Preparing for festivities? It is New Year’s Eve. Last night I saw a lady load a shopping cart full of liquor and roll her buggy—bottles clinking against one another—up to the cashier at the register and prepare to spend hundreds of dollars on alcohol at one of the shoppettes here on Fort Benning. No one seemed surprised. The lady was just an ordinary customer, I suppose, and this is what is expected as New Year’s Eve arrives, right? No, I’m not sanctimonious about alcohol. That is not my concern here. I am thinking more about time and how we spend it. Do we often think of our amount of time? Do we not sometimes pretend that death is something that happens to other people? Do we not sometimes distract ourselves so that we do not have to face the ultimate issues, at least not right now? But are not ultimate issues called ultimate for a reason?
Unfortunately, I will be separated from my loved ones all this week, so I am not preparing anything festive, unless black coffee qualifies. I may get a bit wild with an espresso later. But earlier today I was reading and thinking through Psalm 90. It is one of Moses’ writings in the Psalms. Verse 12 reads this way: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, ESV). To number our days. In the biblical worldview, this means to live our lives with the conscious awareness that our lives are lived before the face of God, Coram Deo. It is a way of saying, live your life knowing that you are in the presence of God. Wisdom, therefore, involves our dwelling upon ultimate issues. That does not mean that festivities are by any means wrong. Scripture is replete with festivals, parties, fellowships, etc. But they are to have their places within a larger theological framework. They are not to be ends in themselves.
But to number our days, that is no small matter, right? Examples help me to think, and here are a few that stirred some reflections on this theme of numbering our days.
In 2019, I was able to take a trip with some of my family to a place near Destin, FL. The beaches are beautiful there. But to get there, we drove through parts of FL that had been devastated by a hurricane earlier. Mighty trees were reduced to sad-looking twisted and snapped timbers. Their boughs were gone. Leaves had been stripped from them during the deluge. Some roads had washed away. Entire restaurants had been washed out to sea. Just like that, as the saying goes, all was gone. And I thought, Do I have a heart of wisdom? Am I numbering my days?
A second weather-related catastrophe got me thinking, too. In the small town where my family and I lived for years, a town where I taught English and pastored, a tornado had recently struck. I viewed pictures online of the devastation. Again, trees were ripped from the earth or left bent into ghastly contortions. Rooftops had been sucked up into the sky. Just like that, gone. And I thought, Do I have a heart of wisdom? Am I numbering my days?
I saw a friend of mine undergo multiple surgeries, and still press on with his responsibilities. I saw another friend run off (that is, he was run off by an oligarchy within the congregation) from a church because of unregenerate church members, small town politics, and power struggles. I watched my wife have to raise our children while I was away in Iraq for nine months. After those nine months, I was still not able to return home to her because of an injury I sustained in Iraq that is still keeping me at Fort Benning. And I thought, Do I have a heart of wisdom? Am I numbering my days?
I have had more than enough reasons to reflect. Many will load their carts with beverages, chips and salsa, finger foods, etc. and ring in another year. That is often the plan. But I have aged some and hopefully learned a few things about how quickly man’s plans can be interrupted by bigger plans. One might even go so far as to say they are plans of the Sovereign. With a goal, too: to teach us to number our days.