Last month, I hoped my birthday would pass with little notice. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my birthdays. I used to anticipate them, but they just don’t hold the same level of excitement. They make me count and remind me that I am, to some people, an old person. I’m learning that too many birthdays can kill you.
Birthdays are milestones. They are mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. Birthdays give us a handle on the measurement of time, which, when broken into minutes, moves quickly. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day, 10,080 minutes in a week, and 525,600 minutes in a year. That means I experienced over 34,164,000 minutes by my birthday. My 65th birthday.
No wonder I need more naps.
The minutes often pass by so quietly, so consistently, that they can fool us. In C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” the senior demon advises his protégé of the strategy of monotony: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts….The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”
So, we mark our calendars and phones with deadlines, dates that set limits for the completion of objectives. If we ignore these deadlines, it brings unwanted consequences. Therefore, to live without deadlines is to live an inefficient, unorganized life, drifting with the breeze of impulse on the fickle way of our moods. We set deadlines because they discipline our use of time.
God is the one who brings about our birthdays, not as deadlines, but as lifelines. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal, not merely of the length of life, but the depth of life. Birthdays are not observed simply to tell us we’re growing older, but to help us determine if we are also growing deeper.
Obviously if God has given you another year to live for him, then he has some things in mind. I have this strong suspicion that it includes much more than merely existing 1,440 minutes a day.
In a Psalm attributed to Moses, he prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (90:12). Is that not a perfect prayer for us to pray every year our lifeline rolls around?
There is, however, a warning: Don’t expect wisdom to come into your life wrapped up like a birthday present. It doesn’t come with song, candles, party favors, and fanfare. Wisdom comes privately from the Lord as a by-product of wise and right decisions, godly reactions, humble lessons, and application of his principles in daily circumstances. “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).
Wisdom comes not from seeking after a ministry, but from anticipating the fruit of a disciplined life. It comes not from trying to do great things for God, but from being faithful to the small and often obscure tasks few people ever see.
James R. Sizoo said, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.”
As we number our days, do we count the years as the grinding measurement of minutes, or can we find the marks of wisdom—character traits that were not there when we were younger?
As I look back over my life, I recall some of the things I did, that I said, that I believed. If I think long enough on them, I have regrets. But I thank the Lord that he was able to soften the hardness of my heart to help me become a better learner, a clearer thinker, and a corrected believer. If he should decide that April 18 was my last birthday, he has made my life full. He has forgiven me of my sin. He has blessed me beyond words. I pray that I have pleased him.
Milton Bost is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church.