We live in a world that’s obsessively driven by numbers. They’re impossible to escape. Believe me, I’ve tried. We count absolutely everything. Run the numbers, check the numbers, raise the numbers, we all get very concerned with our digit friends.
What’s more, now there’s quite the habit of mixing up our worth with our numbers. We add up the number of people who come to our events and use that number to judge if it was a success or not. People add up hours or years at a job to judge whether or not they can call themselves experienced. Don’t even get me started on the counting that goes on concerning social media following. The point is, all too often we start judging our worth or impact on just numbers.
The problem with this is it becomes entirely addicting. The things we do, things often done out of pure intentions to serve others, quickly become less about the people receiving our talents and much more about how many people have received it. We’ve all seen it happen. Someone starts out strong and then slowly but surely they start dedicating more time to worrying about their following than whatever it is their actually trying to do.
I struggle with this all the time. Being an author, I have to market myself and my book to the public, social media being the best way to do that. I dedicate time to maintaining these accounts and have gotten used to it just being part of my work day. Every day I see the little numbers on the screen that tells me if I got new followers or lost them. Then in February, I launched my book and I started getting numbers regularly reported to me on how many books I was selling. I could refresh my laptop every morning if I wanted to and see exactly how many books I had sold. It was so tempting to determine how well my day was going just based on if those numbers were going up.
In the months leading up to the book launch, I’d anticipated that this would be a struggle for me. There were more than a few quiet times with God where I tried to prepare and asked for his help. I didn’t want it to just be about the numbers, and I told him so. I told him that my book is his, and I’d like more than anything for him to do with it what he will, even if that wouldn’t look how I thought it would. I had anticipated this struggle, and it’s still been a ton of work.
I know I’m not alone in this either. So many of us try to make the active choice to not be dominated by the numbers and get bogged down in the struggle. Even when we make the conscious decision not measure our worth by the numbers, the action is often forced on us anyway. I was talking to a dear family friend who is a pastor about this subject and he deeply commiserated.
“The first question I always get asked about my church is how many people attend. Not about the ministry, not about the growth, just the number of people who attend.”
Through that conversation, we both went on to talk about Jesus when he speaks of the lost sheep in Matthew 18: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out in search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” The numbers game is there, but not at all in the way we use it.
God doesn’t use numbers to benchmark how cool or impressive he is. He uses them to check for who’s missing. He doesn’t look around, see what sheep are there, notice one is missing and shrug to himself saying “Oh well, at least these other ninety-nine give me credibility in front of people.” Absolutely not.
Nor does God decide that he needs a certain amount of sheep to be safe and secure if he’s going to count his work a success. One of the most beautiful things about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not just that he did it for all humanity, but that he also did it for the one. If you were the only person who accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins, he wouldn’t change his mind.
He wouldn’t hop down off the cross saying “Nevermind, not enough people came.”. That’s not his way. Jesus isn’t addicted to numbers the way we are. If only one person accepted Christ, Jesus would do no less to save that person. After all, it’s “Whoever believes in him will not perish and have eternal life” not “Stay tuned! If we get 1,000 conversions I’ll save humanity! Share with your friends!”
What if we tried to live out the same attitude in the things we pursued? What if we stopped obsessing with how many people we had a sliver of access to as a result of our vocation or mission, and started doing our work as though there were just one, single person whose life could be forever changed? Because that might just be the reality of your situation, and if you’re living your life for numbers you will never count it successful.
Carry out your life for quality over quantity.
As our family friend put it to me when I asked how he tries to keep the numbers game at bay, “Don’t count!”
It’s that simple and that hard. Don’t count. Don’t invest your time and energy into concerns over whether or not you have worldly success. Invest your time in doing your absolute best work for just the one person who might need you.
Around the same time I was trying to prepare myself for the release of my book and the numbers game it would bring, I started praying the same thing in my Bible time each day: “God, if this book is meant to only give one person your joy, so be it.” Let me tell you. That was not an easy prayer to pray. I had to get a running start at that one more than once to actually mean it. Fortunately for me, God is very, VERY patient, and waited on me to get over myself.
There’s so much more to life than just playing a numbers game. If we live for getting the ninety-nine, we’ll never be satisfied. Ninety-nine will become one hundred which will become one hundred and one, which will become one hundred and two until we’re too concerned with the numbers and the so-called worth they give us to remember what we were trying to do in the first place. But hunting down the one? There we might just find something far better for us than self-importance: the chance to serve others and point them to God. Jesus didn’t hesitate when he picked. What if we tried to do the same?
What Jesus has to offer is far better than anything a number of followers could ever offer you. Numbers always have and always will change. But Jesus? He’s in it for the long haul, and he’s in it for the one.
Let’s find some joy,