Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spending Time

Huithiang > The messages and preaching of Bryan Wilkerson has a tremendous impact world-wide. I have been immensely blessed. Bryan Wilkerson has served as Senior Pastor at Grace Chapel since September of 2000, having previously served for 16 years as Senior Pastor at Shelter Rock Church in Manhasset, New York. Bryan is a graduate of Wheaton College and Denver Seminary. Additionally, he holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Bryan is a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and The Leadership Journal and enjoys speaking at Camp of the Woods and other conferences.

Bryan’s life mission statement is “to lead as many people as possible to a joyful and growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.” He is passionate about communicating God’s truth with clarity, warmth, and relevance to our daily lives. He enjoys the challenges of leading a large, vibrant church, and of working with a gifted, dedicated staff.
When he isn’t in meetings or preparing messages, Bryan can be found running or biking the back roads and trails of New England. 
He and his wife, Karen, live in Bedford and have enjoyed 29 years of marriage. They have four children, Kelly (26), Brendan (23), Mark (20), and Daniel (17).
By Bryan Wilkerson

Text : Psalm 90:1–17
Topic: The eternal value of numbering our days
Big Idea: By numbering our days we realize how few we actually
have, we spend them wisely, and we live them out for God’s
eternal purposes.

I happened to catch a song on the radio a few months ago called “100 Years,”
by a group named Five for Fighting. It was the tune that caught my attention at
first, but the words were just as haunting. The premise of the song is that if you’ve
only got 100 years to live, then 15 is a great age to be because you’ve got plenty of
time—”time to buy, time to lose, time to choose.” Twenty-two isn’t bad either, as
you’re just crossing the threshold into grown-up pursuits. At 33 or so it feels like
things are coming together—you have people in your life and work to do. But at
45 you’re nearing the halfway mark, and time is slipping away. At 67 the sun is
falling toward the horizon, and before you know it, you’re 99, wondering where the
time went and wishing you were 15 again, even for a moment.
When I heard that song, it brought to mind another song, a much older one. I
don’t mean from the sixties or seventies. I’m talking about one of the oldest songs
in human history: Psalm 90. The Psalms, of course, were songs, and were to be
sung by God’s people in worship and reflection. Psalm 90, which is connected
somehow to Moses, may be one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Bible.
Like the song “100 Years,” Psalm 90 ponders the passing of time. The singer seems
to be perplexed, troubled even, by the brevity of life. The way he figures it, we’ve
got more like 70 years—threescore and 10—or maybe 80 if we’re lucky. Whatever
the number turns out to be, they pass quickly, he says, and before we know it,
we’ve come to the end, and we wonder if our lives have counted for something, for
anything. Has it all been trouble and sorrow, or will we have something to show for the years we’ve spent in this world?

That’s a question we all ask from time to time. Not every day, probably, not even most days. But on certain days—when life slows down for a few moments, when the calendar flips from one year to another, when we blow out the candles on another birthday cake, when we hear of a celebrity who’s passed away or of tens of thousands lost in a wave of disaster—we stop and think about the passing of time, about the meaning of our lives.

Rabbi Harold Kushner writes, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or
power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning…we want our lives to matter.”

In our “40 Days of Purpose” campaign, we learned that one of people’s greatest fears today is the fear of living a meaningless life, of coming to the end of their lives and having nothing to show for it. Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, continues to be one of the bestselling books of all time. Millions upon millions of Americans want to live a life of significance.

That’s what this new series is all about. For the next 5 weeks, we’ll be discovering how to live “A Life That Counts.” When all is said and done, we want our lives to add up to something—something that will last. As Christian people, we want our lives to count for God. If that’s going to be the case, then we have to manage wisely the three primary resources God has entrusted to us: our time, our money, and our talents. We’ll be looking at a variety of passages from Old and New Testaments, and trying to be as honest and practical and creative as we can be in exploring these areas of life.

This morning we’ll begin our teaching series thinking about time. We’re going to discover that if you want your life to count, you have to number your days. Let’s take a closer look at Psalm 90 and see what that means.

We Are Told to Number Our Days
As we mentioned, Psalm 90 may be one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Bible. It’s
attributed to Moses, but we’re not sure exactly what that means—if Moses actually composed it, or if it came from Moses’ era, or if it was written by a later author from Moses’ point of view. Whoever wrote it, and whenever he wrote it, he was thinking about the passing of time. He could have been a young person, looking ahead to all that life held for him. He could have been an older person, looking back and wondering what his life had meant. Or, he could just as easily have been at mid-life, looking both ways at once, and wondering.

Whatever the circumstances, and whichever way he’s looking, the author sees two things.

