is a reminder don’t wait for difficulties to come to take time to reflect on numbering our days.
The other Psalm that has the phrase is Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The overall context of this Psalm exalts God’s greatness in His eternal nature versus the brevity of our lives. In this Psalm, David is not looking in anguish at the end of his life. Instead he is seeking God’s wisdom in how to make his life count for God. He wants to understand the time he has left so that he can use it wisely. Wisely for the work God has for him. This is seen in the final verse 17, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” He repeats the phrase “establish the work of our hands”, so the Psalmist David sees this as an important element of using our time, “our days”, in a wise manner.
Charles Spurgeon in his Treasury of David has this to say about this verse, “A short life should be wisely spent. We have not enough time at our disposal to justify us in misspending a single quarter of an hour. Neither are we sure of enough of life to justify us in procrastinating for a moment. If we were wise in heart we should see this, but mere head wisdom will not guide us aright.” Spurgeon is right. If we look at the emphasis in both passages we see the brevity of life. If our life goes by so quickly and time is one way to honor God, we need to be wise in using the gift of time. At the end of Psalm 90 David is seeking God’s favor, His blessing, for God to establish His work in David. I don’t believe this is speaking only our vocational work even though it is important. In our numbering our days we need to look at all the variety of works God has for us to do and then use our time wisely to honor God in these works.
The idea of numbering our days reminds me of Stephen Covey’s principle of "Begin with the end in mind” As we look into the next year, 5 years or next decade to see where we want to go and accomplish we are visualizing a mind picture or a blue print of what the end results look like. Covey states, “If you don't make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default. It's about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself. “ These thoughts line up well with King David’s in Psalm 90 to seek a heart of wisdom to see the work ahead that God has for us.
Reflection: In your own quiet time include a day from time to time to reflect over the numbering of your days. Seek for wisdom in making the most of the time you have for your brief journey here on earth. Have an openness to ask friends to pray for your numbering of days reflection times as the pastor that was mentioned at the beginning did.