A New Year: “Number Our Days”

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Dec 29, 2011 No Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

A New Year: “Number Our Days”

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

A new year is dawning, but a very respected man in our church will see it only from heaven. He died in a car accident 10 December.

When Bill went to sleep the night before, he had no idea that would be his last night on earth. As he left home, as he approached that fatal intersection, he had no idea how short his time on earth would be. Nor do any of us. How, then can we “number our days”?

If I’ve calculated the leap years correctly, this is my 24,178th day since birth. But so what? That can’t be what God means when He tells us to “number our days.”

So, as Luther’s Catechism asks over and over, “What does this mean?”


Jesus told us that the very hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). Taken literally, that’s a tautology; there is a fixed number of almost everything. I’m told the average young adult has slightly more than 100,000 hairs on his or her head. But again, so what? Certainly Jesus means more than that. His meaning is that God is so concerned about each of us that He takes cognizance of every detail of our lives, just as He decorates the lilies of the field and notices the fall of the sparrow.

As we number our days, we recognize the uniqueness of each day. In the busyness of each day, we tend to see each day as routine: we wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, go to work or do some chores, come home, have supper, watch some television, and go back to bed. But to “number our days,” we should treat each day as special. As we wake (or, better, the night before), we should think about the day that is dawning and how it is special or unique. What can I do this day that I haven’t done before? How can I contribute this day in a way that I haven’t contributed before? What can I learn today? How can I grow today?

To “number our days” is to recognize that each day is a special gift from God, to be lived in a special way.


A nihilist (one who believes life has no lasting meaning) necessarily views time as a random series of events which mean nothing and lead nowhere. Believers in Oriental mysticism often view time as cyclical, a process which endlessly repeats itself but with no overall meaning or purpose. Marxists view time in terms of the class struggle. Darwinists see time as the setting for evolutionary development by means of natural selection.
But the God of the Bible views time and history as “His Story,” the story of the sovereign hand of God at work in human affairs.

Each day is special, but the “specialness” of each day lies in the way it fits into an overall plan. God has an overall plan for your life, just as He has an overall plan for the human race. That plan includes conviction of sin, salvation, sanctification, growth, service, and, ultimately, promotion from the Church Militant here on earth to the Church Triumphant in heaven.

As we “number our days,” we should ask, not only how is this day special, but how does it fit into the overall plan for our lives?. Our overall plan? God’s overall plan?


Only the finite can be numbered; the infinite cannot.

Psalm 90 is said to be a psalm of Moses, and as such it is one of the oldest writings in the Bible. In Moses’ time (circa 1400 BC), lifespans were shortening. No longer did people live 900+ years as in the days before the Flood, or even 175 years as in the days of Abraham (circa 2000 BC). Moses lived 120 years, and that apparently was long for his time. Perhaps, as lifespans were shortening, Moses contemplated the brevity of life compared to the eternity of God.

In the same Psalm Moses wrote, “For a thousand years are but as yesterday” (Psalm 90:4-6). James wrote, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). And Isaiah compared the temporary nature of life to God’s eternity: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the Word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

The brevity of life on earth does not mean it is insignificant. Rather, it is life’s brevity that makes it precious. As Samuel observed, “For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (II Samuel 14:14). Just as water poured on the ground cannot be regathered, so time, as it slips through our hands, can never be regained.

To “number our days” and “apply our hearts to wisdom,” then, we should recognize the preciousness and specialness of each stage of life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, parenthood, grandparenthood, and old age. Think especially of those years when you are building a career and raising a family. Often, the same years that we are pressured to make sacrifices to advance our careers, are the same years that our children are young. I remember a beloved seminary professor telling us that once our children are grown, we can never recapture those enchanted years. I listened, and I followed his advice; but I wish I had followed it more.

To “number our days” and “apply our hearts to wisdom” also means we see each day as special, but we also see each day as a special sequence in a special plan. We live each day, not just to exist and get through the day, but to celebrate, to learn, to grow, to contribute, and above all, in the words of the Westminster Catechism, to “glorify God,and to enjoy Him forever.”

And to “number our days” and “apply our hearts to wisdom” means we live each day in light of eternity. The things of earth are important, but they are as nothing compared to eternity. We live in the assurance that our sins are forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and we live this brief earthly life in preparation for eternal life in heaven.

So let us “number our days” and “apply our hearts to wisdom.” May we live well, and may we die well, for the glory of God.

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