Some time ago, I made a prayer from the Psalms one of my own, using it everyday at the beginning of my prayer time, attaching it to the end of another request I picked up from The Valley of Vision. The whole prayer, I’ve found, helps properly orient my day:
O, what a death it is to strive and labor, to be always in a hurry, and yet do nothing. Alas, time flies, and I am of so little use. O, that I were a flame of fire, always burning forth in one continuous blaze in Your service. Fit me, Father, for singular usefulness in this world.
And teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart to wisdom, so that this day would count for something worthwhile.
One day as I was praying that final sentence, I wondered, “What would that look like if I took it literally?” So I searched, “How may days have transpired since May 27, 1958?” I stared at the total in a sort of melancholy awe—so many?? But that’s only step one. Then next is to calculate the number of days left, should I go to my heavenly home on my 80th birthday. Here are the numbers at the time of writing:
Actual Days Expired: 22,562
Tentative Days Left: 6,642
Wow. I actually take the time to write each day’s tally in my daily planner.
I know, sounds a bit morbid and depressing, but I’m really not trying to send myself into a daily downward spiral. My intention is to remind myself every day that life is short, time is precious, and I need to make the most out of each day God gives me on this globe. I just wish I did. But that’s the goal.
In this vein, I recently came across an article in the latest issue of the quarterly journal, The Free Grace Broadcaster. Written almost 275 years ago by Jonathan Edwards, “Time Is Exceedingly Precious” reinforced my need for the goal expressed in those daily changing numbers at the top of my journal. Edwards offers four reasons that time is precious.
First, “because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or [evil] improvement of it.” By “improvement,” Edwards means “using it to the best advantage.” He explains that “time is above all things precious, as our state through eternity depends upon it…. By it we have opportunity of escaping everlasting misery and obtaining everlasting blessedness and glory. On this depends our escape from an infinite evil and our attainment of an infinite good.”
Second, “time is very short…. The scarcity of any commodity occasions men to set a higher value upon it, especially if it is necessary and they cannot do without it.… So time is the more to be prized by men because a whole eternity depends upon it; yet we have but little time.” Yeah, 6,642 and counting…down!
Third, “we ought to esteem time very precious because we are uncertain of its continuance. We know that it is very short, but we know not how short. We know not how little of it remains—whether a year, or several years, or only a month, a week, or a day. We are every day uncertain whether that day will not be the last, or whether we are to have the whole day. There is nothing doth more verify than this…. How much more would many men prize their time if they knew that they had but a few months or a few days more to live! And certainly, a wise man will prize his time the more, since he knows not but that it will be so with himself.
“The is the case with multitudes now in the world, who at present enjoy health and see no signs of approaching death. Many such, no doubt, are to die the next month, many the next week, yea, many probably tomorrow, and some this night. Yet these same persons know nothing of it and perhaps think nothing of it—neither they nor their neighbors can say that they are more likely soon to be taken out of the world than others.” In other words, 6,642 is mere speculation.
I couldn’t find a date for when Edwards wrote this, but his own experience testifies to the gravity of his words. In late 1757, he accepted an offer to serve as President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He was installed in that office in February 1758 and died unexpectedly on March 22—less than five weeks later. He had received a smallpox vaccine that obviously failed.
Finally, “time is very precious because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.” People have lost many things that, in time, they were able to reacquire. But not a single minute. Once it passes, it’s gone forever, never to be retrieved and lived again. “If a man should lose the whole of his worldly substance and become bankrupt,” wrote Edwards, “it is possible that his loss may be made up. He may have another estate as good. But when the time of life is gone, it is impossible that we should ever obtain another such time. All opportunity of obtaining eternal welfare is utterly and everlastingly gone.”
Edwards closes his article with a series of probing questions.
- What can you show of any improvement made, good done, or benefit obtained, answerable to all this time that you have lived?
- What have you done in so many days and years that you have lived?
- You that are past your youth—what have you done with the whole time of your youth? What is become of all that precious season of life?
- If God, Who hath given you your time, should now call you to an account, what account could you give to Him?