The wise man knows his time is short, and lives his life accordingly:
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Ps 90:12)
This is the key verse in the psalm. You can’t measure the anger of God but you can measure out your own days. The teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization forbids the celebration of birthdays, but here is a verse that teaches us to mark birthdays. We are specifically instructed to number our days, because we need to grasp that they are numbered. Moses calls upon us to consider our short time on this earth. We are to number our days on earth just as we carefully count our holidays. Perhaps you are like me: I am mindful of each day of my holidays and I am most careful with them because they are precious few. And don’t they go by so quickly?
And we are not to count the years nor months but the days, one by one, because there are not many of them and the next 24 hours could be our last.
We have a custom in our family: when someone has a birthday, we read this psalm. In so doing we are reminded to fear the God who has numbered our days. We are mindful that each person has a different quota. So we count them: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—gone … 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 —gone … 25, 26, 27, 28—gone … 56, 57, 58, 59—gone …
It’s the nature of the young to think they will live healthily and forever. But there comes a time to grow up and put away childish thoughts. We need to ask God, in the words of Martin Luther, to “teach us that we must die”!
Sadly, we often do not learn from close encounters with death. My wife once saw a current affairs show on television where a woman shared how she developed cancer. Fortunately, this woman survived. But it did not make her humble and say, “I must make the Lord my dwelling place”. Instead her response was, “I now know I can overcome anything!” She refused to number her days. Little did she realize that death was only postponed. It would come back to knock on her door again.
I was most intrigued by the Galea family tradition of reading Psalm 90 on their birthdays. What a wonderful way to be reminded to fear the God that numbers our days! It did occur to me though that Ray and his family are probably fairly unusual in this respect. By and large, we live in a society that tries to ignore death. I think we’re a bit like the child who thinks they’re hidden because they’ve covered their eyes with their hands. We fool ourselves into believing that if we shield ourselves from death and avoid thinking about it, then it might just pass us by.
I heard a perfect example of this a few years ago, when a prominent media personality was interviewed about his recent cancer diagnosis. When asked how he felt about the prospect of treatment he replied, “We don’t do dying here”. How unfortunate that he took the route of false bravado instead of a right fear of a holy and wrathful God. Thankfully this man survived his illness, but I pray that in God’s grace and mercy, he might come to know who it is that numbers his days.