When I was little, it seemed like an eternity before I would reach one of those all important ages like sixteen when I could finally get a drivers license. Time appeared to move like molasses, and the idea of reaching the age of eighty seemed incomprehensibly remote. Perhaps your experience was similar.
Yet now, at the beginning of a new year and on the brink of turning sixty-three, I realize I’m well past the halfway mark of life, if God indeed allows me those seventy years, or eighty if by reason of strength. Now, instead of seeing time move slowly, it seems to race by, and I wonder where it all went. Time marches on with grandparents and parents having passed on, and the kids grown and living lives of their own.
As such, birthdays and the beginning of a new year are milestones which help us to be reminded of not only the shortness, but the fleeting nature of our lives. David wrote, “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16). Charles Spurgeon observed that, “We are not cedars, or oaks, but only poor grass, which is vigorous in the spring, but lasts not a summer through. What is there on earth which is more fragile than we!” Similarly, we read in the letter of James, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14).
The fallen world around us reacts to this reality in several ways. Some simply choose to ignore it. They live out their lives, doing the best they can and hoping for the best. Others are embittered by it and become cynical as their bodies and faculties slowly fail and they are no longer able to enjoy the pleasures of life. Still others try to prolong the inevitable with rigorous health enhancing regimens of vitamins, exercise and positive thinking. What do you do? Maybe you have your own unique way of coping with the reality of your personal mortality?
But what does God’s Word say? The writer of Psalm 90, Moses, knew that the brevity of our lives was not a quirk of evolution, or even the predictable end of man’s original nature. Moses knew full well that sin is the cause of death, and has brought God’s righteous wrath upon all mankind. Thus, “we have been consumed by your anger” (verse 7). And having stated the stark reality that “our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years”, Moses doesn’t avoid the truth, but concludes by requesting of God, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (verse 12).
To number our days is to put them to profitable use. It does not mean indulging ourselves in the fleeting pleasures of the world, or the flesh. It is not the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” philosophy of the foolish. It’s to use the brief time of our earthly stay to become reconciled to God, before our physical death becomes the portal through which we enter into the beginning of everlasting death, damnation and destruction, which is the final reward of sin. The failings and corruptions of body and faculties are mere foretastes of the dread horrors of God’s wrath in eternity “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Jesus in Mark 9:44).
But to truly number our days is to take it to heart when God warns, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8). And today, God commands all men to repent of their sins and to place their trust in His Son Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to serve Him as their Lord. To trust in Jesus is to look to Him alone as the One who has died on the cross to pay the price of sin for sinners. To trust in Jesus is love Him and obey His commands during your short time on earth, not as gaining merit for your salvation, but as a manifestation of a new heart that God has created within you. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).
And so friend, on the threshold of the year 2014, you are reminded once again of the shortness of your life, whether it be seventy, eighty, or even one hundred years. Will you number your days aright by being reconciled to God through Christ? And if reconciled, will you diligently apply yourself to prayer and gracious works, knowing the uncertainty of your allotted time? To do so is indeed to “gain a heart of wisdom”!