The Wisdom of Numbering Our Days

I preached my MaMa’s funeral two weeks ago. She was quite a lady–fiery, loyal, and doting, all at once. She lived to be 86. I’m going to miss her greatly. No more phone renditions of “Happy Birthday” every year. No more listening to her speak her mind. I’ll always have my memories, but I’ll have to wait to see her again. When that day comes, I’m convinced we will see each other like we’ve never done before—glorified in the presence of Jesus.

Death always makes me reflective. When I lose someone I love, I see things from a different perspective. I ask questions I don’t normally ask. I reevaluate my priorities, the way I spend my time, and the things I worry over. I appreciate the relationships with which God has blessed me a little more. I take notice of the impermanence of things. It makes me enjoy the little things, the mundane times. It’s a perspective I wish I always had.

The Bible recommends this perspective. “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath” (Psalm 39:4–5). “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

These aren’t just isolated passages. The entire narrative of Scripture focuses on our end. The prophets and apostles join in one chorus to remind us of the future Day of reckoning when things hidden will become manifest. On that Day, Christ will judge and save. He will make all things right. Those in Christ will receive their glorious inheritance. Those outside of Christ will have to account for their own wrongs, for they have rejected Christ’s atoning sacrifice. No act will escape justice. No wrong, even done in secret, will remain undisclosed.

Some might argue that such a perspective is unusually cruel. Isn’t it better to forget about death? Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to live every day to its fullest without such a shadow darkening our joy? Our culture spends millions to do just that. We’ve outsourced dying from homes surrounded by loved ones to sterile hospice units run by professionals. We invest money in all kinds of schemes to prolong life, or at least to make us feel and look younger. If we can’t beat death, at least we don’t have to think about it.

But I’ve never bought into that approach. I guess if you’re fine living under an illusion for the entirety of your life, go for it. I’m not ok with that. I’d much rather live my life as much in line with reality as possible, and death is reality. This lifetime really does go by quickly. My kids really have grown up too fast. These wrinkles and aches are daily reminders of an inconvenient truth. Running away from it isn’t going to slow it down. Not thinking about it doesn’t make it any less a reality. This is humanity’s fate. We’re all heading toward the same fate.

But if you look closely at those passages above, you’ll see something else. The Bible isn’t merely claiming that you need to think about death to avoid future judgment, as true as that is. The Bible is making a much bigger claim. We need to think about death to live better. The wise life is the life lived consciously aware of our fate. We are but a breath, a mist, a vapor. Realizing how fleeting we are leads us to focus on what is lasting and permanent. It helps us make distinctions between pursuing thin desires that never fulfill and pursuing thick desires that do. Aware of our own temporality, we will spend our time on things that ultimately matter.

Knowledge of death focuses us. It trains our hearts to leave behind the petty and the cheap. It disciples us to invest in ultimate things: relationships with Christ and his people, family, worship, truth, righteousness, and beauty.

The poem by C.T. Studd captures this emphasis memorably: “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” Let’s spend our lives on things that last far beyond our lives.

2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Numbering Our Days”

  1. I am sorry about your Grandmother Casey. What a blessing it must have been for you to preach her funeral!

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