W hen I was growing up, a little box appeared on the front page of our local newspaper in November that said, “Only 30 shopping days until Christmas.” Local merchants placed it there to build pressure and anticipation. It certainly worked for me: I was hoping my mother and father were noticing the number of days they had to buy my presents! Adults, too, feel the pressure of time, but for other reasons. Time is not about presents, but productivity. We feel we’re using our time well when we’re getting things done: when we put in the hours that get us the money that we need to live; when we get the house tidied, the clothing washed, the lawn mowed.
The writer of Psalms suggested quite a different line of reasoning. “Teach us to number our days aright,” he writes, “that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). He isn’t concerned about productivity, success or money.
The best use of time, he says, is for getting wisdom.
If we are to live by the psalmist’s spiritual dynamics of time management, we must learn what activities will maximise our acquisition of wisdom. Let me suggest four ways to number our days that will lead us toward wisdom.
the wisdom of owning less
Our church held an annual rummage sale to benefit the poor and needy. The irony strikes me—could the people we are helping ever have understood our opulence? We have so many possessions we don’t know where to store them, they get in our way and clog our garages, sheds and cupboards so complicating our lives that we haul them to our driveways and sell them for peanuts.
We don’t own our things. Our things own us. Rarely do our possessions save us time. Most often they cost us time.
We have to maintain our things, move our things, clean our things and learn to operate our things. On top of all that, we spend time working to buy more things that cost us more time!
the wisdom of doing less
Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful old book The Wind in the Willows achieved fame largely because it is a marvellous description of idleness. The picture that Grahame describes of Ratty and Mole, two happy creatures living in contentment in a little hole alongside the river, boating and enjoying nature, is simply lovely. In the story there is also a rather busy character, Mr Toad, who the other animals recognise as a good-hearted fellow, but one always driven to do something new or get something new—and his life is always in a turmoil because of it. The story suggests wisdom lies not with the busy, wealthy Mr Toad, but with the simple-living Ratty and Mole.
Many people are addicted to busyness.
But have you noticed that the feeling of being busy is not necessarily accompanied by the sense you’ve actually accomplished something? Think about your busiest day last week, and then ask yourself how much of what you did has any enduring quality. For many folks, days hurry by in a blur, like the video on fast-forward.
How often in your busy life have you pencilled into your calendar, “Do nothing”? Even in our leisure time, we feel compelled to watch or listen, fix or clean. How about occasionally doing nothing—and enjoying it? There is wisdom in simply deciding to do less—and being satisfied with the results.
the wisdom of knowing what matters
The person who would recapture their time for wisdom needs to set priorities.
Allow me to suggest some wise priorities for you: reading stories to children, praying, hugging the people you love, tending flowers, stroking purring cats, cooking something yummy, taking a mystery drive, reading the Bible, going to a dine-in restaurant, watching the sunset, talking to a loved one, having a picnic, thinking in silence.
Next to all of these (and my list is only a suggested beginning for you) work may seem a rather low priority.
Life passes so quickly. I have never heard anyone, on his or her deathbed, say, “Oh, I wish I had spent more time at work!” “Oh, how I regret not washing my windows more often!” No, people regret quite different things: the time they didn’t spend reading to children, hugging loved ones, contemplating, praying, tending flowers.
the wisdom of Sabbath
One of the great ways to follow the psalmist’s advice about numbering your days is by observing the Sabbath.
“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” says Scripture.
God was the first to number His own days for this purpose. Genesis says that after God created the earth, one creative task each day from Sunday till Friday, He capped it off by resting on the seventh day, Saturday.
God doesn’t tire physically as we do.
But even God seems to appreciate time to reflect and contemplate. Human beings don’t function well without a spiritual rest. God designed us to function best with one day in seven when we cease our work and spend our time contemplating our Creator, remembering what God has done for us, and thinking about how we ought to live as His children. “Work for six days, but then rest on the seventh,” advised God. Those who observe God’s Sabbath have found it an amazingly wise and thoughtful way to number their days.
The Sabbath embraces all of the sources of wisdom mentioned above:
A simple life— Sabbath-keepers try to make it a day of voluntary simplicity, often eating and living with simplicity.
Rest— Sabbath is a day to avoid the work and stress of the other six days.
Good priorities— Sabbath-keepers spend their Sabbaths reading, studying nature, spending time with family, visiting the sick, helping the needy or simply thinking and praying.
Yet Sabbath adds one more thing, without which you cannot live a life of wisdom: worship. Every Saturday, believers in the Bible Sabbath spend time worshipping God with other Sabbath- keepers. After all, God is our Creator, Saviour and Sustainer. How can we possibly be wise without knowing Him? So we gather to sing and pray and listen to teaching about Him, and to study God’s Word, the Bible.
The psalmist was right: life is short.
And when we leave this earth, there are so many things—such as our possessions and our work—that we won’t take with us. But there is one thing believers will take into eternal life: the divine wisdom they have gained. Don’t spend precious time on things that won’t last for eternity. Spend it, instead, on gaining wisdom.