(J. R. Miller, “Numbering our Days“, 1912)
“So teach us to number our days aright–that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
What is it to number our days?
One way is to keep a careful record of them. That is a mathematical numbering. Some people keep diaries and put down everything they do–where they go, what they see, whom they meet, the books they read. But mere adding of days is not the numbering that was in the thought of the Psalmist.
There are days in some lives–that add nothing to life’s treasures, and that leave nothing in the world which will make it better or richer. There are people who live year after year–and might as well never have lived at all! Simply adding days–is not living! If that is all you are going to do with the new year–you will only pile up an added burden of guilt.
Why do people not think of the sin of wasting life?
If you saw a man standing by the sea–and flinging diamonds into the water–you would say he was insane. Yet some of us are standing by the sea–and flinging the diamond days, one by one, into its dark floods! Mere eating and sleeping, and reading the papers, and going about the streets, and putting in the time–is not living!
Another way of numbering our days, is illustrated by the story of a prisoner who when he entered his cell, put a mark on the wall for each of the days he would be incarcerated. Then each evening he would rub off one of these marks–he had one day less to stay in prison.
Some people seem to live much in this way. Each evening–they have on day less to live. Another day is gone, with its opportunities, its privileges, its responsibilities and its tasks–gone beyond recall.
Now, if the day has been filled with duty and love and service–its page written all over with pure, white thoughts and records of gentle deeds–then it is well; its passing need not be mourned over. But merely to have to rub it off at the setting of the sun, leaving in it nothing but a story of idleness, uselessness, selfishness, and lost opportunities, is a sad numbering!
What is the true way of numbering our days? The prayer tells us, “So teach us to number our days aright–that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That is, we are so to live–that we shall get some new wisdom out of each day to carry on with us.
Life’s lessons cannot all be learned from books. The lessons may be set down in books–but it is only in actual living–that we can really learn them.
For example, patience. You may learn all about patience from a sermon, from a teacher, or from a book, or even from the Bible. But that will not make you patient. You can get the patience–only by long practice of the lesson, in life’s experiences.
Or take gentleness. You can read in a few paragraphs what gentleness is, how it lives. But that will not make you gentle.
Take thoughtfulness. You can learn in a short lesson what it is and how beautiful it is. But you will not be thoughtful, the moment you have learned the definition. It will probably take you several years–to get the beautiful lesson learned.
“So teach us to number our days aright–that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
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