First, the eternality of God. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place through all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the Earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” Moses certainly understood the immortality of God. Remember, he was the one who asked God his name: “When they ask me who sent me to them, what shall I tell them?” And God replied, “Tell them, I am who I am.” God always was, always is, and always will be. God has no beginning or ending. God simply is. He is eternal.

To make the point, the songwriter says, verse 4, “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Now, that verse is not some cipher for decoding the Book of Revelation; it’s simply a metaphor, a feeble attempt with human words to explain that God is not affected by the passing of time. He’s never late. He’s never in a rush. He’s never tired.

The second thing he sees is the frailty of man, the brevity of human life. “You turn men back to dust,” he sings, reminding us that these bodies that we work so hard to take care of, to keep healthy, to make more attractive, will one day return to the Earth and be turned to dust. We’re like people living on a flood plain, verse 5 tells us, when the waters rise we’re swept away while sleeping in our beds. We’re like grass, the song goes on, springing up bright and green after a midsummer night’s rain, only to wither and die under the afternoon sun.

Five for Fighting isn’t the first rock band to echo the thoughts of Psalm 90. Some years ago, the group Kansas sang a song called “Dust in the Wind.” The words go: “I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment’s gone. All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see. It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy. Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind.” A few years ago we listened to yet another song about time, this one by Hootie and the Blowfish: “Time, why you punish me? Like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash awaymy dreams…. Time is wasting, time is walking; time, you ain’t no friend of mine.”

So how do we resolve this tension between the eternality of God and the frailty of human life? We sense that we were made for something more than this life. God has set eternity in our hearts. We want to do something that will last. Yet time so quickly catches up with us, and most of what we accomplish in this life turns to dust along with these bodies we inhabit. The castles we spend our lives building get washed away when the tidal wave called time washes over us. How can we make sure our lives will count, not only in this life, but beyond?

The answer, says the songwriter, is to number our days—to count them, to value them. Verse 12 is the turning point in the psalm, where the song shifts from lament to hope. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Everybody counts something. Wise people count the things that really matter.

I was on an airplane this week and was working on this message. They showed a movie called Mr. 3000. I was too cheap to rent the headset, and I had work to do anyway, but I glanced up enough to get the gist of the story. Bernie Mac plays a baseball slugger who retires when he gets 3,000 hits, earning the nickname Mr. 3000 and assuring himself of a spot in the Hall of Fame. He parlays that nickname into fame and fortune, only to discover a few years later that there was some sort of mistake, and he really only had 2,997 hits. So at 40-something he comes out of retirement in order to try to get three more hits and recapture his title and his happiness. But on the way to that 3000th hit, he discovers that maybe the things he’s been counting may not be so important after all.

We all do that. We all go through life counting things that we think will make us happy, or significant. We measure our happiness or significance by the numbers that mean something to us. When I was a kid, I counted baseball cards. We all did. We’d shoot for them and trade for them and save up our allowance. And if at the end of the day I had more cards than I did the day before, I was happy. I was cool.

I don’t know what kids count today—video game scores, or the number of A’s on their report card, or the wins and losses of their team. Teenagers count the number of friends they have, the number of colleges they get into. College students count grade points and credit hours—at least I hope some of them do. Others count how many beers they can drink in a night, which somehow proves their manhood. Adults measure their happiness and success by the number of bedrooms in their house, the cars in the garage, the degrees they have, their golf score, or the yield on their investments.

Psalm 90 warns us not to go through life counting the wrong things. If you want your life to count for something, number your days. Count the days and hours and minutes; value them, make the most of them, and measure your life by what you do with them. It seems to me that three things happen when we number our days.

We Realize How Few We Really Have

First, when we number our days, we realize how few of them we really have. Most people live like they have an unlimited number of days. We expect to live long lives, and figure we have so many days we can’t even count them all. But the songwriter reminds us that we have a limited number of days—70 or 80 years by his reckoning. That may sound like a lot, especially when you’re only 15. But when you do the math, when you actually number the days, you find out you have something like 29,200 days if you live to be 80.

And when you put it that way, it’s not that many. Just 30,000 days to live. Think about it in terms of money. It doesn’t take long to spend $30,000, does it? That’s a nice car, or a year or two of college. That won’t even get you a down payment on a decent house around here. $30,000 isn’t a lot of money. And it’s not a lot of time, either. When you number you’re days, you realize how few you really have.

Psalm 90, like the other songs we’ve been talking about this morning, remind us that sooner or later, we’re all going to die. And most of the time, it comes sooner than we’d like. We don’t like to face that reality, but until we do, we’ll never know how to make our lives count. One commentator paraphrases verse 12 this way: “Teach us to remember that we must die, in order that we might know how to live.”

