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Basic Accounting.

Last weekend, I was privileged to officiate two memorial services. The settings could not have been more different. On Friday, I pulled into a full-service funeral home where family and friends honored a beloved 96-year old World War II veteran. In a cozy chapel, we filled the hour with family remembrances, an honor guard flag presentation, and traditional hymns.

On Sunday morning, a good crowd congregated in the shade of a picturesque neighborhood park to remember an extraordinary 29-year who lost her battle with Pulmonary Hypertension. With mimosas in hand we perused the gallery of wedding portraits and childhood photos before settling in to hear memories and try to move beyond the shock and sadness of her loss.

Two vastly different people loved and honored in two uniquely different ways. But in each case one question hovered over the ceremonies. The question is, Am I making the most of my life? That question is as old as Moses. In Psalm 90, Moses boldly asks for God’s help to find a meaningful answer. Moses prayed, teach us to count our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Teach us to count our days. This prayer is more than a math problem, though it is a sobering and challenging puzzle to estimate how many actual days we reasonably have left. Moses isn’t asking how much time remains on his personal clock. The spirit of this prayer is not to make a calculation but to make an evaluation of how well we are living.

We could safely paraphrase it this way:

teach us to make our days count.

Some prefer to avoid the calculating or evaluating, but that does not prevent us from choosing how to make our days count. Someday, whether in a chapel or park, someone will stand up and try to summarize our lives…try to explain what we did with the days. A story will be told whether we give it one thought or whether we think about it every day.

The way we live will provide the major plot points.

I was helping one family try to piece a story together for their loved one who had lived a lengthy life. I asked, “what can we say about his life?” They all quickly responded, “Well, he loved his boat. Every weekend you could find him on the lake. He sure loved his boat.” What else? Someone interjected, “Well, he loved his beer.” Some laughed and I grinned. “Yep, he loved his boat, and he loved his beer.” Anything else? There was an uncomfortable silence. The saddest part of his passing was watching his family try to make his days count.

One of my mentors came across a tombstone in a rural area of southern Tennessee. The tilted headstone had the man’s name and years chiseled, and this one simple sentence to describe him. “He lived until he died.” At first that seems like a strange, almost comical thing to say about the deceased. Of course, he lived until he died! Don’t we all? Not really. It is quite possible to be a blinking, breathing human without being fully alive.

So, if we prayed Moses’ prayer, what wisdom might God impart? What do you think are the ingredients that go into a life that counts? I will let you and God talk it through because you must decide for yourself. But I am happy to let you in on the basic accounting lessons God has been bringing to light for me.

I think days that count includes counting our blessings. Another word for that is simple gratitude. One of the veteran’s daughters had decided to ask her Dad 100 questions before he died to preserve his memories, his stories, and philosophy of life. One of the questions was “list the things you treasure most.” She read the list at the service. It included dogs, peaches, a good joke, his Bible, children at play, dancing with his wife, his forebears, and his descendants. A surprisingly good list and interesting what was not mentioned: cars, square footage, vacation destinations, personal trophies, and favorite television programs. These things are not bad, but they simply do not count for very much when we make our ultimate inventory. The Bible says that every day, good and perfect gifts come down from above through the loving, generous hands of God. But the gifts do not count if we fail to notice, savor, and give heartfelt thanks. They dissolve unnoticed and leave us either craving more or painfully jealous of others.

Another key ingredient to add to your day is your personal mission. Both memorial services highlighted the way each person lived for causes bigger than themselves. Each person was engaged in mighty battles that required their best efforts and deepest commitments. One fought battles on the other side of the world, and the other fought a battle in her own heart and lungs. Both left a legacy of courage and personal sacrifice that inspired and put our minor skirmishes in a humbling light. We are alive not only to acquire and experience, but also to live with purpose and leave something precious for the benefit of others.

After his father’s funeral, a friend shared with me what his mother said about her husband. She said, “I think he died with his song still in him.” While he had been a faithful father and husband, and overcame some enormous personal challenges, he ran out of days before he actualized his potential, fulfilled his calling…before he sang the song he alone could sing. Days that count must include knowing your purpose and completing the mission.

Well, we are just a couple of ingredients in and I already feel a bit overwhelmed. This “day counting” is more challenging than I thought, and to be honest, I am not sure I am up to the task. Which brings me to one more item to consider: faith. Faith has several possible definitions, but I am primarily focusing on faith as reliance on God’s presence, guidance, and provision to live beyond what I can accomplish on my own. Faith, not as religious observance or doctrinal statements, but as an intentional link that harnesses my life to God’s best design and power. More than just another thing to do, faith is the beginning of being fully alive.

Paul described it this way. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 The Message). Linked in this way, our personal mission takes on breath-taking new proportions. Our capacity to see God’s gracious goodness and to become channels of that goodness become tangible possibilities.

Faith provides the way to grasp our purpose and open the gifts addressed to us. That is why C.S. Lewis gives this advice. “Aim for Heaven and you get earth “thrown in;” aim at earth and you will get neither.” Where are you aiming?

Oh God give us the wisdom to take your priceless gift of Today and to spend it in ways that count the most.

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