“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” Psalm 90: 12

The Psalmists encourage us to number our days, but this brings on an entirely different meaning for those who are suffering with a terminal illness.

J. Todd Billings was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 39. He shares openly and honestly about what God has been teaching him about numbering his days.

“I think that being preoccupied with numbers is one of the big contagions of someone with cancer. When I get together with folks who have the same cancer, the first thing that we do is say, ‘How long ago was it that you were diagnosed?’ If it’s beyond a certain amount of time everybody says, ‘Ooooh…ahhhh,’ like you are the celebrity because our sort of main goal in life is to live for an extra year longer, or to live for an extra amount of time.”

Even though Todd has been drawn into those emotions as well, he tries to keep an eternal perspective through the Psalms of Lament.

“When we think about Psalm 90 and numbering our days, it can be a temptation to act as if we need to take out our schedule and make every minute count because we’re the center of the universe and we should never waste any time. We number our days by making ourselves very efficient in a Western industrialized environment.”

“But I think that Psalm 90 is actually moving a different direction. Whether we live 30, 70, or 100 years, our lives are really short; our lives are like a breath in the larger picture of things. It is the Lord who is everlasting; it is the Lord who has been there from all generations.”

“Although there are times when I just want to sort of pound out everything I can of each day, that generally doesn’t make me a better father or a better witness to Jesus Christ, because on those days I’m living like I’m in charge.”

Instead of trying to control every moment of our lives, Todd reminds us to be open vessels and allow God to orchestrate His plan throughout our days.

What I’ve been moving toward is that the Lord of the universe, who has everlasting days, can work with short lives, long lives, and medium-sized lives. It’s really presumptuous for us to think that we should put ourselves in the control seat.”

“Be willing to waste time on family, be willing to waste time on those who are forgotten and those to whom we are called to just be present with, even if we’re not going to get any recognition.”

When we realize how short our lives are from an eternal perspective, it actually frees us to focus on the things that really matter and helps us to number our days wisely.


Dr. J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. An ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, he received his M.Div. from Fuller Seminary and his Th.D. from Harvard. He is author of Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ.

Numbering our days

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