Our time on earth is short, and the more we understand that, the wiser we will be in how we live out our days. We will have a proper perspective on life that focuses on serving God with gratitude and faithfulness to the very end. And in this we will find joy and purpose
Counting Down the Days
We come now to the great psalm of Moses that begins Book Four of Psalms. And it is clear that the brevity of life was on the heart and mind of Moses when he wrote Psalm 90. This poem is all about how short life really is. And of course, the classic verse in this psalm is verse 12, where Moses writes, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Moses isn’t joking here. If you literally count the number of days you think you might have to live, that will have a profound impact on your developing a heart of wisdom.
Right now, the average life span in America is 77 years of age. So, let’s just assume you will live to be 77 years old. And if you do, how many days do you have left? Well, if you are 17 years old, you have 21,900 days left. That’s too many numbers to keep track of; so, let’s figure it out according to months. If you are 17, you have 720 months left—if you live to be 77.
If you are 21 years old, you have 672 months left; if you are 35, you have 504 months left. If you are 45, you have 384 months to go. If you are 55, you have 264; and if you are 65, you have 144 months left.
If you’re 75, you have 24 months left before you reach the average life span. And if you are 85, well, you can just sit there and smile! You beat the average—but you definitely know time is short.
You can appreciate what Charles Ryrie, the author of the Ryrie Study Bible, once said. Dr. Ryrie taught several courses at Shepherds Seminary years ago when he was in his eighties. He preached for me a few times as well. One time in the pulpit he said that he was so old he wouldn’t even buy green bananas anymore—it was just too risky.
Well, according to Psalm 90, Moses wants us to start counting down the days. He even gives us an average number to use, saying:
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble.; they are soon gone, and we fly away. . . . So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (verses 10, 12)
When I was around 40 years of age, I decided to put this challenge from Moses into a tangible exercise I could literally see. So, I bought a glass vase, which I keep in my office at home, and I filled it with little green marbles, representing how many months I have left if I live to the age of 77. Each marble represents one month, and every month I take out one of the marbles and throw it out to mark the passing of one more month of my life.
When I first started doing this, it seemed like a long time to 77—there were a lot of marbles in my vase. I counted them recently to make sure I had the right number in there, and I came up 12 marbles short—which represented one entire year of my life.
So, I counted them again, and still came up 12 short. I either can’t count, or somebody is stealing my marbles. What it really means is that I am losing my marbles faster than expected!
I have been tempted to change the formula and make it 88 years—my mother’s age when she passed away—or adjusting it to 92 years and counting, to match my father’s age.
But I have decided to keep it at 77 years. And if I take out the last marble from this vase but keep on living, I think I will start putting in jelly beans each month to represent the extra time the Lord has given me to enjoy.
Listen, this is not some morbid exercise. Contemplating the brevity of life, according to God’s Word, actually creates a perspective on life that leads to a heart of wisdom. In other words, when you realize how short life is, you will want to make wise decisions. I recommend you get your own vase and do the same thing.
When you live with a heart of wisdom, you only want what Moses wanted out of life. He describes it here in verse 17 at the end of this psalm: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands.”
All that matters is that God gives you something to do, something you can use to bring glory to Him.
Now the next psalm opens with this thought in mind, as the anonymous poet writes in Psalm 91:1-2:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress.”
The author is not talking about hitting cruise control and sitting back in the shade of God’s protection. God does not offer us refuge so that we can crawl into some easy chair with the TV remote and our favorite potato chips.
Seeking the Lord as your refuge is not about coasting through life but about having exactly what you need to do ministry in the world—namely, the presence and power of God.
Now we come to Psalm 92, where the anonymous author leads us in singing here in verse 1, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” And verse 4 says, “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”
Let’s sing with joy because of the work of God’s hands. And remember that the hands of God are now nail-pierced. They are an eternal reminder of His suffering for our redemption. In fact, we will find that the only person in heaven with scars will be the Son of God, who redeemed us and removed every scar from our bodies and our hearts.
As I get older, those marbles are getting lower and lower in that vase I have on my shelf. Is God still interested in my life, my service, my worship?
Absolutely! I personally think one of the greatest lies perpetuated and pushed on people is that they ought to live their lives so that when they get old, they will not have to do any work or provide any service. They can just sit on a porch somewhere looking at the ocean; or they can spend the rest of their days collecting seashells or playing golf.
What kind of final chapter is that? Is that really how you want to spend your last few marbles—isolated from people and ministry and the church, keeping to yourself in your own little world?
The psalmist writes:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree . . . They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. (verses 12-13)
They are still following the Lord—investing in, praying for, and serving other people. No, they cannot work as long as they used to or walk as fast as they used to—if they can still walk at all—but the Lord says of them:
They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green [still have energy], to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock. (verses 14-15)
That is the righteous, and that is how you want to spend your life.
How many marbles do you have left? Well, since you can’t really know for sure, make sure you are using each one to follow, honor, serve, and joyfully represent the one who is your rock and your salvation.