Numbering The Days I Have Left

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No, this is not an announcement that I have a terminal disease, nor am I in a morbid frame of mind. Numbering the days we have left can produce a golden heart of wisdom. Let me explain.

Today is my birthday. I’m happy to be alive, fortunate to have lived a good life, glad to have family and friends whom I love and who love me, and thankful to be on this new adventure. But birthdays can be reminders for me, reminders to number my days.

Let’s do a little math.

I have lived 58 years, so that means I have been around for 21,184 days (including the extra days for leap years!). The average American male lives just over 76 years (for women, it's 81). So if I just work with the average, I have 16 years left, or 5,844 days (including leap years again). This is just an example, as I know my days are in God’s hands. But that’s not the point. The point is that I have a limited amount of time to spend, very limited. It’s not endless. The same thing happens with money when we deal with the realities of a budget. We have to make hard decisions about how to spend what we have.

Here is where the Bible speaks with both realism and hope. First, the realism. We can now appreciate the prayer of Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We often live in denial of death, yet ironically, this very denial engenders the foolish decisions that wound us and the neuroses that corrupt us. The Bible intimates that those who live staring death in the face are the wise ones, even the happy ones.

Now to the hope. We can number our days because this is not all there is. Paul tells us not to lose heart but to fix our eyes on the unseen, on the solid hope of heaven (see II Cor. 4:16-18). With this perspective, how are we to spend our days? I can tell you how I want to spend them. I want to live for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom, helping plant Christ in the human heart. I want to keep fighting for this and then go down swinging. Whatever apparent risk is involved now will be so worth it.

So today, do a little math. How many days do you have left? How do you want to spend them?

How The Geese Saved Me

It has been a long winter for everyone. Even though I enjoy the cold, it has been a long one for me also, not outwardly, but inwardly—a winter in my soul.

I have created little that is new for this blog for some time, instead using excerpts from the new book and other older materials. I haven’t had the energy to write or do much of anything. As winter deepened inside me, the emotional forecast was the same each day—growing depression. At my lowest point, I could barely negotiate life. Connecting to others seemed taxing, the challenges of the ministry seemed overwhelming, and the dark voices swirling inside shouted: “Give it all up.”

I almost did.

But then something saved me. 

During the last cold snap, I needed to get out and exercise, so I took a walk on a nearby country road. Sunset bled into dusk as the blood orange glow yielded to an indigo sky. The biting wind slapped me out of my lethargy, awakening me to God’s presence. I saw His beauty in the sweeping farmland, I felt His strength in the arctic chill, but I sensed His joy in the last place I expected.

I heard them honking as I approached a flooded field—a flock of geese camping for the night. The noise slowly quieted as I came closer to watch. Then I heard more honking up to my right. I wheeled around to see three more geese flying low, apparently asking for landing directions. The flock answered with a chorus of guffaws, honks, and general toots until they safely glided in. All was quiet until the same pattern repeated with two more geese flying low: more beeps, honks, and hoots. They seemed happy to see each other and eager to help. It was all I could do not to break out laughing. I sensed joy in this nocturnal convention of geese, the joy of God Himself in His creation. 

As I left and walked home, it hit me: the depression was lifting. I was slowly coming back to life. God had met me in the last place I expected.

I don’t know how or when God will meet your deep need, whatever it is right now. But one thing I do know: He will.

Even if it means honking geese.

Playing Life Too Safe

I will never forget the conversation. A good friend was telling me about a survey done with those who were in their 80’s. One of the questions posed was this: “What is your biggest regret in life?” The number one answer startled me. It wasn’t spending too much time at work or being too worried about money.

It was refusing to take risks. It was playing life too safe.  

Life seems scary enough as it is with so many things that seem out of our control: the car accident, the cancer diagnosis, the job loss. Our inclination is to control what we can so as to prevent further harm or sadness. But that tendency to play it safe is exactly what lands us in regret. It also can put us on a collision course with God Himself.

The very act of faith is one of letting go of control and trusting our well-being to another. When God calls us to himself through Jesus, we have to take the risk to trust him with our lives and our salvation. We can’t rescue ourselves. But at some point, God always calls us into deeper trust and greater risk. He will call us out to do something to rescue others and build his kingdom.

The story of Abraham is a classic example of this. To inherit the blessing, he had to leave everything known and familiar. He had to set out with no directions, no roadmaps, no itinerary. On a human level, what he did was lunacy. But on the faith level, it was just obedience. And for Abraham, taking that risk to trust and obey changed everything for him. It also changed the course of redemptive history. When Abraham obeyed God's call to go to a new land, it opened the door for the eventual formation of Israel, through whom Jesus Christ came. His obedience is the reason I am here writing this blog about him 4000 years later! Now along the way Abraham made mistakes, experienced trials, and saw God do some amazing things. But I can tell you one thing he never felt. Regret.

What is God asking you to do to build his kingdom? It could be starting a VBS for special needs children or writing to prisoners. It could be mentoring young married couples or starting a neighborhood Bible study. Yes, you will make mistakes along the way, experience setbacks and perhaps even opposition, but you will also see God do some amazing things.

But I can tell you one thing you will never feel. 

Regret.

Becoming Undivided

In Psalm, 86:11, David asks the Lord to give him an undivided heart, a heart of integrity. Just how much I needed this came clear in the most unlikely of places, the pulpit. A number of years ago, I left a church plant that had ended in failure. Depressed and ashamed, I had taken a job as a high school Bible teacher, filling pulpits on the side for needy churches. That’s when the image came to me while I was preaching one Sunday.

I saw myself wrapped in layer upon layer of a gauze-like material, speaking out from under it all in a muffled and muted voice. The minister I projected outwardly spoke correct theology and sound Biblical ideas, but the real man lay hidden somewhere underneath all that gauze, the man my listeners didn’t know, the man I didn’t even know. I felt divided from my hearers, divided from the truths I was proclaiming, divided from the Lord, even divided from myself. Perhaps the congregation thought the sermon was instructive or even inspirational. All I know is that I felt like an impostor.

How did this happen? How did I get this way? And then I realized who had wrapped those layers of gauze around me. I had. I saw clearly for the first time the deep divide in me. But what made it even more disturbing was this: I had no idea what to do about it.

To be someone of integrity means that we are the same person on the outside as we are on the inside. There are no layers of gauze, no masks. There is no posing or hiding. There’s only one problem here. Every person I have ever known is an imposter, including myself.

There is only one way to find the integrity we all long for. It’s to do what often terrorizes us: strip off the masks and tell our heart stories to trusted friends. This has been my journey since that defining image came to me in the pulpit. It has been a journey of both raw fear and exultant freedom. Only here will we feel undivided, having a whole heart for the Lord, no longer expending our energy in hiding, energy that will eventually exhaust us. Now we can live in the open, in the light, giving our lives to loving others and expanding Christ’s kingdom.

I am still on that journey to become undivided myself. I hope you are on that journey also.