If I could save time in a bottle,
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day till eternity passes away,
Just to spend them with you.
In 1972, Jim Croce was a young singer/songwriter just beginning to ride the wave of national stardom. He was also a young father whose heart was full of love for his one-year-old boy.
Jim’s music career demanded him being away from his son more than he was with him, which was hard. He could feel the brief, unretrievable time he had to enjoy his wonderful child whipping by. So Jim expressed his parental longing in his touching song, “Time In a Bottle.”
In the song’s chorus, he expressed an angst we all understand:
There never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them.
Jim knew he didn’t have an eternity of time with his boy. But he had less time than he knew. On September 21, 1973, Jim died in a plane crash. He was 30 years old.
Numbering Our Days
Time is short. We know that. But it’s shorter than we know. Moses said our lives are “like grass that is renewed in the morning [and] in the evening it fades and withers” (Psalm 90:5–6). Even if we reach old age,
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)
To give us some perspective on how brief our grass-like lives are, Moses compares our time with God’s:
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (Psalm 90:4)
A thousand years are like yesterday. Perhaps Peter was paraphrasing Moses when he wrote, “with the Lord . . . a thousand years [is] as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
So, let’s think about this. If we live 70 years, our days will be 25,500. Or “if by reason of strength” we live 80 years, our days will be 29,200. As I write this, I have lived just over 18,900 days. John Piper’s lived just over 25,900. Steve Jobs’ days were just under 21,000. Jim Croce’s just over 11,200.
Now, think about it like this. If 1,000 of our years are like one day to God, then a person who dies at age 80 only lives 8% of one God-day. That’s less than two hours in one twenty-four-hour day. That’s short.
But if we use Moses’s “night watch” metaphor, our comparative lives are even shorter. In Moses’s day, a watch in the night was three hours. So if 1,000 of our years are like 3 hours to God, then an 80-year life span is less than 15 minutes of one God-day. Jim Croce lived five minutes.
How many minutes do think you have? You don’t know. And no matter how many you have, they aren’t many.
God Must Teach Us
When we really begin to feel the brevity of our lives, we often lament that there never seems to be enough time do the things we want to do. We also recognize we’ve wasted precious days we’ll never get back, and this makes us want to live differently.
But waking up to the reality of mortality does not itself produce wisdom. It can, in fact, produce great foolishness, and end up wasting even more life. Fear of missing out on life is often at the root of a mid-life crisis that destroys a family. It’s often at the bottom of “bucket lists” that values ephemeral, exotic, adventurous, and exciting experiences above nurturing real love for real people.
Moses knew waking up to death’s fierce reality did not itself lead people to live wisely. That’s why he prayed,
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
Numbering our days is not enough. We need God, the author of life, to teach us what numbering our days really means. We need God to teach us what our few days are for, so we steward them well. Then we will have a heart of wisdom.
The Heart of Wisdom
What exactly is wisdom? God tells us through Job: “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom” (Job 28:28).
And what exactly is the fear of the Lord? God tells us through Solomon: “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil” (Proverbs 8:13).
And what is evil? God tells us through the author of Hebrews: “an unbelieving heart” (Hebrews 3:12). At root, all moral evil is unbelief in God and any action that results from it, for “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
So then, a heart of wisdom fears the Lord to such a degree that it refuses to exchange the truth about God for a lie (Romans 1:25). A heart of wisdom trusts God’s promises and his wise governance over all of life, and does not trust its limited, fickle perceptions, nor shiny, empty worldly deceptions.
A heart of wisdom fears losing the joy-producing treasure of God himself so much, it sees unbelief as a thief who only steals, kills, and destroys life.
The Reward of Wisdom
Earthly life is short, perhaps far shorter that we expect. It’s too short to waste trying to do all the things we want to do.
We must not just number our days; we must ask God to teach us to number our days. Because if we number them on our terms, we will likely grab for life in food or clothes (Matthew 6:25), or “bucket list” experiences, or career achievements, or even loved ones, only to find in the end that life wasn’t in any of those things or people. Our numbering won’t produce a heart of wisdom.
If we want to “take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19), we must take hold of eternal life, “and this life is in [God’s] Son” (1 John 5:11). “Life is Christ” (Philippians 1:21), and “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). Which is why the one great work God wants us to focus on is that we believe in his Son (John 6:29).
A heart of wisdom is a heart that learns that life is not how much we can earn, achieve, or experience in our few days of life on earth; life is wholeheartedly trusting the Life (John 14:6). A heart of wisdom learns that the only thing that wastes life is unbelief.
And the reward of a heart of wisdom is eternity, where there is no need to bottle time, where there will be an abundance of time to do the things we want to do, and a God-provided bucket list so long it will take an eternity to complete.