Right about now, country music fans have another song running through their heads, and if I don’t mention it I’m going to get bombarded with e-mails (the first one from my wife). I’m thinking of Tim McGraw’s current hit, “Live Like You Were Dying.” Like most country songs, it tells a story of a man who learned that he was sick and only had a short time to live. He tells how that knowledge changed him—how he went skydiving and mountain climbing, how he loved deeper and spoke sweeter. He became the husband he’d always talked about being, and thekind of friend he’d always hoped to have. He realized he’d spend all of eternity thinking about what he did with those last days. So now he hopes that everybody has the chance to live like they were dying.

When we number our days, we realize how few of them we really have, and so we spend them more wisely.

We Spend Them More Wisely

That’s the second thing that happens when we number our days: we spend them more wisely.

I came across a study from some years ago of how typical Americans spend their time. The average American adult spends about seven-and-a-half hours a day sleeping, three-and-a-half hours a day working, two hours a day watching TV, one-and-a-half hours doing housework, one hour eating, half-an-hour on recreation, half-an-hour washing and grooming, and about nine minutes thinking. That study was done about ten years ago, before the Internet and video games had become so popular, so who knows what it would reveal now. My kids tell me it’s not unusual for a kid to spend seven, eight, or even twenty-four hours straight playing a video game. Notice that the number of minutes per day on average spent in worship or service to others was so insignificant it didn’t even show up in the survey!

If you were to number your days, your hours, and your minutes, what would it reveal about the way you are spending them? After sleeping and work, would TV be third on the list? You hope not, but you really don’t know till you sit down and do the numbers, do you?

How much time do you spend getting closer to God and nurturing your spiritual life? Fifteen minutes a day? Thirty? Is that enough? Is that what God has in mind, or is that satisfying to you? How many hours per week do you spend in service to your church or community? Think about it—right now. I’m not talking about attending worship or a class; I’m talking about actually serving your church, or some Christian cause. Is it two hours a week? Every week, or some weeks?

Two hours a week multiplied by 52 weeks a year equals 144 hours a year. That’s not very much, is it? That’s barely 4 days a year! You don’t really know how you’re spending your time till you sit down and number it. Then you can begin to spend it wisely.

Time is like money. You can use it to buy things—things that you need or want. But in order to spend your money wisely, you have to know how much you have. If you go shopping without knowing how much you have, you can get in a lot of trouble. You may put too many things in your shopping cart, and find out you don’t have the money to pay for them. Or, you can walk out of the store without the things you really need, because you didn’t think you had enough money in your pocket.

Most people make one of those two mistakes when it comes to time. Some people, younger people especially, think they have so much time they can afford to waste some. They think they’ll get to the important things later when they’re done with school, when the kids are older, or when things aren’t so busy at work. But then they run out of time before they get to those things. Other people think they have too little time, that they can’t possibly do something significant for others or for God, so they don’t even try. The thing about time, unlike money, is that we all have the very same amount to work with—24 hours a day. And we all have just enough time for the things that God would have us to do.

That’s why it’s so important to number your days and hours, so you understand how many you have to work with, so you can spend them wisely.

We Receive God’s Blessing

The third thing that happens when you number your days is you’re able to offer them to God and ask him to bless them. When we spend our days without really thinking about them, we miss the opportunity to ask God’s blessing on them, to consider his purposes for that hour or day or year. But when we number our days, then one by one we are able to offer them up to God, and seek his direction and blessing. And when we do that, when we offer our days to God one by one, then our days begin to add up to something, something that will stand for eternity.

The psalm ends on an upbeat note. Having faced the reality of death, and having accurately reckoned the number of days and determined to spend them wisely, the songwriter invites God’s blessing on the days to come. Verse 14: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many days as we have seen trouble.”

The songwriter is a realist; he’s not kidding himself or us about how difficult life can be
sometimes. But when we number our days and spend them wisely, then God is able to bless them, and they count for something. Not only for the years of our lives, but for all eternity. Verse 17 reads, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the work of our hands.” When we offer our days to God, he is able and faithful to bless them with eternal significance.

Author and pastor John Piper tells about a plaque that used to hang over the sink in the kitchen of the house he grew up in. He figures that every day in those formative years he read the simple verse that was printed there: “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” To the left, beside those words, was painted a green hill with two trees and a brown path that disappeared over the hill. “How many times,” says Piper, “as a little boy, and then as a teenager with pimples and longings and anxieties, I looked at that brown path—my life—and wondered what would be over that hill. The message was clear. You get one pass at life. Only one. And the lasting measure of that life is Jesus Christ. I am 57 as I write these words, and that very plaque hangs today on the wall by our front door. I see it every time I leave home.”

