Back to Top

Teach Us To Number Our Days

I have long found Celtic Christianity and prayer to be a source of sustenance.  Its tradition of integrating worship and work, prayer and practice, neighbour love and ordinary labour always meets me where I am and nudges me closer to the kingdom.

These days, the midday prayer of the Northumbria Community is a key part of my daily practice.  In the midst of working from home, helping home-school a second-grader, and finding Lego missing pieces, this prayer grounds me.  One line of the prayer continues to strike me, even after weeks of reciting it: ‘Teach us, dear Lord, to number our days.’

Is this day 60 of our lockdown, or day 6000?

At first glance, many of us would not seem to need an invitation to number our days.  Is this day 60 of our lockdown, or day 6000? What good is numbering our days, when one day feels like another, and the steady rhythms of church, a daily commute, or school drop-off are not there to steady us?  

Yet the prompting of this Celtic prayer still rings true.  Why? Because we do not number our days for its own sake but ‘that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’.  And what is this wisdom?  What is its substance?

The next section of Northumbria’s prayer – the blessing – gives us a hint.  ‘Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting; alone God sufficeth.’  There is a beautiful simplicity to this wisdom: those who are held by the triune God of love may live lives of simple abundance, of ‘enough’ - wanting nothing beyond what is necessary, giving to others, thanking the Giver for the given life.  While many of us shelter in place, while the global economy slows down, while vulnerable sisters and brothers around the world and down the street feel the brunt of the pandemic’s pain, this Celtic prayer is a reminder that the God of love still holds us and can make space in us to love others.  

The pandemic has been an invitation to return to this simplicity and practicality

Early Celtic Christians witnessed to this wisdom.  Many of the communities that gave rise to the tradition of Celtic prayer were subsistence farmers and labourers in Scotland and Ireland, who prayed to their Creator to ‘establish the work of [their] hands’ as they planted, weeded, harvested, and shared the meagre fruits of their labour with others.  In times of scarcity and of plenty, their work and their prayer cultivated a sense that an abundant God gave them enough to live deeply human lives.  They ‘numbered their days’ as they found shelter in the simple abundance of God’s ordinary gifts of life and love.

That witness – echoed in the lives of subsistence farmers and labourers around the world today – is a reminder of the profound simplicity of biblical wisdom.   “Do justice, practice loving-kindness, and walk in humility with God.”  “Love the LORD your God, and your neighbour as yourself: all the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.”  For me, the pandemic has been an invitation to return to this simplicity and practicality in my pursuit of a more just world.   

I try to ask myself some questions that help me ‘apply my heart unto wisdom’. 

 For me, this strange season is not first an invitation to self-improvement, a new exercise regime, or another sourdough starter recipe, though it may be that as well.  It is an invitation to number my days and recognize that – even in complicated and uncertain times – ‘who God possesseth in nothing is wanting’.  This is not easy to recognize in a world marked so profoundly by the power of savage global capitalism that constantly prompts us to see others’ Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, advertisements, as invitations to want something – something else, something more, something better.  

In returning to this prayer and its simple wisdom each day – numbering my days anew – I try to ask myself some questions that help me ‘apply my heart unto wisdom’.  

Can I live more simply, even now, to make space for generosity toward others?  Can this season help me in this?

Can I live within limits, to better live in solidarity with others?  Can this season help me do this?

Can I live well with those around me, being mindful of others’ joys and needs?  Can this season help me in this?  

Can I live well with myself, resisting the pull to compare my life to others and so avoid the logic that underpins the worst impulses of our capitalist order? 

Sometimes I can answer yes to those questions.  Often, my answer is ‘sort of’ or ‘no, not really.’ 

And so I pray again: ‘Teach us, dear Lord, to number our days//that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’

Photo by Adrian Moran on Unsplash


The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.