Maybe you are one of the many people who does not realize how the second came to be a measurement of time and how important it is to our modern world. I think it is an interesting story and has some significant implications for how we live today.

From what we know of its history, a second wasn’t really meaningful or measurable until the infamous astronomer Galileo Galilei let his attention disorder get the better of him while studying as a young man in Pisa. It all started when he should have been attentively listening to the priest; but instead he started to focus on the swing of the chandeliers. He began to notice that it took the same amount of time for them to complete their swing from right to left, no matter how high of an arc they started to swing from.

It was this natural inquisitiveness that would help him to later see the world in a new way, as well as get him into trouble with the powers of his day.

Strangely though, it wasn’t until many years after he first observed this phenomenon that Galileo started to seriously look into how this observation could be used to measure things. Even then though, the first thing that his discovery was used for was not time, but rather to measure the human heart rate. This was done by his physician friend Santorio Santorio in 1602 (there seemed to be some lack of imagination in naming people during this time in Italy).

Using the discovery to measure time did not happen until the end of Galileo’s life. It was finally in 1641, just before his death, that he remembered his earlier observations and how it could be used to measure what we now call a second.

This date in 1641 is one of the markers which we now use for dating when the scientific era began. So many of our inventions which we have today would not have been possible without the ability to measure time in small accurate amounts.

The next jump in time measurement didn’t happen until 1967, when we moved into the atomic age of time. Now we measure a second as 9,192,647,770 oscillations of a cesium atom. That is quite accurate to be sure, and with it has come a whole new group of inventions that would have been impossible without it.

But what about how we measure our lives? Psalm 90:12 says, “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The simple truth is that we are not able to move to the next level of efficiency without understanding clearly how limited our time on earth is.

Even the genius Galileo took 40 years to turn a simple observation into something useful, and the same thing can happen in our lives. It is easy to spend a whole lifetime wandering aimlessly before absorbing the fact that our lives are very limited, and our time to have a positive impact during our lifetime is up before we know it.

So what does it even mean to number our days? Well, that is for you to discover.

Maybe this year you need to make it a regular prayer for God to show you how to number your days… so you too can gain that heart of wisdom.