Do you think about that every time you leave home? Every time you wake up to a new morning? That when all is said and done, the only things that will count will be the things you have done for God, and with God? That’s the sobering truth of this psalm, that most of the things we work so hard for, the things we count as important, will someday be forgotten. How much money we made, how many rooms we had in our house, how many deals we closed, how many games we won, how many vacations we took. Time will wash them all away, like a wave crashing into shore.

Certainly we should work and play and love to the best of our ability, but when we leave
God out of the picture, when we fail to work and play and love for his glory, then all we do crumbles to the ground and is swept away, like dust in the wind.

But the things that are done for Christ will last. The cups of cold water given in his name, the people we have pointed to Christ, the children and grandchildren we have raised in the faith, the churches we have helped to build, the Bible lessons we have lived and learned and shared with others, the money we have invested in his kingdom. These things will stand for eternity. When we number our days, when we realize how few we have and how valuable they are, then we are careful to offer them to God, and to live them for his purposes.

I’ll never forget a funeral I attended many years ago for the brother of a colleague of mine. The man who passed away was a Christian man—bright, hardworking, and dynamic. He died before his time, somewhere in his late 50’s, I would say. His funeral was held at the church he attended. One by one people came to the platform to praise this man and honor his accomplishments. He had great administrative gifts and helped to start two new hospitals in the area. He was a soccer enthusiast. He helped to start the local soccer association. He introduced many coaches and players to the sport and traveled the world as its ambassador. He took great pride in his Welsh heritage, joined societies, and sang in chorals. He was obviously a man of remarkable energy, passion, ability, and influence.

But one thing was missing from the words of praise and the list of accomplishments—the
name of Christ. Not one of the people who came to the microphone spoke of his faith, or of any spiritual influence he had on their lives. He introduced many people to soccer, but few, if any, to Christ. None of the organizations or causes he championed or supported were Christian in their mission. No one from the church came up to speak of his leadership or service in the congregation. And the pastor who led the service could say nothing of his contributions to the church except that he often critiqued the sermon at the door. None of his children had words of praise and thanks to offer, nor did his wife, for they often got the short end of his attention and energy.

This man’s life was not evil, nor was it pointless. He accomplished many good things and
enriched the lives of people and communities. But he missed the opportunity to do it
for Christ—to advance his name and his kingdom and his glory. Few of those people or
accomplishments would follow him into eternity. He introduced many people to soccer, but few to the kingdom. He lifted his voice to celebrate his heritage, but not his faith. I couldn’t help but imagine what such a man might have done for the kingdom if only he had offered his time and talent to God, and asked what God would have him do with them.

I compare that funeral to the one I attended with some of you earlier this year for David Horst, a longtime member of our church. David was also a man of enormous talent and energy. He, too, was successful professionally and highly regarded in the secular community. He, too, died before his time, before his 80 years. But unlike the man I just described, David was careful to number his days, and all of his resources, and offer them to God.

At his funeral, the parade of people who came to the platform didn’t speak about his success and influence in the marketplace. They spoke instead of his spiritual impact, of how he pointed them to Christ and invited them to a Bible study. They spoke about his leadership and support on a variety of Christian ministries and institutions like Gordon College, StonyBrook School, and mission agencies. They spoke of his years of service and leadership here at Grace, of his mission trip to Moldova to share his expertise with Christian businesspeople in that nation. His wife and daughters and sons-in-law spoke of his love for the Scriptures, his love for them, and his faithfulness as a Christian husband and father. I remember sitting in that service and wishing the whole church could be there to see what God can do with a person who offers every part of their life and every day of their life to God. It’s what the Bible calls stewardship—and it leads to a life that counts.

None of us knows how many days and years we’ll be given on this Earth. Maybe we’ll get a hundred years to live, or maybe threescore and ten, or maybe less. But we all know how many years we’ve been given to this point. Maybe it’s only 15 or 22 or 33 or 46 or 67—but suppose you were to draw a line under those years right now and do a subtotal. Suppose you were to number the hours and days and years you have lived to this point. What would you have to show for them, eternally speaking? How many of them have you intentionally offered up to God for his glory? What have you accomplished that will follow you into eternity? Who have you pointed toward Christ by your witness and your ministry? Where have you invested your time and money and talent in God’s kingdom? If you were to number the works of your hands to this point in life, would you be satisfied that you had numbered your days aright?

I want you to look at your whole life, at all of your days, those behind you and those yet to come. I want you to realize how few days you really have. I want you to think about how you’re spending them. I want you to offer those days up to God, and ask him to bless them, and to make them eternally significant.

Because if you want your life to count, you have to number your days.

Five for Fighting, Hootie and the Blowfish, Tim McGraw—they’re all singing the song Moses sang a long time ago. If you want your life to count, you have to number your days. He goes on to make the point as emphatically as he can. You only have one life. That’s all. You were made to live that life for God. Don’t waste it.

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